Mark Steyn on the immigration bill and the impact of Fred Thompson getting in.
HH: As we do every Thursday when we are lucky, we begin this hour with Columnist to the World, Mark Steyn. You can read all of Mark’s columns at www.steynonline.com. You can also read his blog on the big trial in Chicago at MacLean’s, and America Alone has just been reissued with a new cover that says New York Times bestseller on it, Mark Steyn. I like that. The new color is, the new cover is very, very bouncy.
MS: Yeah, yeah. I like that little yellow ribbon that they’ve just got the New York Times bestseller thing slashed across the corner. I’m always the last to know on these things, but they did in fact send me a very nice copy of that with the new thing on.
HH: It’s very good. Now let’s go to the new development in the campaign. Fred Thompson is in, if we’re to believe exploratory committees, et cetera. What’s he do to the race?
MS: Well, you know, I think it’s clear that the three frontrunners, by which I mean McCain, Giuliani and Mitt Romney, have slight problems with the base. Now Mitt Romney’s is a different issue, and it’s essentially the M word, you know, which is the subject of your book, A Mormon In The White House? You put a question mark over that, and whether it’s fair or not, I think it’s true that there are people who think that there might be others who put a question mark about the idea of a Mormon in the White House. With Giuliani and McCain, I think it’s more basic. I think McCain is actually on the wrong side of the base on just about everything now.
MS: And if he wasn’t a month ago, he’s basically done it since by becoming a gung ho supporter of this sloppily drafted, and in my view, largely disastrous immigration bill. Giuliani, I think, has been slightly less foolish on the immigration thing, but he has other problems on guns and abortion, and all the rest of it. So I think there is a feeling out there that we would like a…some none of the above character to get into the race. And I think Fred Thompson, at the moment, fulfills that. Whether he fulfills that once he’s a formal candidate, and it’s not just a question of turning up at dinners and giving radio addresses and all of the rest of it, is another matter.
HH: And what do you suspect is his underlying political connection factor? That’s where people get a little electricity with the base beyond name recognition, and oh, he’s the guy in Law And Order.
MS: Well, I think the fact is he seems like a regular guy. And people like that. You know, the reality is that political life can often make you extremely weird. John Edwards, I think, is a grand example of this. John Edwards is a man who seems unable now to touch anything real in his life without turning it into some phony, pseudo kind of spin doctored, focus grouped event. In other words, John Edwards has become one of those politicians who I’m sure when he reaches deep down inside himself, doesn’t know whether there is a himself deep down inside anymore. And I think that’s the advantage that Fred Thompson brings, that he projects a man at ease with himself, entirely relaxed with himself, and he meets what English law used to call the reasonable man test, that he seems like a reasonable man. And that’s part of his appeal.
HH: Now Mark Steyn, Reagan was at least partly Reagan, not just because of his ideas, but because he represented a radical break with the person he ran against, Jimmy Carter. He was optimistic, he was upbeat, he was from California, he was open to the new. Fred Thompson would be a Southerner following, well, some people argue Texas isn’t the South, but a Southerner, a folksy guy following a folksy guy. Is that enough of a different from what’s gone on before, enough of a change to really carry the ball?
MS: Well, if you’re saying that it is time for some New Englander, or a New Yorker, whatever, to get the nomination, I’m not sure that it is. I think if you look at where the demographic energy in the United States is, it’s clear that it’s not unreasonable for most main…candidates with mainstream appeal, to come from the South and West. Having said that, you can sometimes surmount the confines of geography, as a guy like Barack Obama seems to be doing on the Democrat side, but in a way that John Kerry couldn’t. John Kerry seemed like what he was, which was this kind of Boston Brahman effete New Englander. So I don’t think that’s a problem, because I think Fred Thompson is actually tonally very different from George W. Bush. And you know, the problem is that the difficulty for the Republicans is this. There’s a lot of anger out there. There’s a tremendous amount of anger at the Bush administration, at Congress, at Democrats, all…you hear it all the time if you go to Republican events. A lot of anger, a lot of anger. But you want someone to be able to tap into that anger, but who is not an angry, vengeful, mean-spirited type himself.
MS: And Fred Thompson manages to project that. And that’s…this is not Reagan’s America. The issues are different from the late 1970’s, that if you can, if in serious times you can be optimistic about meeting those challenges, as Reagan was, then that’s a tremendous advantage.
