He may have been shaken, but he’s never stirred. That’s more or less how author Mark Steyn described President Obama and his “boring” life, challenging Daniel Craig’s assertion that Obama would make a fitting James Bond. Steyn spoke with Townhall about his new book, “The Undocumented,” a collection of his best columns, explaining how liberals have inundated the culture with their ideology. Among other topics in our fascinating conversation, Steyn explained why the president isn’t as “cool” as some Millennials may think, why John McCain is the real epitome of James Bond, and the consequences of Obama’s missteps in the Middle East.
Why is it always liberals who are trying to change the culture?
“I think liberals are motivated in the sense that they are the ones who want to change things. Generally speaking, if you’re a conservative you believe that a child is best raised in a traditional family setting and so you’re fighting defensively, you’re fighting a defensive maneuver to say this is the particular definition of the family that’s prevailed for thousands of years and we’re sticking with that. And in cultural terms, change is always an attractive position. It’s the person who wants to change things, it’s the person who’s in the minority, it’s the person who takes the stand and if you put that in cultural terms that seems a much more adventurous and appealing position to take and they’ve been very successful at that. It’s somewhere in the first part of the book, on all the big questions, politics is really irrelevant, and even judges are irrelevant. Judges are just playing catch up. If you read the sort of torrid logic of say the Massachusetts Supreme Court decision on legalizing gay marriage, I mean in legal terms it’s complete nonsense. Basically what happened is people who matter in Massachusetts changed their minds on what marriage is and these not-so-clever judges had to twist themselves into pretzels to try to find a legal pretext to go along with it. I think in that sense liberals are successful because they play the long game where it matters. They’re not focused on Tuesday mornings in November. For what they want, everything is up for grabs. It’s not even about politics, it’s not even about America, it’s about changing facts that have prevailed for thousands of years before anybody thought of America and they play the long game on that and they burrow away into institutions like schools and the mainline churches and into the pop culture and they do it incrementally and they do it very cleverly and but they have their eye on the whole megillah. Not just on this particular House district, or this particular Senate seat.”
There are some Republican politicians, like Marco Rubio, who likes to say he listens to rap and he likes all these rap artists. So, do you think this is what conservative politicians need to do? To give these kinds of interviews? In other words, instead of trying to change the culture, embracing it or try to relate more to Millennials?
I don’t think people should pretend to be what they aren’t. Every politician gets asked things like that. Marco Rubio, I can just about imagine him listening to rap in certain circumstances. When John Kerry said that he listened to a lot of rap, I didn’t believe a word of it. If you’d broken into John and Teresa’s mansion – all their mansions, all 17 or how many they have – I doubt between those 17 houses you would have found a single rap album in the John Kerry record collection – and so that’s fake. When George W. Bush – I think it was a couple of months before the election – some reporter was doing a pop culture test with him and said, ‘What do you think of Madonna?’ and Bush said, ‘I don’t like pop music.’ I loved that, because that’s an honest answer. He’s saying, ‘This is who I am, take it or leave it.’ So it’s fine if you happen genuinely to be into rap, but if you’re doing it for the reasons you suggested, you know conservatives have a reputation of being Mr. Squaresville so you show how groovy you are by pretending you listen to gangsta rap all day, I think you just make yourself look ridiculous. People have to have the confidence to be who they are and that’s particularly true about politicians. Politicians who lie to you about what pop songs he likes isn’t necessarily going to be someone who tells you the truth about lots of other important things. That may well indeed be the first sign that he doesn’t have the strength or will to tell you the awkward truth on debt or ISIS or anything else. So, I think it’s worth paying close attention when some 63-year-old guy with gray hair pretends he’s into hip hop.”
So you don’t think the Republican Party should be focused on evolving, say for the 2016 election, particularly to win the Millennial vote?
“I can’t stand what has become the system in the last few presidential elections where it’s basically, the only thing that matters is half a dozen swing states and there’s no real election. If you’re a deep red state like Wyoming, or a deep blue state like Massachusetts, there is no presidential election. The presidential election is just fought in half a dozen key states, with politicians tailoring their messages to those particular perceived swing states – whether it’s Florida or New Hampshire or wherever. So I’m in favor of candidates going out to win every vote. I don’t agree with the Mitt Romney thing, that you write off 47 percent automatically and just focus on the 53 percent. Since so far as Millennials or Hispanics or gays or anybody is part of that, candidates should be going towards them. But I think there’s danger about micro targeting generally. You know, I don’t get it myself. The reason why Obama seems cool to Millennials in a way that Mitt Romney or John McCain doesn’t, says more about the nature of cool. ‘Cool’ is by definition a relatively shallow thing. Obama has led a very dull life. He’s a boring man who stayed in school until he was 28 or whatever it was. Then he sort of sat around in rooms talking all day long. John McCain, who ran against him in 2008, has been shot out of the sky. He was taken prisoner by the Vietnamese, and he was brutally tortured through all of that. Daniel Craig was asked who would make a better James Bond in the 2008 election, and he said Obama, because John McCain is more of an ‘M’ type, like he’s the boss of the Secret Service, he gives the orders, the desk job. That’s actually the opposite of reality! Obama has never broken a sweat in his life. John McCain has lived an ostensibly thrilling life – he’s had a James Bond-like life. He’s been shot out of the sky, he’s been brutally tortured – just like 007 and ‘Die Another Day’ and all the rest of it. And yet ‘cool’ in the sense in which Obama is deemed to be cool actually is not just terribly shallow, but also incredibly boring. I mean he hasn’t done anything – and McCain who is an exasperating, infuriating person who I certainly would view with great trepidation had he ever actually made it to the White House, but the idea that somehow McCain loses on the coolness front to Obama, is I think ridiculous. So it’s not a question of nominating Jay-Z as the candidate, it’s about changing the culture so that leading a boring life, sitting around in faculty lounges groaning about social justice as Obama did for decades isn’t perceived to be the acme of ‘cool’ anymore and it shouldn’t be that difficult to do that.”
