Mark Steyn on After America, the paperback edition, and the presidential race
HH: In the old days, when Haley’s Comet appeared, people used to think bad things would happen. Now I believe it’s sort of the same with a Mark Steyn book. And After America: Get Ready For Armageddon has come out in its brand new, luxurious paperback edition with a brand new introduction. It’s linked at Hughhewitt.com. And I’ve asked the Columnist To the World, Mark Steyn, to join me for the entire hour, because the launch of the book has launched about a thousand subjects. Hello, Mark, welcome back.
MS: Hey, great to be with you, Hugh.
HH: I begin by saying I’m going to play for you some President Obama tape, and that’s like scenes from movies when teenage boys enter the chemistry lab. So anything could happen here. Did you by chance hear the President’s Univision interview today?
MS: No, I’m happy to say I was giving a speech myself, and I don’t know whether he went longer than me. I would have thought that was almost a certainty. But I certainly wasn’t in the mood after listening to myself speak to listen to the President speak.
HH: Oh, lovely, then it’s a fresh impression for Mark Steyn.
HH: Here is the President talking about his biggest disappointment. Again, you’ll hear a dual translation, because many in the crowd at the Univision forum speak in Spanish. Cut number one:
Question: I don’t know what you’re reading before you go to sleep right now. I don’t know if you’ve already read the book, No Easy Day, in which a Navy SEAL tells the story of how Osama bin Laden was killed. According to many, his death was your biggest achievement. What is your biggest failure?
BO: Well, Jorge, as you remind me, my biggest failure so far is we haven’t gotten comprehensive immigration reform done, so we’re going to be continuing to work on that. But it’s not for lack of trying or desire, and I’m confident we’re going to accomplish that. You know what, obviously the fact that we haven’t been able to change the tone in Washington is disappointing. We know now that as soon as I came into office, you already had meetings among some Republican colleagues saying how can we figure out how to beat the President. And I think that I’ve learned some lessons over the last four years. And the most important lesson I’ve learned is that you can’t change Washington from the inside. You can only change it from the outside.
HH: Mark Steyn?
MS: (laughing) Well, I think that’s very funny, because the Republican party were entirely irrelevant to the first two years of the Obama administration. And Obama told them that. He said I won. That was his message to them. He didn’t want any bipartisanship. He had the votes in the House, and he had the votes in the Senate. He had a Democrat House, Democrat Senate, Democrat presidency. And anything that he didn’t get done is a reflection on the Democratic party. The Republican party, no Republicans need be involved in anything. It was all to do with him, and including right up to the end, when they were down to whatever the one seat it was they needed, and just before the Scott Brown victory, when they railroaded through the Obamacare. He can’t, Republicans were irrelevant to that.
HH: No, his biggest disappointment is the failure to achieve immigration reform as embassies burn, our ambassador’s assassinated after being tortured, 8.2% unemployment, GDP in the ditch and about to fall even deeper, Mark Steyn, and he panders.
MS: Yeah, and actually, that’s pathetic, because there’s about a hundred thousand people who arrive every month legally in the United States. And if you look at these job creation numbers of his, they don’t even keep pace with the number of people who arrive in the country every single month. In other words, we fall further and further behind each month, simply because there’s so many people coming to the country. And as you say, one of the big lessons around the world, aside from the unemployment rate, one of the big lessons around the world at the moment is there’s all kinds of people who hate us. There’s a lot of people with American passports who’ve somehow managed to acquire American passports, who hate the United States, including the Times Square bomber. And the idea that that is his biggest disappointment? And there’s a touch of Hillary about that, which I quite like, you know, that period Hillary went through, she started talking in a Southern accent when she was talking to Southern audiences, and doing all those Yiddish inflections when she was speaking with a Jewish audience.
HH: He comes up with his biggest disappointment that you can’t change Washington from the inside. Mitt Romney immediately jumped on this, Mark Steyn, and here’s what he said later in the afternoon, cut number four:
MR: The President today threw in the white flag of surrender again. He said he can’t change Washington from the inside. He can only change it from the outside. Well, we’re going to give him that chance in November. He’s going outside. I can change Washington. I will change Washington. We’ll get the job done from the inside. Republicans and Democrats will come together. He can’t do it. His slogan was Yes We Can. His slogan now is No, I Can’t. This is time for a new president.
