Q&A: Mark Steyn on the '06 Elections

Author and columnist Mark Steyn—the wittiest man we know—visited the HUMAN EVENTS offices this week to talk about his new book, “America Alone: The End of the World as We Know It” (published by Regnery, our sister company).

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The book reveals the growing threat of anti-Americanism in Old Europe and the growth of radical Islam. Steyn’s conclusion is that America will have to stand alone—and in doing so, better win this great struggle.

Today is the second of three Podcasts we’ll be running this week of our interview. Below is a transcript of our conversation, which covers Steyn’s views on the upcoming midterm elections, his predictions for control of the House and Senate, and his thoughts on Hollywood celebrities.

Democrats and Republicans alike are trying to spin the midterm elections as riding on a single topic—say Iraq, national security, scandals, overspending, taxes—what do you think will determine the outcome of this year’s elections?

Well, I think Iraq is an element because I think that people are just depressed by it and, to a certain extent, bored by it and want it go away. The Democrats are not really offering any great proposals on that or anything else. They’re assuming that simple weariness will see them through. If you take Iraq out of the equation everything is going swimmingly. America has an unemployment rate half that of most other advanced economic societies. It has lower gas. It has all kinds—its economy is effectively thriving.

There’s just this mood of weariness with this sort of slow-drip torture of a light colonial policing engagement that is thankless and a little too messy for American tastes. But the idea that—the Democrats are not a credible party, I find. I think they’re a September the 10th party in their outlook, and I’m confident that the American people are not going to follow them down that path on Election Day.

Why do you think Republicans are having such a hard time getting their act together in the lead up to the elections?

Well, I think a lot of Republican are just inept, to be honest. I mean, I’ve got an old Republican congressional delegation and uh [laughter]—and with respect to—I get like one of these form Christmas cards from my senators and congressman and things every year, so I’m not going to pay a high price for gratuitously insulting them I don’t think. But it is—I really do have a problem—I think the Republicans have really blown several opportunities in the last—you know, Newt Gingrich came up to my part of the world and a neighbor of mine asked him a question and said, “Well, why are Republicans getting everything wrong in Washington— and not doing this, not doing that”—this was just last year. Newt said, “Well you must remember, that we’re not used to being in the majority.”

They’ve been in the majority now for 12 years. You know, basically the Iraqis are being expected to pick up the hang of this self-government thing in 12 weeks but the Republicans have had 12 years and still can’t do it. That’s a pretty shabby excuse. I think they’re disconnected from, in large part, they’re disconnected from their base and there’s a ratchet effect in Washington that happens whereby “the pull,” “the pull”—the minute you’re in a kind of East Coast media environment “the pull” is like toward Diane Sawyer’s hair-do—it’s like, you know, the gravity in Washington pulls them away from where they ought to be. And I think there’s very little price to be paid for being—people don’t get defeated for being too conservative.

Basically, if you look at the Democrats’ last big success, which was the election of Bill Clinton in 1992, Bill Clinton gave the impression that he basically accepted the lessons of the Reagan years on economics, on tax rates, Alan Greenspan, economic policy—that kind of thing. And what happened then, he essentially collected enough Republican clones to get elected. What happened then is a lot of Republicans moved right on social issues and kept getting elected all throughout the ’90s. I think the lesson there is—if you look at where popular opinion is on immigration, for example, both parties are way to the left of it. I would like the Republicans to be more in tune with public opinion in this country but, you know, I guess—as I said, Diane Sawyer throw great dinner parties.

You want to make any predictions about what’s going to happen in two weeks?

Well, I’ve said that I think the Republicans will hold the House and hold the Senate. I’m not sure they to do so in either case—I regard the Senate as a complete waste of space. You know, New Zealand moved to a unicameral legislature and [laugh] I was—after prolonged exposure to the United States Senate during the impeachment trial a few years ago—by about the third day of that I was in favor of the U.S. doing the same—a unicameral legislature.

The Senate is just so depressing—it’s so depressing. And I find the idea of—and also, again, in sort of an odd way it gets back to one of those—the Senate has a bad case of “grand man-itis.” You know, I always love it if you ever see those Larry King specials on CNN where he says, “Live tonight the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the ranking Democrat member on the Senate Transportation Committee”—and like there’s eight senators there, and you ask them about Iran, or North Korea—it doesn’t really matter because the answer’s always the same. They say: “Well, what the president needs to do is he needs to send a high-level emissary to talk to Kim Jong Il. Someone like, uh”—if it’s a Democrat they propose George Mitchell and if it’s a Republican they propose someone like James Baker. Because that’s who they see themselves as—some grand, A-list figure goes out to negotiate with North Korea’s version of a grand, A-list figure—you know, there’s only one over there so it’s less competitive. And so they go over and they talk to Kim Jong Il and that, the whole idea is that they, great men, talking to other great—although somewhat misguided—men in North Korea or Iran or whatever.

