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Hugh Hewitt Book Club

Mark Steyn On What’s Wrong With Washington, D.C.

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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. You can read everything that Mark writes at Hello, Mark.

MS: Hey, Hugh.

HH: I want to begin by asking you, since we have an administration that didn’t enforce DOMA, a president who suspended the immigration laws for the DREAMers, one who has waived off Obamacare because it had a bad landing pattern, why is it that the only act some people want to impose is that which would cut off military aid to Egypt, the one that would actually hurt us?

MS: Yeah, and you know, the funny thing is I’m rather unsympathetic to, I’m someone who’s generally skeptical about the benefits of foreign aid anyway. But what I find interesting about Egypt is that it’s such chump change. It’s a billion and a half dollars, which used to be a lot money, yet is absolutely nothing in the great sucking moor of the federal budget. I mean, if you compare it to the first stimulus bill, which was just shy of whatever it was, it was $800 billion, in other words, you could buy pretty much ever dictate around the planet for about a quarter of the cost of one Obama stimulus bill. So in a strange way, I can understand why people get annoyed about foreign aid and everything. But what I find kind of embarrassing is that the Egyptian, I mean, basically, this one and a half billion is to buy the Egyptian military, and to buy access to the brass in Cairo. And what ought to be slightly embarrassing to them is they can be bought so cheaply.

HH: Well, they picked up six billion dollars in a couple of days from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. It’s not like they’re hurting for walking around money in Egypt right now, but nevertheless, I don’t know why Rand Paul and John McCain, who agree on nothing else, both want to screw the military to the benefit of the Muslim Brotherhood.

MS: Well, I think there’s a serious point to that, is that what do we get, what do we get for that money? That money doesn’t improve Egypt. We gave it to, and by the way, one of the problems is that the Egyptian military owns so much of the Egyptian economy. That’s why Egypt is a backward and starving nation. That’s one of the problems there. If we gave that money to Egypt for thirty years, basically since the Camp David Accords, going back to Sadat and Begin in the late 70s, and didn’t have anything to show for it much except Mohamed Atta flying through the office window. Now in the course of giving that money to those guys, Egypt got worse. In other words, I don’t like to use the phrase, you know, McCain is always using these phrases smart investments. And politicians use that all the time. But if you are going to give people money, you ought to make sure that you’re investing in something that has long term benefit rather than just, you know, obscure Mubarak family members’ Swiss bank accounts, which is what that went to.

HH: But I’ve spent most of the week talking to people like John Burns of the New York Times, Jeffrey Goldberg, Michael Rubin, Bret Stephens, Pete Wehner, you name it, Andrew McCarthy, Max Boot. They all say the same thing, which is the Muslim Brotherhood is a bad group of people who are going to take Egypt down an Islamist path. It doesn’t matter if they collapse the economy. It doesn’t matter if people starve to death. They are getting what they want. How much more clarity do we need? Maybe the Egyptian military is not the best military in the world, and maybe they cost too much for a rented military. But we don’t want the Brotherhood back in power, do we?

MS: No, but you have to think, I mean, here’s the way to think about Egypt. I think Egypt in modern times was at its best between 1922 and 1952, and it got worse in the last few years after the Second World War. But for about a quarter century, it was a kind of ramshackle Arab approximation of a Westminster democracy. If you looked at the state opening of parliament of King Fuad, the first full-blown king of the kingdom of Egypt in 1922, it looked like a toy town version of the state opening of parliament in London or in Ottawa. In other words, you would have thought that this was a country whose political class aspired to the condition of a Western democracy. Egypt, since 1952, has got progressively worse. It has unlearned the habits of aspiring to the condition of a Western society. And that’s all more important than having a vote. This whole stupid fetishization of an election, of going in and people marking a check on a box for the Muslim Brotherhood or whatever, that’s not, you know, the election is the last piece of a free society. The United States declared independence on July 4th, 1776, because its men already had the habits of independent men. They already thought as free people, because they already functioned as free peoples. Literal, sovereign independence was the last piece of the puzzle. And it is ridiculous for the United States, of all countries, to then go and try and impose the system backwards on places like Egypt…

HH: I couldn’t agree with that more, but you also remind me, I am reading the bestseller of the moment, This Town: Two Parties And A Funeral by Mark Leibovich. Have you read this, yet?