HH: That’s not bad, Mark Steyn, for Mitt Romney to come out on the same day with a joke.
MS: No, he kind of was handed it as a gift, but he ran with the ball. I must say, actually, I agree with Obama from that, that you can’t change, you can only change Washington from the outside, because basically, after whatever it is, two and a bit centuries of the 1st Amendment, Mohamed Morsi managed to change it by getting the Muslim Brotherhood to issue an arrest warrant for that filmmaker out in California. So he managed to change Washington from Cairo. So I think there’s a certain amount of truth in what the President was saying there.
HH: That filmmaker came up, because the President was asked about the Libyan embassy attack, the assassination, torturing of our ambassador, and here’s what he had to say.
BO: What we’ve seen over the last week, week and a half, is something that actually we’ve seen in the past where there is an offensive video or carton directed at the Prophet Muhammad, and this is obviously something that then is used as an excuse by some to carry out inexcusable violent acts directed at Westerners or Americans.
HH: Now Mark Steyn, everyone now knows the video had nothing to do with the Libyan attack – nothing to do with it.
MS: No, no and in fact, Libyan officials say as much. So it’s only the American, the U.S. government officials are now the last people on the planet still thinking this irrelevant YouTube video has anything to do with what happened. I must say, just to go back to a stylistic tic there, where he said the Prophet Muhammad, the Prophet Muhammad. I will accept that if you’re a Muslim, Muhammad is your prophet. But you know, that is the equivalent of saying the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ every time you mention Jesus’ name, and nobody does that. The New York Times doesn’t do that with Jesus. They just say Jesus. But with Muhammad now, it’s always the Prophet Muhammad, and I see the President has adopted that verbal tic, too. The video is irrelevant. In France, it’s a cartoon in Charlie Hebdo that caused the Kosher grocer to be bombed. There’s no point into getting into this with them, because you can never make a list long enough.
HH: I hope he said the word Pakistan today at some point, too, because he does have an unusual pronunciation of Pakistan. Mark Steyn, I’ve got to point…
MS: No, no, but in fairness to that, that’s like Raj English. Everybody seems to think that’s authentic Pakistani to them. The highlight was when he said, that he had, he was having dinner with the president of Afghanistan and the president of Pakistan. He had the Pakistani prime minister with him, and he had the Afghanistan guy with him as well. And it’s nothing other than, in fact, an old Indian army English, that pronunciation, which I would have thought would be offensive to him, as his father was supposedly tortured by the colonials with Kenya, which turns out, like most of his biography, not to be true. But let that one go.
HH: Here is the President two nights ago on Letterman, Mark Steyn, talking about one of your favorite things, the deficit. He’s just, what Letterman is asking him is how big was the debt when you came into office.
DL: Do you remember what that number was? Was it $10 trillion?
BO: I don’t remember what the number was precisely.
DL: Right, but see now, if this was me, and I’ve got the credit card guy calling me every day…
DL: I start to get scared. I mean, as Americans, should we be scared that we owe that kind of money? Who do we owe that money to?
BO: Well, a lot of it we owe to ourselves, right, because if you invest in a Treasury bill or something like that, then essentially you’re loaning the government money. In fact, the majority of it is held by folks who live here. But we don’t have to worry about it short term. Right now, interest rates are low, because people still consider the United States the safest and greatest country on Earth, rightfully so. But it is a problem long term, and even medium term.
HH: So Mark, we’ve got nothing to worry about. What’s this book about, After America? You’re all worked up.
MS: Well, here’s how, here’s a way to look at it. It took basically the first two centuries of American history to run up the first trillion dollars in debt. Now, we run, what used to take us two centuries to run up, we now run up in seven or eight months. And the President’s answer there, by the way, is deeply dishonest. That bit, oh, a lot of the money we owe to ourselves, how bad can that be? In the last couple of years, because nobody out there in the planet wants to buy American government bonds, American Treasury bonds, you would have failures at bond auctions. So instead, the Federal Reserve has been buying 70% of the U.S. Treasury debt, which is basically like the left hand buying money from your right hand.
