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Hugh Hewitt Book Club

Mark Steyn’s post-debate analysis, and why Sarah Palin works across America

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HH: We begin, though, with Columnist To The World, Mark Steyn. Mark Steyn, what did you see? What do you think about tonight’s debate?

MS: Well, first of all, it was what I heard, because I heard the first part of the debate on radio. And I loved Sarah Palin’s voice. I think people underestimate, or the experts underestimate the appeal of someone who just talks in the cadences of the American people. And by contrast, you know, Joe Biden gave a very smooth and accomplished performance, but when he tried to do the Joe Six-Pack routine, when he said in that rather stilted way, he made a reference to “Home Depot”, “where I spend a lot of time,” it sounded incredibly stilted. American politics, in a way, is about the art of faking authenticity in the Biden school. And it doesn’t really quite know how to handle someone who is authentically authentic, which is what Governor Palin is.

HH: Now I wish to appeal to your great expertise on the world stage, Mark Steyn. Is Bosniac a term of art?

MS: No, no. There is a…Bosniac is a term that they do use over there. It is, in fact, a term for the Bosnian Muslims. Bosnia is divided between Serbs, Croats and so-called Bosnian Muslims. The country is actually called Bosnia-Herzegovina. And when the last time I was there, I was actually trying to find an actual Herzegovine, because apparently, there aren’t any.

HH: So we can’t blast Joe for getting that wrong? Because I’ve gotten a lot of e-mail about Bosniacs, and it’s actually a true ethnic group?

MS: No, it’s a correct term. It’s one of those sort of ostentatiously correct terms. He was trying to tout himself as Mr. Foreign Policy Experience. I don’t quite understand, by the way, his point. He tended to get lost in the weeds when he went off on those points, because obviously, he said oh, people told me that Serbs, Croats and Bosniacs couldn’t get together in one state. Well, that was actually what he said about Iraq, where he said Sunni, Shia and Kurds couldn’t get together in one state. Biden, you know, in fairness to him, Biden gave a, for him, an unusually smooth and accomplished performance. But in a strange way, the sort of glib and more ostentatiously expert it got, the more it made Sarah Palin seem appealing. It was almost as if you were watching two people playing completely different sports.

HH: You know, Mark Steyn, though, there’s one thing. I agree with that. There’s one thing that was reprehensible, though, the attack on Dick Cheney as the most dangerous vice president ever. In this time of war, after this man has worked so hard, I mean, you can disagree with the guy, but this Halliburton sinister crap makes me weary of these people.

MS: No, I mean, I think this is kind of ludicrous demagoguery. And I think it’s unhinged large elements of the Democratic Party base, which is why, I’m sure, Joe Biden feels obliged, he has to toss them a bit of red meat in that respect. I think it’s contemptible, and I would have liked it if Sarah Palin had sort of just giggled girlishly, or done that mischievous wink to the camera she did when she was talking about whatever it was, the third graders back in Wasilla.

HH: Right.

MS: I mean, I think a bit of outright mockery of this kind of…I always remember on some British debate years ago, some blowhard socialist went this is one of the most outrageous, disgusting and disgraceful and loathsome excuses for a human being I have ever met, and the other guy just looked into the camera and when ooh.

HH: The whole teacher thing was wonderful, talking about her grandmother, her father, her third grade teaching brother, and then the wink to the audience about the third graders. That’s the kind of stuff you can’t bottle.

MS: No, and you know, I wish we’d had a bit….I mean, the experts…I gather from some guy who was in the media tent at the debate, that all the working journalists were rolling their eyes, and they thought Biden won it. Well, we’ll see about that. I think Sarah Palin is like the Harry Truman-Calvin Coolidge figure. I go to Coolidge’s birthplace in Plymouth Notch, Vermont a lot, and it’s very unusual these days to have a political candidate so rooted genuinely in a sense of place, and an authentic small town experience. Someone like Barack Obama is like this 1-800 candidate. He’s this sort of Chicagoan, Hawaiian, Kenyan, Kansan, Indonesian mélange. And good luck to him for it. But by contrast, Sarah Palin is an extremely rooted vice presidential candidate that we don’t see in contemporary politics. I love her for it.

