The Triumphant Return Of Mark Steyn
DB: Once again, we are rejoined by Mark Steyn, who only came on the air because I promised I would not Swift Boat him. Welcome back, Mark Steyn.
MS: Hey, it’s great to be back on the air, Dean. I think I can, if I can figure it out, I can try to remember how this things works. It’s not second nature anymore.
DB: Well basically, I ask you silly questions, and you make silly responses.
MS: Okay. We’ll get to that.
DB: And the audience gets amused.
MS: Okay, give it a shot.
DB: Silly question, is this, are we on the cusp of a great depression, Mark Steyn?
MS: No, I don’t think we are on the cusp of a great depression if you mean soup kitchens and mass unemployment, which is what the Great Depression was.
DB: And I’m specifically referring to Obamavilles.
MS: (laughing) I don’t think there are going to be any Obamavilles. I mean, one of the depressing things since the whole Lehman Brothers/AIG thing blew up a week and a half ago, or whenever it was now, is just realizing how platitudinous and disconnected politicians are from the reality of this situation. And the difference is that John McCain seems bored by the economy when he talks about it, and Obama and Biden just fall back on either these platitudes or this sort of rather lame class warfare.
DB: Now Mark Steyn, what percentage of the United States Senate do you think knows what a credit default swap is?
MS: I would imagine it’s a very, very small number. One of the amusing things, well, it isn’t amusing, really, it’s tragic in a way, but one of the strange things about this is that whenever anything goes wrong in the economy, the fault is always blamed on capitalism, red in tooth and claw. And in this case, both candidates tend to blame greed, untrammeled greed. Well, greed is writ in the human heart and is embedded in our DNA, and has been since the beginning of time. So clearly, greed itself is not the factor, and in most cases, if you actually eliminate the lame-o class warfare thing, it turns out, as in this case, to derive from some previous round of government regulation and its unintended consequences. So now we’ll pile, we’ll have corrective government regulation to correct the last sort of government regulation, and that in turn will have another lot of unintended consequences. To be honest, I would rather take a flyer on a new depression.
DB: Well, it would be interesting. So now let’s take the candidates one at a time. Have you been impressed with the way Barack Obama has shown steadfast and inspired leadership the past fortnight?
MS: (laughing) I couldn’t say that. I think he’s very grateful, or he should be grateful if he’s shrewd enough, which isn’t always clear, but he should be very grateful just in crude political terms for the economy coming along and knocking Sarah Palin off the front pages, because it put an end…McCain was rocketing up in the polls, and the Obama campaign was in effect self-destructing when every day that came by you had some condescending, metropolitan sniffer like Maureen Dowd making patronizing remarks about Sarah Palin. The meltdown on Wall Street, the new great depression, the new Hooverville and all the rest of it, has in that sense saved the Obama campaign.
DB: Actually, now it’s old news, but since you bring up the sniffers at Sarah Palin, have you ever seen anything like that Charlie Gibson interview, who was seemingly channeling a metrosexual schoolmarm the way he was looking over his glasses with such fury at Sarah Palin?
MS: Yeah, I know, and I don’t, I just don’t get it. I mean, I don’t understand why he thinks he’s, that’s in his interest. You know, you and I make our living from talking and giving opinions, and very often, as in this whole sub-prime business, Lehman Brothers, on stuff we know nothing about. Let’s face it, that’s what we do. If it wasn’t Lehman Brothers in the news, and there was instead a coup in Azerbaijan, as professional commentators, we would be within three minutes instant experts on Azerbaijan and the coup situation. That’s what pundits do. They chatter about stuff all day long. And I think it behooves us to have a respect for people who actually run things and do things like the Governor of Alaska. And why Charlie Gibson thinks he would come out, some worthless twit who reads a teleprompter for a living, would come off looking good being condescending to a woman who runs a state, I’ve no idea.
DB: Yeah, I agree. It was absolutely crazy. Now let’s go to the other campaign, the way it’s handled this economic meltdown, this financial crisis, John McCain, that the McCain campaign seems to have found its footing in the past 24 hours, but it’s been a rough ten days, has it not?
MS: Yes, and as you say, I think it’s the campaign that’s found its footing. It’s not clear to me that McCain has found his footing.
DB: Good point.
