Mark Steyn on the immigration proposal, and the dismal performance of Chuck Hagel
HH: I begin this Thursday as I do every Thursday with Columnist To the World, Mark Steyn, who was at Hillsdale College last night, and I understand he’s the most interesting man in the world, according to his introducer. Hello, Mark.
MS: (laughing) That’s true. Actually, my introducer, who’s one of the young students here at Hillsdale, was so good, he was so funny, I would have been happy to let him do 40 minutes, and I would have just come up and accepted an award or a plaque or something at the end. He was a tough guy to follow.
HH: You may not know this. That is my law school’s roommate. His name is Jack Butler.
MS: Yeah, I met your, that’s right, his dad was your roommate. And the son, who’s called Jack Butler, just remember this, Hugh. If you’re ever appearing at Hillsdale, don’t let Jack Butler be your warm up act, because you can’t follow him. Nobody can follow that guy.
HH: I think that no one would want to follow you and Rob Long and Jonah Goldberg at the end of the National Review Institute, but I didn’t have a chance to talk with you after that. So I’ve got to ask you, that whole weekend, how depressed were you? They kept saying we’ve got to stand up for conservatism. Like everyone said it 55 times, and then no one said how.
MS: No, and somebody, I don’t want to get the wrong senator or governor or congressman, or whoever it was, said at one point the good news is conservatism is not totally dead.
MS: (laughing) It’s clinging to life support, it’s being fed intravenously, but it is not totally dead just yet. And as I was so weary of that, at one point on the Saturday night, Jonah said I’m sick of discussing what went wrong and why we lost in November. And I said yeah, I want to move on to discussing why we’ll lose in 2016.
HH: (laughing) And the sad part is no one contradicted you. They all agreed. You’re right. It’s boring, let’s move on to the next disaster. But if you scrape away all the barnacles of doom and gloom, there were some pretty upbeat aspects to this. I mean, you put Peter Thiel off to one side completely, but it was good to see Ted Cruz, and to see Paul Ryan, and to see Bobby Jindal, all very young, all very energized, talking for the most part in large strokes, not in small strokes. But I did get the sense that they may have been significantly younger than the audience they were addressing.
MS: Oh, no, actually I didn’t think so. I was amazed, because I tend to, I’m basically reaching the sort of sleazy, old lounge lizard phase of my career, and I tend to judge movements on how many attractive young people they can draw. And I was sitting at the room during some interminable battle on something or another, and my attention started to wander. And I was very struck, actually, by the youth of the audience, and the remarkable number of attractive, young women walking back and forth while the elderly, grizzled veteran pundits on stage pointed out everything that was disastrous about American conservatism. So I thought it actually was a very youthful audience.
HH: Oh, that’s good news. I don’t hang out at the receptions afterwards, because I’m not the bon vivant that you are and Jonah. You guys could go into a reception for hours. I loathe them, and so I flee at the earliest moment, and you guys are in there holding court for a very long time. Let’s turn to the big topic of the week, Mark Steyn, immigration reform. Obviously, Rand Paul is going to join me a little bit later, but Marco Rubio has been the star of the show thus far. How do you make of his introduction of the new, new deal?
MS: Well, you know, I thought he makes, I’m skeptical, and I should say that for several reasons, in part because I’ve been through the legal immigration process in the United States, so I know something about the bureaucracy. But I thought one of the best moments of his, of your interview with Senator Rubio, was when he slapped you down on the path to citizenship question.
MS: And he was right to do so, because this idea that somehow people who come to another country, I mean in part, it’s to do the whole Ellis Island thing. Obviously, if you get on a boat in Lithuania in the 19th Century, and you’re, you give up everything and you get to Ellis Island, you’re not doing that just because you fancy taking a job on Wall Street for a couple of years. You’re in it for keeps. But the idea that people come to the country to become a citizen, I think, is false. And every time somebody uses that term, path to citizenship, I think he’s betraying that he’s not thinking about immigrant in anything but the most sentimental sense.
HH: And what he said to me was there is no path to citizenship, that that’s a misnomer.
MS: Yeah, yeah.
HH: And you’re right, and I hope he stands by that, but there does seem to be an assumption that any sort of deal will involve eventually pulling levers in voting booths.