HH: Let’s get to the substance. Here is Joe Biden on Iran, cut number two.

JE: Iran getting a nuclear weapon would be very, very destabilizing. They are more than, they are not close to getting a nuclear weapon that’s able to be deployed.

HH: They are not close to getting a nuclear weapon that is able to be deployed. Mark Steyn, your reaction?

MS: Yeah, I don’t know why he, I don’t know why people take refuge in that. This idea that’s put out, again by experts that they are, you know, Iran is eight years away, ten years away, twelve years away from being able to blah, blah, blah. You know, it’ll be like it was with Pakistan. We’ll discover they’ve gone nuclear the morning after. And then we’ll wonder why all the big experts kept telling us that they were eight years and ten years away. Common sense tells you that if A.Q. Khan can basically, while living in the Netherlands, snaffle out all the nuclear secrets just from strolling by the relevant plants thirty years ago, that it hasn’t got any more difficult since then. And certainly, it hasn’t gotten any more difficult than it was during the days of the Manhattan Project. This kind of sort of phony expertise, where you ostentatiously announce that they’re ten, twelve, fourteen years and seven months from having anything deployable, I think, is ridiculous. And again, that’s something she should be winking to the audience and scoffing at.

HH: Here is where she does do a little bit of scoffing, cut number five in response to Joe Biden talking about how he voted to give Bush the authority to go to war, and implied he didn’t mean it. Here is Sarah Palin’s response:

SP: Oh, man, it’s so obvious that I’m a Washington outsider, and someone just not used to the way you guys operate, because here you voted for the war, and now you oppose the war. You’re one who says, you know, as so many politicians do, I was for it before I was against it, or vice versa. Americans are craving that straight talk, and just want to know hey, if you voted for it, tell us why you voted for it, and it was a war resolution. And you had supported John McCain’s military strategies pretty adamantly until this race, and you had opposed very adamantly Barack Obama’s military strategy, including cutting off funding for the troops, that attempt all through the primary. And I watched those debates, and so I remember what those were all about.

HH: Direct hit, Mark Steyn?

MS: Yeah, I think he lapsed into…that’s the trouble with smooth-talking Senate insiders, is they lapse into Senatese. And if you’re locked up in that hellhole, I mean, I spent whatever it was, six weeks in the United States Senate during the impeachment trial. I never want to see any of those guys again. I found it an entirely, the sort of purring air of self-congratulation made me want to vomit. But if you’ve spent thirty-five years in that environment, then explaining why a war resolution isn’t a war resolution, and in fact is just a vote to encourage the President to go back to the United Nations for another thirty-seven meetings, that makes perfect sense if you’re some blowhard Senator whose been sitting in that cozy little club for thirty-five years. But to Sarah Palin and to millions of Americans, it’s just Senate mumbo-jumbo, and she’s right to call him on it.

HH: Last question of substance here, Mark Steyn. Joe Biden said the surge won’t work, and the commander of our troops in Afghanistan says it won’t work, and Sarah Palin coolly says well you know, General McClellan didn’t really say that. I thought that worked for her as well, and I was kind of surprised that she was prepped for that.

MS: Yeah, I think that worked for her, too. I mean, Joe Biden was playing fast and loose with a lot of those assertions tonight. That said, he sounds like a conventional vice presidential figure. And there may be people who find the sort of, the glib faux expertise persuasive. The question is whether there are more people out there who just hear in, as I do, in Sarah Palin’s cadences the voice of America, and someone who is the only accomplished executive on the ticket who runs a vast and important state, and would genuinely bring something fresh to Washington. I mean, I love Sarah Palin because only the United States could produce a candidate like Sarah Palin. You can’t get moose-hunting beauty queens on national tickets in Germany or Belgium or France or those kinds of places.

HH: And who can rise to an occasion like she did tonight and perform as though it was the 30th one she’d been involved in. Mark Steyn, Columnist To The World, www.steynonline.com, thank you.

End of interview.

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