Now, a few specific things you talk about in the book. You talk about feminist hypocrisy. Who do you think is the biggest feminist hypocrite and why?
“I think the first thing I say in the book, is I’m talking about Gloria Steinem – a Gloria Steinem piece she wrote for the New York Times, defending Clinton on the grounds that even if everything that Paula Jones alleged – that he dropped his pants for her and all the rest of it – even if all that is true, it’s not sexual harassment. I think that Gloria Steinem did great damage to feminism and the others who defended Clinton in that situation. They did great damage to feminism by aligning it with a particular political party because I do think we saw it that then when Bush was elected and we had this new struggle in the 21st century, basically that is a women’s issue. The country that Bush liberated in 2001, it was illegal, it was forbidden by law for women to feel sunlight on their faces. If that isn’t a woman’s issue, I don’t know what is. A woman isn’t allowed to leave the house, without a man and when she’s out of the house, she’s not allowed to be out uncovered. She’s supposedly never to know what it feels like to have the morning sun on your face. She’s never to experience that. That is a woman’s issue. Meriam Ibrahim, who is a lady from New Hampshire, a Christian lady who was held in prison in Sudan, that’s a women’s issue. The women in Egypt who have undergone clitoridectomies, female genital mutilation, that’s a women’s issue. And yet, the worst thing about the Western feminist movement is that it has accepted the idea of two-tier sisterhood and I think that’s true of now and all the feminist leaders that if you are born into a certain kind of life in a Western society, you have the right to live life to your fullest potential as a woman. If you’re born into another kind of life, your life starts with female genital mutilation and you’re shoved into a body bag to live and if you’re lucky, you won’t be honor killed by your brothers and your fathers when you decide you’d like to marry someone that they didn’t choose for you. On the whole Western feminists have done – not only have they done nothing to stand up for those women, when there are women who do stand up for them, like Ayaan Hirsi Ali, when she chose to speak at American campuses, the feminists are some of the noisiest in making common cause with the Islamic enforcers and trying to have those people shut down. There’s a real war on women and it’s not just in Yemen and Waziristan, it’s actually going on in Western societies too, where some poor woman in Buffalo gets her head chopped off and a girl in Peoria gets honor killed and Western feminists are obsessed with essentially with trivia. Sandra Fluke wanting the taxpayers to pay for her contraception until she’s 47, or whatever she is by now.”
You’re also pretty critical of Obama’s foreign policy. What is the biggest mistake he’s made in the Middle East?
“I don’t think he sees it as a mistake, that’s the thing. I think that what we’ve seen since 2009 is the creation, the dawn of the post-Western Middle East was invented in 1922 by the British and French and as Anglo-French power waned after the Second World War, the United States stepped in to pick up the slack. What has happened since the Arab Spring, is the post-Western Middle East – that’s to say, for the first time in hundreds of years, an Arab world who’s direction is not set by the Western powers. Now I think that is a mistake, but I don’t think Obama does. For quite surely after Obama’s election, he’d get people talking around the planet in Singapore, Australia, Poland, Israel, India, about the post-American world, and I think that from Obama’s point of view, that suits him fine. He does not believe that American force projection and American power has been a force for good in the world and he would rather that force and that power and those resources be applied at home. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that the federal government has become far more heavy-handed in the last five years, even as all kinds of crazy loons have had the run of the planet in Libya and all kinds of other places. I think for Obama, and other people who think like Obama, government power is applied at home and the rest of the planet doesn’t matter. We’re all going to pay the price for that, because even if the polar opposites of Obama were to be elected in 2016, undoing all that damage is going to require a huge effort.”
Is there anything you want to share about why you wrote this book at this time?
“I look at it this way. We were talking about the culture earlier, my concern is that particularly on the right we get all excited about. I lived in New Hampshire and I can’t tell you all the dozens of presidential candidates who passed through here. I remember Phil Graham I think in 1997. Everyone thought Phil Graham would’ve made a great president, and he probably would have made a great president, but all those names come and go and in the end, the big action is on the cultural front. I write about coffeehouse culture in that book, which I find, which is fascinating to me, because it sort of embodies to me the increasing sloth of the world. Everyone used to say, ‘Oh go to America, go to New York, it’s fast moving, it’s fast-paced, it’s a restless energy of the New World.’ And I find it becoming one of the slowest-moving places on the planet. And in some strange way, all these little peripheral stories out in the field of vision don’t seem terribly important, like gender neutral bathrooms or whatever seem to be far more telling about the direction we’re heading in, then who’s going to win a particular Senate nomination. And I think we’re on the verge of the abolition of man, as in men, as in manly men, as in a need for males in society. I think that actually is a radical leftist goal and I think they’re galloping – to go back to what you were saying about feminists, I think if you look at the proportion of women at college classes now and you unwind that all the way back through high school and middle school and grade school, to kindergarten, we are becoming a society that doesn’t have much use for boys or boyish virtues and that seems to me at least as important, far more important, about the kind of place we’re going to be in 20 to 30 years’ time and seems at least an important factor into whether we’re likely to have a particular foreign policy posture or not. I sometimes think that some small thing you wrote about in 1998 to 2003 or whatever, actually turns out to be a pretty good straw in the wind as to where we’re headed in a way that the more obvious big picture stuff doesn’t always. That’s why I put these things together and put them in the book.”
For more insight on liberalism’s effect on our “coffeehouse culture,” go here to buy a copy of Steyn’s new book.