HH: Now coming up after my conversation with you is Jeffrey Goldberg of the New Yorker, who wrote in this week’s issue Party Unfaithful, and he goes around and he quotes Newt Gingrich and Tom Delay about the “Republican implosion.” I think he mistakes the Bush implosion from the Republican implosion. I think that the immigration bill is a bridge too far for a lot of people, and it’s really broken a lot of backs on this. But I don’t think it’s broken the party back. What do you think?
MS: Well, I’m not so sure about that. I mean, it’s clear that if you align with Bush on this issue, then your numbers go south among Republican primary voters. That’s the problem with John McCain. And I must say, as someone who has stuck with the President a lot more than many of my colleagues have in recent months, I strongly disagree with the President effectively trying to damn his Republican opponents on this immigration bill as somehow scaremongers, or just slapdash types who haven’t read the bill properly. And the fact of the matter is if the President wants to push through this bill, I think he will have to be, he must understand that one result of that, I think, is that there is going to be huge dissention in the base, which may well reflect itself in primary turnout that winds up delivering a few critical primaries to all kinds of strange people, simply because so many disenchanted people either stayed at home, or as in New Hampshire, where independents can vote in either party, if independents are sufficiently disenchanted with the Republican field, they’ll go off to the Democrat field, and vote for someone in there. So he must understand that this will have implications for the shape of the race next November.
HH: As I had to remind Tony Snow two weeks ago, he was arguing with a Harriet Miers defender. So it wasn’t really like the immigration critics of this bill haven’t been with the President a lot on this. But my concerns are national security, Mark Steyn, and I’m wondering, I talked to Secretary Chertoff about this, and I keep coming back to the idea that we’re going to treat the Spanish speaking immigrants the same as we’re going to treat people from Saudi Arabia and Syria and Iran and Iraq. And that just doesn’t make sense to me in a time of war with jihadists.
MS: No, we have learned nothing. I mean, if you look at the immigration forms those Saudi men filled in to enter the country and prepare to plot for September 11th, the visa forms they gave to the United States government were a joke. They had things like address, and they filled in hotel, America. You’ve got octogenarian snowbirds from Toronto who’ve been wintering in Florida every year for half a century who wouldn’t try to get away with joke visa forms like that. But those Saudi young men did it, and they were admitted to this country. And that is a real issue, that if you’re just saying everybody can have an open-ended probationary visa within 24 hours, once you’ve got that, basically you cannot be subjected to deportation. You have a huge advantage. You can just melt into communities, and you will have a legalized status. Anything that anyone tries to do to you will take months, if not years, to bring through lengthy court proceedings. It’s a disgraceful and slapdash way to address a real issue.
HH: And when I raise this with people like Tamar Jacoby, another…Jon Kyl, Senator Kyl, that we haven’t possibly got the staff to run these background checks, there are no staff to run the background checks…
HH: And they say well then, we’ll catch them as they move around the country and go in and out, and their visas will show a pattern and practice, it’s laughable, Mark Steyn.
MS: It’s completely laughable, and anybody who’s had anything to do with whatever the INS is called this week, CIS I think it’s called, you start off, you think ooh, this is the United States government, they know everything. I wonder when you fill out in your immigration forms, it doesn’t matter what it is, you think will they find out about those unpaid parking tickets in Amsterdam, or will they find out that I’m wanted for thirty unsolved murders of prostitutes in Capetown, and eventually, they realize that they won’t find out about either of them, that they don’t check anything. They do not check anything. That’s the reality of U.S. immigration scrutiny and background checks. They don’t check anything.
HH: So Mark Steyn, if…
MS: So if they toss all these extras in, that’s just millions more they’re not going to check.
HH: If you’re a sleeper, or if you were running a network of sleepers, or if you were al Qaeda, wouldn’t you recommend to everyone who’s a sympathizer in this country illegally to immediately file for your 601H visa the moment that the door opens?
MS: Absolutely. All you need is things that are very easy to get, utility bills, telephone bills, a pay stub, minimal stuff. And I would advise people to swamp the system. I mean, you know, I’m not the adviser to al Qaeda, or any of these other fellows. But if I were, I would say this is the window of opportunity, everybody in the world who wants to get in should just apply.
HH: And get your legend.
MS: And the net result will be as in ’86, all kinds of dodgy people get in, too.
HH: Mark Steyn, always a pleasure.
End of interview.