»  Radio Derb — Transcript

        Friday, June 17, 2011

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[Music clip: From Haydn's Derbyshire Marches]

01 — Intro.     And Radio Derb is on the air! This is your atavistically genial host John Derbyshire with news from far and wide: or at any rate from New Hampshire, New York, Wisconsin, Turkey, Australia, and the Playboy Mansion. Radio Derb comes to you from the lavishly-equipped, state-of-the-art sound studio here on the 95th floor of Buckley Towers in the heart of Manhattan.

It's been a busy week for news, so let's get to it.

02 — GOP Debate: general.     The political event of the week was Monday night's gathering of the seven Republican 2012 presidential hopefuls in New Hampshire, for a two-hour televised question & answer session on CNN.

The network's news anchor John King played emcee and asked some of the questions, but most of the questions were from local people. John King's questions included some that I suppose were meant to be light-hearted but just came over as silly — Coke or Pepsi?, that kind of thing. The candidates fielded these dumb questions gamely, trying not to look as embarrassed as they surely were.

The Coke-or-Pepsi nonsense aside, there were 35 questions of substance, which I categorized as follows for some notion of what New Hampshire voters think important, though of course filtered to some unknown degree by the CNN producers. Here's my list, biggest category to smallest:

  • "National question" issues (immigration, citizenship, diversity) — 5 questions.
  • War & foreign policy — 5 questions.
  • Social issues (abortion, gay rights, church-state) — 5 questions.
  • Party management (reconciling factions, choosing V.P., etc.) — 4 questions.
  • Jobs — 3 questions.
  • Economic management in general — 3 questions.
  • Energy policy — 2½ questions (one shared with Eminent Domain).
  • Health care — 2 questions.
  • Social Security reform, housing, food safety, disaster relief, space exploration — 1 question each.
  • Eminent Domain — ½ question.

That's actually a pretty good mix, and a fair sample of what's on voter's minds — fairer than I myself expected from what, with my political mentality still partially stuck in the nineties, I still think of as the Clinton News Network.

In fact the whole thing came off very well. All the candidates were presentable and sounded like intelligent grown-ups. There was some ducking and weaving on the issues, but that's part of the game. Running for national office, a candidate needs to keep one eye on the voters and the other on his big-money contributors, several of whom are at odds with each other, and all of whom are at odds with the voters.

A Republican candidate, for example, is looking over one shoulder at the Chambers of Commerce, who want open borders and unlimited H-1B visas to keep middle-class wages down, and over the other shoulder at the big GOP base of non-Hispanic white voters who want immigration law enforced and middle-class wages kept up by fair labor-market competition. It ends up like a game of Twister, with your candidate spread-eagled across the board in a posture that isn't pretty to look at.

Twister's the only game in town, though, and I think these seven candidates on Monday night were a credit to their party, agile and good-natured, forthright whenever they could be. I know I'm often rude about the Republican Party. Goodness knows, the GOP has given us plenty to be rude about, and no doubt will continue to do so.

Watching the New Hampshire show on Monday, though, I found it difficult to maintain my normal level of sour cynicism. At the end there, Mitt Romney said, quote, "Any one of the people on this stage would be a better president than President Obama." The cynic in me says that's a low bar to pass, but it's indubitably true none the less.

03 — GOP Debate: National question.     I'm just going to give over a segment to each of the three biggest issues — the ones that generated five questions each. First, the "national question" — matters of immigration, citizenship, and diversity.

It was a disappointment, though not a surprise, that none of the candidates — nor, to be fair, any of the questions — addressed legal immigration. This is a big hole in current public-policy discussion here in the U.S.A. The only thing candidates ever say about legal immigration is that it's a wonderful thing, it made America great, and by Jiminy they're all for it!

In fact our legal immigration policy is an unsightly mess, with key decisions about the future demographics of our country being made not by citizens or their elected representatives, but by the United Nations, by ethnic-booster and cheap-labor lobby groups, by State Department bureaucrats, and most of all by immigrants themselves through chain migration of brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, and adult children. It's a mess and we ought to talk about it; but we seem to have made a collective decision not to, so it's understandable the candidates don't want to bring it up. I said "understandable" there, not "commendable." A courageous and patriotic candidate would bring it up … but let's not ask for too much.

Illegal immigration at least got coverage Monday night, with four different questions. One: Should illegals be eligible for free health care and education, and other welfare benefits? Two: Should the U.S.-born children of illegals get automatic citizenship? Three: What should be the role of the states in the enforcement of immigration law, in an environment where the federal government is deeply reluctant to do the job? Four: With serious budget restraints, should we spend money to round up and deport illegals?

