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Hugh Hewitt Book Club

Mark Steyn On Sid Caesar And John Boehner

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HH: Unless you’re on the East Coast, where a million people are without power, 10,000 flights have been cancelled, the roads are horrible, but of course, through sleet and snow, Mark Snow will show., where you can read everything by Mark, hello, Mark, how is up in New Hampshire?

MS: Well, it’s a pretty normal February day, actually. Here, it’s snowing, but you know, we’re used to that. It’s not like, I had a customer from Suwanee, Georgia, who told my assistant the other, I think it was yesterday, in fact, that it was snowing down there. And when it’s snowing in deep southern Georgia, they don’t have the snow plows and all the other stuff that we have up here.

HH: You know, Mark Steyn, what’s interesting about a weather story for a radio guy is that it’s really hard to describe better than TV. Anyone who cares about the weather story will watch it on TV. And my theory is that you know, if anyone crashes or burns, we’ll tell you about it. But generally, people who are stuck in their houses don’t want to talk about the weather. They want to hear something else. So I’m going to ask you to talk about the two big deaths this week, and I’m not talking about the House of Representatives’ Republican caucus, but rather Sid Caesar and Shirley…

MS: And [House GOP Conference is] the world’s slowest death, by the way. They’ve been lying in state for too long.

HH: And they’ve been in the Rotunda for the whole time. You’re right, you’re right, for three years.Shirley Temple and Sid Caesar, and these are, it’s odd that they went about the same time. They’re so different, but they were roughly the same age.

MS: Yeah, I think Shirley Temple was five years younger than Sid Caesar.

HH: Yeah.

MS: They had different careers as well. Sid Caesar had a moment. He was the biggest star in America for 20 minutes of his huge, long life, and never had a second act. And of course, Shirley Temple is the complete opposite. She was the child star, so in other words, by the time she was 22, she should be on drugs, and her life’s a wreck, and she’s getting thrown in the celebrity wing of the L.A. County Jail like Lindsay Lohan or whatever. But she was a child star back when they were still reasonably sane. And when she stopped being a child star, she became a very talented and accomplished U.S. diplomat who served in Czechoslovakia at the time the Iron Curtain came down, and was a big part of what happened there.

HH: Now one of my good friends from Hollywood tells me that Sid Caesar, the Show of Shows, was really remarkable, but also a war zone between the writers who were on it and the talent. And Sid Caesar was not a happy man at that time in his life, and it was conflict-drenched and horrific, really. But they put the show on in a remarkable way.

MS: Well, he had the greatest team of writers anyone’s ever put in one room at the same time. He had Woody Allen. He had Neil Simon. He had Larry Gelbart who went on to write M*A*S*H* and Tootsie. He had Joe Stein, who went on to write Fiddler On The Roof. I mean, he had this, the world’s most talented writers for him. And they made a film about it in the 80s called My Favorite Year. Incredible talent. Sid was very difficult. I quoted this morning my favorite Sid Caesar story, which was told to me by Cy Coleman, the great songwriter, who wrote a musical for Sid Caesar with Neil Simon, and Sid was very unhappy with things. And so one day after a very troubled rehearsal period, they walk into his dressing room, and Neil Simon’s rewritten some scenes for him, and in order to sort of encourage Sid, who was in a bad mood as he’s looking through these rewrites, Cy Coleman told me, he goes, there, Sid, isn’t that funny? And Sid Caesar put down the rewrites, and he goes funny? I’ll tell you what’s funny. He stands up, he rips the sink off the dressing room wall, and hurls it through the window. And then he turned around to Cy Coleman and Neil Simon and said there, that’s funny. He was a difficult, he was a difficult, difficult man. And when he had Cy Coleman and Neil Simon and Woody Allen and Larry Gelbart, and all these great talents around him, Mel Brooks, Mel Brooks was one of those writers. When he had those guys around him, he was the funniest guy on the planet. And afterwards, not quite so funny.

HH: I’m wondering, do you think if he just get the right writers room, we could turn John Boehner around?

