HH: It’s Thursday, and we are lucky, and that means we start with Columnist To the World, Mark Steyn. You can read everything Mark writes at www.steynonline.com. Mark, a good Thursday to you.
MS: Hey, good Thursday to you, too, Hugh.
HH: Before we go to the dreary business of health care, and the dangerous business of Afghanistan, I’m taking the Fetching Mrs. Hewitt down to the performing arts center in Orange County tonight to hear Christine Ebersole do a cabaret act. I don’t suppose you’ve ever seen her live, have you?
MS: Yeah, I did once, it’s going back sometime in the 90s. I love really good cabaret, though.
HH: Yeah, it’s unfortunate that there’s not much of it in Southern California, but I’m looking forward to that tonight. Now Mark, from the very delightful and light to health care, it looks like the Democrats are going to successfully destroy American medicine.
MS: Yeah, I think this is the issue, that they’re determined to ram something through, because they know that once you plant the seed of it, it will grow very quickly into what they really want. That’s why I think a lot of the language which we use to talk about this thing is over-wonkish. The public option isn’t the particular clause in the bill called the public option. The whole bill is the public option, because what it will do, either incrementally or very…and I think very quickly, is it will governmentalize health care. And that is what they are determined to do, and they’re determined to do it, I believe, essentially for political reasons, and for very sound political reasons from their point of view, but do it, they will.
HH: Have you sensed that there’s been a dying off of alarm, or that the alarm is no longer simply being covered by the media?
MS: Well, I think people are still concerned about it. It’s obviously hard, as the fall advances, to get people to turn out in the same numbers as they did during the summer, but I was interested to see the former speechwriter for not only President Obama but also Mrs. Clinton and John Edwards, that the health care speechwriter for these people, who lost her own health insurance simply because she moved from Washington, D.C. to Massachusetts. And in a way, she doesn’t quite spell it out, but she gets to the point that if you were addressing the health care problems in this country, you would address the issue of portability. I mean, the lack of portability is a stupid thing just all on its own. I live on the Vermont-New Hampshire border. If I cross the border over into Vermont, I can take my car, although I have to reregister it, I can take the same pair of trousers I’m wearing, I don’t cross the Connecticut River and they say oh, sorry, these trousers aren’t licensed for use in Vermont, so you’ll have to get a different pair of trousers. But health care is confined by state borders. They’re not doing, they’re not addressing the real issue like such as that, because it’s not about health care. It’s about political advantage.
HH: There’s so many of the Democrats, Jim Webb comes to mind, who has campaigned as a populist on behalf of the little guy. This bill does not touch the seven figure plaintiff lawyer bar. It devastates Medicare. How do they get the conscience to vote for this?
MS: Well, I think in naked political terms, I said this a few weeks ago, Hugh, that I think this, if you’re on the political left, this is the fastest way to a permanent left of center political culture. You so profoundly shift the balance of power between the citizen and the state, that you make it impossible to have genuinely small government, and a genuine conservative government ever again. And I think that is the advantage to it. And that advantage trumps all the problems. And they know that once they ram it through, it will prove so difficult to unstitch, that no Republican, any Republican who wants to run on undoing this whole thing, will be told oh, no, you can’t do it. It’ll become one of those things you can never do, like immigration. The Southern Border, everyone knows, you know, everyone says oh, the Southern Border is unenforceable. Who decided that? Nobody decided that. It just somehow, a consensus emerged that it’s unrealistic to try to enforce the Southern Border. Similarly, a consensus will emerge that it’s simply implausible to try and roll back government health care.
HH: Let’s focus on that unrepealability for a second, because the fellow, the doctor who writes for the New Yorker from Harvard Medical School, Gawande I believe his name is, has always said that Canada and Britain are products of path-dependent evolution, that they just grew up that way, that we have not grown up that way. And I’ve been thinking about that. If they pass this, Mark, I think there is going to be a political revolution in this country. I think they will throw everybody out.
MS: Well, you would like to think so. And I don’t believe, by the way, that we’re talking about anything…I’ve experienced both Canadian and British health care and some European systems as well. I don’t think we’re talking about something that bad, by the way. I think we’re talking about something far worse, because nobody has tried to devise a centralized health care system for a first world country of three hundred million people before.
HH: Right, right.
MS: So I think we’ll be talking, I mean, if you talk, if you look at the British National Health Service, which is the third biggest employer on the planet after the Chinese Army and Indian National Railways, which gives you a clue to the bureaucratization of the institution, because those, that huge, vast workforce is not doctors and nurses. It’s bureaucrats and all the rest of it. And I think then, if you try to do it on the scale, that’s if you’re doing it in one crummy, rain-sodden little island in the North Sea off the coast of Europe. You try to do it continent-wide for three hundred million people, you are going to have an epic disaster on your hands.