MS: Well, I think some people will, and some people won’t. I mean, there are actually, you know, not to be offensive about it, but if you have legal residency in the country, even on a probationary basis, that may be enough for some people. There are significant disadvantages to becoming a U.S. citizen. For example, your right to enjoy banking services in other countries is severely circumscribed. And if you’re someone, you’re a Mexican immigrant working in the United States, and your family has gotten used to the remittances you send back to them, whether you wish to become, whether you want to become a citizen is actually a question, a very finely balanced question. So I think we should actually, I think what I liked about Senator Rubio, who you know, is not entirely on my page on this immigration issue, is that he was actually hard-headed. He was saying this isn’t about swearing in 20 million new Americans. It’s actually about providing a conditional legal status, but we’re making no promises beyond that. Everything else has to be earned. And if they’re serious about that, and I am profoundly skeptical, but if they are serious about that, then that would be an indication that this is real attempt to correct, to correct a particular problem, rather than just the usual sentimentalized pap about that lousy poem chiseled on the foot of the Statue of Liberty. It would be a sign that serious thinking is going on.
HH: He was extremely hard-headed as well on whether or not triggers had to be there, and had to mean something, slapping down the left’s attempt to immediately denude the border commission of any authority. But I am a little disappointed, Mark Steyn, at the lack of creative thinking on the Republican side. If this train pulls out, they haven’t planned to put anything on it that we particularly want, for example, school choice for recent arrivals, or an exemption or a repair of Obamacare. My colleague, Philip Klein at the Washington Examiner today, arguing these 11 million people would instantly become eligible for Obamacare if they become residents in the United States with legal status. And so are you disappointed as I am in the lack of strategic thinking about this moment in time? Something’s going to pass. If it passes, we ought to get some good stuff in there.
MS: Yeah, look, the Democrats, I mean, let’s be blunt about this. The Democrats want to import dependents and voters, and voters who will vote for increased dependency. And I think it should be a basic thing of immigration. I’m very relaxed about immigration. I think if you’re a, relatively speaking, if you’re a self-supporting, law-abiding individual, you should have the right to move among friendly countries at will. If a self-supporting Swede wants to come and live in Chicago, and he hasn’t got a criminal record, I don’t really see why he shouldn’t. But when you’re talking about mass immigration, particularly low-skilled mass immigration, there is no advantage to America and to American citizens in importing millions more dependents. I think, I do believe that you should basically have to take an oath that you will not be a drain on the public purse when you emigrate to a country. I’ve had to do that in countries I’ve lived in, and I think it’s entirely reasonable. I don’t see why I should have the right to move to Finland and go on Finnish welfare. And I think that’s absolutely, that should absolutely be the bedrock of any deal.
HH: But I don’t see Republicans saying, for example, that we are going to use immigration reform as the moment to repair Obamacare as it applies, if only it applies, to legal residents in the United States. In other words, they’re playing defense again, Mark Steyn, as they always do.
MS: Yes, they do, and I think that’s a valid point. I mean, I think the point of an immigration system is not to benefit immigrants. It’s to benefit the citizenry of the country as it exists. In other words, you might have a situation where you’re short of able-bodied workers in a particular field. And it’s reasonable then to go out in the world and see if you can attract people who have those qualifications. We do everything wrong in the United States. Only six and a half percent of immigrants from the current immigration profile in the United States, only six and a half percent are skilled immigrants. You don’t even have to look far to see what a different system looks like. In Canada, it’s very different, for example, which by the way, just to go back to conservative conferences and all the rest of it, Kathy Shaidle, a Toronto blogger who was in Washington last November, made the point that Canadian conservative events are far more multi-cultural.
HH: Oh, interesting. We’ll be back after the break with Mark Steyn. It’s a double dip of Steyn. Stay with us.
— – –
HH: Mark, you ever been to the Dominican Republic?
MS: Yes, I have, about 15 years ago, something like that.
HH: The only time I went, I was with Bud the Contractor, and we were in the slums with Children International doing relief work and finding sponsors for kids. Democrats evidently have a different view of the island entirely, if you check out Charlie Rangel who had his condo there, and Bob Menendez partied down there.
MS: (laughing) That’s right. I like the way…and Charlie Rangel, actually, that would be a path to citizenship I’d like, because of course he wasn’t, he was having tenants in his condo and not paying tax on it. And that’s like a terrific deal. I’d like to have a little Dominican Republic.
HH: Well, Bob Menendez is now the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. And his foreign relations are now under the microscope. But so are the opinions of the soon-to-be, well probably the secretary of Defense. Let me play for you a little bit of Chuck Hagel from today’s hearing, cut number 11:
CH: I won’t be in a policy-making position as you note. I also committed to all of you, and those of you who served with me know this. I will always be honest with you. You’ll never have to worry about that.
HH: So Mark Steyn, secretary of Defense not a policy making position.
MS: I don’t even know what that means. Is he saying he’s not going to be going to cabinet meetings? He’s not going to be able to see the President? Is the President appointing some Defense czar who will be…I have no idea. It’s a bit, it’s an odd thing to me, that, and I wonder if he accidentally gave the game away there, that I think in a sense, he’s there to, in an operational sense, to downsize the U.S. military to something that makes Obamacare less unaffordable. Or it might just be that that was one of many bizarre, woozy, unfocused remarks he made, not least in his exchanges with my great senator, Kelly Ayotte.
