Mark Steyn on the Senate vote today, and how to mend the immigration fences in the GOP.
DB: As always is the case on Thursday evening, Thursday afternoon, depending on where you’re listening, we are joined by columnist to the world, Mark Steyn of www.steynonline.com. Hello, Mark, how are you?
MS: Hey, great to be with you, Dean, and I’m glad you’re the one with the funny accent.
DB: (laughing) It’s all accent radio for the first ten minutes tonight.
MS: (laughing) That’s right.
DB: So Mark, it’s a happy day, isn’t it?
MS: I think it is. Rejoice, rejoice, as Mrs. Thatcher said after the Falkland Islands were liberated. I think that is the best attitude. I think it is a victory for the American people, and for the integrity of American citizenship over a disgusting bill that would have enshrined a corrupted and ignoble idea of citizenship and nationality at the heart of American identity.
DB: Now Mark, you wrote probably the best thing that I’ve read on this topic earlier this week regarding the process. I was going to read it on the air, but I figured what the heck, you’re coming on in a couple of days, I’ll let you mention it, about what you said about the process.
MS: Well yes, it reminded me of the worst things about Continental Europe, which is the contempt of the political class display for the leadership…and display for the people. I mean, I think this is a kind of whole new level of bipartisanship. I think I said at National Review, bipartisanship means both parties gang up against the American people. And I don’t think that these insulated Senators realize quite how…no normal person cares about the world’s greatest deliberative body, or whatever they call themselves. And so when Arlen Specter goes around saying I’m confident that the will of the Senate will prevail, the Senate are citizen legislators. They don’t owe us votes that are done in the same way by simply measuring opinion polls. They owe us their judgment. But they owe us their judgment as citizen legislators, not in fact as these pampered, quasi-Gulf emirs with huge, bloated staffs just swaning around, and entirely isolated from the currents of American life. And I’m sick of being insulted by a twerp like Lindsey Graham or Trent Lott. I mean, these are people, if they are citizen legislators, they should not be insulting their fellow citizens.
DB: Yeah, I agree. It’s been a tremendous national embarrassment, the way the Senate has conducted itself. Now you called Lindsey Graham a twerp.
DB: But you didn’t assign a descriptive noun to Trent Lott. I’m going to put you on the spot here, Mark Steyn.
MS: Well, I think because…I mean, in a sense, he’s sort of more of a buffoon. I mean, I think I called him at National Review Senator Trenthorn Lotthorn because he…but in a sense, apart from those sort of rather endearing tonal qualities, he sounds as cut off as the worst kind of European commissioner. You know, I love the responsiveness of American politics. One of the reasons why other countries have problems is because their political elites are not subject to the same pressures as U.S. electeds are. And I think it’s extremely dangerous, the idea that basically, Lindsey Graham and Ted Kennedy and Trent Lott and the rest of the gang can say look, look, we know better than you. I mean, if you think back to how they originally…they cooked up this bill in metaphorically smoke-filled rooms, because I’m sure they’re not allowed to smoke in them anymore. But they were originally intending to railroad it through before Memorial Day. They were just going to say look, this is a done deal, you American people, get used to it.
DB: 48 hours, exactly.
MS: Yeah, yeah, and again, I said…I always used to joke that the first line of the proposed European Union constitution was we the people who know better than you, the rest of the people. And unfortunately, that’s how the United States Senate sounds, and it’s disgusting, and it’s an embarrassment, and it’s an abomination to small r republican government.
DB: Now I like buffoon for Trent Lott, but the term I go with is haircut.
MS: That’s right.
DB: That’s my choice.
MS: I’ve got no problems with the haircut. I would be happy for the haircut to remain, as the Senator from Mississippi, and for the rest of him to go into retirement on the Cayman Islands or something. But I’m happy for the haircut to remain in town.
DB: Now Mark, how about the administration? This has been a rough couple of weeks or month or so between the administration and the Republican base. Where do we go from here? Can this marriage be saved?
