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Mark Steyn on reviving Minsky’s, big spending government, and Iraq as a functioning democracy

Friday, February 6, 2009

HH: It’s Thursday, and we are lucky. That means Columnist To the World, Mark Steyn joins us. You can read all of Mark’s work at Mark, congratulations, I was listening to you on Rush this week, and it’s very alarming how good you are at that.

MS: Well, it’s always nice for me when you’re a misanthropic writer holed up in the mountains to get to go down to the big city and folic in the bright lights of Broadway for a couple of days.

HH: Now speaking of Broadway, I’m trying to book the author and director of a new musical out in L.A. called Minsky’s. It’s doing sort of a run before it goes to Broadway. Have you hear any buzz about this yet?

MS: Is this another Minsky’s as in the night they raided Minsky’s?

HH: Yeah, the burlesque.

MS: Right, right. I haven’t actually, but this is one of those runs that everyone’s tried to make a hit musical out of time and time again. In fact, Charles Strauss, the composer of the hit musical Annie and Bye Bye Birdie, you know, Put On A Happy Face, he actually wrote the music for the film, The Night They Raided Minsky’s. And Charles was always very wary that you could get an actual stage hit musical out of it.

HH: Well, I’m fascinated, because this is not the day and age where one would accept…it’s from the creators of the Drowsy Chaperone and from the composer of Annie, so it must be the same…

MS: Oh, in that case, it is. Charles have evidently (laughing)…

HH: He’s trying, huh?

MS: …lost his reservations and gone ahead and written a full blown score for it.

HH: In fact, Monday night, he’s going to be at Borders in Westwood, Charles Strauss, so I’ll post you up on it. I want to go see it and find out about…what do you make of his work?

MS: Oh, I loved…Charles, I think Put On A Happy Face is one of the great songs ever written. I mean, he’s one of the last of the great Broadway writers. He also wrote the theme for All In The Family, you know, Those Were The Days.

HH: Oh, really?

MS: Yeah, he’s just a terrific composer, wonderful composer, and kind of, people mock him because when Annie came out and everyone said it was like Oliver in drag, and they got sick of The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow, it’s one of those songs everybody mocks, and I think it’s in Shrek II, where there’s somebody singing The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow, bet your bottom, and they get interrupted and say what do you mean, bet your bottom? I mean, it’s one of those songs that everyone loves to poke fun at, but it’s actually very hard to write a song like that.

HH: Well, Casey Nicholaw is the director and the choreographer. I’ll keep you posted on that. Now let’s get to the serious stuff. This stimulus stinks. As Lindsey Graham came on the program yesterday, said the idea stinks and the process sucks, or something like that.

MS: Right, right.

HH: Do you think it can be resurrected?

MS: No, I think it’s very interesting that 20 minutes after everybody’s written the obituaries for American conservatism and the Republican Party, that the sheer ineptitude of the incoming administration, and these clapped out old hacks like Barney Frank and Harry Reid has managed to allow this sort of supposed corpse of the Republican Party to reframe the debate entirely in conservative terms, and in small government versus big government terms. And it is astonishing to me that a mere two weeks after the incoming messiah has wafted down from Planet Hopeychangula, that the Republicans have actually succeeded in putting him on all defense, all the time.

HH: And you know, Mark Steyn, I’m going to talk to Ross Douthat a little bit later, one of the fine, young conservative writers out there. But I detect among the younger conservatives a great deal of gloom and doom. And it’s as thought they don’t expect this to fail. But if you went through the Carter years, you know it’s going to fail. And it’s just failing much more quickly than we have any right to expect it to fail.

MS: Yes, I think that’s true, and I slightly part company from a lot of the conservative reformers such as my good friend, David Frum, who seem to think that we’ve tried rampant Ronald Reaganism and social conservatism and all the rest of it for the last twenty years, and the public’s tired of it. I don’t think you could say that George Bush Senior, that Bob Dole, that George W. Bush or that John McCain were anything like doctrinaire, hard core, right wing conservatives. And this idea that somehow we need to get even more squishy, I think, is not the answer. What’s interesting to me about this recent kerfuffle I think is that actually every time Nancy Pelosi and Barney Frank go on TV, they remind people of their visceral loathing of inefficient, incompetent, worthless big government that’s doing nothing but promoting a cultural agenda with which a lot of Americans are not entirely comfortable.

