HH: We begin as we do on every Thursday when we are lucky with Columnist To the World Mark Steyn. You can read all of Mark’s work at www.steynonline.com. Heard you sitting in for Rush this morning and doing a wonderful job of it, Mark.
MS: Yeah, it’s always fun for me, because writing is a sad and solitary occupation. So it’s always good to get out of the house.
HH: Well, I want to begin, we have a lot to talk about, but I want to begin a little bit way off our beaten path, of course, with the musical theater. Last night, the Fetching Mrs. Hewitt and I took in a movie called Every Little Step, which is a documentary on the revival of A Chorus Line. First question, do you care for the show, A Chorus Line?
MS: I think A Chorus Line is a period piece. And in a strange way, it’s far more dated than Oklahoma or Showboat or anything like that. And so I look on it as a kind of 1970s time capsule. There are some pretty songs in it. I quite like One (Singular Sensation) as a kind of old fashioned show tune, and I quite like What I Did For Love as a sort of gloopy 70s soft rock ballad. But I think A Chorus Line, as I said, a little, far more dated and obsolescent in a way than South Pacific or The King And I.
HH: I think you will greatly enjoy the film not because of the Chorus Line material, but because it brings to bear just how ruthlessly competitive it is. There were 3,000 dancers lined up for this revival, and they follow the whole year of revival with Marvin Hamlisch and the director and all the other stuff.
HH: So my question to you is given the ruthless competitiveness of theater folks, and how they live and die on talent and merit alone, and how the show opens, if it’s no good it closes, and money is lost or money is made, and either Marvin Hamlisch can make a song or not make a song, how come they’re so left wing when they live in such, sort of a capitalist world?
MS: Yeah, I think it’s, in a strange way, I think it’s precisely because of that, that they know something about the whimsicalities of fate. You write two songs. You write a song on a Tuesday afternoon, and you write a song on the Thursday afternoon. And you think they’re both good songs. But the Tuesday afternoon song dies and nobody ever hears it again, and the Thursday afternoon song, some big star, you know, Celine Dion makes a record of it, and then it gets on a TV commercial, and then it gets taken up as a kind of standard fare Christmas song, and suddenly you’re making millions from that song every year. And I think at heart, it’s because of the whimsicality of show business that these people then take refuge in a kind of false communitarianism. You know, one thing that’s very interesting about A Chorus Line is it’s the idea of building community among these dancers. And there is a sort of communal aspect to show business. But it’s also a fake one. If you know the famous Broadway saying, you know, it’s not important that I succeed, but that my best friend fails, there’s a certain ruthlessness about show business. It’s about you. It’s about putting the spotlight on me, shining it on me, me, me, me. And to compensate for that, shows like A Chorus Line take refuge in this sort of false sense of community. So when those people then talk about politics, again, they talk about community. Susan Sarandon, on the day of the inauguration, said well, Barack Obama is a community organizer. And now he can organize us. That’s not how Susan Sarandon lives. When she takes a movie role, her agent’s in there saying no, Susan’s got to get more money, and she’s got to get better billing than this. Susan’s got to be above the title, and you can’t stick her down here with the also featuring crowd. She doesn’t believe any of this community stuff when it’s her life and her career. And so to compensate in a way, I think they take refuge in it as this, and in a sort of fake communitarianism, in the political sphere.
HH: Oh, how interesting. All right, we’ll come back to that. I want to stay on the ruthless theme, though, and turn to President Obama. Today in the New York Times, there are these two sentences: “Mr. Obama and his allies need to discredit the techniques he has banned. Otherwise, in the event of a future terrorist attack, critics may blame his decision to rein in CIA interrogators.” There, Mark Steyn, is the whole explanation for the witch hunt he has launched this week.
MS: Yes, I think that’s likely to happen. I think given that we’re now, we’ve reset the clock to September the 10th. We’re now in a world of legalism. In fact, it’s worse than September 10th, because if you look at some of the decisions that are being taken, we’re effectively extending the protections of the United States Constitution to people who are foreign nationals in foreign countries who’ve never set foot in this country. I think that’s a disaster, but I think you’re right that in a sense, discrediting, discrediting the Bush approach, which has kept America safe for eight years now, I think that has to be part of the calculation just in terms of political protection down the road.
