Mark Steyn on the fires, the Law of the Sea Treaty, Ian McKellan’s King Lear, and the sad case of the New Republic
HH: We begin as we do on Thursdays when we’re lucky with Columnist To the World, Mark Steyn. You can read all of Mark’s work at www.steynonline.com. Mark, you’re in Canada or thereabouts.
MS: Yeah, I’m pretty much exactly on the border. I’m on the Ontario-New York border at a payphone by a lake in the Thousand Islands.
HH: I’m surprised there are payphones anywhere anymore.
MS: Well, it looks like the sort of payphone that time forgot. It looks like something from…I put a nickel in and said, “Hello, central, give me the Hugh Hewitt Show.” It’s one of those kind of deals, a very ancient looking thing.
HH: Well, I’ve got a lot to cover with you, but first, a lot is uncovered in King Lear starring Ian McKellan, including Ian. What do you think about this show? Would you go if you were in Los Angeles?
MS: Absolutely. I mean, I think Ian McKellan is a magnificent actor when he has something worthy of him, and this is certainly a role he was born to play. He’s one of the great actors of the age. He’s done very nicely playing Magneto in the X Men and that kind of thing, but this is what his real talent is, and it’s worth seeing him as. He’s not just Magneto in the X Men.
HH: Excellent. Let’s turn to California’s disasters this week. As you watched them or didn’t watch them from afar, Mark Steyn, how’d they compare to the response to Katrina? And what do we learn, if anything, from it?
MS: Well, you know, I do think you do learn something. I predicted before Katrina that people would respond very well. And in fact, they didn’t. And thinking about that, the reason I did was because generally speaking, citizens of advanced democracies behave well when something goes wrong. There was a…there’d been a plane crash in Toronto about a week before the Katrina thing, and it was a pretty scary crash. But everyone evacuated the plane basically in 45 seconds. Citizen initiative came into play and worked very well. I saw that first hand when the 1998 ice storm devastated northern New England. You can see it in Southern California right now. So I think the interesting question is when Louisiana has had the type of government that the Democratic Party would like to inflict on the rest of the nation. Louisiana’s enjoyed it for forty years. What’s the result? And the result is unfortunately, a citizenry that in many ways did not show the kind of resourcefulness and initiative.
HH: Now Mark Steyn, when Katrina happened, there was an immediate outpouring of a lot of charity. And right now, some people are trying to help in Southern California. For example, Feed the Children’s got a big drive on to get relief out here, but nothing like that. Is it because Katrina was that much worse, or because the people they saw being victimized by Katrina were so much more pitiable?
MS: I think it’s a bit of both. What is happening in California is terrible. Yet at the same time, it’s clear just from the response that this isn’t something where people are saying okay, I’m in a big mess, what’s the federal government thousands of miles away going to do about it? And to be honest, I think that’s a ridiculous way to look at it. I think it’s absurd to think that the federal government should be the first responder to even acts of huge devastation, whether they’re tsunamis or hurricanes or forest fires. I think basically, the people on the ground know best. You know, there was a Tony Awards rehearsal about ten years ago, and Cy Coleman, the great composer of Sweet Charity was rehearsing something, and Andrew Lloyd Webber, the composer of Cats, a British composer, said to him you know, you seem much better prepared than I am. And Cy turned to Andrew Lloyd Webber and said well, I live here. Well, the people who live here, the people who live in Southern California, are better prepared than some bureaucrat in Washington’s going to be.
HH: You’re absolutely right about that, and it’s going very well. I’ll tell you more about these…Feed the Children, if you do want to help out some of the displaced families a little bit later in the program. Mark Steyn, we’ve also got the New Republic back with Private Beauchamp, or however you say his name, coming clean in transcripts published at the Drudge Report. Do you expect the New Republic to stay in stonewall mode?
MS: Well, what is interesting about this is that the New Republic is doing everything that left wing media accuse the Pentagon and government of doing, which is stonewalling, obfuscating, and not getting the facts out, and not clearing the air. It seems pretty obvious what happened. You only run a story like this if it absolutely stands up. They…this guy slandered the troops. He said the troops desecrate graves and go around with children’s skulls on their heads as mementos, they deliberately run over dogs, and they insult physically disfigured women. Now you can only run a story like that if all the elements hold up. This guy basically distanced himself, he refused to stand by his own story, and the New Republic, instead of making it a Scott Beauchamp issue, which is what it was, he was the author, they could have disowned him and apologized for running the piece, they basically have been dishonest with their readers, and dishonest with their…it’s no longer a Scott Beauchamp issue. It’s a New Republic issue. And my friend, my old friends from up in Canada, the New Republic is owned by Canadians, by the Asper family from Winnipeg, a great Canadian family, and I hope that the Asper family will assert their control over the New Republic, and end this squalid editorial regime that has behaved disgracefully over the last ten weeks.