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HH: Mark Steyn, we went to break, and we were talking about the President on Letterman, and what he said in those 23 seconds was so disingenuous. We don’t have a short term problems, he forgets the downgrade, he can’t remember how much the national debt is precisely. It’s $16 trillion, and everybody knows that. We owe the money to ourselves. Can he get away with this for six weeks? And I know Gallup is tied today, and that’s great, and everyone’s happy on the Republican side. But doesn’t, shouldn’t he be falling apart in the American esteem?
MS: Yeah, and I think that’s the classic answer, that in fact he was telling David Letterman and the audience that he’s basically added so many zeroes to the federal debt that it doesn’t matter now. It’s being denominated in such, in a unit so far beyond human comprehension that you don’t need to pay any attention to it. And the lesson in my book is that it’s all about the urgency. I was glad to hear, by the way, you played that ABBA record, Waterloo, just now, which was a terrific song by the way, Eurovision song contest winner in 1974 or ’73, I believe, not sure which. But the great line in there, written by Benny and Bjorn of ABBA, who English is not their first language, so their lyrics always come out slightly odd, but there’s a lot of truth in this. The history book on the shelf is always repeating itself. If you don’t heed the words of Steyn, heed the words of Benny and Bjorn from ABBA, because the decline of great powers always starts with the money. It doesn’t matter whether you’re talking about the French monarchy, it doesn’t matter whether you’re talking about Britain and the Second World War debt. And what’s wicked here, by the way, is that Britain basically went broke in the 18 months between the fall of France and Pearl Harbor in 1940-1941 when the British empire stood alone, basically, against global tyranny. And if you’re going to go out of business as a global power, that’s a better reason to do it than because you’re building a brand new headquarters for the federal agency of bureaucratic federal regulation somewhere in Robert C. Byrd land in West Virginia or whatever. We’ve spent the money on nothing. And when he says, I put it this way, I was talking to an audience earlier today, that business about this it doesn’t matter because we’re buying the debt from ourselves. The left hand of the United States is buying the debt of the right hand of the United States, because nobody wants it. And if you’ve ever had those emails, woken up in the morning and you’ve got an email from a Nigerian dictator’s widow who says she’d like to wire $52 million dollars into your bank account, and all she needs are your account details, basically the Federal Reserve of the United States is now functioning as America’s own in-house Nigerian dictator’s widow. And nothing can hold it up.
HH: You know, Mark, I was at Hyde Park ten days ago, and there’s a film there at the Roosevelt Library, FDR Library, that talks about how he spent all the money on public works, and it rattles off everything he built, like the Hoover Dam, like Lakeshore Drive in Chicago. I mean, it runs through this long list of extravagant spending. But nevertheless, you can find it. You know, he spent $5.something trillion dollars, and there’s nothing to show for it. In fact, the Navy’s down to 282 ships.
MS: Yeah, and I find that very odd, because he’s always going on about the old New Deal projects, the Hoover Dam. And the other one he always talks about is the Golden Gate Bridge.
MS: I think for the cost of his stimulus bridge, you could have had 1,667 Golden Gate Bridges. And you just know if there was something real out there that he had built…there is no Obama bridge. There is no Obama dam. There’s no Obama highway. And by the way, this is the state of big government in the United States. I was in Europe a few weeks ago. I traveled on that fabulous train that goes from Copenhagen in Denmark across the water to Malmo in Sweden. I went on the Eurostar through the Channel tunnel, a real high speed train, not like the phony baloney one they want to build in California. If you’re going to have big government prestige projects, being able to go in two hours from downtown London to downtown Brussels, you’ve got something to show for it. There is nothing to…he took, as you said, he’s taken $5 trillion dollars, thrown it into the Potomac in small bills, and watched it float out to sea.
