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Hugh Hewitt Book Club

Mark Steyn on Obama’s bad week with the stimulus bill and his appearance on al-Arabiya

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HH: I begin, though, as I do every Thursday with Columnist To the World, Mark Steyn. Mark, we don’t often talk about education, but I want to tell you about this book, because these charter schools he covers, which have long hours, Saturday school, three weeks of summer school, enthusiastic teachers, are proving that inner city kids, even from the lowest level of society, can learn. Why is public education so crappy when we know what works?

MS: Well, I think you hit it right on the head there, because education in America today is undemanding. It asks very little of students regardless of whether you’re a gifted student or a mediocre one. Generally speaking, you’re not expected to know much, you’re not expected to take in much. I think children learn faster and learn more thoroughly from being pushed harder. And that sounds like part of the solution at least as far as this book’s concerned.

HH: Oh, it certainly is. I’m going to get you a copy of this. I’m sure you’ll be as engrossed as I was, because it’s all about that. They raise the bar, and they make these kids work hard, and they do drills, Mark Steyn. It’s amazing what we have to relearn every thirty years. By the way, I always get questions. Where were you educated? Where did you get your genius?

MS: (laughing) I was, I had my high school education at King Edward’s school in England, which is J.R.R. Tolkien’s old school.

HH: Oh my.

MS: …along with Field Marshall Viscount Slim, who was one of the great warriors of the Second World War, and subsequently governor-general of Australia. And so I believe that was the last school where Latin and Greek were compulsory. And so it was like a tough place, academically. And I’m a great, you said we have to relearn this stuff every thirty years. The problem is that if you let it drift twenty or thirty or forty years, then you’ve got a bunch of people wandering around who’ve been sort of raised with a deficient education. I mean, I’d really think education is absolutely the heart of it. I’m not talking about college or high school, or even middle school. But I reckon kindergarten and grade school, your first five, six, seven years, if you get that wrong, you’re just playing catch up even if you stay in school until you’re thirty.

HH: I agree with that, and I think that the Republicans would be very well advised to focus a lot of their attention when they’re in the wilderness on this project, on the repair of public education through common sense charter school movements, because Mark Steyn, parents hate this stuff. There isn’t an American who approves of this, and yet it never changes, although there’s hope with this, like I said, Work Hard. Be Nice. I think the Republicans are getting their bearings, and they should go there. What did you make of yesterday’s vote?

MS: I was very glad to see it. I think we might possibly have seen an overreaching by the Democrats here. It’s clear that stimulus is now becoming a joke word. And it’s clear, I think, that the Democrats simply thought that the public were not paying attention. And instead what’s happened, I think, the Republican Party has realized the public is paying attention, and that in a sense, big government is looking decadent again, the way it did in the early Clinton years before the Contract With America and Newt Gingrich came along. So I think this could, I think this actually could be a sea change. The interesting question is how committed Obama is to all this big government stuff, because in the end, Bill Clinton was happy to throw it overboard and work with welfare reform and all the rest of it. It would be interesting to see whether Obama concludes that this kind of porked-up stimulus stuff is just for losers.

HH: You know, Mark Steyn, we’ve got 22 months to the next election. But already I can see the little cartoon clouds over people’s heads saying hmm, maybe Democrat president and Democrat Congress is bad idea. Maybe we should send the messiah a Republican Congress so that they don’t do stupid things like this. And the hardest thing for Republicans will be to explain why they suddenly understand spending. Now I have some thoughts on that, but what do you think is their best answer to that?

MS: Yes, I think they have to in effect run against their own record here. And I think there’s no point trying to compete with the Democrats on that. That’s in fact what we saw in the last few years. And I think they have to, I think that’s what was so heartening about this kind of 100% opposition. You know, if you really were interested in stimulating the economy, I mean you can do it by an immediate tax holiday that would benefit Americans in their pay slips next month. That stimulates things immediately. But this doesn’t do anything but stimulate the annexation of the vital dynamic sector of the economy by the moribund hand of big, centralized government. And if it takes a spell out of power for the Republicans to learn that, that’s great.

