Mark Steyn on being modest, modish and cool
HH: An extraordinarily big day for the Tea Parties. Joining me to discuss it, Mark Steyn, Columnist To the world, www.steynonline.com. Hello, Mark. Do you think the Tea Party movement is stronger or less strong than it was a year ago?
MS: Oh, undoubtedly, undoubtedly stronger. In fact, I think insofar as the tide has been turned in public opinion against the Obama agenda, that’s almost entirely to the Tea Party, which has dragged along Congressional Republicans in its wake. They’re suddenly, the Tea Party crowd have played a bigger part in that than any of your big time Senators and what not.
HH: There have been efforts to infiltrate it, organized by crackpots across the country. Do you think that has been completely defensed?
MS: No, I think you have to watch out for that entirely, because you know that you could have 30,000 people wedged into a square, and it’s the one guy with the crazy sign that CNN and ABC and CBS are going to film and stick on the evening news bulletin. And if they’re lucky, the guy with the crazy sign will be a genuine Tea Party member. But if you send along a plant to discredit them, they’ll be just as likely to film him and pass it off. And by the time it’s exposed, all the damage will have been done. I mean really, the media, the legacy media, the dying, legacy media makes an enormous amount of difference to the political discourse in this country, because idea for idea, the Obama agenda is totally unpopular. So he really does depend on the media, even to maintain him at his current 44% or whatever it is.
HH: Now this will surprise you, but he made a speech today at NASA, calling, it was full of just the classic empty rhetoric about the best times are ahead of us, et cetera. But it represents a complete about face over the cuts that he delivered. Does he not think anyone is watching, Mark Steyn?
MS: Well, I think there are two kinds of Obama rhetoric. As you said, there’s the kind of meaningless stuff he just says when he happens to be giving a speech in front of a particular audience, and sometimes he can talk a good game, as he did in fact, when he made his Nobel acceptance speech. But those speeches are meaningless. They bear no relation whatsoever to any action that he does. And what’s interesting are the things he says where he does mean it, like I think for example, he really does believe in denuclearizing America. He really does believe in the single payer option that he argued for before he began his presidential campaign. The trick is to distinguish between things Obama says and means, and things where he just says something because it’s Tuesday, and he’s giving his 12th speech of the week.
HH: Now I think what he said about the West Virginia mining tragedy are sincere, Mark Steyn, but they’re very troubling. It is a terrible tragedy, but what do you think of a president of the United States saying that the energy company put their bottom line before the safety of their workers, the tragedy was triggered by a failure at the upper big branch mine, a failure first and foremost of management, but also a failure of oversight, and a failure of laws so riddle with loopholes that they allow unsafe conditions to continue. This is before, of course, any review of what happened has been undertaken, much less completed.
MS: Yes, and it’s again, that’s an interesting rhetorical device of his. On certain issues, he seems to be absolutely certain, even before the facts are known. The arrest of Professor Gates, when…that led to the famous beer summit at the White House, was one good example. You know, on certain issues, if you ask him about Iran’s nuclear plans, he doesn’t want to leap to conclusions. But if a professor at Harvard happens to get into a spot of bother, he’s happy to jump to conclusions. If nasty, wicked, rapacious, plutocrat mine owners are the issue, he’s absolutely certain what happened. And I don’t think, I think it’s interesting he said this on Tax Day, by the way, because the assumption that more government regulation is the answer right now to any of America’s problem, I think is highly suspect. What happened in West Virginia is a tragedy. To blame it on not just the mine owners, but the mine owners rigging the government regulation, I think is just not where America is at, at the moment.
HH: Let’s listen to President Obama talking about himself and the Australian Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd. Here’s the clip.
Reporter: Presidents and prime ministers always talk about a special U.S.-Australian relationship. And one of your senior State Department officials talked about a meeting of minds between you and Kevin Rudd. Is there a meeting of minds?