HH: Well, the complexity level…can you imagine the federal government attempting to control a highway system? Just a highway system?
HH: And the number of crashes and breakdowns we would have? But this is, I think you’re hinting at this, the complexity of the American medical system is an order or five on top of any other medical system in the world.
MS: Yes, and I don’t think anyone really understands what it’s going to mean. I mean, for a start, all other socialized medical systems depend on the American system as a source, for example, of new drugs. It is the private sector health system in the United States that is the reason why America develops the drugs that the rest of the world uses. So I think we’re going to see a decline in the rate of medical advance. So if you’re someone who spends a lot of money donating to charities that are trying to find a cure for breast cancer or whatever, all those cures are going to be put off simply because state health systems, one of the key features that disappears in a state health system, is innovation and initiative.
HH: Now I heard Nancy Pelosi yesterday say a VAT tax is on the table. And you know, most people are driving around saying I don’t sell any vats, so I’ll be fine.
HH: But it’s actually, I think, a cover for doing a massive tax hike if cap and tax doesn’t get through. They’ve got to pay for this some way, Mark Steyn.
MS: Yes, that’s right, and you know, the interesting thing right now, if you go into most stores, and you purchase an item, you purchase a candy bar, if you purchase a candy bar in New Hampshire, there’s no sales tax on it. If you purchase a candy bar in California, there will be sales tax on it, but you’ll discover that. You’ll be told a candy bar is 75 cents or whatever, and you’ll then have the tax added on top of it. If you have a nationwide VAT, a value added tax, that will be built into the price. It’s an automatic kind of 10, 15, 18% price hike. And I think again, that is one thing that if the American people put up with that, then they are essentially deciding to go along with wholesale Europeanization.
HH: So if you have to distill on a domestic, political basis not economic, nothing else, the best arguments against Obamacare to rally people in places like Arkansas, Indiana, Nebraska, where there are Democratic Senators who may be persuaded to vote against cloture, what are they, Mark Steyn?
MS: I think the argument you make is the loss of control, that you will not, if you’re someone who has difficulty accessing quality health care at the moment, you’re not going to be able to access it any better under this. And if you are satisfied with your health care, as something like 77% of the American people are, you’re going to have all your choices taken out of your hands, and your employer and the general business climate will face strong pressure to herd you and your body into the jurisdiction of the federal government. It represents essentially the nationalization of your body by the federal government.
HH: So you’ve been watching this a long time. Do you think this game is over? Do you think that it’s essentially fixed?
MS: No, I don’t think it’s over, but I think the idea that there are bipartisan compromises to be worked out is what’s over. I think what’s happening here is that he’s determined to rail, and the Democrats in Congress, are determined to rail this thing through with 51%, 51 votes, the bare minimum they need to do it. And Republicans should understand that. And that’s why it’s important for the whole tea party town hall thing to stay motivated, because if you lose this, you cross a bridge, as European countries have learned, you cross this bridge, and it’s all but impossible ever to cross back.
HH: You cannot cross back, and that’s why, America, I’m urging you go to Hughhewitt.com, get the names and numbers of those Senators that I’m talking to right now, and make sure that they hear from you right now. They’re all listed at Hughhewitt.com. Mark Steyn is my guest, www.steynonline.com.
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HH: By the way, the exclusive new, and I quote, “groovy” Steynonline.com coffee mug awaits you at www.steynonline.com. Mark, I am…have you ever played Jeopardy? I mean, did you ever go do one of the celebrity Jeopardy things?
MS: No, I haven’t, I’ve never done that, and I’ve never done Dancing With The Stars, either.
HH: I’ll bet you, you would be magnificent at both. If you had to pick one, which one would you choose?
MS: (laughing) Actually, having seen what happened to, I think it was Wolf Blitzer on Jeopardy, I think I’d rather take my chances on getting the Tom Delay feet of clay on Dancing With The Stars.
HH: (laughing) Okay, listen, this is a very serious, this is almost a joke, but it’s so awful. From AP today, President Obama is prepared to accept some Taliban involvement in Afghanistan’s political future, and is unlikely to favor a large influx of U.S. troops being demanded by his ground commander, a senior official said tonight. Obviously, a trial balloon, Mark Steyn. What do you make of this?
MS: Yes, and it’s interesting. I wrote a column about this, I think now, six or sever years ago, after Mo Mowlam, the former secretary of state for Northern Ireland in the British government, had said that we should be talking with the Taliban. And I said this would become overwhelming in the years ahead, because for a certain type of Western politician, including the gentleman now in the White House, this is, there are no enemies. There are only friends you haven’t managed to accommodate yet. And I think that is a real problem here. I mean, why would you stay in Afghanistan to fight al Qaeda if you’re readmitting the Taliban to the government of Afghanistan? I mean, these two organizations are joined at the hip. I believe one of Osama bin Laden’s wives was Mullah Omar’s daughter, and one of Mullah Omar’s wives was Osama bin Laden’s daughter. So when I say joined at the hip, I mean very intimately in terms of intermarriage and everything. And the point being that al Qaeda want to establish the kind of government that the Taliban have in Afghanistan over a much wider area. So if you don’t object to the Taliban, on what basis do you object to al Qaeda? I mean, this makes no sense.