HH: An excellent call to action. There was a call to action at the BBC today. I don’t know if you saw this, but the BBC announced the layoffs of 1,800 employees in response to budget shortfalls there. A good day for the BBC or a dark day, Mark Steyn?
MS: The BBC is in a very interesting position. In effect, it gets to make huge profits off a protected public monopoly. And it’s interesting to me that even that isn’t enough to safeguard all the featherbedded chumps at the BBC.
HH: So do you think it will improve in quality in response to this sort of thing?
MS: I think the BBC…the problem with the BBC is that it has fantastic infrastructure. It’s actually the most listened…for example, it’s the most listened to news service not just in Britain, but in Afghanistan and parts of Africa. And I believe it’s something like the fifth or sixth…I think it’s the third most listened to, in fact, third most visited website in the United States. It has a tremendous credibility. But it recruits from a very narrow worldview. And the fact is that they would be better off actually recruiting from a wider pool of people. That’s what’s going to solve their problem.
HH: Now tomorrow, I’m going to be interviewing for a couple of hours, Walter Russell Mead of the Council on Foreign Relations, has a new book out called God And Gold. It’s just out, I don’t suppose you’ve had a chance to read it yet?
MS: No, I haven’t, but it’s basically about one of the great, I think one of the great subjects, which is the American moment, and trying to actually look at it in a broad, historical perspective, which Americans sort of don’t do quite as often as they should, I think.
HH: It’s a very good book. I quarrel with him about a number of things, and we’ll do that tomorrow, but one of the things he does do is pay appropriate respect to the place and role of religion in the United States, and I wonder, is this part of the grand plan to rehab the Democratic Party, because the Council on Foreign Relations basically is the heart that from which all the blood in the Democratic Party intelligentsia comes. Is this just part of a doomed project or a necessary one?
MS: I think it’s a doomed project, because I think whenever Democrats start speaking in religious terms, it usually starts with a quotation from Matthew, and about fifteen seconds later, starts sounding like a social worker’s pamphlet. You notice the most famous example, obviously, being Hillary Clinton’s Christmas message, when she said at this time of year, we celebrate the birth of a homeless person. You know, Jesus wasn’t homeless. He just happened to live in a jurisdiction where the cockamamie census required you to go to the town of your birth to register in for the census, which is the sort of crazy system only Massachusetts under John Kerry could come up with. But apparently, the Romans had it way earlier. But I mean, that’s the problem. Every time they start trying to talk in religious terms, they end up sounding like social workers.
HH: Vladimir Putin gave a three hour press conference, call-in show today. Have you read about this yet, Mark?
MS: I haven’t, actually.
HH: One man asked Putin about comments made by former Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, a couple of years back, who suggested that Siberia had too many natural resources to belong to one country. Putin dismissed the notion as wishful thinking, saying, “This, in my view, is the sort of political erotica that might satisfy a person, but hardly leads to a positive result.” What is going on with Vladimir Putin?
MS: I like the idea of ascribing to Madeleine Albright preferences in political erotica. I think, actually, that’s a very good way of putting it. You know, I speak from a, I happen to be standing on the border of a very resource-rich country. You know, the Canadians are basically the House of Saud of water. Up here, we’ve got all the water in the world, and you guys, particularly in the Southwest of the United States, are desperate for it.
MS: I don’t think you can say oh well, there’s so many resources here that this can’t belong to a sovereign nation. It has to belong to a U.N. body. That gets us into Law of the Sea Treaty, and all the rest. I’m a believer in sovereign nations, borders, multiple jurisdictions, and giving people choices.
HH: And do you think we’ve beat Law of the Sea?
MS: I would love to defeat Law of the Sea, because I think it actively puts a regime in charge of most of the Earth’s surface that should not be in charge of it. And I’m strongly opposed to it, and I’m very disappointed that my own Senator, John Sununu of New Hampshire, has gone along with it.
HH: Some of the Republicans are starting to get pretty firm on that. We’ll see. By this time next week, we’ll know. Mark Steyn, always a pleasure, www.steynonline.com, America.
End of interview.