Sunday, October 14, 2007

From the Vault: Dan Carlin talks to Deschamps Blog

I have a blog at the conservative site Townhall, which until recently I used as my main writing outlet. After a bit of tinkering around with projects using Blogger, I have finally come up with what you see now.

There were some blog articles that ran on Townhall that I am especially proud of, and I'm going to try to post some of my favorites here for people that haven't read them. This is an interview with radio talk show host turned podcaster Dan Carlin, originally posted May 18, 2007:

Dan Carlin is a veteran of media, working as a radio talk show host for the last dozen years. Carlin has taken great advantage of new media, running a large website with a large discussion board, regularly updated blog and user-friendly layout. He runs two podcasts, Common Sense with Dan Carlin, which showcases his independent political commentary, and Hardcore History, which uses the podcast medium to entertainingly bring history to listeners.

Carlin is fiercely independent, and you'll likely find as much that you disagree with him over as you agree with. One thing you won't find yourself thinking is how dull he is, because he most definitely is not that.

I managed to get Carlin to answer a few questions on the current political scene, ranging from American politics to education. The only previous interview that's appeared at Deschamps was with the guys at Fantagraphics Books, so this is a definite step in a new direction. I hope you enjoy it.

Deschamps: For those that don't know, how would you describe your political ideology?

Dan Carlin: I like to say I'm a “forward-thinking pragmatist”. Inventing unique adjective combinations to describe one's self seems mandatory today because the terms that we have traditionally used to describe people politically seem less and less relevant. We have to say “I'm a conservative on this...I am liberal on that” or “I'm basically a liberal, but I disagree with them on this, that, and the other thing...”.

If you go that route, I'm a fiscally conservative, socially libertarian, small government, pro-Constitution, America First, non-interventionist, political independent who thinks we need to worry about the average working stiff more.

I'm sure that clears things up.

D: Ron Paul and Rudy Giuliani really went at it in the last Republican debate. Who do you think looked better and who do you suppose the average American walked away thinking was the better man?

DC: depends upon the audience. Let's remember that these guys are competing for the Republican nomination in these debates, not the presidency. Nixon used to say that you “run to the right” in the primaries and head back to the political Center for the general election. Ron Paul would be the candidate that most Americans would want representing the Republicans...but that number would include a great many Democrats and Independents (and I suspect accounts for some of the reason Paul is polling so highly in the post-debate don't have to be a registered Republican to vote in them). I suspect that if you only polled current registered Republicans that Paul would not have done nearly as well.

So, I guess what I'm saying is that Giuliani looked better to the Republican “base” and Paul looked better to everyone else.

D: Fox News viewers voted Ron Paul as the winner of the South Carolina debate. Could Paul actually be a viable candidate?

DC: No.

Heck, the Republicans even want to bar him from future debates. These actions are proving that the idea that someone like Paul could come into the Republican party and move it more in a Libertarian direction is (at least for the time being) false. The fact that the Republican establishment is so upset at how Paul's message is resonating shows how afraid they are, and how far they would go to keep such a shift in party priorities from happening. They are openly trying to short circuit Paul's campaign and it is a surprisingly naked move to stifle him and silence a message that would be popular with many Republicans who don't share the neo-conservative views of the current Republican establishment.

Paul would need everything to go his way for him to be a viable candidate. Having your own party trying to decapitate your campaign just as you are proving it has legs takes you out of viable candidate land in my mind.

D: Both Bush and the Democratic Congress have deplorable approval ratings. Is this a sign that Americans are ready for something new in the world of political ideas?

DC: Well, I'm not sure that they haven't been ready for something new for a long time now. It is hard to know when they have never had the chance to choose anything other than what the Big Two parties are offering. I DO think that the post Baby Boom generation is now reaching a critical mass in terms of voting demographics. I see lots of political changes on the horizon, and much of it, I think, will be due to the breaking down of our old political labels and fault lines and their replacement with new ones. It's going to be the post Baby Boomers that prompt these changes.

D: We talk alot about education at Deschamps Blog, especially when it relates to those with "special needs." It's largely apparent that we need change in our education system. What kind of changes do you think politicians and activists should be looking at?

DC: This is a really important issue. Unfortunately, the changes that might be needed are so much more than tinkering that it might be impossible to talk about REAL education reform without sounding radical (in any numbers of directions). I think it might be useful to start with an overriding idea and then build from that. On the education issue, I think that idea would be OPTIONS.

Let's give parents more choices than they currently have. Many of the problems the public schools face these days are controversies over how and what they teach. This is because we have a one-size-fits-all system trying to minister to the most diverse population in the history of the world. Is it any wonder there are problems? I think we could be doing much more experimentation in the education realm and think that the longer we avoid real, meaningful innovation in how we teach people the more we will suffer the society-wide effects of an undereducated populace. Few people in the education establishment favor any sort of “radical reform” though. And who can blame them?

D: What do you think will be the American role in Iraq two years from now?

DC: Good question. I don't know.

D: Where do you think we should be?

DC: Ultimately, I'd like to see us out of the Middle East. I think Iraq should be split up into three nations and we should let them see if they can defend what they have been given. Our job should be to keep outsiders from joining the fight. Use diplomacy and carrots and sticks to keep the Turks and Iranians from attacking the Kurds, work to get the power brokers in the region to support the new reality on the ground in Iraq and then lay the groundwork for a landmark regional summit to discuss bringing free elections to the region.

While such changes are a long shot, it would begin to re-establish the U.S.'s position of being in favor of freedom and progress for the people of the Middle East. That's the best way to start creating a counterforce on the ground to fight the Islamic terror message. If we become, for example, the greatest proponents of equal rights for the woman of the Middle East, we begin to develop a base of support, underground though it might be at first, for our conception of a 21st Century Islamic world. A safe, free, prosperous one.