MS: (laughing) Well, listen, I think there’s more to it than that. And you know, the closest thing to what you’re proposing was the John Kerry 2004 campaign. I went to see some John Kerry campaign event down in southern New Hampshire when he was running for president. And it was all great. They surrounded him with the Democratic Party equivalent of the all-star writers’ group. They had Max Cleland, Senator from down in Georgia, Vietnam veteran, they had Teddy Kennedy, they had Jeanne Shaheen, who was the governor of New Hampshire at that time. They had all these people, and then, and so the event was great. Everybody was roused up. Everyone was having a grand, old time. And then the penultimate speaker, whoever it was, Ted Kennedy or Jeanne Shaheen or whoever, goes and now, here’s John Kerry, and the whole thing goes straight down the toilet. And that’s what would happen if you had Mel Brooks writing for John Boehner.

HH: John Boehner.

MS: There’s only so much you can do.

HH: Well, this does bring me around, I’ve got a friend in Hollywood who’s been a show runner for some of the great sitcoms of the last 20 years. And I’m not going to mention his name, because he doesn’t need to be known as a good conservative and Christian guy. But he’s always offering to write jokes for Republicans, because he’s a joke writer, and he’s a show runner, and he knows how to do that. And our fundamental unappealing nature was really on display this week. We can’t communicate anything, Mark Steyn.

MS: No, I think that’s true. And I’m staggered, because I find increasingly that, I love the Republican Party, because it’s simply not good enough. Today happens to be Budget Day in Canada. I know you always lose at least 47 affiliates every time I mention Canada, but I will mention it.

HH: I hear people hanging up all over the country. Yes, go ahead.

MS: Well, that’s, Jim Flaherty, the Canadian Finance Minister, presented the federal budget in the House of Commons today. They will have, they had a budget deficit all of $18 billion dollars last year. That’s a rounding error in just one federal program down here. This year, they will have a surplus of $6 billion dollars. And New Zealand’s paying off its national debt. This is the only country among the English-speaking powers around the world, this is the only country where both parties are committed to institutionalized fiscal debauchery until the end of time. And it’s not good enough. It’s simply not good enough.

HH: Now I was musing on the blog this morning that John Boehner might want to lay down his gavel in mid-summer to allow the Republicans to reset for the fall. And is there anyone in the caucus that you think, and the big names are of course Eric Cantor, Jeb Hensarling and Tom Price, three Congressmen, talented, wonderful guys all, and Eric Cantor’s the majority leader, and Hensarling’s from Texas, Price is from Georgia and a doctor. Is there anyone, though, that would make a difference should the Speaker lay down his gavel?

MS: I don’t think any of those, I mean, I’ll just say this about Eric Cantor. I saw him speak at a kind of private meeting to a lot of big, influential conservative types. And I had no view on his performance. I mean, it seemed perfectly routine to me, and I was slightly staggered by the way everybody afterwards was in a fury with him and thought he was far too complacent. And I think that’s the issue here, that somehow you have to change the way people think about it. I mean, for example, they control the House of Representatives. They have the power of the purse. And you guys, again, you guys wrote it all down. I mentioned before, I think a couple of weeks on your show, Hugh, that the Canadian Constitution and the Jamaican Constitution and the Australian Constitution, they just say you know, executive power shall be vested in Her Majesty. And everything else is, nothing, there’s nothing else written about it. And here, you guys decided to do it differently, and you wrote it all down. And yet you’re the ones who’ve wound up with an absolute monarch in which the king wakes up in the morning and decides which clauses of Obamacare are valid that particular day. And Congress, which supposedly officially controls the power of the purse, the House of Representatives, does nothing about it.

HH: You know, next week, I’m doing the Hillsdale Dialogue, a week from Friday, about the Magna Carta with Larry Arnn from Hillsdale, and of course, and Dr. Ken Calvert from Hillsdale. And of course, the line we’ll talk about is to restrain is arbitrariness.

MS: Right.

HH: It was the whole deal was to stop arbitrary rule, and that’s the very definition of what happened Monday on the Obamacare.

MS: Yeah, you know what’s important about Magna Carta, why it’s significant, is because normally, when you’re sick of the existing king, you find a prince you like to replace him with. And there were no, in 1215, there were no viable, plausible princes to replace the king with. So instead, they replaced him with an idea. And the idea is that the king is bound by the law as much as his subjects. That’s the big idea at the heart of the Magna Carta. And this king here seems to have torn, after 8 centuries, marking the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta by tearing that up and tossing it into the Potomac.

HH: From Sid Caesar to John Boehner to King John. I’m not sure we’re making progress. Mark Steyn, thank you,

End of interview.


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