Host: Brian Lamb
April 7, 2009
12:00 p.m. EST
BRIAN LAMB, MODERATOR, C-SPAN Q&A: Mona Charen, how has life changed for you as a columnist in the last three years?
MONA CHAREN, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Well, I’m younger now. Well, the world has changed a lot in the last three years. We have a town now completely dominated by the Democratic Party. And, while I don’t necessarily think that this is good for the country, as for me personally, it certainly gives me a lot of things to talk about in my columns and a lot of things to respond to. So I am kept very, very busy, kept very aware of every twist and turn.
LAMB: Ruth Marcus, I ask that question obviously because we did this together three years ago and you both grew up as friends in Livingston, New Jersey. How has your life changed in the last three years?
RUTH MARCUS, EDITORIAL WRITER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, my column’s become syndicated like Mona’s. So I actually have so for me personally, I have to think about I have to get it done earlier. And I have to think about readers and the needs of readers outside of Washington and what they might be interested in.
So when I think about really boring Washington subjects, I kind of think, OK, how am I going to explain reconciliation to the folks in Seattle in a way that might make them want to read it? And as Mona said, it’s a different experience to cover a president that you agree with more than a president that, in my case, more than a president that you disagree with.
Same for Congress, though I haven’t found any inability to be critical of the Democrats any more than I found it possible to actually agree with Republicans when I tended to when I agreed with them on some issues.
LAMB: Brief synopsis of your two relationship, friendship.
CHAREN: We’ve known each other since the fourth grade, growing up in Livingston, New Jersey. Became very close friends in high school. And I give Ruth full credit for the fact that I finally buckled down in high school and started to work hard, because she was so smart and she was so driven and ambitious and I thought, I’m not going to let her get all the A’s. I want to get some too.
And it really, it was a spur to my intellectual development. Plus we had lots and lots of debates because even then we didn’t agree. And we’ve remained friends over the years.
LAMB: Both of you are lawyers. You now are on the editorial board of the Washington Post. Tell us about your family, your kids. And, how old are your kids now?
MARCUS: I have two girls. They’re about to be 12 and 14 in the next few weeks. Which I’m I start practicing right before their birthdays to sort of bump us up to the next notch. And I have to say, 12 and 14 is a little alarming.
One is taller than me. I’m sitting down but I can tell your folks out there I’m pretty short. So one is this much taller than me and the other one is pretty much getting there, the 12-year-old.
LAMB: How old is Emma?
MARCUS: Emma is 14.
LAMB: And is it Julia?
MARCUS: Julia, yes, is 12. And my husband, since we last spoke, has become the Chairman of the Federal Trade Commission, so we’re a pretty busy household.
CHAREN: They’re a power couple.
MARCUS: We are not a power couple, but we are a busy couple.
LAMB: And your family?
CHAREN: My husband, Robert, is a continues to be a partner at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton and Garrison, does a lot of traveling to Japan and Korea for his business. My children Jonathan, David, and Benjamin are now 17, 15, and 13.
LAMB: It’s in that order, 17, 15, and 13?
LAMB: All right, let’s go back to start the political discussion, we’ll go back and show a clip. Here’s Ruth Marcus and Mona Charen for about a minute and 36 seconds talking about George Bush.
MARCUS: I cannot count myself in any way to be a fan of this president. I mean, when I say in any way, overall to be a fan of this president. And I think, one of the things that I write about and so it’s one of the things that upsets me the most is the absolute fiscal recklessness of the administration.
And the tax policy that’s going to leave our grandchildren, which is actually a nice thought, except for the fact that they’re going to have to be paying for tax cuts that were clearly not affordable at the time that they were passed and certainly aren’t affordable now.
CHAREN: Well, I agree and disagree. I agree about the fiscal recklessness in the sense of the spending. And that for which I blame Bush and I also blame the Republicans in Congress who’ve been a big disappointment on this score.
They discovered that they liked it a little too well and have been spending like crazy. Spending more than the Republican Congress spent under Clinton. Because at least then they had they felt more of an obligation to I guess embattle with the Democrats.
But in any event, the tax cuts don’t bother me because the tax cuts stimulate the economy and when the economy grows, money that comes into the coffers of the state, as you know, that also grows and so it has.
But I’m concerned about the absolute explosion of spending and I think that’s been one area where this administration has been disappointing.
LAMB: Mona Charen, fiscal recklessness.
CHAREN: Boy, those were the good old days. The current administration and the current Congress make the Bush years seem absolutely fiscal the model of fiscal rectitude by comparison.
We have now pulled out and I find this I’m genuinely am worried. I’m genuinely worried that we are now on a path that may lead us to become like Argentina or like one of the, you know, third world countries that cannot pay its debts and that, you know, either has to inflate the currency to pay its debts or declare bankruptcy.
And obviously, the choice is going to be to inflate the currency, which is a very dangerous thing. It’s a very dangerous game they’re playing and, you know, I’d be curious to see what Ruth thinks because she was very concerned about the fiscal situation under Bush.
MARCUS: Yes. I continue to be concerned about the fiscal situation and boy, did I want to argue with you from three years ago because the notion that the tax cuts aren’t a problem because they’ll spur the economy and more money will flow into the Treasury, well the, you know, tax cuts do not pay for themselves.
From my point of view, we have to think of it in a short-term way and a long-term way. In a short-term way, these deficits, while absolutely horrifying in their amount, are necessary and actually prudent that sounds like an oxymoron, in order to help us get out of this fiscal mess and this economic mess. If anything, we might need to be spending more than we’re spending now.
