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The following talk by Mark Steyn was delivered at David Horowitz’s Restoration Weekend in West Palm Beach, Florida (Nov. 17-20, 2011). Introductory remarks were given by Freedom Center Shillman Journalism Fellow Bruce Bawer.
Bruce Bawer: Hi. Thanks very much for having me here. It’s wonderful.
There are many reasons why God created Mark Steyn.
But one of those reasons was plainly that God wanted to teach other writers humility.
If they thought of themselves as reasonably prolific, if they prided themselves on their versatility, if they labored under the illusion that they had at least a modicum of wit, they had only to check out Mark Steyn’s website and find out what he had been up to in the last few days, in order to be disabused of their pathetic illusions.
Mark’s website describes him as a “one-man global content provider.” And no man has earned more of a right than he has to attach such a label to himself. Forget for a moment about his political commentary, which has appeared in pretty much every major newspaper in the English-speaking world. He’s also written authoritatively about every imaginable subject that comes under the rubric of culture and the arts.
He is in particular a critic of popular music, especially “The Great American Songbook,” whose taste is impeccable and whose writings about the creations of Irving Berlin, Cole Porter and company are never less than hugely entertaining and piercingly perceptive.
In fact, he writes so well and so abundantly about so many different things that there’s too much of him for just one country.
He’s Canadian, but he’s also American, and he’s also even kind of British; which I think we can all agree are three of four or five best things to be. He certainly knows his way around all these countries and their politics and cultures as only a native does.
In fact, he seems to know his way around just about every aspect of the globe and just about everybody — every political or social or economic topic you can throw at him. And he takes them all on with gusto. And no matter how grim the subject, he always manages to communicate to us everything we need to know about it. And still somehow, at the same time, he makes us laugh out loud.
Case in point — this, his latest book, “After America: Get Ready for Armageddon,” which I bought two days ago at Newark Airport, and which made me so depressed —
— that I came very close to jumping out of the plane somewhere over Virginia — but I didn’t jump, because I was having too much fun being depressed.
Who else but Mark Steyn can do that?
One of the subjects about which Mark has written a great deal is Islam, especially Islam in the West. And on this subject he is, as they say, a hysterical alarmist. This of course is the latest newspeak for clear-eyed realist.
As punishment for being a clear-eyed realist, he was, as you probably know, targeted in Canada by three — was it three different — yes — three different human rights commissions, which of course is the latest version of the already perfectly good newspeak term “thought police.” Mark has paid a very real price, in short, for speaking deadly important truths, to which all of us need to attend if we wish to preserve our freedom. I’m sure it hasn’t always been an easy ride for him.
But one thing is clear — this is a man who won’t allow anyone to shut him up. Let them do what they will — he’s going to tell the truth. And just to make them that much more mad at him, he’s going to make it clear in every sentence that he’s having a jolly good time doing it. And we’re all the luckier for it.
Ladies and gentlemen, Mark Steyn.
Mark Steyn: Thank you, Bruce. It’s an honor to be here at The Breakers with David and the Freedom Center. I think I’m starting about the time I was meant to wrap up. So I take it I have a little leeway. I won’t do what Barack Obama did in Rhode Island a few months ago. You were allowed to pay $30,000, I believe it was, for the privilege of having dinner with Barack Obama. And then he came. The dinner was supposed to start at 6 o’clock. He got there at 6 o’clock, and he said, unfortunately, he couldn’t stay for dinner. I won’t do that to you. So I think we have a little leeway with the time.
So I’m honored to be here. Thank you. Thank you, Bruce. Also, thank you to Tom, by the way, since Bruce mentioned my musical side. I saw Tom open for Sinatra all over the map, year in, year out. So it seems a little weird to be up here following him, round about the time in the evening when Frank would be opening the set with “I’ve Got the World on a String.” I don’t know who sings “I’ve Got the World on a String” over here these days. I gather it’s quite a big number at the Chinese Communist Party annual meeting — the Politburo all come out.
