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Mark Steyn on the passing of Michael Jackson, Farrah Fawcett, and American health care.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

HH: To kick it all off, Columnist To the World, Mark Steyn. You can read everything Mark writes at Mark, in the old days, you used to pen these amazing obituaries for The Atlantic. I miss them. How would you begin the obit of which there will be thousands written for Michael Jackson tomorrow?

MS: Well, I thought he had a sad life. And he was a conspicuous victim of a very unpleasant and dysfunctional childhood. My friend, Don Black, wrote his first number one hit for him, a song called “Ben” back in the 70s. And in those days, Michael Jackson lived quite near Don in Hollywood, and used to sort of come around. I guess he was nineteen or so then. He used to come around, and Don is the most normal guy in show business. And Michael would play snooker with Don’t teenage sons, and in fact, used to like to relax by drawing pictures with Don’s wife, Shirley. I remember Shirley showing me three or four, a couple of pictures that are signed Shirley Black and Michael Jackson. He was…and I think what he liked as they explained to me, what he liked about doing that was that it gave him a chance to be a kind of normal person for a couple of hours. In a sense, it’s a reminder that underneath the wackiness of every celebrity, there is something real, no matter how deeply buried it is. And I think this sort of horrible kind of perversion of show business wackiness that he became, which wasn’t even an original wackiness. I mean, all this screwy stuff, the Peter Pan thing is derivative, his obsession with Barnum and Tom Thumb and all these other things is derivative. In a sense, he doesn’t even have the consolation of being an original wacko. He was kind an allusional wacko, riffing off earlier versions of wackiness. So I think it’s on the whole a very sad life. But deep, deep down, which my friends Don and Shirley saw, was something that was, you know, even the wackiest person has something real deep down inside.

HH: Now Mark Steyn, last week I talked to P.J. O’Rourke at length about his new book in which Mike Nesmith figures prominently, because he loves to go motoring across Baja with P.J. O’Rourke. Nesmith, of course, a Monkee who survived that pulverizing pop culture pressure. What do you suppose it is that some people are able to do it, and others get completely disfigured as Michael Jackson was?

MS: Well you know, I don’t think, I don’t think, I don’t subscribe to this price of fame mumbo-jumbo. Frank Sinatra, whom I met several times, was one of the most normal people on the planet, even though by the time I’d met him, nobody had treated him normally for fifty years. But he was a normal guy. His three kids are three of the sanest people around in California. All his ex-wives speak well of him, and most of the girlfriends, too.

HH: (laughing)

MS: He liked going regular things, he liked eating pasta. He was, for someone who had been treated abnormally for half a century, he was a very normal person. So I don’t believe, and nor did Frank Sinatra, and nor did Artie Shaw, who was at one time as celebrated as Frank Sinatra, Artie Shaw in particular thought all this idea about the self-destructive price of fame is just mumbo-jumbo.

HH: Mark Steyn, let me ask you, though, they got started on their fame after they had hit 16, 18, 20. I don’t know when Sinatra started crooning.

MS: Right.

HH: Michael Jackson got thrown into this thing at what, the age of 7?

MS: Yeah, and I think at that point, there’s a kind of tragedy about the exploitation of child stars. And I think you can make the case that it’s very difficult to recover from child stardom. You look at people like Lindsay Lohan or Brittney Spears, people who started very young…I mean, Lindsay Lohan is about 22 now. She’s got etched into her face that kind of hardness of a 48 year old woman sitting in a sports bar somewhere in some broken-down loser town in upstate New York who’s been around the town once too often. I mean, there’s something very sad about these child stars who wind up being seventeen going on 48. I mean, it’s tragedy, but I don’t…I think even Michael Jackson in the end, no matter how wacky you are, wackiness is a choice. There is a normal life. And for whatever reason, it’s not enough for a lot of these people.

HH: Michael Jackson’s death is juxtaposed to that of Farrah Fawcett today, of course another icon of the 70’s, but one who I dare say did achieve normalcy for a lot of her life.

