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Hugh Hewitt Book Club

Mark Steyn on top of the world…in plaid

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HH: We begin this Thursday as we do every Thursday when we are lucky with Columnist to the World, Mark Steyn. Mark, I’ve often said that if I predecease you, I hope someone will beg you to pen a word or two about me, because you’re such a find obituary writer. Sir Edmund Hillary has died today at the age of 88. I wonder what your thoughts are about this icon of the 20th Century.

MS: Yes, he’s a great man. For a certain generation of people, he is the greatest New Zealander of the 20th Century. And if you’re a certain age, wherever you were in the British Commonwealth on June 2nd, 1953, you never forget that moment with Sir Edmund became the first person to stand on Mount Everest with Sherpa Tenzing on the day of the Queen’s coronation, and the whole thing just coming together as, in a sense, the perfect coronation gift to the Queen, and I think a wonderful moment for the possibilities of mankind. He was a great man. He, just a few months ago, I think it was last year sometime, he was back in the Antarctic. He went on and he had a great career as a diplomat. He was New Zealand’s high commissioner in India. And of course, he famously encountered Hillary Rodham Clinton a few years ago, and she told him that her parents had named her Hillary, H-I-double L-A-R-Y after him, which of course caused great amusement to those of us who looked into it and discovered that Hillary had been born, I think it was six years before he conquered Everest, when he wasn’t the conqueror of Everest, but he was an obscure New Zealand beekeeper, and an unlikely source of inspiration for the parents of a newborn in the Chicago suburbs. But far be it for me to question Hillary Rodham Clinton.

HH: Maybe they were into bees.

MS: I believe she actually floated that one for a while, that she claimed that when she was called on this, you know, rather ridiculous thing, she said oh, it wasn’t just the whole Everest conquering thing. My parents had seen an interview with him in a newspaper about beekeeping. Well, no one’s every managed to find that. He was an obscure beekeeper, but he was a great mountaineer. And he was a hero to my generation of boys, because it is that kind of boys own anything is possible. And I think people find it hard to imagine what Everest was like. Now, it’s become a sort of kind of tourist destination for sort of wealthy, billionaire yuppy mountaineers. People forget what it was like when it was just this amazing, awesome height, ceiling of the world, and he climbed up there with Sherpa Tenzing. My generation will never forget that.

HH: Mark Steyn, just pausing on that for a moment, because it was such a magnificent moment, mid-Century as well, the Cold War has begun, he represents a lot of different…did the media cover it? How could they cover it? I really don’t know, because he wasn’t in constant communication. What was the atmosphere of the press surrounding that climb?

MS: Well, it was, he wasn’t in constant, live conversation. In other words, he didn’t get to the top and then use his satellite phone to dial it in to New Zealand broadcasting. But I well remember that the news that he had conquered it got down to John Hunt, who was the leader of that expedition, and John Hunt managed to get someone to go down to the foothills, and get a telegram out, because on the first editions of the newspapers in London and on that coronation morning, they all hailed the conquering of Everest at the perfect curtain-raiser for the coronation. I mean, I always find the sort of delay in news rather appealing. I made a joke in a Canadian newspaper a few days ago about the Relief of Mafeking back at the end of the, you know, at the turn of the 19th and the 20th Century…

HH: (laughing)

MS: …which I think took something like a week to get back to the London Times.

HH: Did anyone understand what you were talking about (laughing)?

MS: Well, but it was like a huge thing. As I said, it had happened weeks earlier by the time it appeared in the London Times. But everybody still filled the streets of London for it. It was like breaking news from three weeks ago. Mafeking has been relieved, and hundreds of thousands of people filled the streets of London. And you know, now we live in the blogosphere, where 30 seconds after you say something, it’s been dismantled and demolished by people in every corner of the planet. I rather like the way people could still get excited about something that had happened three weeks earlier, as they did with the Relief of Mafeking.

HH: I also like the fact he did not…we may end up asking you to go two segments, Mark Steyn, because I just am enjoying this about remembering Edmund Hillary, dead today at the age of 88. In the days of adventurers, they did not do it for the money, though they had to raise money to do it. Hillary was not, Sir Edmund Hillary was not out of the eventual American Express ad that came his way. More like Ernest Shackleton, they did it for an entirely different set of incentives. And I’m not sure we see such people now. Do we?

MS: No, I don’t think we do. I mean, these days, that kind of adventuring would come highly sponsored, and it would be something where you would be wearing the clothing of your sponsors, and expecting to have your book deals and everything lined up afterwards. And I get a bit suspicious of that. There are some people who do that kind of thing full-time. These were all people…what’s interesting to me is that expedition was led by Lord Hunt, who was a, John Hunt was a, had been a special forces guy, basically, I guess we’d call them now, and he recruited a team from essentially around the British Commonwealth, looking for particular skills. And the idea of doing it as a kind of commercial enterprise didn’t occur to him. They were sort of strangely naïve, compared to the way people do it now, where they’d be sort of, they’d have the website in place, and they’d be lining up the book deals and everything before they went.