HH: Now I think…that’s exactly…they have to articulate what they did wrong when they had the majority on the domestic spending side, and then they also have to point out that a lot of our deficit was defense, homeland security-based, and for prescription drugs. This stuff is like a hangover, I mean, a binge. It’s not even, there’s nothing going to be left at the end of the day with this. And it is comical.

MS: Well, I think that’s the right phrase. You know, the Times of London had a story this week that revealed that government spending now accounts for 49% of the economy in the United Kingdom. And when you look at certain parts of the country, if you look at Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, I think it’s 71% in Wales, 77% in Northern Ireland, and 70-something in Scotland. When the state gets that big, there’s no room for anybody else. Anybody who’s got an idea, anybody who wants to do anything in private enterprise, anyone who wants to celebrate innovation has to go to the airport and get a plane out of there, because once it gets that big, you’re basically in Soviet territory, and that’s the danger with this ridiculous so-called non-stimulus thing that the Democrats and Obama are still wedded to.

HH: Yes, the Porkapalooza I’ve been calling it. Now I’ve got to move to the other danger, though, because we’ve been so fixed on this ridiculous non-stimulus stimulus that a lot of people have missed the Obama appeal to Arabiya, and the fact that he didn’t bring up its gender apartheid, Christopher Hitchens calls it. It’s where gays are executed. And he made no rebuke to these societies. I found it astonishing, Mark Steyn. What did you think?

MS: Well, you don’t have to be gay, an oppressed homosexual about to be executed. You don’t have to be a woman who’s being sold to an arranged child marriage. You just have to be a moderate, centrist Arab intellectual in, say, Cairo or Amman, and you listen to Obama sucking up to these creeps, and there’s nothing for you in it. What he’s doing is he says, he’s saying to hell with the Bush freedom agenda. We just want to get back to schmoozing the feted Arab dictatorships and the mullahs in Tehran all over again. And so if you’re a gay or a woman, you’re out of there. And as I said, if you’re a moderate Arab who just would like to have a free society in Cairo or Amman or wherever, you’re out of it, too. You’re on the Obama horizon. It was a pathetic, disgraceful Jimmy Carter speech.

HH: I agree with this, and he did it on the day that the Iranians arrested those horrible criminals in Tehran who allowed the women soccer players to play with the men soccer players.

MS: Right.

HH: And this is, I guess it’s beyond his understanding yet that everything he does has many audiences. You know, George Bush once told a bunch of us in the Oval Office that everything he did had many audiences. The number most important to him was the American military abroad.

MS: Right.

HH: …but that these audiences, you’ve got to think through that. I don’t think he actually gets that yet.

MS: No, I don’t. I think in fact, on that al-Arabiya interview, he just sounded basically way out of his league. And I hope someone brings him up to speed soon, because going around giving those interviews, as I said, he was talking about getting us back to thirty years ago. Well, thirty years ago, they were taking Americans hostage in Tehran. Thirty years ago, Jimmy Carter was communicating weakness to the world, and the Ayatollah rightly concluded these Americans are pushovers. And Obama shouldn’t be doing that message all over again.

HH: Last question, Mark Steyn, I want to give you a minute to think about this. A lot of people are very depressed. They think it’s lost. They think American capitalism is smashed. It’s over. I don’t. I think it’s going to snap back rather quickly. Ditto foreign policy. But I haven’t heard you opine on this yet. What do you think?

MS: Well you know, I do think you can reach a tipping point. And I think if that stimulus bill goes through as planned, that that does set obstacles in the way, not insuperable obstacles, but eventually you just have so many barnacles and crusting to the hull of American dynamism that it is very hard for the ship to push ahead. I’m an optimist. I’m a happy warrior. But if that stimulus thing, these trillion dollar deficits and all the rest of it goes through, it’s going to take a lot longer for as I said, the ship of American dynamism to plow through this stuff.

HH: Okay, I’ve got time for one more. Sarah Palin going to the alfalfa dinner, mistake on her part?

MS: Well you know, Sarah Palin does things that sometimes misfire and sometimes don’t. On the whole, I trust her instincts. She is a popular figure, and she was pretty much responsible for all the enthusiasm on the Republican side in this last autumn.

HH: It’s Daniel and the Lion’s Den moment. I compliment her courage. Mark Steyn, thank you.

End of interview.


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