Q&A with Mark Levin: Obama’s Destructive Vision
May 5, 2009 - 11:58 PMBestselling author Mark Levin discusses why he believes President Obama's vision of 'change' is destructive and contrary to America's founding principles.
Since then, “Liberty and Tyranny” has remained continuously at or near the top of the New York Times Best-seller list. So far, it has spent 15 straight weeks on the list, including 12 weeks as No. 1 on the list. The three weeks “Liberty and Tyranny” was not the No. 1 best seller, it was No. 2.]
(CNSNews.com) - Mark Levin’s “Liberty and Tyranny” debuted as No. 1 on the New York Times Bestseller list and has retained that position for five straight weeks.
In the book, Levin explains his understanding of American conservatism.
In an interview with CNSNews.com, he discussed why he believes President Obama’s vision of “change” is destructive and contrary to America’s founding principles and why conservatives must reacquaint themselves with those principles and recommit themselves to the cause of individual liberty.
Terry Jeffrey: Welcome to Online with Terry Jeffrey. Our guest for this episode is best-selling author and radio host Mark Levin. Mark, a Pennsylvanian, earned his undergraduate and law degrees at Temple University. He served President Reagan in a number of capacities, including associate director of presidential personnel and as chief-of-staff to Attorney General Ed Meese.
He is president of the Landmark Legal Foundation and host of the highly popular Mark Levin Show, nationally syndicated by ABC. This show has been ranked No. 1 in its timeslot in New York, Chicago, Detroit, Dallas, and Washington, D.C. Mark is also the author of three best-selling books. These include “Men in Black: How the Supreme Court is Destroying America;” “Rescuing Sprite: A Dog-lover’s Story of Joy and Anguish;” and his latest “Liberty and Tyranny: A Conservative Manifesto.”
“Liberty and Tyranny” debuted No. 1 on the New York Times Best-seller List, and has retained that lofty position for four straight weeks. Congratulations, Mark.
Mark Levin: Thank you, sir. Appreciate it.
Jeffrey: Well done.
Levin: Thank you.
Jeffrey: And well deserved. I’m going to throw a quote at you from your book.
Levin: All right.
Jeffrey: “For Edmund Burke, change as reform was intended to preserve and improve the basic institutions of the state. Change as innovation was destructive as a radical departure from the past and the substitution of existing institutions of the state with potentially dangerous experiments. … The Conservative believes, as Burke and the Founders did, that prudence must be exercised in assessing change. Prudence is the highest virtue for it is judgment drawn on wisdom. The proposed change should be informed by the experience, knowledge, and traditions of society, tailored for a specific purpose, and accomplished through a constitutional construct that ensures thoughtful deliberation by the community.”
Now, President Obama was elected more or less on a platform of change, and it’s become one of the catch phrases of his administration. Do you see the major proposals of the Obama administration for change in the Burkean tradition of reform or in the radical tradition of innovation?Levin: I see them in the Marxist tradition of innovation, quote unquote. And Burke would be disgusted, and Adam Smith would be disgusted, and the Founding Fathers would be disgusted because what Burke rejected was the French Revolution, which was an assault on the institutions of French society as opposed to a righteous revolution, he felt.
Jeffrey: Quite different from our own.
Levin: Quite different from our own. He supported the American Revolution, which was tough for him because he was also a royalist. But no, we conservatives don’t oppose change. I mean, after all there’s a lot in this society we’d like to change, given what the statists have been doing to it.
Jeffrey: But that kind of change would be moving us back closer to our original principles.
Levin: Exactly. The goal is to preserve and improve our society, not to destroy it, not to transform it into something that’s foreign, not to spread misery, not to address the grievance of every malcontent. No, the purpose is to improve our society. So we support change as reform as opposed to change as innovation or change as destruction.Jeffrey: Right, and you believe Obama is actually trying to effect a little mini-French Revolution right here in the United States?
Levin: Well, they can’t have it both ways, the Obama administration. Aren’t they telling us that? They want to change the way the automobile industry works. They want to change the way the energy industry works. They want to change the way the health care system works. They want to decide who gets paid what. They want to decide who gets rewarded, who gets punished, who gets rights, who doesn’t get rights. I’m accepting them at face value and putting a label on it.
Jeffrey: All of this out of the centralized government here in Washington, D.C.
Levin: Of course.Jeffrey: Now, you talk in this book about an originalist interpretation of the Constitution, Mark. You say, “The Conservative is an originalist, for he believes that much like a contract, the Constitution sets forth certain terms and conditions for governing that hold the same meaning today as they did yesterday and should tomorrow. It connects one generation to the next by restraining the present generation from societal experimentation and government excess. There really is no other standard by which the Constitution can be interpreted without abandoning its underlying principles altogether.”
