An Interview With Mark Levin

Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to interview wildly successful radio host Mark Levin, author of the #1 book in the nation, Liberty and Tyranny: A Conservative Manifesto.

What follows is a slightly edited transcript of our conversation. Enjoy!

Let me play devil’s advocate right off the bat here. What would you say to someone who said George Bush campaigned twice as a conservative, won both times and yet he did curtail our freedoms. He did increase the power of the state. He also opposed gay marriage, which means he wanted to limit freedom. So given that, isn’t conservatism statist as well?

Well, I think somebody who says that is conflating Republican Party labels with conservative philosophy. There is no perfection in any politician and just because they become President doesn’t change that — and that’s certainly the case with George Bush, who on the way out, declared free markets basically dead. There is a lot about Bush I admire and there is a lot about him that I regret — and I would say that about his father. I’d say it about Richard Nixon. I’d say it about Gerald Ford.

This has been a struggle within the Republican Party, frankly, since the New Deal and I think it’s time for conservatives to rally. We are not responsible for the baggage of non-conservatives. We’re more than happy to explain it but it doesn’t get us too far.

As for the issue of gay marriage, the American people speak to this time and time again when they’re permitted to — and they’re opposed to it. So who favors it? The elite, the courts, maybe the Vermont Assembly?

But for the most part, the overwhelming majority of Americans and their representatives oppose it. So, it’s not a matter of statism when the people oppose something that they believe is inappropriate — and we’re speaking to the proper role of the state not to the gay lifestyle, per se — at least I’m not.

So, the question is who decides and how is it decided? For the most part it appears that the courts decided that they’re going to decide. Well, why should they? Just because you declare something a civil rights issue doesn’t mean that you get to destroy the nature in which our government was established. Same sex marriage, which is what it is, is not a civil right. It is a political issue and it should be decided in that context, not by the courts who are trying to constitutionalize their viewpoints.

Now, what Barack Obama is doing can certainly be called statist. I think you could even fairly call it socialist or fascist — but, his approval rating still seems to be fairly high. Does that mean the American people are clamoring for statism?

I don’t think it’s a surprise that Barack Obama’s closest confidant is David Axelrod, who’s a bit of a PR Svengali. Right now, Barack Obama is behaving like Santa Claus. He is making all kinds of promises he will never be held to account for because they don’t come due until the next generation.

He’s basically able to take credit for things that he has not accomplished and will not accomplish — with no responsibility for actual outcomes. If, in fact, he were around 20 years from now where you could see the consequences of a national healthcare system or the inflation resulting from his massive deficit spending or the international dangers growing out of his unilateral disarmament, if you will, in various aspects of our national security, then I think his numbers would be lower.

But right now, if you think about it, shouldn’t his ratings be up in the 95% range since he takes responsibility for nothing and takes credit for everything? That’s the nature of being a president who sees no constitutional constraints and who feels that he can dip into any aspect of society that he chooses to dip into on any morning.

As a matter of fact, I think today he’s going to announce that we’re going to spend 3% of the GDP on R&D. Well that’s fascinating: who’s going to spend 3% on R&D? And how do we do that? By raising taxes, by creating an unstable investment environment, by beating up on the people who have money to make investments? And what is his legal authority for that?

And yet he’ll make that press statement. The media will run with it and everybody will be thrilled that we’re going to spend more on science and whatever else he promotes.

Now, related question: an argument made by many moderate Republicans who are marginally on our side, though I don’t agree with them on this, is that liberty and conservatism just can’t win any more.

What do you think of that argument that we have to go statist to even have a chance to compete, which is certainly the argument that you’ll get from people like David Frum, Meghan McCain, Ross Douthat — that sort?

Well, where is the evidence that their viewpoints, whatever they are because they don’t agree among themselves, are a winning scenario? I don’t see it. We’ve tried it in a few election cycles and we’ve had our lunch handed to us.

People don’t rally around moderate centrists. It’s one thing, once you become an elected official, to try and figure out how to advance your agenda through negotiation and other tactics and strategies. That’s to be expected.

We are a system of divided powers, at least we have been — but, you know, if you’re going to run for president on a convoluted healthcare plan that Meghan McCain’s father could never even explain, it seems to me it’s going to be difficult – a difficult time to win.

