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Mark Steyn special appearance on Washington’s Birthday

Monday, February 19, 2007
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HH: Joined now by Mark Steyn, who probably has a few opinions on that subject, although Mark, I’m actually not starting there. How are you, friend? Thanks for joining us on this President’s Day.

MS: Yeah, good to be with you. Happy Washington’s Birthday, as I still like to think of it.

HH: That’s what it should be. I agree with you 100%.

MS: Yeah, that’s what it should be.

HH: Now I’m going to get to the heavy stuff, but first, I was obliged by my wife to see the Hugh Grant movie this weekend, Music and Lyrics. Have you seen that yet?

MS: No, I haven’t. That’s why you’re playing the Sinatra, is it?

HH: Yeah, and well actually, Duane picked that for you. My question for you is, since it’s a movie about writing songs, who in your opinion was the greatest lyricist of the last fifty years?

MS: Well, if you’re talking about great lyricists, I mean, I like Cole Porter, who wrote I’ve Got You Under My Skin. I like that heady intoxication in that lyric. I had a Japanese import of that album, in which it had my all-time favorite misprint on it. It was translated into English as I’ve Got You Under My Sink, which sounds like a song for swinging serial killers. But a personal favorite of mine, below the sort of big ones, is Dorothy Fields, who wrote The Way You Look Tonight, and I’m In The Mood For Love, and Hey, Big Spender, and I Won’t Dance, Don’t Ask Me. And I love Dorothy Fields songs.

HH: Now the movie’s premise is that it’s an intuitive talent, sort of like speed. Is that in fact true?

MS: Well, I think that when you analyze the song, you can see all the little tricks and things that go into it. But that at a certain level, a guy doesn’t write it like that. I think you’ve got to write it instinctively, and then you go back and clean it up a little. And interestingly to me, I think music is a largely instinctive thing, because when you talk to composers and lyricists, the composer always says oh, I wrote it in 20 minutes, and then the lyricists says oh, it took me two months to get the lyric right. And I think that’s usually true. I think writing music is instinctive, but I think writing lyrics has a lot of craft in it.

HH: All right, now I’m going to get to the serious stuff. Andrew Roberts, British historian, has a new book out called The History Of The English Speaking People Since 1900, a successor to the Churchill version, and there in the first five pages is a quote from Lord Salisbury at the turn of the century, warning his British colleagues that credibility, once lost, could not be regained, and that it was good to be feared around the world. He expected nothing less for the country that was the most powerful in the world, and that with fear comes hatred. I thought it sounded exactly like what we find ourselves in today.

MS: Yes, the interesting thing about the Marquis of Salisbury is that you look at the situation he was in, you know, just a little over a century ago, and all those sound bytes of his sound very familiar. There’s another one that Andrew mentions in that book, where he says Lord Salisbury says at one point, England is the only country in which during a great war, eminent men write and speak as if they belong to the enemy. Well, the only thing that’s changed in the course of the last century is that it’s not just England in which eminent men write and speak as if they belong to the nation’s enemies, but also America, and also Canada, and also Australia, and a lot of other places, too. And I think that’s what makes this book so relevant. You realize, I think, that it is very easy to squander your credibility for a kind of self-indulgence.

HH: I’m going to be talking with him for an entire show in the future. You wrote a column yesterday in the Chicago Sun Times, which I’m sure has earned you, well, about a truckload of venom. It had one line in it, “Nevertheless in the capital city of the most powerful nation on the planet last week, the political class spent it trying to craft a bipartisan defeat strategy, and they might yet pull it off.” A bipartisan defeat strategy, or as you said, the slow bleed Democrats joining the white flag Republicans. How was the reaction, Mark Steyn?

MS: Well, it’s astonishing to me that essentially, I think a lot of people on the Republican side do not seem to understand. I mean, I expect nothing from the Democrats. I think they’ve…I think really, they’ve internalized this ludicrous thing, you know, where you just say we support our troops, we support our troops, and as long as you preface any absurd action with the words we support our troops, you know, it’s fine. We support our troops, even as we cut the legs out from under them, so that the mission is doomed to fail. That’s basically what the Democrat position has come down to. And I think, in fact, if you look at the logic of that, I mean, I don’t think you can support the troops if you’re opposed to the mission. You end up, if you divorce the kind of heroism of soldiering from the nobility of the mission, you end up with a thing like the John Kerry biography, a completely incoherent one, where a guy is running as the anti-war war hero. And I think the Democrats have become the party of that incoherence, but I expect better from the Republicans, and I’m deeply unimpressed by a lot of the behavior of prominent Republicans, too.

HH: Today, George Bush went to Mt. Vernon, and I’ll read from the AP report. “Standing before the Mt. Vernon mansion, and sharing the stage with an actor dressed as George Washington, Bush said that George Washington’s Revolutionary War leadership inspired generations of Americans to stand for freedom in their own time. ‘Today, we’re fighting a new war to defend out liberty and our people and our way of life. And as we work to advance the cause of freedom around the world, we remember that the father of our country believed that the freedoms we secured in our revolution were not meant for America alone. He once wrote my best wishes are irresistibly excited whenever in any country I see an oppressed nation unfurl the banners of freedom.'” This a very difficult argument to make in this society, Mark Steyn, that we’re under an obligation to do this. Do you think this is going to work?

MS: Well, I think you can present the sort of utopian aspect of that, that you know, we’re spreading democracy around the world in terms of hard-headed national interests, which I think generally speaking, that free nations whose citizens are preoccupied with buying homes in the suburbs, and owning stock, and going on vacations and watching TV, are less threatening to each other than nations in which there are no economic opportunities, like many Middle Eastern countries, and where the frustrations of the society are channeled in ways that are deeply unhealthy for other countries. So I think my advice to the President is to frame the export of liberty as a hard-headed exercise in America’s national interest, because I think it is.

HH: That’s what Thomas Barnett, who will be back tomorrow, argues, very much connecting these countries to the democratic ideal is necessary for all survival. Mark Steyn, last question. I interviewed General Odom last week, and I didn’t think he did so well, because he admitted to not knowing anything about Ahmadinejad, Mullah Yazdi, 12th Imam theology, a whole bunch of…not knowing how many people Saddam had killed…in other words, it was an extended declaration of indifference to facts, and yet the lefty blogosphere loved it.

MS: And I found this general that you interviewed, he passed himself off as an expert on Iran, and I was astonished by his answers on the 12th Imam. I mean basically, that’s a big chunk of the Shiite population in Iran, are what they caller 12’ers, you know, they belong to that particular strain of Islam, and I find it astonishing that this man could claim to be an expert on Iran without every have apparently looking at the country in anything other than as a sort of typical national nation-state. He didn’t seem to see it as any kind of broader cultural religious project.

HH: And the lefties didn’t seem to mind that he didn’t. That’s what really stunned me, Mark.

MS: No, ignorance is bliss.

HH: Mark Steyn, always a pleasure. Happy President’s Day to you, or as we say, Washington’s Birthday.

End of interview.

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