HH: It is remarkable. Now there is, I saw you with Neil Cavuto this week, and there are two things I want to make comment. First of all, Neil Cavuto is a charming, but excellent interviewer. And after Mitt Romney went on with him earlier in the week, the MSM clobbered Cavuto and said he was a lay down for Romney. In fact, he asked him pointed, specific questions, but he did so with courtesy. This President never gets asked any question except softballs, and he misses the softballs. But Cavuto takes the arrows, Mark Steyn.
MS: Yeah, I think that’s true, and I also think it’s actually embarrassing the way he…I got a picture today, by the way. This was one I woke up to this morning. I believe yesterday was International Talk Like A Pirate Day.
MS: And the Obama campaign issued a Twitpic, I believe they call it, on his Twitter feed, of Obama in the Oval Office talking with a pirate…
MS: A guy in a three-cornered hat with an eye patch and a peg leg, and a hook for a hand. Haven’t got time…you haven’t got time to meet with Netanyahu, but he’s got time to meet with a guy dressed like a pirate. I mean, this is disgraceful.
HH: Well, I think that’s his Defense policy. It’s the letter of mark. He’s going to send it out after the Iranians. The second thing, by the way…
MS: And that guy was the head of the Somali delegates.
HH: But the other thing about Cavuto when you were on with him, you used a line which I’ve stolen already, and I’m going to use again and again. We need to find $16 trillion dollars in America to get back to being broke.
MS: Yeah, I just want to go back to that point, actually, because the $16 trillion is really just the surface. We need to pay back $16 trillion, Washington does, just to get back to having nothing. But every single household in America now owes, its share of the debt, is $700,000 dollars, which is the equivalent of the government deficit of Lichtenstein.
MS: And the hereditary prince of Lichtenstein is the richest monarch in Europe. So he can afford it. And you, Mr. & Mrs. America listening to this in California or Idaho or suburban Connecticut, or wherever you are, you can’t afford it as easily as the hereditary grand prince of Lichtenstein, and that’s the debt burden. It’s about, total debt burden now is about $200,000 per man, woman, child, newborn baby, nonagenarian, retiree, about $200,000 dollars per American. That’s what we’re burdened with.
HH: Good Lord. Now Mark Steyn, given that, Rand Paul on this program yesterday, people can read the transcript, we’ve got a minute to the break, Rand Paul said this election is already over. Mitt Romney has already won it, because people understand that which you just referred to. Do you agree with Rand Paul?
MS: I hope so. I think the lesson of the recent flap, and why the Democrats are confident, is they think that the rationale that says everything’s kaput, we’ve got 50 million people on food stamps, we’ve got healthy, able-bodied people in their 50s saying they can’t get any work so they’re going to be permanently so-called disabled on Social Security, there are a number of people who when you point all that, say that’s why we need a Republican administration. But there are people who say that’s all the more reason to vote for the food stamp president, to stick with the Social Security disability president, to stick with the permanent dependency party. And that’s a kind of tragedy.
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HH: Mark Steyn, I want to put to you the biggest question of all. You know, you used to write these obituaries, and long may President Obama have a long and happy life in retirement. I’m not asking you to write anything other than a political obituary. But there are now four theories of Obama out there. You’ve got the Dinesh D’Souza anti-colonialist theory that we see in the movie, 2016…
HH: You’ve got the Stanley Kurtz, Radical-In-Chief, he’s a socialist theory, you’ve got Charles Kessler now in his new book, I Am The Change, saying he is just Lyndon Johnson, FDR and Woodrow Wilson, a progressive liberal who’s taken it to the nth degree, and then you’ve got sort of the Hewitt theory, which is he’s the Peter principle president, he could sing the first verse of Come All Ye Faithful, and doesn’t know any of the words, he can’t go off prompter, he’s been promoted way above his head, and he’s incompetent as the day is long. Which one is right, Mark Steyn?
MS: Well, I kind of try to wrestle with that in the book, and I think there’s elements of truth in all four of them. I’m not, in a way, I find Dinesh D’Souza’s, which his movie is very successful, I find it in some ways the least compelling, because I think I say in the book he reminds me less of an anti-colonialist than in fact when you see him acting as president, he reminds me more of these occasional viceroys you find in dusty British colonies slumming it on the edge of the map, and giving the impression that they’re far too grand for the job. He is the first president who gives off the whiff that he’s just doing it until something more commensurate with his talents comes along. So I have a slightly different view from Dinesh D’Souza. But what I think is at the heart of it is that he is all too typical of a kind of complacent, pampered and cosseted elite of no achievement.
