National Review editor Rich Lowry on the first day of the Obama administration
HH: Joined now by National Review editor Rich Lowry, one of the Beltway select who went and were turned into Obamapods. We’re afraid they became pod people last week. Thus far, I’ve talked to Kristol and Barone. They managed to escape. How’d you do, Rich Lowry? Have you shook it off yet?
RL: (laughing) I think I’m okay. I think the spell is broken, finally.
HH: Okay. Now obviously, from having dinner with him last week to watching him yesterday, is there any, did you see any sort of difference between the guy you had dinner with and the guy who was addressing the country?
RL: You know, it’s funny, Hugh, and that maybe Bill and Michael said the same thing, but from where I was sitting, the Obama at that 2 ½ hour private dinner was pretty much the Obama you see in public – a very polished, very fluid with policy, very articulate, and obviously smart and extremely self-assured. And I guess if I got any more insight into him from that dinner, it would be just how profoundly self-assured he is, maybe somewhat disturbingly self-assured. So it didn’t surprise me seeing him up that podium with pretty much nothing. The only look on his face was one of serene self-confidence. And it wouldn’t surprise me, it didn’t surprise me that he delivered the speech so wonderfully.
HH: You know, Rich Lowry, I’ve been teaching good law students for a decade and a half. He did pretty much a decade with the University of Chicago law students. And that is, it’s a good testing ground for doing give and take…
HH: …particularly in a Socratic classroom. He’s not going to get flapped very often. The question is, do you sense that he has a core? Is there a belief structure there? Or is he simply, as someone said, ambition wrapped in skin coated with talent?
RL: Yeah, that’s a very good way to put it. I have no idea. I don’t think there’s any way to know. There’s an opaqueness to him, there’s a certain remoteness to him. Some people have likened it to that of Reagan. He has his charm, but ultimately, he’s a little stand-offish, and there’s a coldness and remoteness to him. And I don’t think we know what his core is, whether it’s ambition or whether it’s some belief structure, and we just, we don’t know, and it’s one of the things we’re going to find out.
HH: All right, I’m talking with Rich Lowry of National Review. How are you going to write up yesterday, Rich, for the magazine? What did you see yesterday? What was your reaction?
RL: Well, obviously I enjoyed your column on this, and I think it was exactly the right note to hit for that day, just an extraordinary moment for the country. And if you weren’t moved by that at a certain level, you have a heart of stone, you know, an African-American being sworn in as the president of the United States on the steps of the Capitol, where just a few blocks away, people had been held in chains as slaves and sold as slaves, move into a White House partly built on slave labor. So it’s an extraordinary statement about the ability of this country to renew itself constantly over time. But there’s some things I liked about the speech. On the other hand, it ultimately, and this is kind of a cliché, Hugh, but it all comes down to whether he can deliver. And he has a lot of challenges on his plate, and I think he’s making a huge gamble by basically mortgaging his presidency, certainly early on, to this rather wacky stimulus plan.
HH: I agree with that, and in fact, he’s got this enormous opportunity, he can have whatever he wants for 90-100 days – anything, literally, he can have. And he’s going to ask for $25 more a week in unemployment benefits?
HH: This is not a Rooseveltian reach, and I’m wondering do you think he’s rethinking that, because Geithner today on the Hill said you know, give us a couple of weeks, give us a month, and we’ll tell you what we want.
RL: Yeah, you know, I think he does worry that he’s going to spend close to a trillion dollars, and that may forever more kind of hamper what he can do in the White House. And the trouble he has is that his more ambitious initiatives on energy, which would involve somehow trying to limit carbon emissions through a cap and trade scheme, and health care which would involve basically leveraging another tax, levying another tax on employment, those are the kinds of things you do only if the economy is going gangbusters and people don’t care about the trade-off between a health program and a cap and trade program, and economic growth. This is not the moment for that, and I don’t know when it’s going to be the moment for that.
HH: Right. And so generally speaking, what is the role, we’ve got a minute, Rich Lowry, of the Republican loyal opposition going into the next 100 days?
RL: Intelligent and principled. Don’t go crazy, don’t run off into the fever swamps as some of us unfortunately did during the Clinton years, but be stalwart in defense of conservative principle. And I think the key thing is for us to develop and sharpen our policies aimed at the middle class in this country, and middle class interests. And then look, Obama has the ball for a while, and we’ll just have to see what he does with it. But given history and given events, it’s going to probably come back to us sooner rather than later.
HH: Rich Lowry of National Review, thank you so much, friend, great, great analysis. I agree.
End of interview.