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Mark Steyn on car czars and Blago’s barbs

Thursday, December 11, 2008

HH: We begin this Thursday as we do every Thursday with the magnificent Mark Steyn. Mark Steyn, not only do you have your brand new single out, A Marshmallow World, but it turns out all the time I’ve spent trying to get you appointed governor-general, if I had instead just gone about raising money, we could have bought you a Senate seat.

MS: Yeah, I know. I keep thinking now I should have maybe put in a call to the Governor of Illinois, because I didn’t actually realize you could get it that cheap. When you talk about some of the sums that are being bandied about in these conversations, you would have thought a United States Senate seat, particularly the 60th seat, I mean, he was in effect proposing to trade one of the seats that could have delivered a filibuster-proof one party state to the Democratic Party. And it came cheap at the price, too.

HH: Now it is a magnificent city, and I remember when you covered the trial there last year, you spent a lot of time in Chicago. As you walked around Chicago in those weeks and months that you were there for the trial, did you become corrupted in any way? Did it just sort of grab hold of you and turn you upside down and turn you into an absolute grubbing money changer?

MS: Well, you know, you do start to look at things differently. One of the fellows who played a part in that trial was Big Jim, Governor Jim Thompson, who was the Republican governor of Illinois a couple of years ago. And he’s not a conservative, he’s not my kind of guy in any way. He’s the usual RINO squish. But the one thing that he seems to have had going for him is that compared to his Democrat predecessors and successors, he was just about the least corrupt governor on the Illinois scene. The reality is it’s just accepted, and particularly in Chicago, in Cook County. I mean, that is a one party state. If you want to make things happen, you’ve got to make them happen through Mayor Daley. I remember having a conversation with one of my former colleagues at the Chicago Sun-Times about how when they announced that they wanted to sell their building lot to Donald Trump, the way Mayor Daley was very eager, as they put it, to make the deal work. And the minute people use those words to you in Cook County, and in Chicago, they’re usually accompanied by all the knowing winks. People accept that as the way business is done. What’s interesting about these conversations as recorded by the U.S. attorney is the way at no time does anyone appear to say whoa, man, you’re way out of line here, I can’t believe you’re talking like this.

HH: Nobody, nobody.

MS: Nobody does that.

HH: It’s also remarkable that the profanity is so mundane. I mean, I’ve heard people swear. I worked with Nixon for a while, so I’ve heard people swear, and they can be much more colorful than this. This is repetitious and routine and just very dull.

MS: Well, this sounds like some boring wannabe mobster who’s watched some boring third-rate mob movies, and thinks that when you’re trying to talk tough, making every other word the F-word is the way you do it. And I agree with you that it doesn’t sound, it’s not, it doesn’t sound to me persuasively tough. It sounds like a Nancy boy trying to be a tough guy. And when you look at the, when the governor then describes, insists on describing the President-elect with these words beginning with F and beginning with M, you know, the MF word to be discreet, I love the way Patrick Fitzgerald insists on putting in brackets in all the transcripts.

HH: It’s like the old Nixon tape transcripts – expletive deleted, yes.

MS: Well, and he’ll put the F-word in, and then he’ll put in the brackets, the President-elect. I mean, this is…I think, you know, I always find it when people swear excessively, it always shows, I think, a kind of weakness. They always sound to me like second-rate Vegas lounge acts complaining that their dressing room isn’t good enough, you know, when they start saying I’m going to get that f’er, and I’m going to f’ing do this and f’ing do that. I think it sounds pathetic, and the governor sounds pathetic talking like this.

HH: What’s the potential of this scandal in terms of months and/or years impacting the Obama administration?

