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Mark Steyn on the unhinging of the Democrats on the health care debate, plus remembering John Hughes

Thursday, August 6, 2009
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HH: I begin with Columnist To the World, Mark Steyn. You can read all of Mark’s many works at www.steynonline.com. Mark, every time I think the Democrats can’t fall off the floor, they dig a basement. I give you the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, responding to a question from an inquiring mind who wanted to know whether or not she thought there was anything legitimate in the opposition to Obamacare. Let’s give a quick listen.

Q: Do you think there’s legitimate grassroots opposition that’s going on, or just an Astroturf type of deal?

NP: I think they’re Astroturf. You be the judge, of carrying swastikas, and symbols like that to town meetings on health care?

HH: You be the judge of carrying swastikas and symbols like that to town hall meetings on health care. Mark Steyn, first, let’s establish a factual basis here. I have not seen anything like that.

MS: No, this is preposterous. I mean, what is happening is that the Democrats have lost control of the narrative. So they can’t hold town hall meetings now. They’re having to hold them in safe facilities. I think one of these guys is holding his town hall meeting in a children’s hospital. In effect, the children are acting as human shields to prevent the citizens expressing their anger toward him. But the idea that this is some neo-Nazi movement that is objecting to health care is preposterous. I mean, Nancy Pelosi has flown the coop if she seriously thinks that. And in fact, if we’re going to bandy around totalitarian shots, then I’m far more disturbed about this administration’s demand that people report names of persons sending e-mails or just engaging in casual conversation objecting to health care. The fact is the opposition to this is genuine, and growing, and it’s going to continue to grow when people understand what’s at stake.

HH: Mark Steyn, you’ve had some unfortunate experience with a government impinging on your free speech in Canada, and you had to fight like mad for that. So I wonder what your reaction is to the White House asking for people to be reported to it, and the variety of other intimidation tactics underway right now.

MS: Well, I’m greatly impressed by the number of my readers who immediately e-mailed this White House, flag@whitehouse.gov, that’s the e-mail address, volunteering to be first on the list. I think that speaks well for the American spirit. I encourage everybody to get that e-mail address out there, and I hope every single Nigerian dictator’s widow, and there appear to be millions of them on the planet, e-mailing every morning, every Nigerian dictator’s widow, every knock-off Viagra scam, I hope they bombard this twerp at the White House whose demanded the e-mails of citizens who he says are spreading disinformation about government policy. Civilized societies do not use that term about political opposition. Political opposition is a fact of free societies. And if you can’t deal with it, as this cheapjack Chicago machine can’t seem to deal with it, then frankly, six months into a presidency, you’re not going to be able to take the heat of the next three and a half years. If you propose radical policies, it’s entirely legitimate to expect that other people out there in the country are going to have different views on it.

HH: You know, Mark Steyn, I’m an admirer of Richard Nixon. I worked for him. Nevertheless, I wrote in my Townhall column today when people thought they were getting FDR, they were in fact getting the new Nixon at least when it came to the plumbers and the enemies list. This is, for six months, it took Nixon an entire career of partisan warfare with Democrats reaching back to Alger Hiss to develop a Colson-like streak in the old Chuck Colson. And here we are, six months into it, and they can’t handle the truth. People don’t want this law.

MS: Yeah, and I think what they really can’t handle here is anything that tries to go beyond the Obama hopey-changey image. And that’s why this director of new media at the White House, whatever the guy is called, I think it’s Macon Phillips, he should be ashamed of himself. I mean, he would be very good at the chief, I think I called him at National Review, the chief commissar of the directorate of the Hopenstasi, because it’s Stasi-like tactics. I don’t know why he doesn’t use some of the stimulus money to reward Americans for spying on their neighbors. And the interesting this, you mentioned what I went through in Canada. In a way, it’s exactly the same thing, that people who genuinely believe themselves to be on the side of progress are unable to withstand dissent. You know, all during the Bush years, we heard that patriotism is the highest form of dissent. Well, on mid-day on January the 20th, pretty much everyone ripped off those bumper stickers off the back of their car, and told us now what was important that we should all be united. We should all be one. We should be in effect a one-party state. I’m sorry, we’re not at that stage, and the fact of the matter is that millions and millions of people disagree with this President, and don’t deserve to be put in a government database for doing so.

HH: You know, Mark, we were working with the National Center for Policy Analysis on a petition which blew past a million signatures on Monday. I never thought, you know, I thought maybe we’d get a half million signatures, and that would be a fine effort. That’s a kind of virtual grassroots that Democrats have owned lock, stock and barrel for two to three years now. I think opposition brings it forward. I think Democrats may have fallen into the same trap that some Republicans fell into of permanent majority thinking, that they’re now surprised that when you’re in power, opposition opposes.