HH: Let me play for you the new senator from Texas. This takes a minute and a half, but I want the audience to hear it and you to comment on it, Mark Steyn, Ted Cruz talking with Chuck Hagel about a 2009 al Jazeera interview that Hagel gave. Cut number 5.
TC: Senator Hagel, do you think it’s appropriate for the chief civilian leader of the U.S. military forces to agree with the statement that both the perception “and the reality” is that the United States is “the world’s bully?”
CH: I didn’t hear her say that, by the way, the United States. And I think my comment was it’s a relevant and good observation. I don’t think I said that I agree with it.
TC: With respect, I think the record speaks for itself. It was in writing that she said the U.S. is the world’s bully, that it is the reality, and your response, you did say you agreed with it. You said her observation is a good one, it’s relevant, yes to her question. You explicitly agreed with the characterization of the United States as the world’s bully. And I would suggest that is not a characterization, that the United States has spilled more blood, more treasure standing for freedom, liberating people across the world. And to go on al Jazeera, a foreign network broadcasting propaganda to nations that are hostile to us, and to explicitly agree with the characterization of the United States as the world’s bully, I would suggest is not the conduct one would expect of a secretary of Defense.
HH: He goes on…
TC: I will point out that her quote was the perception and the reality. And with that, my time is expired. I look forward to a second round.
HH: Cut number six as well.
Al Jazeera host: We’ve got an email from Wendy Day. She writes to us from Georgia here in the Unites States. And she writes, can the rest of the world be persuaded to give up their arsenal when the image of the United States is that of the world’s bully? Don’t we indeed need to change the perception and the reality before asking folks to lay down their arms, nuclear or otherwise?
CH: Well, her observation is a good one, and it’s relevant. Yes to her question. And again, I think that’s all part of leadership.
HH: Yes to her question, Mark Steyn. Ted Cruz set him up.
MS: Yeah, now why couldn’t he have said look, this interview on al Jazeera, of all things, why couldn’t he have said look, the only time the United States has intervened internationally has been to go to the rescue of Muslim population…in the last 20 years, to go to the rescue of Muslim peoples who are being attacked, whether it’s Saddam Hussein’s annexation of Kuwait, or it’s what happened in Bosnia in the 1990s, or it’s in Afghanistan, or it’s in Iraq. And in each case, they have fought under severely constrained rules of engagement. And they have expended blood and treasure, to use the phrase Ted Cruz used, not just in military conflict, but in opening schools and hospitals and all the rest of it. And if a U.S. Defense secretary cannot even stand up for that when he’s on al Jazeera, and he has a terrific opportunity to tell these people the truth, but the sad fact about this is that Obama agrees with that, and he appreciates the usefulness of Chuck Hagel agreeing with that, and also having an R for Republican after his name. A Republican who shares Obama’s views on foreign policy and the role of the United States is a gift to the President.
HH: Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post, friend of the show, friend of mine, wrote this afternoon, former Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel was at turns halting, befuddled, and often just , plain bad during his confirmation hearing to be the next secretary of Defense. And, Chris continues, it almost certainly won’t keep him from becoming the next man to lead the Pentagon. Now Mark Steyn, that is the end game for Washington. It really doesn’t matter. Hillary Clinton was right last week.
MS: Right, right, right.
HH: What difference does it make that he was befuddled and anti-American?
MS: No, it makes no difference at all. And as I said, he’s got, I thought that the worst bit was when he was floundering around trying to talk about containment on Iran, as I said, with Kelly Ayotte. And I think he’s there for a particular reason, to downsize the U.S. military, because it’s a very clear choice. You can have big government at home, or you can have a military of global reach. But you can’t have both. And Obama has found the perfect Republican to inflict the downsizing of the U.S. military. And that’s the reason he’s there.
HH: Should the Republicans in the Senate go to the mat to block this?
MS: Well, I think it’s entirely reasonable to say this is a country of 300 million people, and you stick this joke in front of us in the Senate as the best guy to articulate U.S. national security interests, and he makes a complete fool of himself? I think it’s entirely reasonable to say if this is the best a nation of 300 million can do, then we’re in serious trouble. And they should take it at face value and say this guy, this guy flopped out. This guy failed.
HH: Mark Steyn, always a pleasure, thank you. www.steynonline.com, America, for all that Mark writes on his many, many different platforms, www.steynonline.com. Follow him on Twitter as well. The transcript will be up later.
End of interview.