Now, in “Men in Black,” you talked about how the Supreme Court has basically been destroying the Constitution by interpreting it in a way that is not at all connected to the original interpretation.
But isn’t it true that the legislative branches and the executive branch do the exact same thing, and it’s been done not just by Democrats but also by Republicans? For example, President Bush, when he was in office, he pushed for the Medicare Prescription Drug Program. Can that in any way be justified in terms of the originalist interpretation of the Constitution?
Levin: No, it can’t. But, you know, at least we, the people, can do something about it by the next election cycle--changing our government, the representative part of our government. The problem with the judiciary is you have people that serve for life and act like politicians. And since it’s turned out that they have the final say, not that the Constitution gives them the final say, but they have seized the final say in our system, that’s the problem.
So if you have nine justices, really if you have five justices who decide that terrorists have due process rights for the first time in American history, reversing a decision they made in 1950 in another case, when these terrorists are held overseas, well, how do you change that? You can’t change that anymore under our system. So what’s happened is the judiciary seized authority that does not belong to it, the other branches have acquiesced to this authority.
But there’s no question, the federal government as a whole violates the Constitution on a regular basis. They conspire--and I don’t mean this in a devious way, I mean it out in the open, brazenly--against the individual, they conspire against the states, they conspire to skirt their constitutional limits.
And I also say in the book that the statist, or the leftist, likes it that way. He likes the court being as powerful as it is, or the bureaucracy being as powerful as it is, because it institutionalizes their philosophy and no election can reverse it.Jeffrey: Right, and moves it away from the representative process.
Levin: From the people, yeah.
Jeffrey: It’s interesting, I interviewed Judge Bork a few months ago and I asked him: Did he believe Medicare and Social Security were constitutional? And he said, no, they’re not constitutional. But he argued that it’s politically impossible to go back and reverse that now, even though they were created by the legislature with the president. They’ve been in place so long that it’s just practically impossible to reverse them.
Levin: Well, they’re going to be reversed, because they’re going to collapse. We’re talking Medicare, Medicaid and Society Security, over $50 trillion in unfunded obligations that are growing by several trillion dollars every year. On top of that, it appears we’re going to get national health care. So they’re going to get reversed. It may not be done politically, but it will be done economically because the laws of economics speak to a higher authority.
Jeffrey: So you talk in “Liberty & Tyranny” about this $53 trillion in unfunded liabilities we have in these welfare-state dependency programs that President Bush added to with Medicare Prescription Drug Plan. President Obama wants to add to it in form some sort of national health care plan.
Levin: Right.Jeffrey: So you say we have an electorate, Mark, that doesn’t want to reform these things or get rid of them. I mean, don’t we face a very big crisis that’s political as well as fiscal?
Levin: Here’s the problem. You know, Ronald Reagan built a pretty darn good foundation with conservative principles. Was it perfect? No. But it was the most perfect in my lifetime. And you would expect the next Republican president and Republican presidents subsequent to them to build on that foundation.
They didn’t. They lurched back to FDR New Dealism and Great Society. And for some reason, Republicans seem to think they don’t have the ability to slowly explain things to the American people and reverse course. They do, but they won’t because it’s hard work. It’s easier to go along.
Of course you can’t abolish Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid even though they will be abolished one day by their own weight. There’s no question about it in my mind. But what you can do is introduce some real reforms that slowly unravel them in the sense that people who really don’t need them shouldn’t get them. There should be limits on them. There should be private aspects to them.
Look, the statist knows exactly what he’s doing. I explain in the book why Social Security was created the way it was created. As opposed to a welfare program for poor people, FDR wanted to imprison everybody in the system. Lyndon Johnson wanted to use that trust fund for general obligations. This is all intended to build a political base, so if anybody dares to question these entitlements, they’ll be defeated. What we have to do is explain to the next generation: Do you understand that these programs are broke? Do you understand that you owe all this money? And explain it in a way that’s understandable.
Jeffrey: Right, in Social Security they created a welfare-state program that goes to middle-class people.
Levin: And that’s the purpose of national health care, is to suck everybody in, to make them to believe they’re getting something for nothing, when in fact what they’re getting is rationing.Jeffrey: You get national health care--you already have Social Security which makes retired people, elderly people, dependent on the government. You have national health care that gets everybody, not just people on Medicare/Medicaid, dependent on the government for health care. And, essentially, a government-run school system for the majority of people. The sectors of our life that are controlled and dominated by the government are growing.