MS: McCain’s weakness, I think, is on economic issues, because he seems generally, entirely unengaged by economic matters. In many ways, he’s an admirable candidate in a somewhat erratic manner, and if you get a subject that interests him, for good or bad, whether it’s the war or climate change, he’s got a zillion things popping off the top of his head. But the economy just doesn’t seem to grab him in the same way, and so there was a banality to his response which reached its absolute nadir in this idea that he was going to bring Andrew Cuomo in as the white knight on a charger. And at that point, after all the headiness of the sort of Sarah Palin euphoria, the entire conservative base suddenly remembered everything it disliked about McCain. Now it’s true that in the 24 hours, I think his minders have fired one of heavier dosage tranquilizer darts into his, elephant tranquilizer darts into his butt so he’s saying less idiotic things, but again, the problem, I think, with his campaign generally is the lack of a clear economic agenda or philosophy.
DB: Yeah, it’s interesting, one thing about McCain that makes you love him sometimes, and sometimes he really drives you bonkers, is he seems to respond to everything viscerally rather than intellectually.
MS: Yes, and I think that’s why he’s a difficult character for people to get behind 100%, because it does all seem personal to him. The difference…when he describes himself as a Ronald Reagan conservative or whatever, the reason he’s not is because he doesn’t have a worldview informed by a set of philosophical ideas. Instead, it seems as much to do with who happened to diss him in the Senate Men’s Room in 1988. Now assume Andrew Cuomo has never dissed him in the men’s room, and that’s why Andrew Cuomo is the solution to what’s ailing America. But it’s actually very hard to frame any of this stuff as a coherent platform. I mean, this in a sense is a personality campaign. He had great fun mocking Obama as an airhead personality like Paris Hilton, and I think that’s true. You know, Obama is the Paris Hilton celebrity campaign. But McCain in his own way seems to be running just as sort of mercurial a personality campaign.
DB: You know, it’s interesting, Mark Steyn, you refer to the nadir of his campaign coming with the Andrew Cuomo thing, but I would actually take issue with that. When the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy came down a week ago on Monday, I was up in Kennebunkport doing a book project, so I was out of pocket all day…
DB: …got into my car at 5:30, and was greeted by the news that John McCain had pronounced the economy fundamentally sound.
MS: Right, right.
DB: And that was a low that I think was…and any slippage he’s had in the polls, I think, has been because of that initial very bad mishandling of this crisis.
MS: Well, I think the politics of that were bad, but I mean, I do think it is worth bearing in mind what is not going to happen here. You know, it is true that, for example, if there were to be a shortage of credit, an unavailability of credit, that that can have terrible, terrible problems for an economy. But that what we’re dealing with here is not anything like the Wall Street crash. What we’re dealing with here is effectively an absurd situation where the United States legislators decided that credit had a racist concept, and so enough credit was not being given to certain types of people, so they encouraged lending institutions to abandon any standards and throw money at people who shouldn’t have been getting into the home ownership business in the first place, or at least not at that stage in their life. And as a result, sub-prime mortgages went from 2% of the market in 2002 to 30% of the market in 2006.
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DB: So Mark, you have watched with horror, as I have, the devolution of the Atlantic Monthly in the way the Atlantic Monthly blog page as led by Andrew Sullivan, have taken an incredible interest in Sarah Palin’s reproductive history. Is this something that institution can ever recover from?
MS: No, I thought it was embarrassing when Andrew Sullivan was demanding that Sarah Palin’s obstetrician produce the birth video. I mean, I thought this was pathetic. I like, I left the Atlantic Monthly after a little dispute with them, but I’ve always liked David Bradley, the owner of that magazine personally. I was, he was very kind to me. I flew down to Washington to have lunch with him, and you know what it’s like…New Hampshire is a bit of a culinary wasteland, no disrespect to my fellow Granite Staters, so I was really looking forward to eating at a swank Washington eatery. And David Bradley thought that as a sort of simple New Hampshireman, I might not be comfortable in a swank, Washington eatery, so he took me to a diner and bought me a corned beef on rye.
DB: Oh, how lucky for you.
MS: Well, so other than sort of slight beef with him, corned beef with him, other than that, I actually, I think he’s been on the whole a good steward of that institution. And I do not think he can view calmly the decline in its reputation caused by letting this absurd buffoon rage over the paternity of Sarah Palin’s child. I think that’s simply unbecoming to a great institution, and is a form of mental illness.