HH: Now when I talked to Lindsey Graham yesterday, the implication was that the Maine Senators, along with Arlen Specter and George Voinovich, would be the wobblies who would take us to a cloture vote and then to the conference. It is in the interest of the Republicans to have this go on as long as it possibly can go on. What conceivable reason would there be for an even moderate Republican to vote for this, Mark Steyn?

MS: Well, my sense is that if you take Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, the nice ladies from Maine, that their constituents are telling them that they think, this stimulus bill is stinking up the joint. So if Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins want to have any influence, the thing is not to join the Obama bandwagon just as the American public is leaping off it, but actually to let this particular bill fail, and then assist the Obama administration in providing some bipartisan cover for whatever comes along to replace it. But if Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins and the other so-called moderate are prepared to actually save this bill, then that doesn’t speak well for their political instincts, apart from anything else.

HH: No, it doesn’t. Now I want to switch. I started with the lighthearted Minsky’s, we got to the political, let’s get to the serious stuff. Millions of Iraqis voted peacefully on Saturday, Mark Steyn, since we last spoke. It’s an extraordinary world historical event, in my view. How do you assess it?

MS: Yes, I think it is, and it went off so peacefully that nobody over here reported it. The fact is this is the most democratic state in an undemocratic part of the world. The Saudis don’t hold elections like this, the Egyptians don’t, and not even the Jordanians. And the Iraqis are getting used to holding these elections far more smoothly than say the state of Minnesota does. And what is interesting to me is that if I look back at what I was writing in 2002-2003, I did say that if you wanted to actually destabilize the Middle East, which people like me wanted to do, then the point to do it at was Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, because you had this relatively secular population, they’re not going to be crazy for theocrats or the Taliban or anything like that, and it did offer the best hope at building a pluralist, genuine democracy in the Middle East. Now it’ll be an imperfect one. The present Iraqi government has the same antipathy toward Israel that all the other governments in the region do, but the fact is that it’s the least worst government in the region, and the United States and the American people should be very proud of it. And they should recognize that George W. Bush stuck with this at a time when these finger in the windy types like John Kerry were ready to bail out on it.

HH: I began a series of interview yesterday with Thomas P.M. Barnett, the author of the Pentagon’s New Map. He’s got a new book out called Great Powers which I recommend to you. He’s a pretty fierce Bush critic, but even he has to grudgingly admit that the best part of the Bush administration was strategic patience with regards to Iraq, a willingness to change, and the big bang theory, which is you could never cure the Middle East until you turned all the tables over.

MS: Absolutely. Absolutely right. And you know, a lot of us were saying this in 2002-2003. And that phrase you used, strategic patience, does not come naturally to America, because America isn’t an imperial power. And so it doesn’t like to do, put in the time and effort required to change a political culture, and to change even the broader culture. And I think that actually it’s unfinished work, but I think in the last five years, tremendous progress has been made in doing that. And as I said, this is something that in the normal course of events, a country would be very proud of it. Of course, we allowed Iraq to become victim to domestic politics, and to the loathing of George W. Bush. Very, very soon, he is going to get credit for his accomplishments there, and for sticking with this mission at a time when everybody, almost everybody else, including large numbers of his own party, wanted to just turn tail and run, and make it just another pathetic entry in the American catalogue of defeat like Vietnam and Jimmy Carter’s helicopters in the desert, and Somalia and all the rest of it.

HH: Last question, Mark Steyn, I listened to the BBC world report this morning, and unnoted in the West, or at least in the United States, is the expulsion or the ruled by Iranians’ office of the president of Iran, that no Iranians could work for the British Cultural Service in Iran, sort of a walling off of the West. It’s one of those little ominous things that makes you think we really do not know how whacky this guy is.

MS: No, and I think you have to figure that after 30 years, Iran has actually been very consistent in its whole approach to the rest of the world. The Iranian revolution is like the Russian revolution. It doesn’t regard itself as a national revolution. On this 30th anniversary, when it’s pretty much discredited within Iran, it sees itself primarily as being in the vanguard of an international revolution. And that’s how the Ayatollah Khomeini always saw it, and that’s how strategically the ayatollahs who run Iran always think it.

HH: It’s how we ought to think of it as well. Mark Steyn, always a pleasure., America, for the Columnist to the World.

End of interview.

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