MS: Yes, and I’m not even sure from following a lot of the tea party dissatisfaction, this idea that it’s Astroturf, that it’s fake grassroots, I don’t think it is. For a start, I don’t think it’s particularly Republican. It’s interesting to me, sometimes, that you’ll see Republican legislators who supported the initial bailouts last fall, they’ll get booed when they turn up at these tea parties. I think it’s a genuine, authentic disgust obviously directed principally at the Democrats, because they control everything. They own it. They own the economy, they own health care, they own everything. But it’s not particularly Republican in its nature. And to just dismiss them as on the one hand either as phony Astroturfers being put up to it by sinister rich people, or on the other hand dissidents that we can’t tolerate, and we have to report them to President Obama so he can take all our names and send us off to reeducation camp, either of those approaches are particularly stupid, and are only going to lead to even more opposition.

HH: Let me play you some Barbara Boxer from two days ago following a meeting at the White House with the President.

(Wrong cut)

HH: No, that’s the wrong Barbara Boxer. That’s when she told, she got into it with the fellow from…

MS: They’re all the wrong Barbara Boxer, Hugh.

HH: (laughing) Well, this is another mob comment, and I wanted to get to the use of that word, Mark Steyn. When she talks about the mob, when the DNC commercial talks about the mob, do you think that they genuinely believe that? Because Barbara Boxer might. Or do they actually believe that we’ve just got to deflect from the fact that there is this enormous grassroots effort spreading?

MS: Well no. You know who faces mobs? Tyrants face mobs, and absolute monarchs face mobs. But what Barbara Boxer has forgotten is that she is not our ruler. She is a representative. She represents the citizens. She’s a citizen legislator representing other citizens. And as you saw in that meeting with Arlen Specter, when these lifetime legislators swanking around with these huge revenues, bragging about how they don’t even read the legislation they vote on, they don’t read legislation dealing with one sixth of the U.S. economy. And as John Conyers says, there’s no point in them trying to read it, because they wouldn’t understand it anyway. Well, what you’re seeing then is genuine anger at a broken system of representative government in which the representatives no longer understand the core responsibility of their job. And Barbara Boxer doesn’t understand that.

HH: Here is the Boxer quote.

BB: So all of this is a diversion by the people who want to frankly hurt President Obama. You’ve heard the Republican Senator Jim DeMint say it, “Let’s make this Obama’s Waterloo, let’s break him.” That’s what this is about, and by the way, I saw some of the clips of people storming these town hall meetings. The last time I saw well-dressed people doing this was when Al Gore asked me to go down to Florida when they were recounting the ballots, and I was confronted with the same type of people. They were there screaming and yelling go back to California, get out of here and all the rest of it, until I finally looked at them and said you know what? You’re hero, Ronald Reagan, is from California. You should show a little respect, and then they quieted down. So this, this is just all organized. Just go up on the website, Chris. You in the media have to take a look at what’s going on here. This is all planned. It’s to hurt our President, and it’s to change the Congress.

HH: Mark Steyn?

MS: Well, that’s ridiculous. They’re operating a dress code now for town halls? These people were too well-dressed? Is that a complaint?

HH: Yeah.

MS: What, we can only get into the meetings if we all wear the Barack Obama moms jeans? Is that what she wants? I mean, this is completely preposterous. It’s a genuine movement, and the fact that she’s sitting there and saying well, they seem, they get that suit at Brooks Brothers? You can’t be a real protestor. These guys are sounding more deranged every minute in this response.

– – – –

HH: I have imposed upon Columnist To the World Mark Steyn to stick around for an extra segment, because I really did want to hear you take on John Hughes. You are such a great obituarist, if that’s a word, when you were working for The Atlantic. If you had to write one about John Hughes, what would your take be at the beginning, Mark Steyn?

MS: Well, he was the director who I think for a certain generation of youth defined it. If you look at the first group of movies he made, Sixteen Candles and Pretty In Pink in the 1980s with Molly Ringwald, who was just lovely in those days, and was his leading actress in those youth movies, they basically define the spirit of youth for a generation. Then he went on and he made, I thought, some really pretty great films. I thought Planes, Trains and Automobiles with Steve Martin and John Candy is one of those films that no one’s ever going to think is great art, but just works terrifically. I love the scene on the bus where Steve Martin, who’s this big executive and doesn’t really want to be there, and they’re stuck on a Greyhound Bus going somewhere, and everyone’s having a sing-along, and they ask him to sing something, and he reluctantly goes into Three Coins In The Fountain, and it dies. And then John Candy does the theme song from The Flintstones, and fifteen seconds later, the whole bus is singing along. And John Hughes had just like a marvelous sense of kind of pop culture reference points in that film. And when the magic clicked for him, as it did in that and a lot of those early films of his, it was just irresistible, I think.

HH: He also did Uncle Buck, and perhaps, I think, one of the most quoted movies every, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, which is in everyone’s mind, a legend. So he quit directing movies in, 1991 was the last movie he directed. He kept writing, he kept producing, all that kind of stuff, fabulously successful. Why do people do that in your opinion, Mark, quit doing what they do so well?