HH: Did you ever read The Great Game by Peter Hopkirk?

MS: No, I didn’t.

HH: Oh, they used to, the Empire used to dispatch scores of these sorts of people to the remotest parts of the world, and they’d be gone for five years, and they’d show up with maps and stuff like that, and they were feted and honored for their, well, essentially courage, and perhaps a mixture of insanity, and it’s sorry to see it go. You mentioned he was high commissioner…

MS: Well, there are a group of people who actually enjoy doing that. When I was at school, we used to be given talks at the end of term occasionally by some adventurer who’d come sort of hobbling in, and he’d come up, hobble onto the stage, and he’d reveal that he’d attempted to walk naked across the Arctic Circle, or whatever, and various parts of him had had to be amputated. And he’d be saying yes, it was a bit of a blow to lose eight out of ten toes, but let’s face it, only sissies go around insisting they need all ten toes. And then he’d be setting off a week later to go and lose something else on some other corner of the planet. I mean, I kind of miss those kind of slightly dotty guys.

HH: You mentioned that Sir Edmund Hillary was high commissioner in India. Was that during Mountbatten’s time? Was he part…

MS: No, no, no. This was, if memory serves, this was really after he’d retired as a kind of full-scale mountain climber, and all the rest of it. He was a member of the New Zealand diplomatic corps. And he was New Zealand’s high commissioner to India, if memory serves, in the 70’s and 80’s.

HH: So he had no part of the big screw-up that led to our problems in Pakistan today?

MS: No. So Edmund Hillary, I think it’s fair to say, cannot be blamed for the problems with Pakistan. He was very popular in India. You know, I mean, I think it’s fair to say that until the Lord of the Rings came along, and Billy Crystal made that joke on Oscar night, that it’s official, everybody in New Zealand now has an Oscar, that there weren’t a lot of celebrity New Zealanders at that time. And he was certainly the star name of the New Zealand diplomatic corps.

HH: Are there any star New Zealanders now?

MS: Well, Russell Crowe, who’s always mistaken for an Australian…

HH: There you go.

MS: …is in fact a Kiwi, and so every time he slugs out some Hollywood paparazzo, you should give a cheer not for Australia, as people do, but for New Zealand.

HH: On that note, we’ll try and seduce Mark Steyn into sticking around for another segment to talk about this incredibly melting down political scene that we’re watching, and about his plaid shirt, because he’s been photographed with Laura Ingraham in perhaps the worst plaid shirt ever seen, and we’ll try and get him to stick around to answer why, and where he got it, and what it cost. I hope it’s an LL Bean shirt. My sister-in-law works there.

– – – –

HH: Mark Steyn, a picture of you appeared at Nationalreview.com clad in plaid with my colleague and friend, Laura Ingraham. That’s really quite a shirt. Did you buy it for a special occasion? Or do you rumble about the wilds of New Hampshire so dressed?

MS: No, it’s a fantastic, thick, woolen coat, and it’s served me very well for several years now. And it’s excellent when you have these cold snaps, like we did last week, not this week, but last week. It keeps you nice and toasty when you’re out in the woods. And Laura actually, Laura seemed to think it was kind of cool and rather stylish. She was a bit frightened by it at first. She said have we got a Unabomber type of situation going on here…

HH: (laughing)

MS: But she warmed up to it by the end.

HH: Do you have an axe?

MS: (laughing) Well, we would have had a Unabomber situation if I’d brought the axe along to Laura’s show. But I do…I don’t want to pull the Al Gore thing, you know, when he was making that speech where he said my father taught me how to clear a steep hillside with a double-bladed axe, which had anybody who has actually cleared a steep hillside just rolling their eyes at that. I mean, I think that’s fine, if you’re like Al Gore, and you’re raised at the Fairfax Hotel in Washington. A double-bladed axe is like fine for clearing the Palm Court, but it’s not really what you want when you’re out on a steep hillside. So I don’t want to pull that sort of phony rustic routine that makes Al one of the great enjoyable laughingstocks of the world.

HH: (laughing) All right, let’s switch over to politics. The recognition is dawning, beginning with Karl Rove in the Wall Street Journal this morning, that “At the end of Super Tuesday, it won’t be just who won the most states, but who has the most delegates.” Over at Red County, there’s a fascinating analysis, Mark Steyn. Rudy’s expected to win Jersey and New York on Super Tuesday, which have winner take all delegates. McCain’s going to get Arizona, which is winner take all. Huckabee’s going to get Georgia, winner take all, Romney’s going to get Massachusetts, Vermont and Utah, winter take all. Fred Thompson’s going to get Tennessee, winner take all. And so at the end of the day, they’re projecting Giuliani with 153 delegates, Romney 96, Huckabee 72, Fred Thompson 55, McCain 53. Of course, that doesn’t factor in South Carolina, Michigan, Florida or what goes afterwards. But it does go to the idea that this race is going to go a long time.