Now what we need to do and the reason I wrote Liberty and Tyranny is to, first of all, understand what conservatism is — and many of these so-called moderates do not. People need to understand its beginning, understand why it’s so compelling, understand why it is the standard on which this nation was founded and why it is the only antidote to a soft tyranny and to a centralized authoritarian government.

For these people to keep attacking conservatives — as opposed to the people who are incrementally seizing our liberty and our private property — and then trying to clothe themselves in the conservative nomenclature is destructive and demoralizing.

So, what I’ve tried to do is put forth a confident case for conservatism. People will have their different specific issues and policy ideas and that’s all great. I don’t pretend to be Trotsky here and say this is the way it is and there is no other way — but I am trying to lay out some over-arching themes and I am also at the same time trying to expose the many, many defects and weaknesses of the statists and those should be exploited.

Well, let me ask you about another semi-related question here. A lot of conservatives are saying one area where we’d like to push back against the statists is the schools, Hollywood, and the mainstream media. How do we do that? What’s the best way conservatives can start pushing back in those areas and start to level the playing field a little bit?

The way we do that is to start becoming part of those institutions. You know, the statist doesn’t have a birthright ownership to Hollywood or the media, generally speaking, or the school system and, you know, we conservatives for a very long time believed in “live and let live” and that’s completely understandable.

We believed in doing the best you can for yourself and your family and going to church and synagogue and being a good citizen and that’s very, very important. But now, I think we have to extend that being a good citizen means being open to being a professor or schoolteacher or an editor or reporter or a director or assistant producer in Hollywood — and there is no reason why we need to feed forever these very crucial institutions to the statists.

We need to fight back on all levels. We need to become smarter and more numerous. We need to explain to our children and our grandchildren, regardless of what they learned from television and their schools, that America is a magnificent place — that when we wake up every morning, we should thank God that we’re here and that unlike the statists, we are here to preserve and better our society — not to destroy it and then transform it. These are the over-arching principles that we need to spread. We need to spread the word about the greatness of America. We need to start in our homes and in our own communities.

Related question — I hear this a lot from people: They say, “We’re disappointed in the Republican Party and the Democrats seem like they’re winning. We’re just very upset. What do we do?”

If you’re just Joe Citizen, Joe Regular Guy — what would Mark Levin tell them to do to make this a better country? What do they need to do to fight back and help get this country going back in the right direction again?

The first thing I would say, which I say to some of my callers, is we don’t say “we” all the time. We need to say “I.” “I am going to do something today. I am going to do something this week to address what I consider to be a problem in this nation.”

The “I” can be everything from contributing to the right cause, all the way to running in a primary against somebody who is not upholding our principles, to a parent making sure that when their child comes home from school that they understand what they’re being taught. It can be spending dinner time or time in the car or at bedtime explaining to your kids the nation’s greatness and our principles.

We are a bigger army of individuals, millions and millions of us, than ACORN, the ACLU, and all the other left wing groups put together and we need to make use of that. We need to become knowledgeable. We need to then educate and we’ve got to do it at the most basic level. That’s what I’m saying. We don’t do enough of it.

You know it took us 80 years to get to where we are today and it’s going to take us 80 years to contain it and start to unravel it. It’s not going to all happen tomorrow and if people think it’s going to happen tomorrow, then they tend to give up and don’t take the little steps that they need to take today. We need to start with the little steps. We need to start chipping away and that is how we get back in the game.

Let me ask you a question about that: Thomas Sowell — I interviewed him not too long ago — and he said something I wanted to get your reaction to. It fits in very well with what you just said.

“I just noticed this morning that…I am getting more and more emails from people who are simply despairing. They are saying that we may have reached the point of no return. We have had dumbed down education for enough generations that people don’t even realize that it’s dumbed down education. We have propaganda against all the institutions of this society, literally from the elementary school to the universities. You can’t raise a whole generation of people who don’t know how to think, but are taught to resent anything that they don’t understand and expect that you are going to survive in the long run.”

A lot of people are worried, I think, on the conservative side that we may have reached the down side of the mountain. That it may be not – that it may not be possible to pull ourselves back up and that there may not be a brighter future for the country tomorrow than there is today. What do you say to those people?

