Mark Steyn on being cool in one’s shoes versus being cool while ducking them.
HH: Joining us to discuss the availability of A Marshmallow World and other find products from www.steynonline.com, is Columnist To the World, Mark Steyn. Hello Mark, how are you?
MS: Good to be with you, Hugh.
HH: Has Amazon reloaded yet?
MS: Yeah, they can’t seem to keep it in stock. As soon as they get a new load in, they sell out. Very bizarrely, Marshmallow World was number seven on Amazon’s easy listening downloads over the weekend…
MS: …which I didn’t think to pay too much heed to. And then I looked at the real chart, and it had made it up to 41 on the vocal/pop chart, which was twenty points ahead of my little girl’s favorite Jonas Brothers track, at which point she gave up entirely disgusted (laughing).
HH: (laughing) Well, I’ve got to say I’m so impressed with the success of A Marshmallow World that I’m deeply envious of it, but my hat is off to you. Mark Steyn, though, it brings up a serious point. Later today, last half hour of the show, I’m going to talk with Jonathan Alter of Newsweek, who wrote the book, The Defining Moment, that Barack Obama’s reading about this. And I’m going to talk to Jon about what I consider to be the ebullience gap. You know, presidents have got to do a lot of different things, and one of them is they’ve got to have some good humor about them, especially when times are tough.
HH: It’s not the Great Depression. I was telling, reading up on Alter’s book. There was 80% unemployment in Toledo in 1933.
MS: Right, right.
HH: But nevertheless, Barack Obama is too damn dull. He’s got to liven it up a bit. What do you think?
MS: Well, I think he won the election by being cool. He just stood there a lot of the time and looked fantastically cool. That was what decided the election for him in mid-September. When John McCain was running around like some big, neurotic ninny, suspending his campaign and going back to Washington to work on whatever bailout was going on that week, that’s when Obama won, just by standing still and looking cool, the way great movie actors do. Often, if you think of great iconic movie stars, just to take Obama’s fellow smoker Humphrey Bogart, when we think of Bogie, I mean, he’s got great lines. But a lot of the time he’s just standing there looking terrifically cool. But whether a president can do that for four years, I don’t know. I mean, it’s interesting to me on all this business in Chicago. When he’s asked about it, he gives one of his very cool answers, very evenly modulated. If ever there was a time to get excited and show some genuine outrage, it’s the idea of this guy trying to sell off your Senate seat. Yet this sort of very flat, very even, very cool mode seems to be all Obama has.
HH: Mark Steyn, some of that I put down to the television age, and I bring up, not because I don’t like him, in fact, I do like Anderson Cooper, but I don’t think Anderson Cooper ever smiles. And most of the anchors that we now see try to adopt a pose of being completely unruffled by everything, and never evidencing any sort of engagement or attachment. And I think Obama’s figured out that this works for them, and he wants to be sort of a television anchor president. But that doesn’t work very well.
MS: No, I’m not sure how you can keep that term. I mean, people feel differently about it. I was complaining about this to Alan Colmes over at Fox, and saying that he’s too mellow. And I said he’s like Perry Como singing Winter Wonderland. And Alan Colmes said no, you mean he’s like your record of Marshmallow World. And of course, that’s what he’s not. If he was as perky…
HH: If he was happy…
MS: …as me and Jessica doing Marshmallow World, it would be a variation in tone. That’s the point. You know, President Reagan, for example, was a very buoyant, sunny, optimistic guy, and projected that. But he could also be very serious. I mean, this guy, you can’t do this sort of minimalist method acting presidency. He’s got to expand his range a bit.
HH: I agree in that. Now speaking about staying cool, the shoe incident, I’ve seen it a thousand times, and it was all the talk of the White House on Tuesday night when the media descended there for our annual, or for me, my last, probably, visit to the White House for media day.
HH: And the President, of course, ducks, stood up, ducked again, and was completely unflapped by this thing. And yet the media wanted to turn it into other than an occasion of the display of the sort of personality which Bush has, which is cool under fire.
MS: Yeah, and I thought he was great. He waived away his Secret Service guys who wanted to hustle him out of the room, which would have looked terrible.