MS: Yes, it does. And I would say my concern on that, because I love this game, too, just from a horse race point of view. You plot all the various scenarios along the way, who gets what delegates, who gets what states, whether they’re winner take all states, whether we get to the jackpot, which everyone would love, of a brokered convention, in the presumably, for Mike Huckabee, non-smoke-filled rooms. But there is a difference, and I think it’s this, that if Hillary and Obama slug it out, state for state, for a few weeks now, I think that’s likely, whoever becomes the nominee, is likely to have been strengthened by that. It will be good for them. I mean, Hillary, clearly, the shock of Iowa was good for her, and good for her campaign. I think something different is in danger of emerging on the Republican side, that whoever eventually becomes the nominee is kind of wounded by this five-way race between candidates, who’s supporters…I’m always struck, and I’m sure you get some of this mail, too, by the vehemence with which supporters of one particular Republican candidate loathes the other Republican candidates. It’s not a normal year in that respect. I mean, I’m sure you have these e-mails that I get mocking Romney as a plastic Ken doll who’s melting in the rain, and then you get e-mails from other people mocking Giuliani and showing the picture of him wearing the dress with Julie Andrews, and then pictures mocking Huckabee on his big government for God crusade. I mean, there is a genuine split in the Republican camp that I’m not sure is going to be easy to patch up at the end of all this.

HH: I do. I get all those. And I get vociferous denunciations for people who want me to be for someone who I’m not for. And generally, the Rudy people understand he’s my second choice, so they leave me alone. But the Huckabee and McCain people are all…well, there aren’t any McCain people. Those are Democrats. But I point out as well, for example, on Tuesday, Mark Steyn, I had 75,000 visitors to Hughhewitt.com, and you know, 300 comments. The people who send e-mail and leave comments at blogs are really indicative of nothing.

MS: Right.

HH: I do think they’ll come together, but I wonder about whether or not they can come together over John McCain. Did you have a chance to read or listen to the Rick Santorum interview I conducted yesterday?

MS: Yes, I did. And I think it’s very interesting that the clubbiness of the Senate ends with John McCain. I noticed this in 2000, that you didn’t have to prod some of the other guys who were around in New Hampshire for the primary season at that time. Orrin Hatch, for example, Orrin Hatch was pretty clear to me in the brief conversations I had with him that he loathed John McCain. And it’s not just a personal thing, too. I don’t like Ron Paul, but I can understand that if you have Ron Paul’s particular worldview, most of what he believes is philosophically coherent with that. There’s none of that with John McCain. His only political, rooted political philosophy seems to be whether a particular stand on a particular issue will benefit John McCain. You know, we were, Kate McMillan, who’s a blogger in Saskatchewan, posted a terrific picture that she sent me on her website of John McCain holding up one of these ridiculous global warming signs. I do not want a Republican candidate who essentially believes in the left wing, big government, eco-activist solutions to global warming. I’m sorry about that. I understand that you can finesse the issues in some ways, but he isn’t finessing the issue, he’s just basically signed onto the eco-global warmongering Kool-Aid on that one, and I just don’t want that.

HH: Let me play for you Rick Santorum, cut number two, yesterday:

RS: John McCain doesn’t, will not get the base of the Republican Party. I mean, there was a reason John McCain collapsed last year, and it’s because he was the frontrunner. And everybody in the Republican Party got a chance to look at him. And when they looked at him, they said well, wait a minute, he’s not with us on almost all of the core issues of, on the economic side. He was against the President’s tax cuts, he was bad on immigration. On the environment, he’s absolutely terrible. He buys into the complete left wing environmentalist movement in this country. He is for bigger government on a whole laundry list of issues. He was…I mean, on medical care, I mean, he was for re-importation of drugs, and you can go on down the list. I mean, this is a guy who on a lot of the core economic issues is not even close to being a …he’s not even close to being a moderate, in my opinion.

HH: I think that’s your point, Mark Steyn. Can anyone with that kind of a record, on global warming and everything else, hope to lead the Republican Party of Reagan and Bush?

MS: Well, I think he clearly pulled something off in New Hampshire, because New Hampshire Republicans, conservatives, libertarians, and even independents are for small government. This guy, on the whole, believes in big government, and big government answers and solutions to everything, whether it’s global warming or free speech, which New Hampshirites, and New Hampshire conservatives, are supposed to value. That’s why we drive around with ‘Live Free Or Die’ on our license plates. He doesn’t say that. He basically says live according to government licensed regulation of speech. Now I tried to figure out what the appeal of John McCain is, and to go back to my plaid coat, I think if you put John McCain in my plaid coat, he appears, temperamentally, as a convincingly cranky, contrarian, Granite State kind of guy. And that’s what appeals to him. And this gets, I think, to one of the problems with the primaries this year, is that I think conservatives are looking for someone who sort of tonally is closer to John McCain, and they’ve overlooked all the policy liabilities he brings with him.

HH: We’ll continue to highlight those, though. Mark Steyn from www.steynonline.com, thanks, friend.

End of interview.

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