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Mark Steyn from Mittel-Europa to the Hundu Kush

Thursday, December 3, 2009

HH: It’s Thursday, and we are lucky because Columnist to the World, Mark Steyn, joins us. You can read all of Mark’s work at Mark, the jobs summit at the White House has just concluded. Has anyone been hired in New Hampshire this afternoon?

MS: Actually, I made the disastrous mistake on the 1st of December of taking on a new employee. And as I did so, I was thinking I must be insane. This is a wholly unwarranted vote of confidence in the U.S. economy under the Obama administration. So as far as I can see, I’ve created one real job as opposed to these thousands of fictional jobs in non-existent Congressional districts that the so-called stimulus has created.

HH: My goodness, you did that in advance of the jobs summit. Was that in order to put a little wind at the President’s back?

MS: Yes, I think so. I think that by me hiring one person in my part of New Hampshire has depressed the unemployment rate by something like 73%. So by the time they run those figures through Washington, it’s going to look as if the economy has finally turned the corner.

HH: That’s it. By the end of the evening, Joe Biden will be citing you in speeches, Mark Steyn. You’ve got to be careful about that.

MS: Exactly. Exactly. And once he’s done that, I’m going to lay off my employee, and fire her with 48 hours notice.

HH: Look, I want to get to the silly story first, and then to the more serious story. Gate-crashing at the White House. I knew I could ask you this. Is there any parallel event that comes to mind, Mark Steyn, where so much attention has been focused on gate crashers?

MS: Well you know, we get this quite a lot in commonwealth countries. Her Majesty, the Queen, woke up one night a few years ago at Buckingham Palace to find a stranger at the end of the bed, and actually kept him talking. She was sort of frantically pressing the buzzer for the Coldstream Guards, or whoever is responsible, and kept him talking while he moaned and complained about everything that was wrong in Britain for forty minutes before anybody came. And then the Prime Minister of Canada found an intruder in his bedroom, and started to throttle him. And in that case, the Mounties had to break them up to save the intruder from the psycho Prime Minister. So it does seem to happen quite a lot in commonwealth countries.

HH: So are you holding it against them for pushing forward on their luck? Or are you holding it against the Secret Service for not stopping them?

MS: No, I think, you know, looking at it seriously, I actually find it heartening. And I understand that people have terrorism concerns, and all the rest of it. Tough. You know, the reality is that determined people can get through. And the other reality is that most people who do get through don’t want to kill the world leader. They just want to bore the pants of them about something or another, usually. And I think it’s rather heartening that in the sort of security state, that two people can just bluff their way into the presence of the most powerful man in the world, somebody mentioned this to me the other day, and I hadn’t thought of it like this way, but I love 19th Century adventure stories, like the Prisoner of Zenda, where some fellow is just on holiday in Mittel-Europa, and he walks into a hunting lodge, and ten minutes later, he’s impersonating the king at the coronation. And I love it, the idea that you can still have that, do that in the high tech, high security age.

HH: All right, a second question now, I do not spend much time on celebrities’ falls from grace. But there’s an AP story with a headline I want to bounce off you, Mark Steyn. “Woods’ Fall From Grace Rekindles Role Model Debate”, and it begins, “Tiger Woods was different, or so he seemed, with his unmatchable talent, and carefully burnished image. Unlike some pro athletes, he had welcomed being a role model. He was, as it turns out, too good to be true, and his fall from grace calls into question the very idea of sports hero worship.” I kind of thought we’d been past that a long time ago, Mark Steyn.

MS: Yeah, and every time, and every time, they do the same fall from grace/role model thing. Look, if you’re stupid enough to take a celebrity as a role model, you’re almost bound to be disappointed, because I’ve known some huge celebrities, I mean, really big, world-famous celebrities who haven’t been treated normally by their entourages for fifty years. And the reality is that when you’re in that big celebrity world, the idea of you managing to be a normal person, when you’re making that much money, when you’re having that many opportunities for fabulous women and to indulge any other appetites you might have, the idea of you being able to survive as a kind of normal, modest, regular guy in that world, is extremely unlikely. So if you’re someone who takes as your role model a big pop star, or a big sports star, then you’re a mug. Look, there’s plenty of role models. I mean, I don’t even like the role model game and the fall from grace game and all the rest of it. But if you want to look up to somebody, check out the guy who’s living across the street from you. Check out the people in your hometown. But a guy who’s making gazillions of dollars, and basically has opportunities for meaningless sexual encounters with a range of women you’re never going to meet in your wildest dreams, that’s not the kind of person who’s ever going to be a role model.