I also gather at the Supreme Guardian Council in Tehran that when it gets late at night and they’ve had a few, Ayatollah Khomeini and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad like to do “We’ve Got the World on a String.” But I don’t know who sings it in America anymore.
It’s a great event to be here when Tom Driesen and Bruce Bawer can be on the same stage together. You know, Tom opened for Sinatra, and — great event.
Actually, Bruce opened for Wayne Newton in 1976.
Wayne was furious about it, by the way, it’s never happened again.
It’s really good to be here. Like me, Bruce switched from showbiz to civilizational collapse. Because that’s where the big bucks are, Tom.
Wonderful to be here with people I admire, like Colonel West, who — I think I’m a little gloomier than Colonel West. But I’ll try not to depress the hell out of you completely.
As you might just be able to tell, there’s a slight funny thing in my voice. It’s not a problem with the sound system, don’t worry. I’m actually an immigrant to this great land. I’m not an undocumented immigrant; I’m the other kind. And I certainly wouldn’t make that mistake again.
But I — we foreigners, I think, have one advantage over you native chappies — we know the smell of decay. We’ve lived it. For many of us, it’s the land where we grew up, with its government-run car factories and government-run healthcare, and government-run housing; all suddenly reemerging, Brigadoon-like, from the mist, entirely unspoiled by progress. There’s nothing new about any of this — it’s been tried everywhere, and it’s failed everywhere.
I think we’re on the brink not just of decline, not just of a transfer of global dominance, but of a once-in-a-half-a-millennium civilizational shift. And if we don’t want it, if we don’t want that to happen, we’ve got maybe four or five years to seriously turn this thing around.
Sam Huntington’s great book, “The Clash of Civilizations,” came out two decades ago and talked about three major civilizations in the world — the Anglo-European civilization, Chinese civilization and Muslim civilization. Basically, China is surging economically, Islam is surging demographically, and the Western civilization is in steep demographic and economic decline. Islam has the manpower, China has the money, and we are running out of both. So we have maybe four or five years to turn this thing around.
There’s a famous quote from Gibbon’s decline and fall of the Roman Empire that I use in my book — “The form was still the same, but the animating health and vigor were fled.” You can make that case for the broader West and for America today. In theory, this is still a republic of limited government and a self-reliant citizenry. But in practice, we’re something quite different.
I’m just going to say that 47 percent of Americans now depend on one or more federal benefits — the highest percentage in history. But I believe Allen actually upped it. In the two weeks since I acquired that statistic, I believe it’s — what is it — 48 percent now. Yeah. 48.5 percent. So it’s gone up a point and a half just since I did the research for that statistic in the last couple of weeks.
These are serious times. Federal regulation accounts for 10 percent of GDP. That’s to say we take the equivalent of the entire economy of India or Canada and throw it down the toilet every year just in complying with federal paperwork. State and municipal regulation makes almost everything you do more cumbersome, including the basic right to earn a living. In the ’50s, one in 20 Americans required permission from the government to do their job. Today, it’s one in three. We’ve delivered a self-governing republic into rule by regulators, bureaucrats and social engineers. And as a result, we’re the brokest nation in history.
Officially, we crashed through the $15 trillion debt point a couple of days ago — just a couple of days ago — and hit a new world record. No society in human history has ever owed as much as we do. We have to pay back $15 trillion just to get back to having nothing.
Most of you know this. Most of you here tonight know this. But most of your fellow Americans don’t. And they still think the money’s out there somewhere. In a giant shoebox under the Koch Brothers’ bed or under the Halliburton boardroom table, or somewhere, there’s money for all this stuff. And there isn’t. We’ve spent all the money.
So you can hear politicians like Allen, with his five points about what we ought to be doing. But at the same time, for every guy who’s making sense, like Allen, there are 200 politicians still peddling the same old line.
Two weeks ago, the governor of Connecticut officially proclaimed Diaper Need Awareness Day. If you’re wondering what sentient being isn’t aware of diapers, you’re missing the point.