But in the longer term, it’s very scary and I think that the president has not this new president has not been clear enough about where he really would make sacrifices. He has not been clear enough about the revenue he’s going to need to bring in and he’s not been clear enough, at least yet, about how to really get entitlement spending under control.
CHAREN: Not only that but, you know, this idea that this is all to stimulate the economy I think is not true. The fact is that a lot of the spending that’s built into this Obama budget and into the stimulus plan itself doesn’t even kick in until, you know, a lot of it until 2011, 2012. You know, that’s not stimulus spending, that’s long-term spending ...
MARCUS: Some of it, but, you know, I’m sorry, but ...
CHAREN: A lot of it and ...
MARCUS: A big piece of it is the alternative minimum tax, which you guys wanted to have in the stimulus package. I mean, we could argue about different pieces of it.
CHAREN: But the fact is ...
MARCUS: But the fact is ...
CHAREN: ... a lot of it is social spending and, you know, one of the things that this, you know, there are always gimmicks with every presidential budget, but one of the things that they that the Obama-ites have done is they’ve said you know, well we’re doing this temporary spending on, you know, Pell Grants and aid to, you know, handicapped kids and various other things, and this is all going to sunset.
Well, that’s ridiculous. I mean, there’s no way that the Congress is going to, you know, voluntarily cut back on ...
MARCUS: Did you tell us that those tax cuts were going to sunset?
CHAREN: Well, and they are sunsetting. Obama has ...
MARCUS: No, they’re not.
CHAREN: Obama he’s going to raise taxes on everything.
MARCUS: This actually happens to be an area on which you can’t really tell it from this discussion, but Mona and I agree, because one of the things that as an editorial board and as a columnist that we’ve been concerned about is having what ought to be temporary spending built into the stimulus and then baked into the budget going forward.
I think that is a problem and it is something I’m concerned about. But I sort of have a hard time with conservatives wringing their hands over sunsets and things like that when that was the plan all along was to, you know, we’re going to get these tax cuts passed in the promise that they’ll sunset.
And well, guess what? In fact, only a small portion of them, even under President Obama, would sunset. And I think it’s really actually time for us to go back and reopen the whole discussion about what revenue we need and what level of spending we need in order to sustain ourselves going forward.
CHAREN: Well, you know, that would be refreshing, but in point of fact, you know, what we have now is just the wish list of Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid. Things that have been sitting around in the inboxes of the Democrats for a decade thinking well, we’ll never get this.
And now they can have it all and they are just, they are absolutely showing no self-restraint of any kind. Any idea, bad, good, indifferent has just been, you know, shoveled out the door and it’s reckless. It’s absolutely horrifying.
LAMB: Tell us where you were right before the election. How did you feel about the McCain-Obama, you know, choice that you had.
CHAREN: Well, I was not a McCain my husband was a McCain supporter right from the beginning. I was not. I didn’t think he was wasn’t my beau ideal. I supported him over Obama. I thought he would have been a better president. I still think that.
But I didn’t think that there was anybody that embodied the philosophy that I would have preferred to see.
LAMB: Ruth Marcus?
MARCUS: I very much like John McCain. I did not like his candidacy. I was very disappointed in some of the things he felt the need to do as candidate. I sort of liked McCain 2000 as a candidate a lot better.
I had and I expressed along the way a lot of concerns about President Obama. I wrote a column that I’m a little bit reluctant to bring up that my husband actually helped write the headline for. It was called ”The Audacity of Nope.” And it very prudently advised then-Senator Obama not to run which of course he then did and, you know, he may now read all of my columns with a grain of salt.
I did continue to be concerned about his experience. I continue to be concerned about where he would come down on really hard choices and how he would sort things out. I actually continue to be somewhat skeptical there. We haven’t really seen a lot of hard choice- making from him, although he’s promised it.
But right before the election, there was no doubt in my mind which man I thought would be the better president and I was very excited by the racial aspect of the election, as I think all Americans were to some extent. And I was on the mall for the inauguration and it was actually quite a remarkable experience.
LAMB: What did you think of the racial aspect of this?
CHAREN: You know, I was of course, I would so much have preferred to see my friend, Tom Sowell, be the first black president of the United States or somebody that I agreed with. But obviously, you know, that, as an American, you can’t not be moved by that. I mean, it was very thrilling in a sense, to pass that milestone.
And but because I disagree with him so profoundly and because I think he is deeply irresponsible in the policies that he’s putting forward, the bloom was off the rose in about 24 hours for me.
MARCUS: I do have to indulge myself. Julia Leibowitz, the world’s most loyal 11-year-old C-Span viewer, said during the primary campaign said, ”You know mom, I really like Hillary Clinton better and I would like to see her be president. But, while it would be great to have a woman president, it would be a bigger deal to have an African-American president.” And I thought she had it right.
LAMB: You both write from time to time about being mothers. And I want to switch completely off of the president to his wife. And I want to show you a clip from 2008 back in about, I think about May 2nd of 2008 in Durham, North Carolina.
This is not one of her stronger statements, but it’s stronger than what we’re seeing now. And I just want to ask the two of you, which Michelle Obama you want as your representative? There’s two different personalities. We didn’t see much of a stronger personality after a certain point in the campaign. And, let’s watch this and we’ll come back and get your reaction.
MICHELLE OBAMA: They set the bar. They say look, if you do these things, you can get to this bar, right? And then you work and you struggle. You do everything that they say and you think you’re getting close to the bar and you’re working hard and you’re sacrificing. And then you get to the bar, you’re right there and you’re reaching out for the bar and you think you have it.