HH: Now I introduced Ed Meese at a Heritage luncheon a couple of hours ago at the Century Plaza Hotel, and when I did that, I paused for a moment to reflect on what a radical break the Obama direction is with American history. When Reagan arrives, he doesn’t attempt to criminalize what Carter did. When W. arrives, he doesn’t attempt to criminalize what Bill Clinton did. It, in fact, he stressed continuity, did not want to look into why we were not ready for 9/11, et cetera, et cetera. This is very different, Mark Steyn, and it’s perilous. The criminalization of past political differences is something that, Mark, the Royalists and the Roundheads for years, but not America.
MS: Right. Yeah, well in the modern era, it’s South Africa after apartheid, or Czechoslovakia after communism. And for some reason, Obama seems attracted to that model rather than simply saying well, we had an election in a two party system, in a continuous Constitutional republic that’s been doing this for two and a third centuries now, and this time instead of Party A winning, Party B winning. He could look at it like that. But as you say, the left has chosen to criminalize politics. It’s not enough to say well, George W. Bush and Dick Cheney have a different view of this than we do. That’s not enough. It’s not enough. They’ve got to actually say no, it’s beyond that. Dick Cheney’s opinion, and George W. Bush’s opinion are criminal. And they have to be criminalized. And I think this is horribly damaging. This is horribly damaging in the most basic sense to political stability and to the functioning of a two party system.
HH: It also inevitably is going to wound a lot of people who have no idea they’re in the line of fire. One person who does understand their political peril is Nancy Pelosi. Here is a comment she made earlier today. Listen to this very carefully, America. You can hear furious and ineffective spinning from the Speaker.
NP: At that or any other briefing, and that was the only briefing that I…that I…that…that I was briefed on in that regard. We were not, I repeat, we…not told that waterboarding or any of these other enhanced interrogation methods were used. What they did tell us is that they had some, uh, legislative counsel, the office of legislative counsel opinions that they could be used, but not that they would, and they further…further, the point was that if and when they would be used, they would brief Congress at that time.
HH: Mark Steyn, she just admitted to being at a briefing wherein interrogation techniques in these OLC memos were discussed. That’s fascinating.
MS: Yes, and it’s the usual Democrat thing, thought, that oh well, it’s like their votes on the war, where effectively as the years went by, they said well, we had no idea what we were voting for. Nancy Pelosi is basically saying now well, I had no idea what I was being told. I had no idea what I was being told. This will lead to people dying. And it may not, they may not die in the United States. They may die in some other city somewhere around the world. But people will die, because we are not able to…the question isn’t really one of waterboarding. It’s a question now of low level officials in suits in Washington, whether they feel they can give honest, legal opinion to the best of their professional knowledge, or whether those memos are going to be dredged up in five, six years time, and they’re going to be in a four year investigation. They’re going to be keeping A list lawyers on the payroll, and they’re going to be in hell. They’re going to lose half a decade of their life trying to dig themselves out of the hole of having given advice to the president of the United States. That is simply ensuring that the president of the United States, in the middle of a war, is not going to receive the best advice.
HH: Mark Steyn, David Ignatius in the Washington Post, no centrist he, yesterday, the New York Times today, what I read to you, are proving up the point that Tim Weiner made in his book, Legacy Of Ashes. When you go after agencies, their behavior changes, and they cripple themselves. And in the middle of a war, I think this is the point you just made, that means we are dismantling the national security in front of our eyes. We’ve got about a minute to break.
MS: Yeah, and I think you’re right. And I think this is the stupidity of the Democrat position. And the reality is that intelligence agencies in France and the United Kingdom and other places do not operate under these constraints, so that the President will be in effect getting more reliable intelligence from foreign intelligence agencies than he’s going to be getting from rear end-covering bureaucrats in his own government.
HH: If they choose to continue to work with us given the highly unpredictable approach that President Obama has adopted. Mark Steyn, www.steynonline.com, America, thank you.
End of interview.