MS: I’m a believer in elites, and I’m a believer in achievement. But the idea that a guy has a million bucks worth of education at Occidental, Columbia, Harvard Law, and he becomes a community organizer, he becomes a Constitutional scholar who doesn’t actually teach anything, he has this charmed life, he’s just wafted upwards until a combination of circumstances gives him the ultimate waft in 2008, and becomes president. And he’s someone who, to use an old Rumsfeld line, doesn’t know what he doesn’t know. He has this kind of invincible ignorance, so that when something happens, he goes off and he flies in to Cairo and gives his usual speech, and he thinks okay, that’s it, that’s the Muslim world taken care of, next. And then when it all explodes and blows up in his face, he’s not even interested enough to try and find out what’s going on here. And I think it’s that perfect pampered, cosseted, invincible ignorance. And if you’ve ever been on an American college campus, and just tried to plant a new thought in this sort of indestructible faculty lounge group think, you’ll be very familiar with the way Obama approaches these things.
HH: Now Mark Steyn, if he were to read After America, something I believe George W. Bush probably did, and if he didn’t when it first came out, he will do in the paperback now, but if the President were actually to read this, do you suspect there is a lot in here he would not know, and much that he would not understand?
MS: I think certainly.
MS: I mean, obviously I like President Bush in part because he did read. When America Alone came out, he did read that book.
HH: I’m talking about President Obama, though, reading this and not understanding.
MS: I think yes, I think President Obama would simply not recognize the world as portrayed there. And I think that’s simply because he’s in a self-flattering environment. Even if he were the centrist he presented himself as in 2008, I say somewhere in the book, on you know, whatever it is, Page 139, that if you look at the actual neighborhood in Chicago in which he lives, where would his idea of the American center be? And I’m not saying just to get stuff out of the way, what is worrying to me is that, and I say this as a foreigner, is that when you emigrate to a country, you become very aware that you’re not, that rituals are not instinctive to you, so that if you go to Memorial Day on a small town common, you have to remember oh wait, do I put my hand on my heart at this point? And wait a minute, this is, what is this, this is the Pledge of Allegiance? It’s this form of words, isn’t it? It’s not instinctive to you. You always have to think about it. And what I find fascinating about Obama is that so many of the rituals of American life seem alien to him, not because he was born in the coastal hospital in Mombasa, but because of the world in which he’s been marinated in Chicago.
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HH: We do have one of the vainest presidents ever in Barack Obama, but the perfect person to puncture his balloon is Mark Steyn, my guest this hour. His book, After America, out in paperback now, it’s linked at Hughhewitt.com. Mark, early in After America, in one of its most moving, actually, chapters, The New Rome, you quote Lileks talking about our failure to rebuild, or what we ought to have done after 9/11. And you talk about England after the fire, and how the ruins were cleared away and it was rebuilt. Then you write it’s not about al Qaeda, it’s about us. In that light, listen to the President today getting a question about who did this in Libya, tinged with outrage. Here’s what the President says.
BO: We’re still doing an investigation, and there are going to be different circumstances in different countries. And so I don’t want to speak to something until we have all the information. What we do know is that the natural protests that arose because of the outrage over the video were used as an excuse by extremists to see if they can also directly harm U.S. interests.
HH: Natural protests, Mark Steyn, as though they are justified, instead of denouncing the evil savages who killed and tortured our ambassador and three SEALs, one of whom was buried today in San Diego, and I’ll talk about that after the break when I tell the audience…
HH: It astonishes me that he cannot muster any outrage. You talked about this last week when he jetted off to Vegas and did his lounge act.
HH: But it’s been ten days and he still cannot summon anything about this issue.
