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Mark Steyn comments on Un-American Idol this week at the United Nations

Thursday, September 21, 2006
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HH: Only three days until Generalissimo turns 40, which is really a critical day you’ve got to know about. But we begin that conversation with Mark Steyn, columnist to the world, author of America Alone, brilliant new book, available for pre-ordering at Steynonline.com. Mark, I don’t want to embarrass you, but I wrote a column for Townhall today, the Four Indispensible Books. America Alone is one of them. And how soon will it ship?

MS: It’s basically shipping instantly. If you order it online, it physically exists, and you should get it, depending where you are in the world, within 48 to 72 hours.

HH: Now do you prefer people to order it from Steynonline.com, or via Amazon.com?

MS: (laughing) Well, I personally would prefer it, them to order it from Steynonline, because I get to keep more of the gravy.

HH: Well then, that’s what I wanted to know, because some people like to drive the Amazon ratings. But I have never ever been able to figure out how to do that, and so…

MS: No, and I don’t quite understand how those work. So I’ll take hard cash over transient, fleeting positions on the…

HH: (laughing)

MS: I learned in my disc jockey days that the hit parade is something very easily manipulated, and record companies would devote an inordinate effort to ensuring that some record went up to number 17 for a week in the top 40. And that, in effect, meant that it had sold seven records that week, but it had sold them at the right particular record store. They’d have been much better off trying to get real, hard, old-fashioned sales, I think. But it is…I don’t mind where people buy it, as long as they buy it. It is the perfect 40th birthday present. Not just for Duane, but for any other 40 year olds out there.

HH: Yeah, Duane’s got to get bifocals before he gets to that.

MS: (laughing)

HH: Mark, I also…you just mentioned your disc jockey days. I just concluded a pre-taped interview with Thomas Edsall, who’s written this new book, Building Red America. It’ll play next hour. It’s astonishing, he’s so far to the left. And he was at the Washington Post for so long.

MS: Right.

HH: But in one passage, he sniffs at Rush Limbaugh for having been a disc jockey. And I thought to myself, this is the cluelessness of elite media. They don’t understand how much you learn about communicating. I’ve never been a disc jockey, but I think it’s probably why Rush is tremendously successful at what he does, and perhaps where you get your timing from.

MS: Well, I think it always helps to have…in the political sphere, to have done things other than politics. And I always find it slightly odd, just if I’m going down to the ballot box to vote for candidates, if there’s a guy who’s done nothing, but he was elected as a state representative when he was 17, and he’s been in politics all his life. You know, the same kind of people who sneer about Rush being a disc jockey sneered about Ronald Reagan being a lifeguard, sneered about him being a radio announcer, sneered about him being a movie actor. In fact, that is an American life. Compared to most politicians, he had a full and varied life of which his political career was in fact merely the culmination thereof. And I think that’s much healthier, and that’s much closer to what the founding fathers foresaw in this country. And as far as the Rush thing goes, with the disc jockey, I think that’s actually true. I think one reason why so many people on the right do well in talk radio is because they do bring aspects of life from outside. One of the funny things about the Democratic Party is they have all these Hollywood people, so you’d think they would be incredibly good at being entertaining, witty, amusing, sparkling, funny. And in fact, they’re not, because the more they get controlled by Hollywood, the more they seem to be in the hands of these kind of plunkingly humorless, earnest screenwriters, directors and stars.

HH: Earnest about everything except their own box offices, in which case they’ll go as low as they have to, to make money. Mark Steyn, I was also…I don’t know if you’ve had a chance to read John Keegan’s biography of Churchill.

MS: Yes, I have, actually. Yeah.

HH: I’ve been listening to it on my morning…I won’t call it runs…shuffles. And I’m struck at how productive he was as a journalist, even as a young man…you know, from every battle he went to, whether it’s the Malakand Field Force, he’s firing back three hundred words a day, or from the Sudan, five hundred words a day. And compared to today’s journalists, he was incredibly productive, and he was in the middle of battle after battle. Has the fourth estate become lazy?

MS: Well, I mean, I think writers divide into those who are kind of slow writers, and those who really can rattle it off in the middle of the wars. And I’m a slow writer, so I’m always sympathetic to other slow writers, and I loathe people who say oh, you know, if you’re not…I think my boss at National Review, William F. Buckley, says he does his column, his 750 word column, in half an hour. Well, every time I hear that, I want to, like, throw the TV set at him.