Levin: This is intentional. And that’s why, at this point, if we’re not going to stand up to it as conservatives, we’re not going to be confident in our principles, if we’re not going to do the things we have to do, which includes speaking out about our principles--You know, I’m constantly told, “Well, we can’t win that way.” You know, the last president to win landslides was Ronald Reagan, the most conservative president in my lifetime. And they said he couldn’t win either, and he actually did take a chunk out of Social Security even though--
Jeffrey: The liberal media said he couldn’t win.
Levin: The liberal media said he couldn’t win. Even a lot of Republicans said he couldn’t win.
Jeffrey: One of the things I find unique about your book, and also about your radio program, is you’ re one of the few conservatives who will directly attack FDR and the New Deal, and describe exactly what it was that FDR--Why have so many Republicans basically made peace with FDR and the New Deal?
Levin: Well, even the books that criticize FDR are careful not to criticize him too hard. Because it’s harder to step back and discuss with your constituents, if you’re a politician, why certain programs they like and may think they benefit from but which will undermine our society in the long run, are not the greatest programs ever created.
There is no Social Security program. There is no trust fund. It is a hoax. Milton Friedman spoke about it and wrote about it at length. Many people have. There is no trust fund. As a matter of fact, as of February, even the fake trust fund that they say exists just went negative. So, even the illusion is an illusion. And that’s intentional. And Medicare is a hybrid of a phony insurance program and a welfare program. Medicaid now consumes over 20 percent of every state’s budget, so states have very little room to operate as well.Jeffrey: So we’re looking at a situation 10, 15 years down the road, when the deficit driven by sustaining these programs, Medicare and Social Security not to mention a possible national health care plan that Obama may create, is so big it’s impossible for the government not to deal with it.
Levin: My fear is the way the government will deal with it is to claim more private property and liberty. And in some ways, when I say enslave, I don’t mean in terms of a Gulag, but enslave the next generation by limiting their freedom and limiting their opportunities.
Jeffrey: Well, this is something that I think conservatives have to think through strategically, that Americans have to start thinking about. There’s this $53 trillion already that the government has promised to pay people in benefits, that we don’t have the tax revenue under the current system to pay for.
Levin: And never will.
Jeffrey: It’s fiscally impossible to maintain an economy. But when this crisis hits, the government is going to want to go and get revenue to cover that as it progresses. Where are they going to get it?
Levin: They’re not going to have any revenue to get. And they can print all the money they want and create a Weimar Republic if they want. Every avenue they take is anti-liberty, anti-constitutional. They’re going to become more and more desperate. And what’s really going to happen is they’re going to seize much more authority and ration wealth, and the people who think Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid are so great, there will be no Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid.
Jeffrey: Because the real-life situation is, you’ll have Baby Boom Generation on Social Security and Medicare, sucking in the government revenue, and the government will not be able to pay the benefits that it has promised to these folks unless they take 40, 50 percent of the income of middle-class, middle-aged people to cover those benefits.
Levin: What the government will do is break all of its promises. What the government will do is say, “We’re changing age limits, we’re changing benefits, we’re changing how this thing is funded.”
Jeffrey: We’re taking away your health-care benefits when you’re 70 years old.
Levin: We’re taking away whatever we have to take away. This is how authoritarianism works. If you look in Britain today--and I wish we would more often--or Canada for that matter, they have a complete rationing system in their health care. And the costly drugs and the costly procedures are delayed and delayed and delayed because they’re hoping a significant portion of the population will die before they have to pay for them, or go somewhere else.
I try to explain in this book in many ways that it’s conservatism that is compassionate, that it’s conservatism that nurtures liberty, that it’s conservatism that is the only anecdote to tyranny--whether it’s a soft tyranny or a hard tyranny--that what these other people are preaching is something that cannot work, has never worked in human history, and relies on a lie about some kind of a utopianism that can be created on Earth which simply can’t be.
Jeffrey: Is the question when we get to the tipping point? If the conservative vision of America is individuals and their families taking care of themselves. They earn their own money. They educate their own kids. They pay for their own housing. They pay for their own food. They pay for their own retirement. They’re self-sufficient. The liberal vision is the government takes care of many of those things, and, as you said, that’s fiscally unsustainable.
Levin: The liberal vision is, to be even more precise, that the individual needs to be controlled, that his aspirations need to be limited, that he has to learn to get along and go along. And that if that means dispiriting the individual, if that means economic or other forms or repression, then so be it for the good of the general society. And that a handful of individuals, self-appointed, who assume power one way or another, they will make the decisions for all the rest of us. In one form or another, that’s what the statist believes.