And then what happens? They move the bar. They raise it up. They shift it to the left and to the right. It’s always just quite out of reach. And that’s a little bit about what Barack has been experiencing. The bar is constantly changing for this man. Raise the money? Not enough. Build an organization? Not enough. Win a whole bunch of states? Not the right states. You got to win certain states.
LAMB: What is your reaction to her?
MARCUS: Who goes first? I’ve never seen that clip before and I that sounds like it was in the very tail end of the primary campaign when everybody’s nerves were a little bit frayed. Michelle Obama is very interesting and I am intrigued by her.
I don’t feel like I completely understand her. I love what she has been doing in terms of going out in the community, visiting parts of the District of Columbia, visiting cabinet departments, so she sort of introduces herself to government workers who I think are undervalued by some people.
And I wrote a column where I said I had some discomfort with her description of herself as mom-in-chief because she’s so educated and she’s so intelligent and she I do not in any way undervalue the mom part. I’m going to be leaving here and picking up my kids at school.
But it was her choice to describe herself that way that kind of set me back a little bit. And so I’m really interested to watch how she balances this and also I have been, like everybody else, obsessed with the sleevelessness. I sort of want her to put her sweater on sometimes. You know?
CHAREN: You’re mothering her.
MARCUS: Enough with the no, enough with the bare arms. It’s just not appropriate all the time.
CHAREN: Somebody said it was a secret political message. You know, the right to bear arms.
LAMB: What’s your reaction to Michelle?
CHAREN: I have a more complicated reaction to her. I find her ...
MARCUS: That was pretty complicated.
CHAREN: Yes, actually it was some mine’s even more complicated. I found her off-putting during the campaign which in a way that I never found him off-putting. You know, I thought that he was very smooth and all the things that we know he is.
But I found her angry, resentful, whiney, sometimes. I mean, here’s somebody who, you know, she went to the best Ivy League schools and she had a very remunerative job and she, you know, was hired by the finest law firms and was really, you know, the red carpet of America was rolled out for this young woman and she partook and that’s great.
But then she’s, you know, all of this talk about raising the bar. I mean, there’s always these things keep cropping in her language. You know, this resentfulness and this, you know, anger and, you know, this is the first time I’m proud to be an American, and so on and so forth.
And so I found that part of her off-putting. As you say, there hasn’t been that much of this in evidence since she came to the White House and now she’s playing her role in a fairly traditional way.
And I have no problem with the bare arms. I think that’s fine. I think she’s been soft-pedaling, though, a side of herself that is there and I’ve always wondered, sort of echoing what Ruth said, I’ve always wondered, you know, who she really is. I don’t feel that I have a good bead on her.
LAMB: What are your kids’ reactions to what they’re seeing? They’re getting to those ages where they’re paying attention, I assume. You’ve got a 17-year-old and a 15-year-old and a 13-year- old. You’ve got a 14-year-old and a 12-year-old.
What do kids say about all this? About everything we’ve been talking about, the economy and the first lady and the president?
MARCUS: Well, mine have mine were very excited about the inauguration. They my husband’s office overlooks the parade route so everybody came down and watched the parade. I managed, eventually, to get in there from the mall, which was not such an easy feat.
LAMB: So people, as you said, the Chairman of the Federal Trade Commission.
MARCUS: He’s the chairman of the Federal Trade Commission.
LAMB: Office right down on Pennsylvania Avenue?
MARCUS: Office right down on Pennsylvania Avenue. Actually the chairman’s office doesn’t, he wasn’t chairman at the time obviously, doesn’t have a balcony. So he’s been somewhat resisting moving because he does have this beautiful balcony in this beautiful building.
But he kids were very excited about the notion of Barack Obama as president. Though, I do have to say, I have raised them well. They go to a private school that’s very liberal and so the sentiment in the school was overwhelmingly pro-Obama.
And I hope it’s OK with her that I tell this story, but Emma, my soon-to-be 14-year-old, went marching into the principal’s office of the middle school and said, ”You know, everybody just says they’re supporting Obama and they don’t entirely understand why.
And so I would like you to bring somebody in here to tell us about these two candidates so we can make our judgments for ourselves because it’s not all so clear.” Because I always give them - if they tell me that they like Obama, I give them the counterargument, because I want them to make up their minds for themselves.
Though, it’s nice if it goes the right way and the correct way.
CHAREN: You want them to say that they thought it out for themselves and come to the right conclusion.
MARCUS: Well, it’s interesting, I would point out that Mona’s son put in a little dig at a certain liberal cable channel during his Bar Mitzvah ...
CHAREN: Yes, he did.
MARCUS: ... but I was really proud of that and I want to instill in them interest in public policy issues.
We have the world’s most ridiculous conversations in my house. And I was on the phone with somebody at the White House one day. We were talking about the budget and the stimulus package and I mentioned something about the AMT.
And Julia said, ”Is that a trade thing?” And I said, ”No, honey I’ll explain it to you when I get off the phone.” Next thing I knew we were on a conference call with somebody else at the White House who says, ”Is it true
” - and this we’re in my boss’s office and there’s this whole room - we’re all saying, ”Hi so and so, hi.”
”Is it true that your 11 year old wanted to discuss the alternative minimum tax?” And I was like, ”Yes, possibly Child Protective Services should be coming in.”
LAMB: Now, which was it, David or Ben that was Bar Mitzvah’d when he made this comment?
CHAREN: It was Benjamin, the youngest.
LAMB: And what did he say? And I should ask this, have you seen much of each other since we were together three years ago?
CHAREN: We have. Yes. Ruth was just a guest at my son’s Bar Mitzvah.