MS: No, I haven’t read it, and I look forward to reading it. I’m not a Washington person.

HH: Neither am I.

MS: But I think, by the way, one of the few mistakes that was made about the United States was setting up a government town distinct from any other. You know, whatever you say about Paris or Rome or London, they’re not just about governments. So in a sense, they’re cities that function on other levels as well.

HH: I think you’re right, but you’ll want to take a shower. Now you already know intellectually what’s in this book, as I do.

MS: Right.

HH: But as it plays out from Tim Russert’s funeral on, you just end up saying to yourself no wonder nothing works in this country.

MS: No, and I think that’s quite right. I mean, when you go and, when you led off with that whole great long list of laws that have gone unobserved and unenforced and all the rest of it, I mean, that is a serious point. That actually was one of the grievances against George III, that he couldn’t, that George, the colonists objected to George III. They’d passed laws, and he’d pick and choose which ones he’d allow to go into effect, which he had no power to do in England itself since the Bill of Right of 1689. James II tried that kind of stuff, and afterwards, the parliament made sure it never happened again. And what we have now is a system where Obama is carrying on like George III in the 13 colonies, and James II did in England. And nobody seems to mind. Nobody seems to mind having a head of state who picks and chooses which laws he’ll allow to be enforced, and which he won’t.

HH: Yeah, I’ve got a rough interview coming up with Congressman Lou Barletta, who’s a good guy, a Republican. It’s like the Senator Hoeven interview I did that you mentioned in your column a couple of weeks ago.

MS: Right.

HH: And I’m beginning to despair, actually, of being, of anyone surviving going into Washington, D.C. with the ability to answer a question, Mark Steyn. Did it ever get that bad in London? Did any sort of a culture of non-direction develop in such a way that it has in Washington, D.C?

MS: Well, I think there’s a tendency to perversion in what goes on in Washington, which I think you don’t see in the same way in other countries in the English tradition, as it were. I mean, for example, whatever, and we’ve had our arguments and our differences about the immigration bill.

HH: Sure.

MS: But the minute it became a thousand page bill, no self-respecting people’s representative, whether it’s Marco Rubio or anybody else, should want a piece of it, because a thousand page bill is not a law. It’s basically a hierarchy of privilege. The reason the bill is a thousand pages is because the people are not being treated as citizens, but they’re being treated as members of different groups which have different rights, and as I say, have a hierarchy of privilege within the law. If a bill is a thousand pages long, it is not a part of responsible government. The old line ignorance of the law is not excuse, that’s what they use to say when a citizen came up before a judge. Now, the very people, including that guest of yours that I mentioned in my column, now the very people who claim to write the laws are ignorant of the laws they’re writing.

HH: And so last question, is that the appeal of Chris Christie, that maybe he is so different, and it transmits both physically, because he’s such a large man, but also in his brusqueness and his directness, that he’s just so different from what we’ve gotten so used to that it would be a welcome, almost revolutionary change?

MS: Well, I think it would be, I think it would be very interesting to see how 2016 plays out. But in a sense, you know, once actual government becomes as byzantine and boring and corrupt and smoke-filled roomed, I mean, non-smoke-filled roomed these days, but the same principle, then you wind up, countries wind up going for glamour boys, glamour boys who talk nonsense, talk high falutin, sappy nonsense like Obama. That’s basically the danger once actual nuts and bolts lawmaking becomes so complicated.

HH: And that’s the end game to which the antidote is needed. Mark Steyn from, America, thank you.

End of interview.


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