Now, they may unwittingly advance the case of tyranny in some cases, but at this point, given human history, given all we know about it, given all we know about statism, I have to question that.
Jeffrey: Well, Mark, if there’s theoretically a tipping point, where a number of people in the population are so dependent on the government that they are essentially a captive electorate for the left, for the liberals, how do conservatives reach out and persuade those folks on the margin to come back into the land of individual responsibility and self-reliance?
Levin: It’s the folks on the margins we need to go after.
Jeffrey: How do we do it?
Levin: The others are a hopeless case. The one-third, the 35 or 40 percent, we’re never going to get them. Well first of all, we, the conservative, need to be confident in who we are. We need to understand our philosophy beyond the superficial.
When I started this book, “Liberty & Tyranny,” I could have written one of these talking-point books, but I said, “You know, let me challenge myself. Why do I think the way I think? Why am I a conservative? What does it mean to be a conservative? And I went back, again, and I read the classics. I went into Plato and Aristotle and Cicero and Montesquieu and Locke, and more forward, Burke, and Adam Smith, and then the Founding Fathers. When you do that, which most people won’t do because they don’t have the time or the inclination to it, you come to an obvious conclusion that the only humane system that can possibly work is one that’s based on the conservative philosophy.
And what is the conservative philosophy? That’s the point of the book. The conservative philosophy, generally speaking, is the creation of a civil society with the focus on the individual, but not exclusively. Where the individual is responsible for his family and himself, where he has a duty to his community, where what he earns through his own labor--because remember, we’re only here so long on the face of the Earth, and that labor, whether it’s intellectual or physical or both, if somebody takes it from you, they’re enslaving you, it’s for an illegitimate purpose.
And there is a moral order. You know, it’s interesting. Adam Smith, who’s the hero of libertarians and one of my heroes, believed in a moral order, was a religious man. He and Edmund Burke, considered the father of modern conservatism--Burke, the conservative today, Smith, the libertarian today--they were friends and they didn’t think they disagreed on anything, these two guys. You know, they had an overlapping philosophy.
We conservatives wake up every morning and we thank God we’re in America. We thank God for our system of government. We thank God for this society. It is a magnificent place where we are. History has never seen this before. It is a contribution to mankind. We Americans, when we do what we do. We need to instill this spirit, this view of America, in the population or the population that may be receptive to it, because the other side has as their goal to dispirit, to demoralize, to tear down, to trash.
Jeffrey: Now, you do an excellent job in “Liberty & Tyranny,” Mark, in explaining these basic founding principles of the United States and how they articulate themselves in various different issue areas that we talked about. And your book is doing tremendously well: Four weeks at the top of the New York Times Bestseller list. I think you told me more than 900,000 copies--
Levin: Printed, half of a million sold, and we’re still pressing ahead, baby.
Jeffrey: But obviously these are adults who are buying your book.
Levin: We don’t know who is. They’re not children, we know that.
Jeffrey: We know they’re not kids. But is it--our schools are not teaching the founding principles of the United States to kids in kindergarten, first and second grade, let alone in high school or college. Do you think the liberals, the left in America, does not want young people coming up in America to learn these principles and to embrace them as they grow?
Levin: Here’s the thing. First of all, it’s my responsibility and your responsibility as fathers to make sure our children know why this is a great country. There’s no teacher, there’s no union member, there’s no administrator in any government school system who can do a better job of explaining it than you and me to our own kids at the breakfast table, the dinner table, when we put them to sleep, when we take them somewhere. This we must do, because if we do it there are tens of millions of us, and we are a bigger army than ACORN and the NEA.
Now, as to your question: The motives? We’ve litigated against the NEA now here in Landmark Legal Foundation for over a decade. They are a far-left, power-hungry organization. And that’s what comes first, second and third for them. Okay. If they cared about the children, they wouldn’t be promoting what they promote. For instance, you have teacher strikes in the states that allow them and cities that allow them. It’s absolutely outrageous. So, and I’m talking about the rule, not the exception, because of course we know that there are many good teachers. My wife was a teacher, my mother was a teacher. That’s quite beside the point.
Jeffrey: But they have a vision for what they want your child to grow up to be.