MARCUS: And Emma’s, at my daughters Bat Mitzvah ...
MARCUS: ... and, you know, next March if I ever plan anything for the other one.
LAMB: So what did he say?
CHAREN: He was I think he gave when children are Bar or Bat Mitzvah’d they give a little talk about the week’s Bible section. And they offer whatever wisdom they can on the subject. And Ben chose for his topic, let me see, how did he put this, whether the heart or the head should dominate when you’re trying to build a relationship with God.
And so he pointed out that, if you rely too much on emotion this can lead to evils for example, MSNBC.
LAMB: Did he get a laugh at all?
MARCUS: In that audience it got a really big laugh.
LAMB: So what about your sons and their attitude about all of this? Are they just parodying what their mother says?
CHAREN: No, I my 15-year-old is a very independent minded person. And I think even maybe a little contrary. I mean, he always like to test things out and really takes nothing for granted and doesn’t, you know, accept my points of view on face value at all.
In fact, it’s really good training for me to try to convince my 15-year-old. And I haven’t convinced him on everything. I mean, we don’t agree on gay marriage. He’s for it and I’m not and I haven’t been able to change his mind on that. I haven’t tried that hard, but I don’t think I could, really. He has his own views on that. I think it’s generational, you know, that ...
MARCUS: That’s totally generational.
MARCUS: That’s my kids’ litmus test for what they how they judge your politics. Mom, what does Hilary Clinton think about gay marriage? Well she says she’s opposed to it. What does Barack Obama say? Well he says he’s opposed it. What do they really think?
LAMB: Why is this a litmus test? Why do they do this?
CHAREN: Because kids are, at least my perception is, that young people think of this as the civil rights issue of their time and so they ...
MARCUS: Because it is.
CHAREN: ... well, I don’t I agree, but they think of it that way. And but we’ve had some interesting discussions. And Benjamin tends to be, the younger one, Jonathan isn’t political at all, my oldest one.
But David is very interested and, as I said, you know, comes to all of his own conclusions. I think he’s more of a libertarian than he is a conservative. And Benjamin is a very conservative kid and is, you know, wants to be a Marine someday, or at least is considering it, and is fascinated by American history and he’s very, super patriotic.
LAMB: You wrote, and I don’t even have a date on this but you’ll recognize it, it wasn’t that long ago. ”I’m in the midst of one of those periodic work-family recalibrations, balancing the needs of adolescent daughters, my husband’s busy job and my own overextended one.” Explain that, I ask you both about this period in your life.
MARCUS: Well, I always tell people who women who are about to have children, that you’re not life comes in chapters. And I have worked every permutation that you could imagine of I took six months off after each of my children was born. I took a year off when my younger child was in her last year of preschool because it was going to be the last year she wasn’t in school full time.
And I’ve worked three days a week, I’ve worked four days a week. Right now I pretty much I decided that the kids that there was something in the moment of picking your kids up at school that was really critical for me to be around, especially for my kids in those adolescent ages.
And so I’ve worked around my schedule and with a wonderful, flexible boss and the miracles of technology ...
CHAREN: And don’t forget a wonderful husband.
MARCUS: Well, I’m getting to him. I’m getting to him, but to be honest with you, while I do have a wonderful husband, he’s really busy. And when we’ve had those moments where it seemed to me as if something needed to give in the family, it’s tended to be as involved as he is and as much as he is there at all the times he needs to be there and he tries very much to get home at a reasonable hour so we can all sit down for dinner together.
In my experience, it’s when your kids need you and there’s two busy parents, it’s the mom who tends to give, wants to give, ends up giving and that’s what that sort of happened at I hadn’t actually really discussed with my boss when I wrote that sentence, that I was going to need to sort of recalibrate. And he said, ”Yes, I just didn’t notice that you wrote that. And what do you need?”
LAMB: So now do you go to the office less often?
MARCUS: I spend less time, a little bit less time in the office. But my theory is that technology is the working mom’s best friend because I can sit there at the kitchen table while Julia is doing her math homework. And I can have my laptop open and I can be doing some writing and we’re all I mean, I guess what passes together as a family in the modern age, but we’re there.
LAMB: How has your life changed in three years when it comes to work?
CHAREN: Well I feel I mean, I should start by saying, I feel tremendously blessed with my life and my family. And I do have a wonderful husband but who’s also exceedingly busy. And, you know, in all honesty, I sometimes have male colleague envy.
You know, where I look at the people in my profession, columnists and others who have wives, who take care of the home front so that they can devote their full energy to reading and writing and responding to what’s in the news.
And I don’t think they have a clue what it’s like for us, that we, you know, have to fit in any insights that you might have on the passing political scene in between rushing this one to the pediatrician and that one to the orthodontist and attending this meeting at school and taking the dog to the vet and whatever.
I mean, you know, our lives well, you don’t have pets, but I have four.
MARCUS: The guinea pig just died. There’s a lot of puppy lobbying.
CHAREN: So, you know, it is definitely, you know, I mean we’re sort of doing, you know, I mean there’s that old Ginger Rogers’ line, you know, where she said, ”I had to do everything that Fred Astaire did except backwards and in high heels.”
Well there’s a little bit of that. I mean, you know, we’re doing everything that our male colleagues are doing except we’re also running a household and raising the kids and meeting with their teachers and taking them to the doctors and so on. And it’s harder.
LAMB: Well let me show a clip from our last discussion three years ago. And this has to do the reason I want to run this is because you’re talking about influences in your life. One was that Dreiser fan and Nabokov fan when it came to writing.
And your kids are right in that era where they’re deciding who they’re going to follow. But let’s watch this and you’ll see why I’m going to run it.