Good solid questions, and I thought the candidates did well with them. I was most interested to see what Ron Paul said. Ron made sensible noises about immigration in his '08 campaign, but recently he's reverted to open borders and amnesty cant, to the disappointment of people like me, who think Dr Paul is right about an impressive number of other things.

Immigration is a weak point for libertarians. I hang out with libertarians a lot — that was a libertarian conference I was at in Turkey the other week. I've had the following conversation approximately eight hundred times.

Derb:  All right, you guys favor open borders. But what if country A, with a generous welfare state, has a long unguarded border with country B, which has very little welfare state. Aren't a lot of B's citizens going to come into A as freeloaders, just for the bennies?

Libertarian:  But that's only an issue because we have a welfare state. Get rid of the welfare state and there's no issue!

Derb:  OK, I see. Well, when you've got rid of the welfare state, give me a call …

To say that immigration will be a non-issue when we've got rid of the welfare state is like saying umbrellas will be a non-issue when we've stopped all rain — which, in fact, as a matter of statecraft, would probably be easier. Or as my old Dad used to say: "If we had some bacon we could have some bacon and eggs, if we had some eggs."

That was pretty much the line Ron Paul took none the less. At least I think it was: Ron wasn't at his most coherent here. He seemed to think that we immigration restrictionists are persecuting the Catholic Church somehow. The Catholic Church should be getting some criticism for its deep involvement in the refugee rackets, which I ranted about last week. The heading there is legal immigration, though, Ron … which we're not allowed to talk about. Wovon man nicht sprechen kann, darüber muss man schweigen, nome sane?

The fifth "national question" question was about American Muslims. Did Herman Cain really say he wouldn't appoint a Muslim to his administration? Should Muslims take a loyalty test before getting government jobs? Are we in danger of coming under Sharia Law?

Cain ducked and weaved pretty nimbly, but Newt Gingrich was the one who did his country a favor here by reminding us of the Times Square Bomber, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Pakistan, who passed through all the lawful immigration procedures, including a sworn oath of loyalty before a judge, while all the time nursing hatred for America in his heart.

Some unknown number of viewers, pausing to ponder that, must have concluded that it's dumb of us to permit settlement from Muslim countries. That might mean missing out on the occasional brain surgeon; but hey, with three hundred million citizens, we should be able to produce all the brain surgeons we need, and if we keep out the occasional Times Square Bomber, I'd guess most Americans would consider it a fair trade-off.

So thanks, Newt, for planting that thought in the heads of viewers. And let's face it: "Thanks, Newt" are not words you hear too often on Radio Derb.

04 — GOP Debate: War & foreign policy.     The second big five-question issue was U.S. foreign and military policy. Question One: Is it time to bring our combat troops home from Afghanistan? Two: Should we be bombing Yemen? Three: Should we be bombing Libya? Four: What would Herman Cain's foreign policy look like? Five: Should we shut down a lot of our 900 military bases overseas?

Steve Sailer's summation of the Clinton-Bush years was: "Invade the world, invite the world, in hock to the world." Having watched the candidates deliver some surprisingly robust defiance of the Chambers-of-Commerce "invite the world" orthodoxy on illegal immigration, I wondered if they'd be similarly bold on the neocon passion for invading the world.

Well, they were pretty good. I think the candidates' pollsters must have been busy recently — busy finding out that not only does the Republican voter base not want our country to become a suburb of Mexico City, we're also not crazy about ten-year trillion-dollar missionary wars in Third World sandpits.

Mitt Romney, however, who on the whole I thought made a very good showing, came over with a neocon hot flush when asked about quitting Afghanistan. Quote: "It's time for us to bring our troops home as soon as we possibly can, consistent with the word that comes to our generals that we can hand the country over to the Afghan military in a way that they're able to defend themselves." End quote.

Leaving aside the fact that the main thing the Afghan military would be useful for would be as backup extras for a new Pirates of the Caribbean movie, just look at the delegation of authority there. Romney isn't just leaving it to the generals; it's "the word that comes to our generals," presumably from their officers in the field. Now, what mid-ranking field military officers mainly want is to accumulate lots of combat credits on their résumés. The longer we stay in the field, the more they accumulate. God bless them all for their service, but these are not the guys I'd want making geostrategic decisions about force deployment.

When it comes to missionary wars, though, I guess Romney — the one candidate up there who has actually been a missionary — can be excused for some equivocation.

Ron Paul set us straight. Quote: "I wouldn't wait for my generals. I'm the commander in chief. I make the decisions. I tell the generals what to do." End quote.

