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Washington Post’s Next Great American Pundit, Conor Williams, faces the Spanish Inquisition

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

HH: The Washington Post held a competition earlier this year to name the Great American Pundit, America’s Next Great Pundit. The winner of that is Conor Williams. He joins me now. Conor, welcome, it’s great to have you on the Hugh Hewitt Show.

CW: Hey, thanks for having me, Hugh. Great to be here.

HH: Conor, what’s the new gig involve?

CW: Hugh, before we say something else…I’m sorry?

HH: What’s the new gig involve? Do you write weekly for the Post or what?

CW: I write weekly for the Post every Friday until early March.

HH: Okay, well then you’re the second regular guest from the Post. Well, actually, third. We’ve got Charles Krauthammer and E.J. Dionne who appear regularly at the Hugh Hewitt Show, so I hope we can get you back. Conor, the first time I ever invite a pundit on, I always like to get some basic information for the audience, so just sort of a lightning round of questions, if you would.

CW: Go for it.

HH: Who’d you vote for in 2008?

CW: I voted for Barack Obama.

HH: How about in 2004?

CW: I voted for John Kerry.

HH: How about in ’00?

CW: I could not vote.

HH: Okay, so would you have voted for Al Gore?

CW: I would have, yes.

HH: Do you own a gun?

CW: I do not.

HH: Do you attend church or synagogue weekly, or even monthly?

CW: I occasionally attend church, yes.

HH: What denomination are you?

CW: I’m a Catholic, but one who struggles a great deal with his faith.

HH: Okay, have you ever served in the military?

CW: I’ve not, no.

HH: Do you have a family member in the military?

CW: Yes, although it’s a fairly distant family member.

HH: Do you have any very close friends who are in the military?

CW: I do.

HH: Okay, good. Did you support the invasion of Afghanistan?

CW: I did.

HH: Did you support the invasion of Iraq?

CW: I did not.

HH: Did you think that they had weapons of mass destruction before we went in?

CW: I did not.

HH: Oh, really? That’s interesting. Do you support the estate tax?

CW: I do with some limits.

HH: What limits, and at what level?

CW: I would say that the numbers they’re throwing around now, I’m actually fairly satisfied with the tax cut deal compromise. Around 35% seems about right to me. If it’s higher than that, no, I get more uncomfortable.

HH: How much of an exemption?

CW: You know, I wouldn’t actually include an exemption. I like the fixed rate at 35%.

HH: Just on the first dollar that comes in, the first dollar of inheritance?

CW: Yes.

HH: Is that moral to tax people who have been taxed already on that?

CW: You know, it’s a difficult question. One thing I’d say is as a student at Georgetown, right? I’m getting my PhD in government. I think an awful lot about what democracy needs, and I think that it’s moral insofar as democracy can’t survive with great distance between the wealthiest and the poorest. And so I think some level of a progressive tax, something like the estate tax that helps to make us more egalitarian is a good idea. So yeah, I think it’s moral.

HH: What is the highest rate of progressive taxation on marginal income over, say, a million dollars a year you would support?

CW: Anytime we’re pushing 50%, I get very uncomfortable.

HH: Is that combined with state levels of taxation?

CW: I’m talking just federal there, but you know, I have to think some more about combined tax rates.

HH: Where did you grow up, by the way?

CW: I grew up in Kalamazoo, Michigan, which is home of a lot of things. Derek Jeter was there, from there, Rogaine came from there, Bell’s Beer comes from there. It’s a great town.

HH: Are you a college football fan?

CW: I am.

HH: Do you realize that it’s technically possible for the University of Michigan to beat Ohio State?

CW: You know, back in the distant mists of my memory, yes, I remember once in a while, we did. But it’s been so long.

HH: It’s been so…and did you go to the University of Michigan?

CW: I didn’t, although I was born in one of the university hospitals there in Ann Arbor.

HH: Okay. So where did you do your undergrad?

CW: I did my undergrad at a little school up in Maine called Bowdoin College. If you remember Secretary of Defense Bill Cohen, he’s an alum.

HH: Oh, I know Joshua Chamberlain is a much more famous alum of Bowdoin. I’ve been in his house.

CW: Well sure, you know, as is Franklin Pierce or Nathaniel Hawthore or George Mitchell.

HH: I wouldn’t go with Franklin Pierce on that one. I don’t think I could go for that.

CW: No.

HH: Okay, let me ask you, do you support same sex marriage?

CW: I do.

HH: Do you support the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell?

CW: I do.

HH: Do you believe that life in the womb is life?

CW: It depends on where you start. But what I would say is I’m virulently anti-abortion.

HH: So, okay, you’re virulently anti-abortion. But should a woman have the right to have an abortion in the second and third trimester of her pregnancy?

CW: I don’t think I’d use the word right. What I would say is I’m interested in any polcy that can minimize abortions.