MS: Well you know, directing is a lot of work. I mean, it actually is, you’re the guy who takes the blame. If a movie’s lousy, most people don’t blame the screenwriter or whatever, although often times, it is the screenwriter. They don’t blame the producer if it’s lousy, but often times, it is the producer. They don’t blame the studio. They do blame the director. And I do think you reach a certain point where you have other things you want to do. And I think he’d done that. He proved he was a great director. He’d made big films, hugely successful films. He made small and sweet films. There’s a lovely film he did with Kevin Bacon when Kevin was young and gorgeous, and Elizabeth McGovern, who was a wonderful actress, and I don’t really know what she’s doing these days.

HH: She’s still gorgeous, I hope, yeah. Go ahead.

MS: She’s Having A Baby.

HH: Yeah.

MS: And it was just a small, sweet film that worked very well. So I think he’d done every kind of film. In a sense, he directed every kind of film you could by then short of doing a big Western or a musical, or genres that don’t really exist anymore, and he decided there were other things he wanted to concentrate on.

HH: Okay, so if you look at Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, these are a trilogy of youth movies, what’s he doing, what’s he saying about the kids of the early 80s, or the late 70s, about whom these movies most definitely are, the teenagers of those years?

MS: Well, I’m not sure, I’m not sure that in the sense of a big message, that he’s that kind of a director. Mark Hemmingway over at National Review quoted a very funny exchange that didn’t make it into the final version of Ferris Bueller, where his uncle, who was a draft dodger and went up to Canada, is then sitting around back in America regretting that he didn’t fight in Vietnam. And so the kid says oh, I get it, when we’re at war, you’re a pacifist, and when we’re at peace, you suddenly want to be a soldier. It’s taken you twenty years to figure out you don’t believe in anything. And of course, he gets instantly grounded, and goes man, there’s no one as mean as these old hippies. And that was the reason, that was really about as political as John Hughes got. But I think he actually had, what he did do in those films was he had a great sense of the rhythm of life at the point of change, the point where your childhood is ending, and your adulthood is opening up with all the possibilities before it. And some people, George Lucas made a great film on that subject in American Graffiti. And then he threw all that away and did those horrible, empty, nothing Star Wars things that made him a ton of money. But I think what John Hughes did in the 80s, for that generation, was do what Lucas did on American Graffiti in real time, which is actually much more, it’s much more difficult to do it about a particular generation. I mean, it’s easy in a sense to make films about teenagers on the eve of World War I, or teenagers in the mid-50s or whatever. But to do it in real time for the youth now, which is what John Hughes was doing in the 80s, is a lot more difficult, I think.

HH: Last couple of question, Mark. In terms of counterparts to his work about kids, nowadays, you get the Disney High School Musical kind of thing. But generally, teenage angst, that sort of thing, I don’t think I’ve seen a movie that does what he or American Graffiti did for the late 50s, early 60s, or what he did for the late 70s, early 80s. I can’t think of any. And if…

MS: No, and I think you have instead, you have films about middle aged angst. My little girl was watching the Abba movie with Meryl Streep.

HH: Yes.

MS: And she rolled her eyes about twenty minutes into it and she goes oh, God, this is like High School Musical for old people. And she’s right. It is High School Musical for old people.

HH: (laughing)

MS: With more of that, there’s more sort of angst-ridden quality that you used to get in an American Graffiti type film, or a John Hughes type film. You now see it more with fifty-something chicks all sitting around wondering where there life has gone. And oddly enough, the youth films of today by comparison are all sort of glib and facile and sexual and crass. And I would be surprised if they resonate in the same way ten or twenty years down the line.

HH: Yeah, I don’t think these are particularly crass. I mean, they’ve got a little undercurrent of sexual attraction in them, of course, but they’re not vulgar, they’re not crass. Going back to Mama Mia! For a second, Pierce Brosnan sings in that. I want to give him the gold for game in that, Mark Steyn. Did you get to that part when Pierce sings?

MS: Yeah, and I’m all for it. As Hugh, you were very kind enough to play my Christmas single (laughing)

HH: You bet.

MS: And I’m a great believer that if something’s worth doing, it’s worth doing badly. I think…I like that, and I’m glad he did it, and I’m glad he sang it himself. The worst thing, there’s no point being…the most basic rule of all on musicals is there’s no point being the guy who doesn’t sing in a musical. So the minute Pierce Brosnan takes that role, he’s got to sing in it, or the audience is entitled to ask for their money back. And I think he did a great job.

HH: Oh, the Fetching Mrs. Hewitt loves him singing. Now me ask, is there a second Steyn Christmas single on the way?

MS: (laughing) Well, we’re keeping that under wraps, but…

HH: Oh, TMZ wants to know.

MS: (laughing) Yeah, it’s top secret. It’s top secret at the moment. You might have to stay tuned for more details on that.

HH: Okay, then don’t tell Joe Biden. Mark Steyn, Columnist To the World, thanks for the extra time today, www.steynonline.com. I think I’ve got a scoop. Alert TMZ. There may be another Steyn single on the way.

End of interview.

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