MARCUS: For us, you know, there were three channels. They were terrible. I would tell my mother I was bored and she would tell me a Yiddish expression that was essentially go so fine if you’re bored, go hit your head against the wall. It’ll feel better when you stop.
And so we were sort of and we didn’t have soccer and on Tuesday and this on and figure skating on Wednesday and drama class on Thursday and so we were sort of forced to read. And we learned the real thrill of curling up with good books.
I mean we both still remember, I know you do, in 10th grade, I think it was 10th grade, we had to write a huge reported project on an American author, on an author. I guess, it was an American author?
CHAREN: Yes, it had to be an American author.
MARCUS: I wrote about Theodore Dreiser. Mona wrote about Vladimir Nabokov and we read everything that they wrote ...
MARCUS: And ...
LAMB: What did that say about Mona Charen that you went to Nabokov?
MARCUS: Better taste in authors.
CHAREN: I don’t know what drew me to him. That’s funny. I don’t remember now.
MARCUS: I know.
CHAREN: You know?
MARCUS: Yes because he was a really good writer.
CHAREN: Yes, he was. That’s right.
MARCUS: Mona’s a naturally better writer than I am.
CHAREN: Thank you. You are so sweet. But Ruth is smarter so it works out.
LAMB: You were in high school in Livingston, New Jersey, and your kids are now in that high school range. What would you what do they do they read?
CHAREN: You know it’s funny. This is a constant struggle in our household because, you know, I am constantly after them to read more and spend less time on the computer, but in point of fact they are reading on the computer.
Now for a long time we had this back and forth because my children would say, ”Well I am reading,” and I would say, ”Yes, but that’s the stuff you’re reading on the computer is just the stray thoughts of any, you know, people who may happen to be online.
I want you to read great literature. I don’t want you to just read any old thing.” But I have found over the years that they actually do also read literature online. I mean it’s amazing what’s out there and what they can find.
And so often, and in particular David, you know I’ll say I’ll mention a book and he’ll say, ”Yes, I read that.” And I’ll say, ”You did?” And he’ll go, ”Yes. I read it online.” I mean so it’s he’s getting it.
LAMB: Do they have any by their following like you did when you followed Nabokov?
CHAREN: Did they have ...
MARCUS: Well, we were assigned.
CHAREN: Yes, this was an assignment.
LAMB: Oh it was?
CHAREN: But David gets these. Ben to a lesser extent also, but they will get these enthusiasms for writers and then, you know, just plow through everything that writer did. David’s favorite right now is Terry Pratchett so he’s powering through everything Terry Pratchett wrote.
LAMB: He’s 15?
LAMB: And what have you got to say about this?
MARCUS: Well I’ve had a wonderful experience I have the same frustrations that Mona has. I think probably most modern parents have. My children do not read enough. I berate myself all the time that I should just crack down on their screen time even more than I do and make them sit there and read, but it is a different world.
However, this year my eighth grader has one of those English teachers that is the kind of teacher you remember for your whole life and he has introduced her to two important things. One is the craft of reading and the she just read Catcher in the Rye.
She hated it the first time, but when he started talking about it in the class and she actually reread, it she understood the value of literature and he’s also had them learn to write in a very organized and craftsman-like way with using different styles in a way that I don’t think we understood really how to write maybe until we were in high school or maybe beyond.
And I worked with her on the writing and it’s just been wonderful to watch and then my younger one is a natural born writer to the extent that I had to send I was going to brag a bit, I had to send her she wrote something so beautiful about a book they had read about the Little Rock Nine that I had to send her teacher a message and say I honestly did not write these sentences. They came out of her mouth and then she wrote them down and it’s just wonderful to see.
LAMB: One of the reasons I wanted to ask you to talk about the kids is that you hear politicians say time and time again, and they’ve done this for years, what I’m really concerned about are my grandchildren and we aren’t going to have Social Security for my grandchildren and this is a horrible country’s future for their grandchildren.
What, when you hear that, what is your reaction? And what do you say to your kids?
CHAREN: Well, I mean there are certain things I worry about for our grandchildren. There are lots of things I worry about. I worry about North Korea and, you know, that sort of thing, Iran getting a nuke. You know, there are many things to be concerned about in this world.
But I will say that, just much closer to home, my husband and I, my husband went to a private school. I went to public school. We look at the education that our children are getting in public school and, despite everything, despite all the problems they are doing things at younger ages and learning more and in a more rigorous way I think than we did.
So I don’t think ...
LAMB: They’re in the Fairfax, Virginia system?
CHAREN: Fairfax County Public Schools, yes, and, you know, my son is reading great classics of Western civilization. Again, you know, judging by the headlines you would think that no kid in America is learning the basics any more. But that isn’t true, at least in our experience it isn’t true.
And in some ways I would say certainly in math what is expected of kids in of our kids is well beyond what was expected when we were in school.
MARCUS: Or beyond what we could do.
CHAREN: Well, certainly what I could do.
MARCUS: But I think that if you look at the trajectory of both of our families from immigrants to, you know, arriving in this country, being the first generation to graduate from college, being a generation that went to graduate school, I the way we live is so much more privileged than the way our parents lived.
The way our parents lived was so much more privileged, excuse me, than the way their parents lived and I see that I mean, it has to plateau at some point. But I do worry about my children being able to maintain the standard of living that we have and certainly their children being able to maintain that. It’s a worry because of the economic situation.
LAMB: You wrote on March the 11th, I’ll read this and let Mona Charen answer you, ”The notion that President Obama has lurched to the left since his inauguration and is governing as an unreconstructed liberal is bunk.”