MS: Yes, and I think…I met Farrah Fawcett just on one occasion, who struck me as a very nice person who understood that her fame was a moment. It’s a cultural moment. I mean, for anybody of a certain age, Farrah Fawcett with the flippy hair at the start of Charlie’s Angels is one of those moments of precise cultural definition that absolutely says that era. And if you’re lucky in show business, you’ll enjoy that moment. And even if it will never come again, and you’ll just be eking off the fading glamour of that moment for the rest of your life, you can enjoy that moment for what it was. And she did. She did, and I think that speaks well of her.

HH: I have to turn not to Governor Sanford. I think it’s a disgusting story, and I don’t want to take any joy in his collapse or any cruelty. I want to turn to the story that is going to affect every single American, which his health care, and to an exchange between the President of the United States and a very courageous doctor last night in the White House. Let’s listen to the start of it.

Doctor: The politicians who have started to reform health care have tried to limit costs by reducing tests, access to specialists. But they’ve not been good at taking their own medicine. When they or their family members get sick, they often get extremely expensive evaluations and expert care. If a national health care plan was approved, and your family participated, and President Obama, if your wife or your daughter became seriously ill, and things were not going well, and the planned physicians told you they were doing everything that reasonably could be done, and you sought out opinions from some medical leaders and major centers, and they said there’s another option that you should pursue, but it was not covered in the plan, would you potentially sacrifice the health of your family for the greater good of insuring millions? Or would you do everything you possibly could as a father and husband to get the best health care and outcome for your family?

BHO: Well, first of all, Dr., I think it’s a terrific question, and it’s something that touches us all personally, especially when you start talking about end of life care. As some of you know, my grandmother recently passed away…

HH: All right, stop it right there. Mark Steyn, he goes off on a frolic and a detour about the sad case of his grandmother, and never answers this doctor’s very pointed question. What did you make of this exchange?

MS: Well, I think it’s worth making, because if you look at Canada, for example, everyone in Canada is supposed to have the same access to health care. In other words, there should be no difference if Joe Schmo gets a problem, and he has to get on the three year waiting list, and a cabinet minister gets the same health problem, he’s supposed to be on the same three year waiting list. In the end, those cabinet ministers manage to access a special…basically, cabinet ministers and hockey players seem able to access a special level of care up there that nobody else can get. But I think this actually gets to the point that in the end, everyone…he made, in the course of talking about his grandmother, the point that he didn’t think it was worth her getting a hip replacement, and that perhaps we ought to think in terms of controlling costs about not giving operations to people. Maybe it’s not worth giving the guy of 80, 75, 70, 68 the hip replacement because the hell with him, he’s going to be dead any minute. And I think that’s a legitimate choice if you, the patient make it, but I don’t want government bureaucrats making it for me as they do in the United Kingdom, for example.

HH: Mark Steyn, Jake Tapper in a rare moment of media pushback against the President in his press conference this week, said to him you can’t keep telling people you get to keep your doctor and your insurance, when you put together a government plan that’s going to get everyone dumped into it. Do you think the media is beginning to get off of the floor on this health insurance and begin to push the President?

MS: Yes, and they should do, because underneath all the numbers…I mean, basically, the Americans are good people. And when you tell them oh, there’s 40 million, 50 million, whatever it is without insurance, which they think equates to 50 million people without health care, which isn’t true, but when you say it like that, most people would like to be able to bring these people under a government umbrella while personally retaining a level of health care that they’re very satisfied with. Even the New York Times, they buried it in the piece, but it said 77% of Americans are satisfied with their own health care plans. And the idea that these will be subsumed into the Department of Motor Vehicles – Health Care Branch, I think would be horrifying to them.

HH: Mark Steyn, I appreciate your taking the time today. Take care. It’s, America. We’ll go there and find out what Mark has to write about Michael Jackson, Farrah Fawcett, and everything else this week.

End of interview.

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