That was a good solid base hit, but there's a nontrivial issue that Ron skipped over. Suppose we have intelligence that country X, with a government that's not very friendly to us, or that doesn't control its territory very well, suppose we find out there's an anti-American terrorist group organizing and training on their soil? What do we do? Do we just let that happen — just wait till they actually strike us? Or do we tell that unfriendly or incompetent government to clean them out? Or do we send a fleet of drones over there to rubble them?

That was precisely the situation in Afghanistan that brought us 9/11. It's the situation right now in Yemen. I think most Republican voters would favor a pre-emptive air or Special Forces attack, as I would. Ron Paul said he wouldn't.

Tim Pawlenty, on the other hand, was asked straight out about the bombing of Yemen, and he said he was fine with it. Score one for T-Paw, far as I'm concerned.

A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, and in this instance I think Ron is being little-minded. You can be against a ten-year war costing a trillion dollars while yet favoring air strikes against terrorists in barbarous regions.

Michele Bachmann and Newt Gingrich fielded the Libya question, and both coped well, though Mrs Bachmann was more forthright. There is no reason on earth we should be doing anything with Libya other than selling them whatever they want to buy from us and buying whatever they have to sell. Gaddafy's a beast, but we made our peace with him years ago, and anyway half these Third World despots are just as bad. We're nuts to be bombing Libya.

And what will President Cain's foreign policy look like? Cain said we should get some intelligence on what's going on in these foreign places, and invoked his grandmother. I think I'd leave Granny Cain out of it, but the other thing is a pretty good idea. Nobody can be happy about the state of our intelligence this past twenty years.

Finally Rick Santorum took the pitch on our foreign military bases. We do need some, he said, but, quote: "We don't need to build bases in Germany for a threat from the Soviet Union." Wow! Four presidencies on from the fall of the U.S.S.R., someone finally said it! Amazing!

05 — GOP Debate: Social issues.     The third big five-question topic was a group of social issues. One: How do the candidates understand separation of church and state? Two: Do they favor gay marriage? Three: Would they return to "Don't ask, don't tell" in the military? Four: Has Romney been a hypocrite on abortion? Five: Is Pawlenty too soft on abortion?

The level of understanding of church-state separation seemed pretty good. I expected the least from Rick Santorum here, having vaguely pegged him in my mind as a bit of a Bible-thumper, but he was perfectly reasonable, quote: "We get along because we know that … all of our ideas are allowed in and tolerated. That's what makes America work." End quote. Ron Paul noted that the Constitution forbids a federal theocracy, and that's about all. Basic, sensible stuff.

Gay marriage is an issue that really separates the libertarian wing of our party from the evangelical wing — a wall of separation, you might say. Six of the seven candidates got to pronounce on this. Ron Paul went deep libertarian, saying marriage should be a church matter with no government involvement at all. Of the other five, four declared for a constitutional amendment defining marriage.

Michele Bachmann did a clumsy straddle, quote: "I do support a constitutional amendment on … marriage between a man and a woman, but I would not be going into the states to overturn their state law." End quote. Um, state laws do get overturned if they are at odds with the Constitution, Michele.

Michele's approach needs work here, and no doubt after a few huddles with her advisers we'll get a more polished answer. Let's make allowances, though: this was New Hampshire, state motto Live Free or Die, the nearest thing we have to a libertarian state, and one of the five states with gay marriage. I'd cut Michele a little slack on this.

Don't ask, don't tell? Everybody wants it back, and I do too; though Mitt Romney hedged slightly, saying DADT, quote: "should have been kept in place until conflict was over." That made me think of the Temple of Janus in ancient Rome, whose gates were closed in times of peace and open in times of war. They weren't closed too often.

But really, "don't ask, don't tell" was too easy. Next time, how about a question on women in combat, or in submarines? That'll get 'em dancing on hot coals.

Abortion is a twisty-ribbon issue for Republicans. I mean, it's one of those issues where a candidate has to just display an emblem: to say the right thing, but in full knowledge it's highly unlikely he'll ever to have to take any action on it. Cheap grace. For eight years there we had the most anti-abortion candidate any Republican could wish for; and when he left office, the abortion laws across the republic were, as far as I could detect, pretty precisely what they'd been at his first Inauguration. So nothing much about abortion is going to change under any imaginable president, and everyone knows it.

The main point of the abortion questions was therefore to give the candidates a chance to snipe at each other for being inconsistent or wishy-washy. There was a bit of gingerly sniping, but it was all very gentlemanly. Nobody really laid a glove on Mitt Romney, Michele Bachmann got to mention her 23 foster kids for the third time that evening, and Tim Pawlenty, bless his midwestern heart, gave a shout-out to National Review Online. Thanks, Governor. Next time, how about a quote from Radio Derb? Just a thought.