MS: I mean, he understood that. And when he said that line of his, whatever it was, all I can report to you is that it’s a size ten, that’s a great line. And it made me realize that in fact although conservatives have all kinds of problems with President Bush, I think in the end, we will miss him. He shows great cool, but also a kind of grace. And this idea the Bush derangement crowd, including the Washington Post, and I don’t mean just the crazy Baathists and Co. over in the Middle East, but the Bush derangement crowd frantically trying to oomph this loser Egyptian Baathist twerp hurling his shoes at Bush into some kind of one great chance to really stick it to the hated president, I think they look pathetic. I mean, I think he came out well of this, very well out of this incident.
HH: Now we are going to need some grace very soon in the Oval Office for a few reasons, and coming up after the break, I’ll talk with Eli Lake about his piece in the New Republic about Iraq and withdrawal. But I’m speaking more in terms of Reuel Marc Gerecht’s Our Pakistan Problem, the Stratfor piece that came out today, a crisis in India/Pakistan relations, and a book I’ve been reading by Ahmed Rashid. He wrote the Taliban book a few years ago.
HH: This one is Descent Into Chaos, his visceral anti-Bushism sort of mars the book.
HH: But you can’t put down anything on Pakistan without realizing, Mark Steyn, that this is not yet a failed state, but on the bring of becoming one with enormously difficult problems as a result for us.
MS: Yes, and Pakistan should never have been created. It was a typically disastrous move by Lord Mountbatten who was the viceroy of India at the time, and it is probably the worst mistake in British Imperial policy in the 20th Century, the creation of Pakistan. It should never have happened. Unfortunately, it has happened, and in the 60 years since India became independent, it’s prospered as a democracy, a great economic innovator and a pluralist society. Pakistan has devolved backwards. It’s getting worse. Pakistani children received an education compatible with life as a civilized Western citizen 50 years ago. Now they receive primarily an education designed to keep you simply as a moronic person who knows nothing except the basics of life under a severe form of Islam. The question is whether Islamabad can enforce its sovereignty. And what’s happening is that its sovereignty is decaying and crumbling in more and more parts of the country. The question then is what other powers can do about it. And the reality is that if you’re Obama and you make airy threats to invade Pakistan, that’s not something anyone should consider lightly. If you think Iraq’s a quagmire, Pakistan will be the mother of all quagmires. Nobody wants to go into Waziristan, the tribal areas. This is not somewhere that any Western power would go lightly. I think there are very few options in Pakistan, and certainly trying to hustle them towards any kind of the glibbest form of democracy is probably just going to deliver it into the hands of dark forces, too.
HH: It’s interesting, we’ve avoided going whole hog with India for fear of upsetting Pakistan for so long. But it’s becoming obvious to me that India’s going to upset that balance on its own by virtue of its energy. Have you seen Slumdog Millionaire yet, by the way?
MS: No, I haven’t, no.
HH: Magnificent movie that is on one level a wonderful human story, but also about the vibrancy and the growth of India over the last twenty years.
MS: Oh, yes.
HH: And it’s an extraordinary place.
MS: Yeah, I mean, India is a much better long term bet than China, for example, because India has a real market of its own, so India can develop products. One of the things that’s great about India, for example, if you just pull up at a gas station, you’ve got these things like ATM machines where you can buy like a fifty dollar domestic air ticket straight out of the wall like that. I mean, it’s full of, it’s a real market, a real country with real innovation.
MS: Pakistan, unfortunately, isn’t exporting anything right now except jihadism.
HH: One minute left, Mark Steyn. I’ll finish on a movie note. I saw Frost/Nixon, and I know you haven’t seen it yet, or at least I don’t think you have.
HH: But what about David Frost? What’s your assessment of him as sort of a media figure over the last thirty years?
MS: Well I love, I used to do David’s show on British TV an awful lot. And I loved him, I love him dearly because, I think, in British television terms, he was the first person to make himself a kind of corporate enterprise. What was interesting to me in British television is people could spend 20, 30, 40 years on TV with huge audiences, and they had nothing to show for it at the end of it. They were just some guy with a BBC salary. Right from the word go, he saw himself as a global enterprise, and that’s why he was able to pull off things like the Nixon interviews.
HH: He’s an extraordinary guy in that film. I’m glad to hear you like him a lot. Mark Steyn, always a pleasure, from www.steynonline.com, all the Steyn books of the season and of course, A Marshmallow World.
End of interview.