CHAREN: I read that.
LAMB: ”Obama,” let me read one more.
LAMB: ”Obama’s presidential agenda mirrors his campaign platform and he has diverged from it in a few areas almost entirely to the right.”
CHAREN: I completely disagree. First of all, you know, well, has he lurched? No. He was a left wing candidate and he’s a left wing president.
MARCUS: Well, I mean if you were listening during all of this, ”Oh my God. We’re so shocked.”
CHAREN: Well, though ...
MARCUS: If you were listening during the campaign ...
CHAREN: ... you know what? You know what happened is that he ran as a liberal, as a left-winger really. He was elected and then he started sending all these signals by the appointments that he made that he might actually turn out to be the second incarnation of Bill Clinton.
And so a lot of us started to get excited and think oh, this won’t be so bad. I mean he’s actually turning out to be a moderate and we had this little frisson of excitement. And then he began to hand everything over to Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid and, you know, follow their lead and so now we have I prefer to think of it as a triumvirate in charge.
And it’s about as left wing as we have seen since the New Deal. I don’t think you can think of another president who’s been this left wing? Who?
MARCUS: Well, I would say a couple words to you. Iraq. Afghanistan.
CHAREN: What about Iraq?
MARCUS: Guantanamo. I think in all of those ways he has I was just listening on C-SPAN radio as I was coming over here, to Gates testifying. I think that he, as I wrote and I defy you to find a counter example, he has governed as he said he would govern substantively, except that in situations where he’s had to make a decision, they’ve actually been to the moderate side.
CHAREN: Well, ...
MARCUS: And much to the consternation of ...
CHAREN: ... it depends on ...
MARCUS: ... the ACLU.
CHAREN: Your point depends entirely upon whether you think he ran as a left wing liberal.
MARCUS: No, I’m talking ...
CHAREN: If you think if you acknowledge he ran as a left wing liberal and he’s governing as one, then there’s really nothing more to discuss.
MARCUS: Well, I don’t think he ran I don’t think he ran as a left wing liberal. I don’t think he’s governing as one, but I think, you know, our definition of left wing liberal is probably different.
CHAREN: Cap and trade, which has rightly been characterized as cap and tax.
MARCUS: And supported by John McCain and Joe Lieberman, left wing liberal, OK keep going.
CHAREN: Well, I mean there are a lot of things that John McCain supported, which is why I mentioned earlier I was not enthusiastic about ...
MARCUS: Well, then he’s not a left wing liberal.
CHAREN: ... but I don’t but there are many issues on which he diverges from a conservative or even moderate point of view. But the president, I mean, you can tick off a million examples. Guantanamo is one of them. I mean, you know, that was hardly a move to the right.
He announces that he’s closing Guantanamo with no good idea about what he’s going to do with those people, with no acknowledgement. He does all these little, nasty little digs at his predecessor, never acknowledging that there’s a real issue here. That there’s a really complicated question; what are we going to do with these people?
MARCUS: I actually took the fact that he decided that he was going to have this review and he was going to do it within the year is an acknowledgement and I think he said it as much, that there are some very hard questions about how ...
CHAREN: But he grandstanded about how we’re, you know, we’re closing down Guantanamo and he got all the great press for the grandstanding. And then he leaves the other part, you know, the complicated part, well, we’ll have a commission to look into that later. Shh. Yea.
MARCUS: Well, the point is that in any number of areas the real left wing of the party has a lot of reason to be either unhappy or concerned about him.
CHAREN: Well, there are always going to be, you know, the flaky people on the far extremes who are not happy ...
MARCUS: Well, oh yes.
CHAREN: ... but I think for the most part ...
MARCUS: But you think he’s the flaky people on the far extreme and I’m arguing, A, that he’s not.
CHAREN: Right. I didn’t say he was flaky.
MARCUS: And, B, ...
CHAREN: Well, I said he was a left wing liberal.
MARCUS: ... that he’s doing just what he said he was going to do.
CHAREN: I didn’t say he was a flake. But anyway ...
LAMB: Both of you make your living off of the newspaper and there isn’t a day goes by we don’t read about the newspaper.
LAMB: I want to run a clip about what you were talking about talk radio back when we just talked three years ago and I’m a big listener to talk radio, left and right, and I’m amazed at how both left and right flipped on a number of things the minute the election’s over and we have a different all of a sudden what the right used to say was horrible.
The, you know you know what I’m talking about. Let’s listen to what you had to say and then we’ll get your opinions.
MARCUS: I listen to talk radio a lot as I’m driving kids from one soccer field to another, which is a big piece of my life these days, and I find it appalling both conservative talk radio and liberal talk radio, the degree to which there is just nastiness and derision and hatred and disrespect for both sides.
And I think that, look, we’re all Americans who want what’s best for our country and there are a lot of when Mona talks about affirmative action, for example, I disagree with her and we could go on for, you know, another five hours about it.
But I understand what’s she’s saying. I respect what she’s saying and I think that the concerns that she has are legitimate concerns and I think, I think, that you can see that the things that I believe are worth it are valuable ...
MARCUS: ... attributes and this absolute failure of one side to respect what the other side is saying, or even in the age of the Internet, to even ever be exposed to what the other side is saying because you go to your liberal blogs and I go to my conservative blogs and so how would you ever know what you thought?
LAMB: Mona Charen, this process has moved another three years. People lining up on you know, and really going to their side. Is that good or bad for us?
CHAREN: Well, I have mixed feelings about it because, you know, I do remember a time when there were only three networks and just a few big newspapers and the press was sort of dominated by a liberal point of view.