06 — GOP Debate: Wrap-up.     All in all, Monday's show was a very encouraging display of political timber. I could vote for any of these candidates — yes, even for Newt Gingrich, though in Newt's case I'd want a couple of stiff drinks afterwards.

Fierce partisans for this or that candidate aside, in the mental geography of most Republican voters, Cain, Gingrich and Paul are long shots: Cain because of lack of experience in government, Gingrich because he's a bit of a flake, Paul because of his age and his crazy-uncle demeanor.

Santorum is an unknown quantity, which is surprising when you consider how long he's been on the political scene, but he just doesn't seem to have registered much with people. Which tells you something by itself, though not something that a few months of hard work might not put right.

The really striking features of the landscape right now are Romney, Bachmann, and Pawlenty. Bachmann needs to firm up her non-Tea-Party positions, Pawlenty needs to show a flash of mean, and Romney only needs to avoid being hit by a truck. The polls after Monday's event showed Michele Bachmann as having gained the most, she and Mitt Romney way out ahead of the pack among GOP primary voters, Pawlenty still not really registering. Show us some red corpuscles, Tim.

Out beyond Monday night's seven are the maybes: Perry, Huntsman, and of course Sarah Palin. It's going to be an interesting few months.

Politics, let's face it, is pretty damn boring most of the time. Here, though, we have a crowded field of strong and varied personalities, and a couple of nasty crises on the horizon to test their mettle. There don't seem to be any burned-out old Senate seat-warmers for the Republican establishment to stuff and mount and tell us it's their turn.

Go to it, guys, and give us hacks something to write about. My children are hungry.

07 — Weiner quits.     The other big political event of the week was Rep. Anthony Weiner's resignation from Congress. Or, as a headline in the New York Post expressed it with the impeccable good metropolitan taste we have come to expect from that organ, quote: Weiner Yanks Himself.

The buzz is that Weiner was threatening to hold on to his seat indefinitely, as a permanent embarrassment to his Democratic colleagues and party, unless they gave him a job.

Weiner's been in politics since leaving college, has never done a real job, and has no marketable skills. He's a typical modern professional politician. To go back to New Hampshire for a moment, members of that state's legislature are paid $200 for their two-year term, plus mileage. That's American government as it was meant to be, and as it can be when citizens don't feel they need some government functionary telling them how much cream to put in their coffee, and some damn legislature making laws about it. New Hampshire and Anthony Weiner both make the case for libertarianism and minimal government; one makes the positive case, one makes the negative case.

For Anthony Weiner, as a Democrat, private-sector employment was unthinkable — just as it was for the young Barack Obama, who in his autobiography described his one spell of private-sector work as like being, quote, "behind enemy lines."

So now Weiner's out of Congress; and in three or four months we shall hear that he's taken a job as gofer for some senator or cabinet officer, or administrative assistant to some union boss. He'll be standing tall again.

08 — Turkish election.     Having spent five days in a Turkish resort town, I am naturally being looked to for penetrating commentary on Turkey's election last Sunday.

Well, I can tell you this much with fair confidence: The "g" in the Prime Minister's name is silent. It serves only to add a slight lengthening to the preceding vowel. So the guy's name is Erdogan, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Mr Erdogan won his third term as Prime Minister on Sunday.

With only slightly less confidence, I can also tell you this: Erdogan is a world-class political athlete. Watching him work the crowds on Turkish TV is quite mesmerizing, even when you only understand one word in twenty. He has that magic balance of populist appeal and pragmatic good sense that raise a politician out of the ordinary — the Turkish economy has done sensationally well under his two terms.

He's a pious man, not a fanatic but strongly prejudiced in favor of his own religion, and this leads him into error. He honestly seems to believe, for example, that Israel would have peace and harmony with her neighbors if only she'd stop trying to defend herself. He simply can't understand why Israelis are unwilling to bet their nation on the goodwill of characters like Assad and Ahmedinejad and whoever ends up in charge of Egypt.

He also seems to have had visions of Turkey once again becoming the big gruff supervisor of the neighborhood, a vision in trouble since the neighborhood children seem intent on breaking as many windows as they can without any regard to what the supervisor thinks.

Turkish politics isn't pretty. An honest journalist in the country can reckon to do some jail time — which, if the movie Midnight Express is anything to go by, is no joke … though you do at least get to take a shower once in a while.