Levin: They want our children to be good soldiers of the bureaucracy.Jeffrey: Right. It’s one thing for you and me to raise our kids to have our understanding of what the American founding principles are like. And if they are in one of those schools to fight some of their teachers, to fight the school bureaucracy, to fight the overall agenda of the school. Isn’t it quite another thing for immigrant kids, or kids coming out of families where their parents may not be as well-educated or not as focused on teaching those things, to ever in fact come in contact with these principles?
Levin: It’s a disaster. It’s a disaster, because first of all, if we are not insisting on immigrant kids learning English, they can’t possibly understand the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution. We have people who understand English who don’t understand them today and refuse to understand them because they talk about living and breathing documents. When we say originalism--look at the words and try and relate them back to our history--if you don’t understand English, where the words can be debated, and you’re speaking in Spanish or something, you’re never going to get it. And the other problem is, how do you enter into contracts, how do you make something of yourself? And, of course, the Balkanization issue is real and it is a huge problem.
Look, here’s the problem. You and I know that at every level we’re under attack. We know the next shoe to drop is to create citizenship for illegal aliens and to open the borders to more because they want to change the demography and they want to change the electorate. We know this.
We know what they want to do with national health care. It’s not about making sure people have health care. You know, just because you have a health care policy, doesn’t mean you actually get health care, timely and in quality. No, it’s to secure as many drone-like citizens as you possibly can.
We know what they’re up to, and at bottom, what I’m saying is, we have to reacquaint ourselves with why we are a great nation, with who we are, with our founding, with our history, and what it is that makes humanity prosper and flourish. Everything Obama does counteracts that. Everything that this Congress is doing counteracts that. And people will be motivated and they’ll have a desire to really change things if they can really connect with it, and that’s the point of the book.
Jeffrey: Mark, in your book you point to a uniting principle that has been an American principle since the beginning. You say, “If man is ‘endowed by [the] Creator with certain inalienable rights,’ he is endowed with these rights no matter his religion or whether he has allegiance to any religion. It is Natural Law, divined by God and discoverable by reason, that prescribes the inalienability of the most fundamental and eternal human rights—rights that are not conferred on man by man and, therefore, cannot legitimately be denied to man by man. It is the divine nature of Natural Law that makes permanent man’s right to ‘Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.’”
Doesn’t this principle, and that fact that it is in fact true, give us an opportunity to reach out and proselytize to the immigrant community that’s come into the United States, to some of the people that are on the margin of wondering whether they’re going to go into the dependent class or into the class of self-reliant people?
Levin: I think it is. The problem we have now, though, is assimilation rarely happens. We have a government that’s opposed to it, that promotes the opposite: multiculturalism, bilingualism, dual citizenship. We now have corporations that promote both English and Spanish and we have a government school system that does the same thing. So we’re basically a bilingual nation now.
Jeffrey: And this principle can’t be taught in our public schools.
Levin: This principle can be taught in our public schools not as it is meant to be, but as sort of an arcane thought that the founders may have had--and of course they were slave owners so why pay attention to them anyway?Jeffrey: If, ultimately, the reason the state cannot deprive us of our rights is because the state didn’t give us those rights, God gave us those rights, and a public school cannot even teach a child that there is a God from whom he got those rights, then a public school cannot teach the basic founding principle of the United States.
Levin: No. You have to do it, and I have to do it, and every parent and grandparent have to do it. Look, we are not going to change these government schools overnight. This I know as a matter of personal experience in litigation. We have to take it upon ourselves. We’ve had a counterrevolution in this country--a very successful counterrevolution, the intellectual basis of which goes back to the early 1900s, the effectuating of it started with FDR and the New Deal. It’s a counterrevolution to the American Revolution. Now we need a counter-counterrevolution, and one of the things I say is that we conservatives have to increase our numbers. That’s the purpose of a book like this, and hopefully other books that follow, and parents and grandparents talking to their children, and getting serious about the country and the future for the next generation.
Politics has consequences. It’s not just a sport to observe. People need to realize that right now we have a runaway government--and I mean every branch of it, the elected and the unelected--and the only way we’re going to stop this is if the next generation understands and is informed. And you’re not going to get it from an NEA member in a school system. If you do, it’ll be the rare, tenured teacher who does it. It’s going to have to come from you, and we can do this.
I mean, there’s still tens of millions of us who understand how wonderful this country is and believe in free markets, private property, faith and these other things. We can do this. You know, everybody can’t home school their kids, but there is a form of home schooling everybody can do. Those kids do come home, and they belong to us, and let’s do it.
Jeffrey: And they can read “Liberty & Tyranny,” the No. 1 New York Times Best-seller by Mark Levin. Mark, thank you very much.
Levin: Thank you brother, pleasure.