D: Congress has just passed an Immigration Reform Act. Do you think that Congress is going about tackling illegal immigration in the right way?

DC: No. And I'm pretty sure there IS no right way. Ask the Pharaohs of the Biblical-era Egyptians how well they were able to keep the Libyans they used as labor and domestic help from settling in increasing numbers in the Nile Delta. They were in a very similar dynamic to what the USA has now. Eventually, the Libyans put a Libyan Pharaoh on the throne of Egypt.

I think the key is to improve things in Mexico and you eliminate some of the need on the part of people to come to the U.S. It is easier to stay home if things aren't so bad at home. The Mexican government uses migration to the U.S. as a safety valve to diffuse domestic tensions that might otherwise be channeled into political reform. The USA provides an outlet for desperate Mexicans that, if it were not available, might force some big changes that would, in the long run, help Mexicans a lot. So, in that sense, perhaps Mexico is addicted to the USA that way. And we North Americans are certainly addicted to the low-cost labor the Mexican workers provide. Addicts will get their drugs, one way or another...wall or no wall, visa or no visa.

D: Harry Truman is viewed as a hero among many Democrats but in his time was an unpopular president leading an unpopular war. As a historian as well as political hound, do you think history will make Bush look better or worse?

DC: Well, let's clear one thing up...I may have a history degree, but I'm no “historian”.

That having been said, Presidents DO end up looking better the farther back into history we are looking. Events compress as you pull back from them and only the bigger things will matter. With President Bush that will be Iraq and the War on Terror.

My own view is that it will be tough for him to overcome the foreign policy mistakes and improve his popularity with historians down the road. Even if future events justify the Administration's view of the seriousness of the terrorism threat, the fact that the wrong choices were made in order to combat that threat will never look better to history. They won't be saying “Well, at least his heart was in the right place” a hundred years from now, and Iraq will never look like a good place to have decided to fight “terrorism” with boots on the ground.

I doubt he will be treated gently by historians.

D: What do you think of the idea of a "League of Democratic Nations" that would include only countries that allow for free speech and human rights?

DC: What would it be used for? Are we hoping the “don't you want to be in OUR private club?” effect works on the North Koreas of the world?

Besides...what's the criteria? Can the USA join?

D: As a political commentator, which of the mainstream political pundits (Glenn Beck, Keith Olbermann, Jonah Goldberg, Lou Dobbs, etc.) do you find yourself most able to stomach?

DC: Hmmmm...not Beck...or Goldberg. I can stand Olbermann and Dobbs. I don't watch any of them to be honest. I watch nothing. Where does everyone find the time?

D: As someone with alot of radio experience, how do you feel about the recent push for reimplementing the Fairness Doctrine?

DC: The horse has left and the barn door is closed on that one. It will never happen...and probably shouldn't. After all...what does “fair” mean today in terms of presenting all views? Are we going to include Greens? Libertarians? Or are we just going to say that conservatives and liberals have to balance each other out like Hannity and Colmes on the airwaves? Besides...the Old Media doesn't control things anymore.

I'd worry more about the Net Neutrality issue instead...if we start doing things to stifle the New Media then there would be real problems beyond any old fashioned “Fairness Doctrine” issues.

D: The internet has provided means for millions of people to express their opinions and views in a way that was unimaginable a decade ago. What effects do you think this will have on the political system?

DC: It is going to be huge...and it is going to happen more quickly than people think. It is going to break the current ideological stranglehold in the USA and allow a wide spectrum of ideas hitherto unexpressed to be shared and built upon audiences and groups. And not just within the U.S., but also between Americans and those who live in other nations.

It is the greatest reason for optimism I can think of.

D: The American Motion Picture Association recently proclaimed that smoking will be included with scenes of sex and violence as grounds to up the ratings given to films. How do you feel about this?

DC: I think it is nonsense. Do we really wish to go down this road? What if they show someone eating a bunch of hamburgers like Wimpy in the Popeye cartoons? Is that dangerous example of an irresponsible lifestyle choice to be considered in the ratings as well?...Or will cigarettes be a lone, special case? I suppose they can do anything they like...but I think using something like a ratings system for films as a tool to improve our society is weird.

D: Having been in both new and traditional media, do you think traditional media is on the way out?

DC: Well, that depends on what you mean by “traditional”. Because “traditional” media has been “on the way out” since the early 1990's. We have been in a transitional stage since then. It started with the consolidation phase that was a result of things like the Telecommunications Act in the 1990's and moved from there to the current decentralization of media that is a result of the Internet and the opening of the modes of content distribution. It was thought owning a lot of radio stations (as just one example) was going to be a great way to corner content it's apparent that owning NO radio stations is probably a better business strategy. After all, is owning a transmitter really that much of a broadcasting advantage anymore? It has a very limited range, it sure costs a heck of a lot more to broadcast using it...and in the end you are still going to want your content simulcast on the Internet anyway. Better to scrap the transmitter altogether.

That's why I worry so much about things like the Net Neutrality issues. I believe the ex-“gatekeepers” of content miss their former editorial control. I can't think of too many ways they could ever put the genie back in that bottle, and regain control over the distribution of content. The proposals involved in the Net Neutrality issue are some of the few that might do this. If they can turn average, Internet broadcasters into second class citizens when it comes to online media they will have restored themselves to a premier position. I think that all the good societal advantages we discussed earlier that our system might glean from the Internet would be put at risk if the New Media were controlled, for all intents and purposes, by those who control the Old Media.

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