You didn’t have conservative voices much in evidence at all. And so I think in general it was a good thing that we had a flowering of different sources and outlets and so on and, you know, a lot of different voices are now out there.
You know, I, as a syndicated columnist I have begun to notice that every month when I get my statement about the papers that my column runs in there’s now frequently a notice saying such and such a paper has now declared bankruptcy and I apparently stand in line as one of the creditors of that ...
MARCUS: Good luck.
CHAREN: Yes, of course. They’ll owe me about 15 bucks, you know, per column. But so, you know, that seems newspapers do seem to be in their death throes and it is a little worrisome that people will get people will get news that’s just catering to their presuppositions already.
On the other hand, I don’t think, you know, I’m really not sure what the solution is to that because I didn’t think the old system where everybody listened to CBS and NBC and ABC was a good system either and so, you know, I’m really not sure whether, you know, whether there’s an answer to it.
MARCUS: I think the shrillness that I talked about three years ago has obviously gotten worse and it’s been the problem has been amplified by the disappearance of, well, not disappearance, but the decline of a media that assume arguendo left wing bias, it still was trying its best, I think, this is a conversation we’ve been having for 20, 30 years now.
Trying its best to present news in a factual unbiased way and I think that if people are only getting their news from Keith Olbermann, if people are only getting their news from Rush Limbaugh, we are going to have a dramatically and dangerously polarized and, quite honestly, ill-informed society.
I listen to probably even more talk radio now than I used to and my kids do and I’m actually really glad. They actually, especially Julia, demands it because she finds it kind of interesting. I really think it’s very important for people to be exposed to opposite points of view and not just to have their own positions reaffirmed and I don’t know where you’re going to get that.
LAMB: Mona ...
CHAREN: You should have them listen to John Batchelor.
LAMB: On Sunday nights only. He’s ...
CHAREN: Sunday nights only.
LAMB: He used to be on every night.
LAMB: You talked about liberals when we got together three years ago, just a short bit we’ll listen to.
CHAREN: I happen to think that in order to have a liberal outlook on the world you most liberals start out with the assumption that people are basically good and that it is, you know, it’s institutions that make them go bad, whereas or that ruin things, you know, back to Rousseau even.
And I think having absorbed all of that about the Holocaust I have a much more skeptical view of human nature and I actually think that people have to be trained to be good and they have to be encouraged and institutions have to help them to be good. And so that was sort of maybe an underlying emotional influence.
LAMB: What’s your reaction now?
MARCUS: Well, it’s interesting because, you know, I’m having a hard time accommodating that to sort of suspicion and revulsion almost at government and government influence, which is, you know, a major institution.
CHAREN: Well, part of being a conservative is also being grateful and having a sense of inheritance and having a sense of, you know, that what we’ve received was hard fought and didn’t just, you know, doesn’t just fall out of the sky and been that we are the inheritors of an incredibly precious thing, the American experience, the American system.
And no place else in the world enjoys such a fabulous political and cultural inheritance. I think liberals are way too quick to say let’s throw this part out and that part out and let’s pay no attention to what the actual words of the Constitution are because it’s a living document and we are wiser than the founders and we’re going to move forward into the sunlit uplands of left wing socialist ideology.
And so I worry a lot about this lack of reverence for our inheritance that I see among liberals.
MARCUS: Well I find that to be odd in general, and particularly odd coming after the Bush-Cheney administration. I mean where the, you know, the talk about rule of law and the importance of rule of law came from the left wing liberals.
CHAREN: Well, hold on.
MARCUS: I mean if you just think ...
CHAREN: You guys are in power now and you’re going to give the District of Columbia the vote, which is unconstitutional and their own Justice Department told them it was unconstitutional and they went forward anyway for political reasons.
MARCUS: Well, I have to, A, ...
CHAREN: Shredding the Constitution.
MARCUS: ... A, it hasn’t passed. B, such known liberals as Ken Starr and Viet Dinh argue that it is constitutional. We will the difference between, well, that’s going to go a little too far so I’m going to withdraw that.
But we will find out in due course and under the rules that are set out under a constitutional system. If this passes, we’ll find out whether it’s constitutional or not. It won’t be hidden away to be decided in secret by some office without any public airing whatsoever. And that’s the difference.
I just think the notion that only conservatives care about the Constitution, about tradition. Only conservations understand the special beauty and ideals of America, that’s just something I really resent is a little bit too strong of a word, but only a little bit too strong. I feel as deeply ingrained in the American tradition and appreciative of it as I know Mona does.
LAMB: You both have so much in common, both from Livingston, New Jersey, both with the background of your relatives coming from Eastern Europe or Russia, both have kids, same religion. But you differ on so much. How hard is it to continue to be friends?
MARCUS: Well it’s not that what might be hard, I think we might have had this conversation last time around. I think if we met today it might be hard for us to figure out the way to engage each other. But it’s having that sort of years of shared experience and I think I actually think that to the extent that we get each other’s under skin has nothing to do with politics because, you know, that’s what old friends do.
CHAREN: I think that’s probably right.
LAMB: But I mean we know, we did talk about some of this last time, we know that people sometimes in this town when they’re on different sides of the fence can’t talk to each other. And in other parts of the country, I mean it’s not just here.
CHAREN: Well Ruth and I can talk to each other. We just can’t talk to one another’s friends.
LAMB: Is that true?
CHAREN: When I went to Ruth’s wedding and I looked around at some of the people I thought, ”Oh, there’s so-and-so and there’s that one who I thought was so just awful during the Clarence Thomas hearings and so on.” And I just grit my teeth and smiled and, you know, off we go.