MS: No, and this sort, this bloodless language, and incidentally, that’s a very interesting distinction he’s made. The extremists are the ones who presumably are the guys who go in and kill four Americans. But the fellows who just merely trash the embassy compound and run the al Qaeda flag up the pole in Tunis and burn down the American kids school when there’s nobody in it, they seem to be the kind who have the moderate, legitimate grievance over the content of this so-called video. Again, toward the end of the book, I have a section where I’m kind of looking back on our time, from maybe ten or twenty years in the future. And I say you would be amazed at how quickly Western, and how smoothly Western governments traded core principles such as freedom of speech, including in America even the 1st Amendment, traded them for a quiet life. And the only thing I got wrong, I think, is that I didn’t realize how seamless and smooth the abandonment of those principles would be. The assistant attorney general of the United States said he would not rule out a blasphemy law. This is extraordinary to me. Everybody…and it’s very dangerous, too, because what he is telling Mormons who don’t like certain Broadway musicals, or people who don’t like a crucifix soaked in urine, or even loyal subject of the Crown like me who don’t think French magazines should be publishing topless photos of Prince William’s lovely bride, the Duchess of Cambridge, that if you want to get attention, if you want to be taken seriously by President Obama, you shouldn’t bother having a debate on these things. You should just go and burn and bomb and kill. And that’s a very irresponsible lesson to teach, particularly when you’re supposed to be the most powerful man in the world, a phrase I notice nobody applies to the U.S. president anymore.
HH: And the other, about what you wrote, there is no quiet retirement, either. They won’t take surrender for an answer. They won’t accept our appeasement. It’s the same story. They won’t, it will never change under this guy.
MS: No, no they won’t. You can never make a list long enough, so you shouldn’t start. And I think it’s interesting to me that that is where the left and radical Islam meet, in that they both accept the legitimacy of severe restraints on individual liberty. And that is why, when people say well wait a minute, how come the left have wound up making common cause with anti-gay, anti-feminist, anti-everything you dig theocrats, well, the reason is because they’re both comfortable with state power in the cause of restraining individual liberty. And people say well, that’s a bit unfair on these nice, progressive lefties. Well, sorry, but the president of the United States has just confirmed that in the last couple of weeks.
HH: Mark, let’s finish by talking about the election. Yesterday on this program, Charles Kessler said the choice is urgent, the stakes are incredibly high. That, I hope, is the message of the next six weeks out of the Romney campaign. He seemed to be making it today. What do you see happening in the next six weeks? And do we get the debate we deserve? Or is the muffler of the media so large and so stifling that we will end up never debating the cliff on which we dance?
MS: Yeah, I thought when Paul Ryan got the vice presidential nod, that the great advantage of that pick was that we would at least have a proper debate, the big issues would be on the table. And instead, I find you know, Alan Colmes, bless him, is all excited, because somebody’s uncovered a video from 1962 of Mitt Romney’s mom saying Mitt’s dad was on welfare in 1932. I mean, I’m sure somewhere, someone will next be leaking a silent movie from 1919 showing Mitt’s grandpa at a soup kitchen complete with live piano accompaniment and titled dialogue cards. I mean, this is irrelevant. This is an existential question for the United States, whether it’s going to simply walk off the stage of history as a bleak, bankrupt power, or whether it is going to have serious course correction. That’s the choice.
HH: And do you see it being made the right way from your perspective, my perspective? Just how do you feel about this election?
MS: Well, I think Mitt ought to be 10-15 points ahead. And I accept all the things that people say about oversampling of Democrats in the polls, and the biased media, and all the rest of it. But I do think, I do think Mitt is surrounded in Boston by people who are urging him to fight too cautious and inoffensive a campaign. It is not, it would not be a small thing. You know, in the end, democracies get the governments they deserve. In 2008, the Republicans had outstayed their welcome, people were exhausted by war, Lehman Brothers, the global economy had nose dived, and this guy seemed presentable. Why not take a flier on him? If four years later, one can forgive that. One can understand it. If four years later, in the wake of what we’ve had these last four years, the American people vote to give Barack Obama a second term, that would in effect be a vote for national suicide, and history will judge them poorly for that.
HH: Mark Steyn, author of After America, thank you, my friend. www.steynonline.com for all things Steynian.
End of interview.