HH: I’m just asking about the Constitution at this point, though. Do you think the Constitution protects a woman’s right to have an abortion after three months?

CW: After three months? You know, no, I don’t think there’s a right. But again, we could parse very tightly the language there between rights or whether or not it’s something we’d want to legislate. I’m not sure.

HH: Just asking about the law. Do you support Roe V. Wade and its variations that have come down, Planned Parenthood versus Casey, et cetera?

CW: I support…here’s what I’ll tell you. For now, I support a woman’s right to choose within the first trimester. That’s what I’ll go with.

HH: Do you believe in global warming?

CW: I do.

HH: How much do you think the planet is warming and why?

CW: I think the planet is likely to warm as many as four to seven degrees in the next century or so. I believe that because my father’s a chemist. I grew up hearing everything about the evidence for global warming, for climate change. I’ve been following the research on this for a long time. I just don’t see any contravening evidence that’s put forward by serious researchers that climate change isn’t caused by humans, and isn’t very serious.

HH: Do you listen to Rush Limbaugh on a regular basis?

CW: I do not.

HH: Do you ever listen to Rush Limbaugh?

CW: I have, yes.

HH: Do you listen to Mark Levin?

CW: I do not.

HH: Do you listen to Michael Medved?

CW: No.

HH: Do you listen to Sean Hannity?

CW: Yes.

HH: Do you listen to me?

CW: I do.

HH: Are you suffering from epistemic closure?

W: Epistemic closure?

HH: That’s an Andrew Sullivan term. I’m not quite sure what it means, other than people disagree with him.

CW: Yeah, you know, I have no idea. I don’t read enough Andrew Sullivan to know, I suppose.

HH: Should we be publicly funding National Public Radio?

CW: I think we should.

HH: Did W. win the election in 2000 fair and square?

CW: You know, I think so. If you look at the data on this, people who have gone back and looked at the ballots, almost every way you recounted, even if they’d gone through with it, I think he probably holds Florida.

HH: Do you support the use of enhanced interrogation techniques, including waterboarding?

CW: I do not.

HH: And can I hold you for one more segment?

CW: Sure.

– – – –

HH: Conor, thanks for sticking with me. A few more of the sort of centering questions. I look forward to talking about the issues of the day with you going forward. Is Fox News fair and balance?

CW: I don’t think so.

HH: Is it moral for the United States to assassinate Julian Assange?

CW: No, it’s not.

HH: Is Sarah Palin qualified to be president?

CW: No, she isn’t.

HH: If you had to vote today, would you vote to reelect Barack Obama?

CW: I would.

HH: Why?

CW: You know, it’s hard. I’ll admit, yeah. It’s easy right now for people on the left to really struggle with the president. And it’s interesting, actually. I’ve been listening to you now for a while, and I’ve been thinking you and I agree an awful lot on this tax deal, but for wholly different reasons. I’m very frustrated with the president right now. I guess at the end of the day, Hugh, we’ve just gone through my lightning round exposing my partisanship.

HH: Oh, we’re not done yet.

CW: Well, what I’d say is I would vote for him at the end of the day, because until the Republicans take climate change seriously, I’m just very reticent to take them seriously as a party.

HH: Is MSNBC fair and balanced?

CW: I don’t think so.

HH: What’s your opinion of Keith Olbermann?

CW: I think he should stick to sports.

HH: Okay, in terms of the deficit facing the country, at what level did it cross over into perilous, in your view?

CW: Perilous, perilous, you know, I would say as early as late 80s, honestly. I think that Reagan’s approach to federal spending, while cutting taxes, was actually really traumatic for the country. I think we’re still living in his era, actually, in terms of the way we spend money.

HH: All right, back to epistemic closure. Which blogs do you read regularly?

CW: Well, I read…I do read Andrew Sullivan from time to time. I read Matt Yglesias over at the Center For American Progress. I also read this guy, a good friend of mine who used to write for the Post named Kevin Huffman. He’s got one called Off The Huff. I like his quite a bit. You know, and then there’s a number of other ones. I like Real Clear Politics.

HH: Do you read any conservative writer regularly?

CW: I read a lot of Krauthammer, and I read a lot of George Will. Those are easily my two favorite conservative writers. I don’t know if you want to call…

HH: And last question, who are your favorite authors?

CW: My favorite authors, well, right now, my absolute favorite author of the last year or so is Reinhold Niebuhr, the Protestant-American theologian. I just read his Nature And Destiny Of Man, and it’s been life-changing so far.

HH: Is it right to receive Communion as a Roman Catholic if you support abortion rights?

CW: I think so, yes.

HH: What’s the Church teach on that issue?

CW: The Church teaches that it is wrong, but I’m afraid…

HH: All right, just checking. Just wanted to know if you’re fully read in. Conor, great first interview. I look forward to talking to you early and often, and I appreciate your complete openness in answering the questions. It’s rare for a pundit, and we welcome you back.

End of interview.

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