MS: Well, I think the President has simply, is simply wrong on this for sentimental reasons. I mean, when you ask people around him why does he feel so strongly about this, they start talking about his Mexican nanny when he was a child, and things like this. And this is simply not a way that anybody else in the United States looks at this issue. And it’s frankly not a way that the immigration service looks at this issue. They’re completely unsentimental. They don’t care who you marry. They’re happy to take ten years, if you’re an American, and you marry a lady from Belgium, they’re happy to take ten years to process that. They’re not in the least bit sentimental about family values not stopping at the Rio Grande. Family values stop at the United States Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services. And so I think he’s got to stop sentimentalizing the issue, he’s got to talk honestly about the issue, and I think enough people are fed up of the dissembling that’s going on, the phony baloney stuff about how we can’t enforce the U.S. immigration laws until you have an illegal immigrant amnesty. That’s nonsense. As a political decision, this country chooses not to enforce its own U.S. immigration laws. And that ought to stop, and the President and Congress ought to understand that it has to stop.
DB: Now John McCain, the question I have about John McCain is, does he do what he does out of conviction? Or is it vanity that compels him to try to attach his name to major pieces of legislation, regardless of whether they’re good or bad?
MS: Well, I think he…Senator McCain is governed primarily by his indestructible sense of his own indispensability.
DB: Well put.
MS: So I think that Senator McCain thinks that simply by virtue of the fact that he comes out in favor or against a particular issue, that that determines its inherent moral goodness. And so I don’t pretend to know what is in his heart. What I do know is that he can take a stand very aggressively, and defend it, even as in this case, he hadn’t actually read the bill. At the time he started pontificating and sneering at people who disagreed with him, he hadn’t actually read the bill. Well, nuts to that. You know, it’s about time…one of the problems with the U.S. Senate is the poorly drafted, sloppy legislation, a lot of which, like McCain-Feingold, he’s got his name on. And I think on issues like this, these blowhard Senators shouldn’t have to have it pointed out to them by their opponents the clauses in the bill that they haven’t even bothered reading.
DB: You know, that brings up another interesting point. As a writer, you’re a writer, I’m a writer, the quality of the prose in these bill is so dense, so impossible to follow, so poorly constructed. Now I used to be a lawyer, so I know legal documents…
DB: It’s almost inexcusable that it’s…who’s writing these things?
MS: Yes, I think these things are actually very poorly lawyered, from that point of view.
DB: Oh, no question.
MS: Which is one reason why all these bills metastasize and have all these unforeseen consequences. And I think there is something to be said for actually having small…I’m opposed to comprehensive bills, because I don’t think that’s something that this system does well. And I don’t think, incidentally, that enforcement, border enforcement is something that belongs in the same bill as a general philosophical approach to immigration. In other words, I think you should separate the notion of who you’d like to come to America, the kind of visas that you would like them to come on, and then the hard core policing of the land borders and the airports of the United States. Those are three quite separate matters. And simply because Senators want to chisel their name in granite on landmark legislation is no reason to stick them all in these sloppy, catch-all bills.
DB: Now Mark, one of the things I’ve been kicking around is I think it would be a great idea for the GOP to offer a bill saying we’re…you know, the 2007 Seal Up The Border bill.
DB: And then see what happens with that. What do you think about that?
MS: Yeah, and I think…I mean, I would caution against one thing. I mean, it’s more than just a southern fence. The fact of the matter is that if you land at JFK or LAX and you’re on a two year visa, and your visa expired in 2002, nobody comes after you to tell you you have to leave. I mean, that’s the problem here.
MS: 40% of the people who are here illegally landed on visas, and simply outstayed those visas. The fact of the matter is that the present system is broken, it can’t cope with an extra 12 to 20 million people, so you have to, before you can say we’re going to process these illegal immigrants, you have to have a system capable of processing the people it hasn’t already managed to process. So you’ve got to fix legal immigration in this country first, I think.
DB: Mark Steyn, thank you so much for joining us. Always outstanding, but tonight, particularly outstanding.
End of interview.