HH: On that note, let’s turn to the very serious subjects of Afghanistan and health care. First, with Afghanistan. What did you make of the President’s address at West Point?

MS: Very disappointing, and you really see the limits of the so-called rhetorical wunderkind when it comes to something he doesn’t really believe in, because no matter what the words said on paper, and on paper, some of it was near Bush-like, the very tentativeness with which he delivered it communicated to the world that he didn’t really believe in it. And let’s be clear here. If you happen to live in Kabul or Kandahar, then the President’s speech on Afghanistan is about Afghanistan. It’s about where you live, and it’s about your life. But if you live anywhere else on the planet, the President’s speech is about America, what is tells you about American will and American purpose under this new President. And what it told not just people in friendly nations, but what it told Tehran and Beijing and Moscow, and all kinds of other places, is not encouraging if you believe that American is the principal guarantor of order in the world today.

HH: What do you think it told the Taliban in the northwest territory, and their al Qaeda houseguests?

MS: Well of course, he did this thing where he basically said he was going to start a drawdown of American troops in 18 months. This is the weirdest kind of so-called surge I’ve heard. I was thinking of the old nursery rhyme about the grand old Duke of York, who had 10,000 men. He marched them up to the top of the hill, and he marched them down again. The grand, old Duke Obama is marching them up to the top of the Hundu Kush, and then marching them down again in 18 months time. And if you’re the Taliban, you think all you have to do is make this 18 months hellish enough for America, and everything is going to fall your way in a year and a half.

HH: Well, don’t you also just wink and nod and go to ground for 18 months? I mean, maybe not hellish, but just start making your deals, and winking at the villages, and saying you know, 18 months goes by in a hurry.

MS: Yes, well, I think that’s true. I mean, I think that’s the other thing, that when you talk about those villages, what the Taliban will be able to do is say well look, you can, obviously, you can take the American side, but they’ve just told you they’re not going to be here in a year and a half, and we are. So who do you want to make a deal with?

HH: Yeah.

MS: I thought this was not a good speech. I take my friend, Rich Lowry’s point, that as he said, channeling Don Rumsfeld, you go to war with the President you have. But this President demonstrated, in this speech, in everything, not just the speech, but his very body language, that he is really not comfortable in the role of commander-in-chief.

HH: Mark Steyn, I just concluded a thirty minute interview with Dr. Jon Gruber of MIT, one of the brainiacs behind Obamacare, and smart guy. But he admits, this bill in the Senate doesn’t do anything about Medicare. Medicare is still broke, it doesn’t do anything to fix the financing of Medicare. Do you think most Americans are aware of that?

MS: No, I think in effect, even if you thought what they were trying to do was a good idea, the bill doesn’t do it. I mean, it’s, a so-called bill that’s supposed to provide universal coverage still leaves millions and millions without coverage. A bill that’s supposed to control costs will in fact explode costs. And I think that any of the sort of technocrats assisting Obama, who presumably have a philosophical belief in socialized health care, I think any honest technocrat would say that this bill doesn’t, it’s not, it’s a fundamentally dishonest bill in that even if you thought it was a good idea, it doesn’t do any of the things it claims to do.

HH: Now do you think it’s collapsing under its own weight as we watch this debate? The Mikulski amendment passed today, and so by a vote of 61-39, or something like that, and we’ve got 100 amendments stacked up like planes over O’Hare. What’s your sense of the momentum, Mark Steyn?

MS: I don’t think, I don’t actually think it’s going to get through this year. And in a sense, I think that’s why Obama eventually stopped dithering on Afghanistan, in part, I think, because health care is stalled. I mean, I still think there’s a chance that government, the governnmentalization of health care will proceed in some form. But I think the idea, I think this particular phase of it is not going to well, and I think that was related, in a way, to Obama’s decision to stop being indecisive, as it were, on Afghanistan.

HH: Mark Steyn, one of the voices on Gingerbread And Eggnog, always a pleasure, my friend. Talk to you next week., America. You can get Mark’s new CD with Jessica Martin there.

End of interview.

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