Still, all in all, we could do worse than Erdogan, and there's nothing to be bothered about in his winning last Sunday's election; but it's probably a good thing he didn't get the supermajority he needs to change the country's constitution. Reading through the Wikipedia page on Turkey's current constitution, I can't see that it needs much changing, not at any rate in the directions Erdogan is likely to go. To judge from Sunday's election, Turks agree with me. So, a good result.

09 — Miscellany.     That's quite enough of the big stuff. Here's just a couple of brief items to send us all to bed.

Item:  This world, ladies and gentlemen, is part substance and part shadow: part a place where human beings strive for happiness and fulfillment, part a place where they just go through the motions with heart disengaged in hopes of making a buck. The latest person to find this out has been Hugh Hefner, whose fiancée Crystal Harris, has become, well, disengaged. She's broken it off … which, considering that she's 25 and Hef is 85, could be taken as a double-entendre by the low-minded type of person — a type who fortunately does not listen to Radio Derb. The New York Post's Page Six gossip columnist, whom I take to be infallible on these matters, tells us that Crystal was planning to dump Hef at the altar during the televising of their wedding for a Lifetime TV special, and she was shopping round for a media interview deal afterwards, but couldn't get the half million dollars she wanted. Poor Hef! When will he find true love at last? Er, Candy, who are you calling? Come on, Honey, you know the rules: no texting while we're recording here …

Item:  Remember back in February when Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker was trying to get his deficit reduction bill through his state legislature? Fourteen Democrat Senators had fled to Illinois to deny a quorum for the vote on that budget. Walker finessed the issue by stripping narrowly budgetary measures out of the bill, and it passed March 9. Then the public-sector unions found a radical leftist judge, Maryann Sumi, to annul the law. Well, on Tuesday this week the state Supreme Court struck down that judge's ruling, so the law stands after all. That's good, but here's my question. Any time a state legislature passes any kind of really conservative measure — curbing public sector union power, like this one, or the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative against affirmative action, or California Proposition 187 or Arizona's SB1070 aimed at illegal immigrants — any time a state legislature passes a conservative measure like those, the ink isn't dry on the Governor's signature before legal briefs are being filed by every leftist organization in town. The legal challenges go on, and on, and on, until some lefty judge strikes down the law. What I want to know is, where were the lawyers, where were the challenges, where were the judges, when union power was strengthening, when affirmative action was being installed, when bureaucrats were deciding that illegals were eligible for welfare benefits? Why is there always this ratchet effect: a leftward turn of the wheel goes unnoticed and unchallenged, but any attempt to turn the wheel back rightwards brings down all the furies of hell? Doesn't the Right have any lawyers? Don't we have any judges?

Item:  A joke successfully told is of course funny; but a joke that falls flat on its face into a bowl of spaghetti can be even funnier. This strange fact was illustrated for us this week in Australia, where TV presenter Karl Stefanovic, with that blithe Australian insouciance, told a Dalai Lama joke to the actual Dalai Lama on live TV. The joke was: The Dalai Lama goes into a pizza parlor and says: "Make me one with everything." That was the entire joke — not bad, in my opinion. A good effort, anyway. I mean, it's not as if the late-night airwaves are choc-a-bloc with Dalai Lama jokes. The Living Buddha, however, was totally baffled. After some exchanges with his translator, he replied: "Theoretically possible." Oh dear. Here's a hint for translators who find themselves in the middle of this kind of situation. Many decades ago the American philosopher John Dewey was on a lecture tour of Japan. He lectured in English, with a translator at the side. In one lecture he told a very long and complicated joke, which the translator listened to all the way through without interrupting. Then the translator turned to the audience and said half a dozen words in Japanese. The lecture hall exploded in uncontrollable laughter. After the lecture Dewey thanked the translator for his services, but then said: "Excuse me, but how did you manage to condense that long joke down to just a few words?"  "Oh," replied the translator, "I just said: 'Professor Dewey has told us a very funny joke.'"

10 — Signoff.     That's it, folks. I'm off to Jonah's suite on the 96th to merge with the Cosmic All — actually with Jonah and Andy and the girls in the grotto. Condolences to poor Hugh Hefner; and hey, Hef, you're always welcome here at Buckley Towers, you know. Once we knock off work Friday afternoon it's pretty much one long party all through the weekend. So by all means drop by and drown your sorrows in a National Review champagne flute.

OK. Several listeners enjoyed the snippet of Mozart at the end of last week's broadcast, so here it is again. It's adapted from the duet "Mann und Weib" in Act One of The Magic Flute, but I don't know anything about the performers or arrangers. I've just had the piece on my hard drive since 1990-something.

More from Radio Derb next week. Take it away, Wolfi.

[Clip: Variation on Mozart's "Bei Männern, welche Liebe fühlen"]