Connecticut wants the federal government to hand out free diapers. In the United States Congress, Representative Rosa DeLauro has introduced the DIAPER Act — D-I-A-P-E-R. Do you know what it stands for, Colonel West? No, he’s getting ready to leave. Just never mind the diaper, the whiff of the DIAPER Act is enough to drive Allen to leave the room. D-I-A-P-E-R, the Diaper Investment and Aid to Promote Economic Recovery Act.
She wants to stimulate the economy by handing out free diapers. Diaper change you can believe in. We’re going to borrow another trillion from the Chinese Politburo and stick it in your kids’ Huggies. Just like we stuck it in Solyndra, and we stuck it in Fannie and Freddie, and all the rest.
Why is this stuff still taken seriously? There’s no money. There’s no money for free diapers. We spent the diaper money. That ship has sailed. That diaper is filled.
There is no money for the DIAPER Act. Why does Colonel West get that, and most of his colleagues don’t get that? Why are they still proposing this?
We don’t need a Diaper Awareness Day. I would like to propose a Multitrillion-Dollar Debt Awareness Day.
With a ribbon, [all right?] Because the most important thing about an awareness-raising day is the color of your ribbon. So I’d like a ribbon that starts in the black but turns a deeper and deeper red. Or, how about a We’ve Spent All the Money, Including the Money for an Awareness-Raising Ribbon, Awareness Day?
How about we cut to the chase and just have an Impending Societal Collapse Awareness Day? Or would it be too much to hope for a Self-Reliant Citizen Awareness Day? There’s no ribbon for that, by the way, you can make your own damn ribbon.
And if your local haberdasher went belly-up, cut up and old diaper and use that for your ribbon. Distressingly large numbers of Americans are still pining for ever more swaddling in the government cradle. They seem entirely unaware that we’re broke.
The late 20th century did something profoundly immoral — it broke the trans-generational compact on which all civilized societies depend. We looted the future to bribe the present, to such an extent that it’s not clear we have a future. There’s nothing compassionate or caring about being generous with other people’s money, especially when it’s money yet to be earned by generations yet to be born. In fact, it’s wicked, profoundly wicked. It’s more wicked than the worst robber baron.
But it goes beyond that. If the government’s responsible for changing your kid’s diaper, who’s the real child here? A society that demands the government provide free diapers is agreeing to the remorseless distribution not only of wealth but of liberty on every front.
Seven-year-old Julie Murphy was selling lemonade in Portland, Oregon, when two officers demanded to see her temporary restaurant license, which would’ve cost her $120. When she failed to produce it, they threatened her with a $500 fine. They also made her cry, because she’s a seven-year-old girl.
When I read these stories, they always remind me of Saudi Arabia’s religious police, the mutaween, the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice. Except in this case, the religion they’re enforcing is nanny state power. Other than that, perhaps like the fierce, bearded officers of the mutaween, these cheerless skulls of [Permit-stan] could be issued with whips and scourges to flay the grade-school sinners in the street.
When life hands you lemons, you make lemonade. And then you watch the state enforcers turn it back into sour fruit. Ask yourself this — if a second-grader can no longer sell homemade lemonade from her front yard without $500 worth of permits, what aspect of your life can’t the government regulate?
Skylar Capo, 11 years old, of Virginia, made the mistake of rescuing a woodpecker from the jaws of a cat and nursing him back to health for a couple of days. And for her pain, she was visited by a federal Fish and Wildlife officer with accompanying state troopers, who charged her with illegal transportation of a protected species and issued her a $535 fine.
By the way, bullies always pick on the softest target. You notice Fish and Wildlife didn’t charge the cat for illegally transporting the protected species from his gullet to his intestine. They always look for the softest point.
A republic of micro-regulation eventually seizes up. It takes longer and longer to do anything, and then it becomes impossible to do anything, and then you stop doing things. Just like Rome in its heyday built great aqueducts, and then it stopped building new aqueducts, and then the old aqueducts crumbled. We’re getting preciously near to that stage.