LAMB: Do you have the same reaction?
MARCUS: No, but I’m a much more tolerant person.
LAMB: So you wrote on March the 27th, ”One of President Obama’s signature boasts was that his election would, to use his term, ’reboot’ America’s image in the world.
Addressing thousands West Germans last summer Obama quote, ’In Europe the view that America’s part of what has gone wrong in our world rather than a force to help make it right has become all too common ...’ It’s ”His election,” you wrote, ”he promised would transform America’s global image.”
LAMB: Has he done it?
CHAREN: No, he wowed them over in Europe. You know, he got big crowds and our press certainly hyperventilated over the newest incarnation of Jack and Jackie Kennedy. But if you look at it substantively, what did Obama achieve? Nothing.
He asked for big stimulus plans out of the Europeans like the one that was passed here. They said, ”Absolutely not.” They had, by the way, good reasons for saying that and I think they did the right thing for themselves. I wish we hadn’t passed our stimulus plan.
But anyway they said, ”No,” they rebuffed him. He asked for more troops for Afghanistan. They said, ”My, you know you’re a really wonderful, charismatic fellow and we’re so delighted that you’re president of the United States, no. No more troops for Afghanistan.” So I’m not so sure that it’s really had that much substantive effective, this great new image.
MARCUS: Well I actually do tend to agree, though I think that the question you originally raised, reboot America’s image in the world, I think that clearly has happened. I think that is clearly to the good. I agree with Mona that the coverage of this trip has been hyperventilating, both in the European press and the U.S. press.
And I agree also that the substantive achievements everybody is so interested in talking about, was it a breach of protocol to touch the queen? Or why did he give the queen an iPod? That they haven’t really focused on the substance.
But I think, while I agree that it is hyperventilating and I think that both the conversation about when people are saying the president is doing a terrible job it’s over-exaggerated, especially in this age of nonstop cable and nonstop blogging.
And when they say he’s saying he’s doing a wonderful job, it’s over-exaggerated as this one was. Nonetheless, I do think there is a lot of image repairing in the world to do and that is a good thing that the president is doing it.
LAMB: Why should we care about what this business of touching the queen?
CHAREN: Oh you’ve asked the wrong person. I’m a small r republican, small d democrat, you know. I, I do not have any truck with royalty whatsoever. I was really upset that Obama bowed from the waist to the king of Saudi Arabia. That was much more offensive than touching the queen. Touching the queen’s not offensive.
MARCUS: I thought I read that President Bush did the same.
CHAREN: No, President Bush held hands with the president with the king of Saudi Arabia
MARCUS: right, both
which was bad enough, but this bowing from the, I never saw Bush do that. But if he did I would be horrified as I am that Obama did it.
I cannot imagine what he was thinking. Why would an American president bow from the waist, a really deep bow, to the president of Saudi Arabia? To the king, sorry.
LAMB: Why would an American president hold hands with the king of Saudi Arabia?
CHAREN: A good question, I don’t know the answer. I don’t know what happens to these guys when they get into the White House that they suddenly begin to truckle to these little potentates who happen to have oil under the ground.
MARCUS: I actually am not up on my bowing story but I did see things that oh, you know, they all bow and the hand-holding, whatever. There are a lot more important things going on in the world. And if it takes a little hand- holding to make some diplomatic, you know, the hand-holding is different for them than it is for us I can live with some hand-holding.
LAMB: We’re about out of time. We have just a minute of talking about what you expected for your kids when we were together last time.
MARCUS: Make sure you make space for some fun in your life. But also if you want to be a writer it means you have to write and also means you have to read and you have to build up. And so ...
CHAREN: Building up can I just interject something on that subject because I do find when I talk to younger people that this is one thing they’re not they don’t seem to be as willing to do as we were, which is I was willing to just get my foot in the door and do whatever I had to do to just be at the place I wanted to be.
And National Review, you know, paid me $10,000 a year for that job and, you know, I had to live with two other women in a one-bedroom apartment and so on. But it was I knew that was a great opportunity even though there was a very limited financial reward.
I hope people realize that it’s worth it. That you have to, you know, make that sort of an investment.
LAMB: Are you telling your two girls to do things differently than you did? And if you are, what are you telling them, when you were their age?
MARCUS: Well I’m not necessarily telling them everything that I did, which is one thing. I actually don’t have a lot of regrets about the way I did things. I studied hard. I worked hard. I was, they like to think I was a complete dweeb. And it, well they may have some, there be some truth to that, but it’s also in my interest to let them think that. I want them to understand how to be productive, contributing members of society.
LAMB: Same question to you.
CHAREN: Oh basically the same answer, I want them first and foremost to be good, good human beings and have good hearts and good values. And then to be good citizens and have fulfilling lives and do, work very hard. I hope they understand that you have to work very hard to be a success and I hope ...
MARCUS: And have grandchildren.
CHAREN: ... and have grandchildren, very important.
LAMB: Neither one of you practice law, would you go to law school again?
MARCUS: In a heartbeat. I, it was a terrific intellectual experience for me. And I learned a lot about how to think.
LAMB: You were Harvard law. What was your undergrad?
LAMB: And you were George Washington Law, what was yours, your undergrad was Barnard College, Columbia?
LAMB: Would you get a law degree again?
CHAREN: I wouldn’t, not me. No, I hated it. I don’t think it was worth my time. It was a very expensive three years, financially and in lots of other ways. No, I would have done something else.
LAMB: Well on that note, Mona Charen and Ruth Marcus, we thank you very much.
MARCUS: Do we get to come back in three years?