BHO: I really do think there is. You know, Kevin is somebody who I probably share as much of a worldview as any world leader out there. I find him smart but humble. He works wonderfully well in multilateral settings. He’s always constructive, incisive. And you know, I think he’s like me, a pragmatic person. I think he comes to the job wanting to provide better opportunities not just for this generation, but for the next. But I think, you know, he’s somebody who isn’t an academic or just thinking about abstract ideas. I think he’s constantly thinking in very practical terms about how to get something done.
HH: A little self-reverential, Mark Steyn?
MS: (laughing) Well, I don’t actually agree with the bit about Kevin Rudd being modest.
MS: I sat next to him at a conference a couple of years back, and I didn’t find him in the least bit modest. I’m not sure his best friends or even his wife would say that. What is interesting about Kevin Rudd is that actually, I would say whatever, I’m not a fan of his, and I think he’s been a disaster as Australian prime minister, but he is well to the right of President Obama. That was one thing he was, in our one meeting, he was very keen to impress on me. In some ways, in some ways, he’s got a far more conventional view of geopolitical relationships, and America and Western alliances, than Barack Obama has, who has mostly trampled over those alliances, and treated his allies appallingly. So although this actually counts as a form of endorsement of one of America’s allies, I still, it does not seem to me to have any great meaning, or to be rooted in any particular truth.
HH: Let’s look across the Atlantic to what is a first in history debate between a prime minister and the two contenders for his job, with an election coming up in about three and a half weeks. It was not broadcast anywhere I could find it, Mark Steyn. Were you able to watch any kind of feed of the big debate today?
MS: No, I wasn’t able, I wasn’t able to see it, and as you say, it is an historic thing in British terms. Other commonwealth countries, Australia for example, have gone in for American-style leader debates. I think one would have to say that Gordon Brown really ought to be losing by a far greater margin than he is at the moment in the British campaign. He’s not liked. He’s never been liked, not even in the way that Tony Blair was liked in the early years. He is presiding over an economic crisis that is far more severe in Britain than it is in the United States. And yet, and yet, the Tories don’t seem to be able to close the deal on this, and that, I think, is a reflection on the sort of rather squishy, faint-hearted campaign they’ve fought.
HH: Is it David Cameron, or is it a party as a whole problem?
MS: Well, you know, David Cameron has kind of remade the party in his image. And he is, I think, an almost irredeemably shallow man. He does not seem, to me, to have any roots in particular, in any particular political philosophy. He seems to be, his background is in kind of public relations marketing, and he seems to live up to all the clichés people have, of people whose only professional experience is in that world. But I would, I think the issue here is whether Gordon Brown has done enough to lose the election for Labour, because if the Conservatives can’t win in these conditions, and they, and even if they only win a minority government in a hung parliament, I man, that’s an appalling reflection, I think, on this so-called charismatic leader. Don’t forget, a lot of my conservative friends over here like David Frum, think that Republicans need to be more like David Cameron. If David Cameron cannot win convincingly in this situation, there’s certainly no reason for Republicans to emulate him.
HH: Excellent, excellent point. Last question, Mark Steyn. Lindsey Graham, it is said in the Washington Post today, will be introducing a cap and tax bill with Joe Lieberman and John Kerry later this week or early next week. What are the consequences of this move for the Republicans, and specifically for his close friend, John McCain?
MS: Well, I think this is crazy. I think that the moment has passed. Even in Australia, we were just talking about Kevin Rudd, Australia, they’ve backpedaled on that. New Zealand, which is one of the few Western countries to sign the Kyoto Treaty and try to live up to it, which the Europeans certainly didn’t do, recognized you can only do it at the price of destroying your economy. The moment has passed for global warming. The moment has passed. And this reminds me of one of the most unattractive features about Republicans, is that when they try to be modish and cool, they’re always slightly out of step.
MS: Lindsey Graham, Lindsey Graham getting hot for cap and trade is like watching your parents do the twist. It’s embarrassing, and it isn’t half as hip as they think it is.
HH: Mark Steyn, always a pleasure, www.steynonline.com, America.
End of interview.