HH: I’m not going to tell you, then, anything more.

MS: And the thing about Churchill, though, is he was an incredibly productive journalist at an early age, in his 20’s. And that stuff from the Sudanese campaign is actually well worth reading today. And one of the things I discovered, I went back and reread a lot of Churchill’s Sudanese journalism.

HH: The River War, yeah.

MS: Yeah, which is a terrific book, after September 11th, because the funny thing about it was, I was reading all this foreign policy analysis in the New York Times and so on, and it just seemed to me to be bland, generalized, deluded rubbish. And I started going back and reading a lot of relatively obscure 19th Century accounts, and they made an awful lot more sense in the years since, than the New York Times’ analysis did.

HH: Well, you know, in The Looming Tower, which you recently reviewed, there comes off a veil of how fanatical our enemies are. And of course, we’ve seen them before. It’s the Madhi. It’s the Khalifa in front of Sudan, and killing Chinese Gordon, and then being driven out by the Churchill forces, of which he was a young lietenant subaltern. And so, it’s not like it’s never not been there for the last 200 years. It just has different weapons now.

MS: No, and really, that’s the extraordinary thing. You know, the Wahabis…we think oh, you know, after September 11th, we were all suddenly trying to bring ourselves up to speed with this obscure, Saudi cult. Well, in the 19th Century, they exported that particular strain of Islam to India. And they killed a viceroy in British India, and they killed the attorney general in India. That was at their highest level of prominent killings, basically, before…until September 11th. And so in a sense, all this…I’d kind of half remembered that, from doing that when I was, oh, I don’t know, 7 or 8 years old at school. I had a kind of vague, residual memory of it. These people have been around a long time. And all that’s happened is that globalization, modern communication, ATM cards, and air travel, jet travel, have made it an awful lot…and of course, free-lance nuclearization have made all this a lot easier for them.

HH: Okay, a couple of questions we’ve got to get to, Mark Steyn. There is a deal between the President and the gang of four or five or six, or however many rogue Republicans are out there. Do you think this was face saving for John McCain and Lindsey Graham, who’d dug themselves a deep, political hole? Or do you think the President actually gave them something that people would recognize as a big win?

MS: Well, I think John McCain in a sense wins in both ways. If he sufficiently damages things so that the Republicans do badly in November, then he increases the chance that they’ll be pressured to move to him as to someone who is not a kind of mainstream Republican figure. In other words, he has a certain personal interest in the weakening of mainstream Republicanism. At the same time, though, he’s also got a reputation of someone who is tough and strong on national security and war issues. So he also does well when it looks as if he’s playing to that side of him. I find John McCain an exasperating, infuriating figure. And I do think he basically calculates what his own interest is in these matters. And one hopes because of the absurd amount of influence he wields, one hopes that his particular self interest also coincides with the national interest in these things.

HH: Now let’s turn to not merely vain and self interested Republican politicians, but to thugs of the worst sort, Ahmadinejad and Hugo Chavez. Over the last 48 hours, we’ve had the carnival come to town, Mark Steyn. What have been your reactions watching these two?

MS: Well, it’s like Un-American Idol, really.

HH: (laughing)

MS: I think that’s what it is. It’s like this you are the wackiest link, hello, and it is this kind of endless parade that I think…and I notice since Chavez and Ahmadinejad sort of set the tone, that even relatively minor league guys, like the president of Lebanon, have been trying to rise to their nonsensical level. It isn’t funny, and it’s not funny to this degree. If I were the Democrats, I would be very concerned that anybody who catches these guys…basically, it works for Bush and the Republicans, because it makes you realize that this party’s at least serious about particular dangers in the world today. When you have Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa basically excusing Chavez on the grounds that basically, well, Bush has turned a lot of the world against us, as if, you know, before Bush came to power, Hugo Chavez would have been up there sounding like the prime minister of Luxembourg. I think this damages the Democratic Party. Basically, if you caught any of this, it confirms, essentially, a Republican conservative worldview of world affairs.

HH: Yes, it does, and it’s very important that people have seen it, I think, and it will have that effect. Mark Steyn, a great pleasure. America Alone available now in bookstores, or at Steynonline.com. You do need to read this, a treatment of why society as a whole has Stockholm Syndrome.

End of interview.

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