HH: The second paragraph reads, and this is very scary, Mr. Obama appears to have been swayed in recent days by arguments from some advisers, led by Vice President Joe Biden, that the Taliban do not pose a direct threat to the U.S., and that there should be a greater focus on tackling al Qaeda inside of Pakistan. This goes to what you just said, Mark. It is thought they think that line on the map means something to these people.
MS: Yes, and obviously, they do. The Taliban were the landlords to al Qaeda. That’s why Afghanistan became a threat, because every…jihadists all over the world, jihadists who’ve been involved in terrorist activity in Indonesia, in Chechnya, in the Balkans, in London, pass through the training camps in Afghanistan that were permitted to be set up there by the Taliban government. So this idea, I mean, this again I think gets to the terrible confusion at the heart of this. It’s not particular groups that pose a threat. It’s not…and the distinctions between these groups are largely meaningless, because they’re not highly centralized operations. It’s not like a McDonalds franchise or anything. It’s the overall ideology which makes a certain type of young man think that a Taliban-style government is achievable in other parts of the world, too. And so for the United States to be seen withdrawing from Afghanistan and allowing the Taliban to take over, this would be the Vietnam quagmire that all these idiots in the Democratic Party said, have spent the last six years saying Iraq was.
HH: Mark Steyn, where is the National Organization for Women? Didn’t anyone ever see The Kite Runner? Don’t they know what this means, to welcome…
MS: Well you know, in Afghanistan, it was illegal, it was under the Taliban, illegal by law, by law, for a woman to feel sunlight on her face, illegal by law. And leftist feminists, the left wing feminist organizations in the Western world had absolutely nothing to say about that. And George W. Bush liberated those Afghan women. He got them out of their burkas. He allowed them to feel sunlight on their face. A year after the Afghan invasion, there were a higher proportion of women elected to the Afghan parliament than to the Canadian parliament. And the idea that you can simply allow this disgusting party of the Taliban effectively to return large parts of Afghanistan to a prison state, is, speaks very poorly for us. But in a sense, you know, in hard national interest terms, if you want to get out, the thing to do would be to figure out a way to get out without making it look like a defeat. The minute you re-burkaize parts of Afghanistan, what you’re telling the world is that you have been defeated, that the patrons of Osama bin Laden are now back in charge. You couldn’t stick it. You couldn’t stick it. You’re as, as the historian Niall Ferguson says, this is the superpower with ADHD. It hasn’t got the staying power, can’t concentrate long enough.
HH: Yeah, the other great damage here from the end of this story, Army officers who gathered at a convention in Washington earlier this week expressed dismay over thinly disguised rebukes given to General McChrystal. It’s like a bad replay of Vietnam, Mark Steyn. We’re going to see helicopters in Kabul. And if you’re a smart Afghan woman right now, or a middle class, you get the hell out of that country, because we’re about to bug out.
MS: Yeah, and you…it’s the Bernard Lewis line, that when these things happen, the world concludes that America is harmless as an enemy, and treacherous as a friend. Now having said that, I think we’ve got confused here. We’re not nation building in Afghanistan. You can’t nation build in Afghanistan. It’s never been a nation in the sense that anybody in the United States or Sweden or Switzerland would recognize. You’re there to identify bad guys, kill bad guys in large numbers. And what has happened, I think, in the sort of multilateralization of the mission there, which wasn’t true at the beginning, by the way, this was a largely American operation in the fall of 2001, with a few special forces from select allies. But since all the sort of non-combat members of NATO have gone in, your Germans and Norwegians and all the rest, the whole thing’s being schoolgirl’d up. And the young men on the streets of Afghanistan and in the hills know that the rules of engagement favor them enormously. And they’ve made a mockery of these NATO forces. NATO and the United States should be there to kill large numbers of bad guys, and nation building is something that will take thousands of years in Afghanistan.
HH: Last and light question, we’re opening an offense on the Moon tomorrow. We’re dropping a bunker-busting bomb on the Moon’s icepack, Mark Steyn. What did the Moon ever do to us?
MS: No, well I absolutely deplore this swaggering, cowboy, belligerent attitude from Barack Obama. You know, there’s going to be blowback for this. There’s going to be blowback for this.
HH: Mark Steyn, always a pleasure, www.steynonline.com, America. We await with breathless anticipation the Christmas release still under deep wraps in New Hampshire, but we will look for it soon. Hopefully, it will have a moose on the CD cover.
End of interview.