If you recall, the Empire State Building was put up start-to-finish in one year and 45 days in the middle of a Depression. Eight decades later, Mayor Bloomberg held the 10th anniversary observances of 9/11 at a glorified building site. Destroying the World Trade Center was something our enemies did to us. The 10-year hole in the ground was something we did to ourselves. And it tells the world something profound about American sclerosis, about our lack of what Gibbon calls the animating health and vigor. Because if anything should’ve been a national priority, that should’ve. But the animating health and vigor weren’t there.
That’s America as the new Rome, if you like — sclerotic. America is the new Athens.
I’ll quote Arnold Schwarzenegger on that. You may remember he was governor of California, I believe. See, he didn’t exactly leave much trace, the terminally terminated Terminator. He couldn’t terminate anything. He told the legislature in Sacramento, in his fourth State of the State address — “California has the ideas of Athens and the power of Sparta.” That was half-right — California does have the idea of Athens. Unfortunately, it’s late 20th-century Athens. It’s America’s Greece, except it’s bigger and it’s broker.
We heard Colonel West earlier quote Mrs. Thatcher’s famous line — that the problem with socialism is that eventually you run out of other people’s money. Greece and many other European countries have advanced to the next stage — they’ve run out of other people. Period.
The alliance between the dependency class and the government class that ministers to the dependency class is a permanent voting majority in Greece that squeezes the productive class. They’re caught in the middle, in a kind of good cop-bad cop regime. If you’re a hardworking Athenian with a great business idea, the best thing you can do is buy a one-way air ticket out of there and do it almost anywhere else on the planet. And far too many states in this country are headed the same way.
California actually doesn’t have significantly different numbers from Greece. It’s doing Zorba’s dance on steroids with the same malign alliance of government pseudo-workers and welfare dependents driving out what’s left of its productive class.
Nevertheless, I was astonished to see that despite the fact that it’s broke, that didn’t stop Sacramento legislators from announcing plans, just a few weeks ago, to regulate bed sheets in motels and hotels. It will be illegal under the California Sheet Regime for motels and hotels to put non-fitted sheets on their beds. And so there will be a sheet regulatory regime, with sheet regulatory enforcers, kicking down the door of room 73 of the Orange Grove Motel to check that they’re in compliance.
I don’t know whether they have it here at The Breakers. I don’t know whether you’ve been upstairs in your rooms and checked to see whether they’re elasticated sheets or non-elasticated sheets. But if they’re non-elasticated sheets, this hotel would be illegal in the state of California. You can try to resist when they kick the door down, but they’ll kick the sheet out of you.
There is an Orwellian, apocryphal Orwell quotation to describe the way even pacifists depend on the soldiery to defend the realm — “People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.” Hah! Says the state of California. People sleep peaceably in their beds at night, only because the state agency of sheet regulation stands ready to do violence to innkeepers with non-elasticated sheets.
By the way, I know all you guys who hang out with David and the Freedom Center. There’s a big bunch of racists among you. I know — any racists in the house tonight? Just remember, just remember, for the Ku Klux Klan members here tonight — if you attend a lodge meeting with a Grand Kleagle in California, you will need a fitted sheet.
I don’t know why you’re laughing. The elastic really makes your neck itch, it’s not good.
When Canada decriminalized homosexuality, Pierre Trudeau famously said — the state has no place in the bedrooms of the nation. But California says — oh yes, we do, if you’re consummating your same-sex marriage on a non-compliant sheet.
I was — they’ve only just introduced it. But I was talking to an undocumented immigrant from Tijuana. And he says that throughout Mexico, California is already a byword for sheet government.
In America as in Europe, the debts and deficits are a symptom. They’re not the problem. Angela Merkel understands that every time the government in Athens says — okay, we burned through the last bailout, time for the next one. She understands that the real problem is not the Greek finances, but the Greek people.
I happened to be in Morocco during the 2010 World Cup. And I chanced to see a report of a sermon given by the eminent Egyptian imam Mas’id Anwar in Cairo. He may have been even one of the excitable fellows we saw in the film just then.
Real — an A-list imam, you know, a couple of like [also ands] in there. You know, they were like Bruce during the warm-up for Wayne Newton. There were a couple of real C-list imams in there.
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