I understand why they’re frustrated and demoralized. …when the government can dictate what kind of light bulbs and toilets you can have and who’s going to run GM and talks about redistributing wealth, that’s not exactly a totally free society.

With that said, we have no alternative but to fight back. I mean what are we going to do, roll over? You know, get in the fetal position in the corner somewhere? I don’t think millions and millions of us behave that way. I think we’re fighters. I mean we have to fight against this fifth column as other societies have had to fight against them for our children. If we really have given up, we’ve given up for them. So while all of us can fall into that kind of thinking and, from time-to-time I do, I’m not prepared to surrender to it. Now, that said, there is no question that the statist is trying to do exactly what those people are writing to Thomas Sowell.

They are now trying to expand government control over the education of children almost right out of the crib. Obama also wants to nationalize the student loan program so you take the banks out of the system and then you’ve got to rely on the government if you want to go to college. These are all extremely dangerous and strategic moves by Obama who is a hard core Saul Alinsky ideologue.

We just have to keep fighting that and one of the things we can do is in two years, make sure that we punish Congress at the ballot box. We can make sure that many of these so-called moderate Democrats who are going along with this radical agenda are, in fact, defeated and that moderate so-called Republicans have primary opponents and are also defeated. We have to do whatever we can to punish this kind of thinking and behavior — I mean from a political point of view.

Now just about done here, Mark. As a blogger, one of the things I always hear from other bloggers is: I wonder if these big guys read us. I wonder if the Mark Levins of the world read blogs? Are you a fan of the blogosphere?

I can only speak for myself, but I read them all the time — except the people I hate, why would I read them?

That makes sense.

That – or the people I don’t respect, why would I read them?

Can you name off whom you read?

Well, you’re one of the guys I read.

Ah, great to hear that, thanks.

Michelle Malkin, of course, National Review. You know, the problem with going down this list is if I leave people out…

I know — Well, I realize there are so many. I have over 100 in my RSS reader myself. So, I understand how tough it is to go through everybody.

But just know that I do read scores of them and I think the internet is absolutely the wave of the future. I think the internet has done a terrific job in competing with the old media. I think this is why newspapers are in such big trouble and they should be.

When newspapers become honest and start openly identifying with one political party and ideology or another, then maybe they’ll get their legs back. But, to keep pretending that they’re professional and objective organizations when for the most part they’re not — why wouldn’t I turn to a blogger whose views I respect rather than a newspaper that pretends to be something it’s not?

…And last question, your book is number one in America. It’s selling like hotcakes all over the country. Tell people a little bit about why they want to buy your book.

Well, let me tell them a little bit about the book, Liberty and Tyranny, which took me about 16 months to write just because I have other jobs, you know.

I had to make a decision: was I going to do a talking point book — which really isn’t me — or start at the beginning and figure out why I am a conservative and challenge myself and discuss things that way? As well as, why is the statist a statist? Who are these people and where do they get their thinking from?

This book is not about me. It’s not a memoir. I’ve gone back and I’ve done the best I can in a very concise and plain English manner to describe why we are right, why we stand on the shoulders of Plato and Aristotle and Cicero and Locke and Burke and Adam Smith and the Founding Fathers and more recently, folks like Milton Freidman and Ronald Reagan.

It also covers on whose shoulders the other side stands and what their tactics are and have been throughout generations. The differences between the conservative and the statist are stark.

Once we understand that beyond the superficial, beyond a word or two, I think we will be better prepared to articulate our views, to contrast them to their views, and to defeat them on both the battlefield of ideas and politically. Right now, we have a lot of politicians whose first knee jerk reaction is to compromise. Their first knee jerk reaction is to surrender, to argue that the other side’s views have been accepted by the people and so the end is near.

Well, my attitude is we haven’t really been explaining our views to the American people for a very, very long time. When we point to an example that works, like Ronald Reagan — we’re told to ignore him, that era is over. Of course, the era of FDR is never over. These are the voices we must dismiss. These are the defeatists. These are people who are pseudo conservatives.

We need to get our legs back and we can — and that’s the point of Liberty and Tyranny.

Mark, I really appreciate the time.

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