DB: No, what I found interesting, and this goes for both Palin and McCain, is why people on the left, and why his adversaries have felt, and their adversaries, have felt it so necessary to develop this loathing for him that you read in the blogs – John McCain is despicable, John McCain is evil, Sarah Palin’s a pathological liar. And all that, I spent the past eight years not being a big fan of John McCain, but I never wrote or thought anything along those lines. It just strikes me as how easily the left can be pushed over the edge into such hateful commentary.
MS: Yeah, I mean, I think what was amazing is that within twenty minutes of Sarah Palin’s nomination, Alaska had become the new Texas. Wasilla is the new Crawford. Everything…the embodiment of everything that is wrong with America, everything that is crass and vulgar and worthless simply transferred itself from the Lone Star State up to north of British Columbia. And this idea that in college towns all over the United States, everybody was taking their…you know, somewhere in Texas, a village is missing its idiot stickers, and chiseling off the Texas, and taping in Alaska over it. I mean, it’s this herd mentality. Condescension, snobbish condescension has to be extremely rarified to be effective. And when you have mass, herd-like snobbish condescension, it generally is a rather banal phenomenon, and not something that any sensible person should get over-invested in.
DB: You know, what’s interesting is that I always wondered, I frequently wonder what would have happened if the Republicans had nominated Tim Pawlenty for Vice President, because now I know on this show, we like Tim Pawlenty, but you know, let’s be honest, he’s one of America’s ten or twenty most boring people. It would have been interesting to see how the left would have developed this rabid, foaming at the mouth hatred for a guy like Tim Pawlenty.
MS: Yeah, I mean, I think that’s, I find him personally very pleasant. He does a radio show, and I’ve been on his show, and I enjoy it. But it’s true. You know, that’s the fact, that simply put, if you nominated Andy Williams and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir singing “It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas” as the Vice Presidential nominee, then suddenly Andy Williams would be the most deranged, extremist, ferocious, crazed, lunatic figure in the United States. I mean, this is simply like a visceral reaction now, and I don’t think it’s worthy of that. I mean, as I said, Sarah Palin is one of 50 out of 300 million Americans who gets to govern a state. And that should command a basic kind of respect before you start going on about her as some kind of northern hillbilly.
DB: No, absolutely spot on, Mark Steyn. Now I don’t know if you’ve heard this. A liberal PAC run by Howard Dean’s brother, Democracy For America, is about to run an ad that shows vivid and unflattering images of the fresh scar that appeared on John McCain’s face following his melanoma operation, and concludes with the tagline, why won’t John McCain release his medical records. So is this the politics of hope that we’ve been promised?
MS: No, it’s very interesting the way it all comes back down to the same old playbook. You know, the fact is that McCain, whatever one feels about them, McCain and Palin have been scrutinized in far more detail than either Obama or Biden. So when the New York Times shows any kind of elementary curiosity about Barack Obama’s previous four decades, then it’ll be the time to obsess about facial blemishes on John McCain.
DB: But it is something. This is a very low and dirty ad, and it’s the kind of thing that I think is going to redound to the McCain campaign’s advantage, that it’s because it’s particularly ugly.
MS: Oh, yes, I think so. I mean, I think this is what is so stupid about it. I mean, that’s really the whole lesson of the Sarah Palin thing, that in fact if you were Karl Rove, you would be meeting with these people and saying hey, you know, I think running an ad about John McCain’s melanoma, or his inability to type an e-mail, yeah, I think that’s a really good idea, guys. Let’s make it a really big media buy. I don’t think these fellows…you know, one of the healthiest things in public life is that moment when you feel a thought rising in your gorge to express itself and come out between your lips, and you suddenly realize it’s a stage too far, and you hold it back. And that detector seems to be entirely absent on at least one side of the political spectrum this season.
DB: One more minute with Mark Steyn. So, Mark Steyn, what kind of president is John McCain or Barack Obama going to be?
MS: Well, as I said, I can’t say I’m that enthusiastic about either choice, but I think essentially, Obama is someone who has presented himself, I think either consciously or not, as an utterly fraudulent image, and I would be deeply concerned. What disgusted me about the Berlin speech is the awful passivity of it, the way he said we saw that when the world stands together, when the world stands as one, then a wall came down and a Continent was united. It wasn’t because a world stood as one. It was because a couple of brave people like Reagan and Thatcher stood against the conventional wisdom of the day. And Obama’s passivity would be a terrible comment on the United States at this hinge moment in history.
DB: Indeed it was. Mark Steyn, Columnist To The World, you can read him at National Review, his book, America Alone, one of the books of the decade. Mark Steyn, thanks so much for being with us.
End of interview.