MS: Well, the question is obviously his present position is ridiculous, that you know, he’s had no conversations with him. It’s his Senate seat. Obviously he and the governor of his state will have had some kind of contact about this. So there is a question mark whether some of these references to speaking to people in Washington, the enigmatic Advisor B and various other figures, how close some of this gets from the governor’s circle to the Obama circle. But the bigger point, I think, is whether this is the world in which Obama advanced, and got his political teeth in. It’s the only world he knows. He spent essentially twenty years in Cook County. And so the question now is whether we are witnessing, if you like, the Cook Countification of America. There was some evidence in the months before the election that although he talks a nice game and he’s all Mr. Hopey-changey, that when you cross him, he does react very much as the governor of Illinois does, and in the Chicago machine way. So the question is whether he is at heart a Chicago machine pol, or whether this was simply a flag of convenience he flew under for twenty years.

HH: And we will follow that inevitably for the next at least many months. And now the transition to part two of the interview with Mark Steyn, including A Marshmallow World, by the way, how is A Marshmallow World doing, Mark?

MS: Well, it’s actually doing very well. I mean surprisingly well, really. sold out of the CD, which came as a bit of a shock to me.

HH: (laughing)

MS: But they are continuing to sell like hotcakes on the Amazon download thing, where you pay 99 cents and get it straight onto your computer, which I never think is as much fun, because I think it has an especially groovy CD cover. So I…

HH: It does have a groovy CD cover with your Marshmallow toast along with Jessica Martin. Well now to my second subject. It appears, against all odds, that the Republicans in the Senate have grown a backbone, and have turned down the bailout with the car czar. And I came to this conclusion after a really disappointing interview yesterday with the deputy chief of staff at the White House who couldn’t tell me what they hadn’t gotten that they asked for in the deal, which tells me they didn’t ask for anything in the deal, Mark Steyn. Are you sorry to see this thing go away?

MS: Look, I think this is the poverty of low expectations, or whatever you call it. The fact is the auto bailout is ridiculous, and should not have been passed. We’re really on the brink of something very dangerous here, where this stupid bailout thing, and it’s not a bailout, by the way. This is an erroneous term, and they shouldn’t be allowed to get away with it. What we’re doing is in effect using government intervention in major parts of the economy to a degree that can only prove disastrous. And your suggestion that Michigan, which of all states actually does need it, that they should get a sort of tax-free zone going in Michigan, that Michigan should become like the Hong Kong of the United States, a great place of opportunity, is exactly the sort of thing that Republicans should be asking for. Detroit was the industrial powerhouse of the world fifty years ago. Now it’s a basket case. They did that to themselves. There’s no reason for Congress to collude in doing it to the rest of America.

HH: Now do you expect the kind of disaster that my friend from the White House, Joel Kaplan, was telling me, that you know, we’re going to have massive layoffs, massive unemployment, hundreds of thousands…do you actually think that’s going to happen if a decent deal isn’t resurrected?

MS: No, I don’t think so. I mean, the fact of the matter is that when you look at the sums of money being talked about per person, the bailout doesn’t make sense on those terms alone. It would, in fact, actually be better for them to stop making cars and give everybody incredibly generous unemployment pay, because what’s happening at the moment is that they cannot make a car at a price any customer in the United States is prepared to pay for it. And secondly, this idea that it’s the end of Chevy, or it’s the end of Ford is ridiculous. Those brands are potent brands, and will survive. But they can’t survive under the present regimes. If you…what’s dangerous about all this is that we’re talking about the kind of money it’s very easy for Congress just to shovel at them every couple of months. You know, it’s small enough, $15 billion, $20 billion, $25 billion…

HH: Yup.

MS: They’re small enough sums you can keep coming back and asking for them, and they get just lost in the great sucking moor of the federal budget.

HH: 45 seconds, Mark. With the spotlight on Chicago, folks like Eric Zorn, John Kass, Lynn Sweet, some great writers in Chicago are going to get a lot of exposure. Will it be enough to resurrect the Chicago Tribune, save the Sun-Times, do you think?

MS: No, I don’t think so. I think that we’re seeing just the news from last week, the Chicago Trib filing for bankruptcy, New York Times mortgaging its building. It’s not just the internet. It’s the product. It’s the product. And until they understand that the content matters here, too, you cannot save American newspapers. They’re dull, they’re boring, they’re the worst in the English-speaking world.

HH: Mark Steyn, always a pleasure,, America.

End of interview.

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