HH: We begin this hour as we do when we are lucky on Thursdays with Mark Steyn, Columnist To the World. You can read everything that Mark writes at www.steynonline.com. Mark, I’d like to begin with a simple request. Please don’t call me at home, because if anybody’s being snooped, I’m sure you are.
MS: Yeah, in the days before all this stuff broke, I had, I suddenly became terribly paranoid. I started thinking I heard clicks on the line. And my assistant sent me an email which mysteriously took 13 hours to arrive, and I though oh, yes, that’s gone via Eric Holder. And I think it actually makes sense for the default position to be that you just assume that somewhere, somehow, this is being recorded by some government operative somewhere or other.
HH: Now I am not really too upset. I used to do this for the government in ’85 and ’86 for two attorneys general. I filed the applications for warrants before the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, and the AG would review them and sign them, and you’d send them over. And I think it’s like Where’s Waldo. They’re getting the background against which they can then go look for Waldo. But I want to know, so I’m not particularly exercised about the NSA story. Are you, Mark Steyn?
MS: Well, I wouldn’t be were it not for the context in which it appears. I mean, I think there’s no doubt that computers and technology being the way they are, that governments can know everything about you pretty much when they want to. And I accept the point of my friend and colleague, Andy McCarthy, who points out that in fact the Supreme Court ruled in favor of this kind of meta-data surveillance in 1979, although obviously, that’s before the age of the mobile phone, where in effect, tracking what calls you’re making is also a way of tracking where you physically are at any one time. But putting all that aside, you know, in all free societies, freedom, liberty, democracy, depends on a certain circumspection of the government class toward the powers they have. If they want to, they can ride a coach and horses through the thing, and do pretty much what they want to you. And this revelation comes up in the wake of a tax collection agency that is leaking information on groups to their political opponents, in terms of the context of an Attorney General who goes on TV and denies that he lied to Congress on the grounds that in fact, he was lying to the judge. So this is when he wanted to read a journalist’s emails. So that’s the context in which this occurs, and I think in that context, it is slightly disturbing.
HH: You know, I was on Sean Hannity’s television show on Monday night with Joe Trippi, and not even Joe, there are no Democrats who will deny that Eric Holder misled Congress. Nobody believes he was telling the truth, Mark Steyn, and yet he’s still the attorney general.
MS: Well, yeah, and this is the chief law officer of the United States. And he’s just gone on national television and said he was obligated to lie to the judge. I had to sign some rinky-dink, little affidavit for something or another the other day, and you know, you have to get it notarized and all the rest of it, and you’re not allowed, when the citizen has to file relatively routine bits of information, you’re not allowed to lie. In fact, the point of the law, you’re not allowed to lie to Eric Holder’s minions. You’re not allowed to lie to a federal agent. Martha Stewart went to jail for lying to an employee of the attorney general of the United States. Yet the Attorney General himself is allowed to lie to a judge. This isn’t small stuff, you know. It’s the point at which a respectable society decays into something darker and far more sinister and unattractive.
HH: You’re right about that. I also think we need to spend some time, though, the dissent of the Democrats and the Obama administration into squalid scandal has obscured the paralysis on the Republican side, where nothing is happening. And this week, Marco Rubio came on the show and announced that he probably wouldn’t vote for his own bill unless it was amended. And that was good news, because it needs a lot of amendments. But then, John Cornyn’s amendment leaked, Mark Steyn, and there’s no fence in the leak. Now maybe it’s still in the bill, but what they gave Jen Rubin, I just said to myself, nobody cares about everything the Republicans talk about when they talk about border security. Nobody cares about 90% control of 95% of the sectors on seven out of eight days. Nobody cares about that. They just want a fence. But the Republicans won’t talk about a fence. Are we getting a giant head fake?
MS: Well, let’s put it this way. I mean, you’re a bigger fan of the fence than I am.
HH: Yeah, I know that.
MS: Because I think there’s actually quite a few problems with legal immigration that will arise from this bill. But you know why a fence appeals to people, and I think that’s partly why it appeals to you, is because you can see it. If you happen to be in Southern Arizona or Southern California, you will be able to see the fence. It will be something concrete that will be visible that has to be done, has to be made, has to be built. And so much of what government is, particularly at the federal level now, is mumbo jumbo. It’s about programs, it’s about targets, it’s about expenditures, but it’s not about anything you can actually see, feel, touch, know where the money’s gone, have something that’s objective and measurable. And I think the Democrats are obviously the best at this. I mean, Obama ramped up the national debt by $6 trillion dollars in his first term, and nobody can see where a dime of that money has actually gone. He spent $6 trillion dollars and left no trace. But the Republicans are prone to a touch of that, too, that they’d prefer a lot of these other so-called nebulous, amorphous, shadowy safeguards that no one is actually going to be able to nail down and say no, you failed to meet that deadline, no, this doesn’t exist, no, that’s a flop, too. And the Republicans are too attached to that.
HH: You have read me exactly right, and it’s because the fence is the visible expression of an invisible resolve. But what I hadn’t figured out until you just said it is that Republicans don’t want to be held to that standard, either. I’ve been trying to figure out if they think it’s bad politics, but it’s not bad politics. And it’s not ineffective, because Israel’s fence works. And the folks in Arizona know these things work. But you are probably right. They don’t want to be held accountable for when it doesn’t get built, and they all swear on a stack of Bibles that they were delivering something.
MS: Yeah, and I think that’s true, because it’s something where you’re delivering something that cannot be argued with. A wall is a wall. It’s either there or it’s not there. And almost everything they’re doing in Washington is unreal in that respect. I was slightly horrified today when I passed a television set and there’s some guy, one of these idiots who appeared in the IRS Star Trek video, and he’s talking about mechanisms that are going to be put in place to prevent him falling for the urge to appear in another Star Trek video in the future. But of course, if you need to put in kind of administrative safeguards for someone to know that he shouldn’t be dressing up as Mr. Spock on the government’s dime, you’re pretty much done for anyway. And there probably isn’t a regulation that can be written in an airtight way that won’t have this IRS idiot starring in the Wrath Of Khan II whenever it happens to suit him.
HH: You are absolutely right. You know the funny hat rule on the campaign trail, is that candidates never put on funny hats, and government agents should never appear in funny videos, because they’re not funny. It is actually wonderful, Mark Steyn, that they made those videos, because it captured so completely what you and I think of so much of what the government does.
MS: Yeah, no, I know. I know. And as I said, the idea now that, you know, indeed, as absurd as the Star Trek video is, the idea that us as taxpayers paying for the Inspector General to look into the Star Trek video and compile a big, long report itemizing about why the Star Trek video at the IRS is wrong, is equally as absurd.
HH: Yes. Okay, quick question. If we canceled every training session in every government agency at the federal government, just canceled every single one from now for the next ten years, would the efficiency of the government improve? I know we would save money, but do you think the government would work better if we canceled all official government training of government employees?
MS: Absolutely. Absolutely, because I think all this sort of micro-training misses the central point, that public officials, civil servants, how they behave, is a kind of inherent code of ethics, a sense of honor, a sense of public responsibility, and that is not something you need to be flown to San Diego or Anaheim and put up in a $3,500 dollar hotel room for five nights watching a guy paint a painting of Bono on stage for you to improve. So none of this stuff has anything to do with proper conduct of government business.
HH: Now people just need to focus on that and keep scratching at that, because ask yourself what they were doing. Mark Steyn, always a pleasure, www.steynonline.com, America, for everything that Mark Steyn writes.
End of interview.