And the whole point of my demographic argument is to say this is complete rubbish—the idea that you can, that sending James Baker—putting him on a plane and sending him to talk to someone is going to change the underlying dynamic is completely preposterous—all senators talk like that.

One senator said to me a few weeks ago—he said, are you going see—a couple years ago I was on my way to Jordan and he said, “Oh, you going to see King Abdala?”—in that, you know, say hi to the king for me. I said I wasn’t. And he said, “Oh, do you want me to fix it up so you?” And I said no because you get the wrong impression. If you’re a big shot senator, you fly to Amman, you are given dinner at the palace with King Abdullah and Queen Rania: They’re charming, they’re amusing, they’re witty, they’re sharp, they’re pro-American and they don’t speak for 99.99% of the Jordanian population. You come away with this great men talking to other great men thing—which is all the Senate ever comes up with—is completely ludicrous.

You’ve got a knack for putting Washington politicians and Hollywood liberals on the spot and putting them in their place. Have you ever met a celebrity that you didn’t dislike?

Actually I’ve met a lot of celebrities I do—I used to meet a lot more celebrities a few years ago—I don’t meet so many of them now. But, like, I liked Frank Sinatra enormously, personally. I mean, he was a very normal person. He’s got three of the most well-balanced Hollywood children. If you want a way to tell he’s got three very normal Hollywood children, celebrity children, all very normal, very well balanced.

Poor old Nancy Sinatra, I’m sorry to say, is all hung up on the cost of the Iraq war, but aside from the fact that she’s got a bad case of Bush-derangement syndrome [laughter] she is actually a very balanced human being. And, similarly, he was like one of the great, kind of a—I’m trying to think of the appropriately gentile euphemism for HUMAN EVENTS—but he was one of the great, romantic ladies’ men of the 20th century, and yet you can barely find a woman who’s got a—you can’t find any of his ex-wives and no long-term girlfriends prepared to say a bad word about him. All his ex-wives—Mia Farrow, when she had difficulties with Woody Allen, Frank sent her a note saying, “Do you want me to break Woody’s legs?” It was like he was—he was a very well-balanced guy for a celebrity.

And not all of them—obviously, you know, Michael Jackson and [Ben] Cohen are not, a lot of them aren’t like that but I think it’s actually very difficult when you’re in an environment where you’re not treated normally. By the time I met him I think he’d been a star for like 50 years or something, and he hadn’t been treated normally for 50 years. Now you go and look at these guys, some of this Cohen crowd all running around talking about the Iraq war. The difference is Frank had the sense to realize he was like a singer and so nobody was really interested in, there was no reason why he should have a great insight into the conduct of war policy in Vietnam or whatever. So he understood that and he didn’t talk about it.

This idea that people who have not been treated normally, who live in a—I mean, just to take—I’m not making—people think I’m making—I’m just anti-hip hop or something—but take a singer who works in his area: Barbra Streisand. Barbra’s a complete opposite. She thinks she’s—uh, has got nothing about music on it. It’s like, it’s got a copy of her—this ludicrous letter she wrote Dick Gephardt when he was the leader of the Democrats in the House. She sent him like this 14-page memo on how to defeat the—[laughter] now, I feel. It was the first time ever I felt sorry for Dick Gephardt, this perennial, pathetic, biannual, loser candidate for the Democrats—and he’s having to—Barbra’s raised like $30 million for the Democrats so they’re beholden to all these celebrities—and he’s got to take this seriously and respond to Barbra Streisand’s view on the Iraq War.

Ben Affleck—John Kerry tours with Ben Affleck. Even people who like useless, pretty boy, movie actors don’t like Ben Affleck. I mean, even if you just look at the grosses—if you were going to get a celebrity sidekick to accompany you, you would never get Ben Affleck. He did basically what he did for John Kerry’s campaign what he did for that “Pearl Harbor” movie.

I mean, that is like—the celebrification of—you know, celebrities were a—it is astonishing to me when you go back 60, 70 years and you—go back 60 years to second World War and you look at the number of movie stars who served in uniform and the ones who didn’t all made patriotic movies, all made songs, and sported and performed before the troops and things. And now, every time they make some movie about a terrorist hijacking a plane—the terrorist, he—everyone is on the plane and something goofy’s going on and they think it’s the Middle Eastern-looking guy and then it turns out it’s not the Middle Eastern-looking guy but it’s the sinister fellow whose really a vice president at Halliburton or whatever.

You know, it’s just such rubbish this thing. You’ve got to know—you want your side to win? Because if you want your side to win why don’t you make a movie about it? It’s pathetic.

COMING TOMORROW: Steyn talks about America’s problems securing the border and the world’s perception of the United States as a result.