Just read an excerpt from your new book.
I enjoyed it, but this is almost certainly not true!
When Jamie complained that none was a bona fide conservative, I asked him to define “conservative” for me.
“Small government,” he said.
“That’s it?” I asked.
But it is a fun caricature.
Look forward to reading the whole book—when I learn to read.
I’m confident you will learn to read and soon.
PLUS, I stand by every word…
It just doesn’t sound like me! I’m sure I would have at least dropped some Burke. At least it allowed you to make your silly Somalia point, though I must admit I expected something more original. That is a standard liberal talking point these days.
Are you going to be in DC? We could do a video interview for the site.
Also, Matt Labash isn’t a young Daily Caller writer! He is a super talented and widely respected long-form journalist for The Weekly Standard. You should read his book of essays. You would probably enjoy it.
DC for sure.
I’m at Busboys and Poets, Poetry and Prose and Red Emma’s…Come and talk.
Let’s try to do a video interview when you are in town. In the meantime, would you be up for an email interview? I’ll send you 10 questions to answer and return. Work for you?
Or better yet, we can do it one question at a time, so it is will be more conversational in tone. Let me know if you’re up for it.
Sure. Fine. Maybe you’ll come to your senses.
By the way, one of your elders, Dinesh D, is going to publicly debate me early in the new year.
Fantastic. Let’s start here. You are often labeled a “domestic terrorist.” Do you reject the label? Do you embrace it?
In order to be entirely clear, and in order to at least start on the same page, what is your definition of terrorism???
I think the use of force by non-state actors in order to achieve political goals is a pretty good definition. But it doesn’t really matter how I define it. I am wondering what you think of the term and whether you think it is fairly applied to you?
Of course your definition matters.
In fact, let’s stipulate now that whatever dialogue you and I engage in, including the above from today, will be in the published interview in full. Can you agree to that? Oh, and I will do the same: the whole thread or nothing in each of our published versions.
Sure. But I am not looking to engage in a debate. I am interested in conducting an interview. You’re the star here. So let’s start again with my first question. You are often labeled a “domestic terrorist.” Do you reject the label? Do you embrace it?
No, no…You are the star, and a good interview usually goes beyond the boring Q and A into a real exchange.
So I will go forward now, since you agreed that all will be published or none. And I will get to your question directly.
As in your response to the question I asked you at dinner concerning your definition of CONSERVATIVE in which you said, “Small government,” (Yes, you did!) your definition of terrorism—”the use of force by non-state actors in order to achieve political goals”—is overly broad, anemic, and simple-minded. By your definition the revolutionaries who carried out the Boston Tea Party were terrorists, as were the Founding Fathers, all the creators of both Israel and the new South Africa, Harriett Tubman, Cesar Chavez, the Freedom Riders, and, yes, Martin Luther King, Jr. who said in several speeches that he was mobilizing the force of the down-trodden to make a revolution.
If you’re sticking to that definition, fine, but it’s fine as well to modify in order to be more precise about what you mean. I’ll get to your question directly.
As you know, I don’t think that is what I said at the dinner. It doesn’t sound like me. But that’s beside the point. I’m asking as a simple question. I’ll ask one more time and then move on because I don’t want to get stuck on it. You are often labeled a “domestic terrorist.” Do you reject the label? Do you embrace it?
I reject it entirely.
What do you say to John Murtagh, who blames the Weather Underground for a bombing that almost took his family’s life when he was a child? Do you accept responsibility for that attack? Will you apologize to Murtagh?
I have no responsibility and can’t apologize for it because I had nothing to do with it.
I know I know, it’s one of your favorite minor tropes—dishonest to the core—and I’m sure you can find many more bubbling in the fever swamps of the Looney Tune Right: Will you apologize for this or that, or this one over here? And like the man in the joke who says, “But I don’t beat my wife,” the response will surely be, “So you’re still not sorry?”
Another word on your preposterous definition of terrorism:
Nicholas Lemann reviewed the current scholarship on terrorism in the April 26, 2010 New Yorker and becomes immediately muddled when he attempts to answer the most basic and straightforward question: What is terrorism, anyway? The expert consensus, according to Lemann, includes a few common traits: terrorists have political or ideological objectives, and they intend to spread fear and panic as they intimidate an audience larger than their immediate victims, already better than your weak-assed definition. But then he veers off track: terrorists are non-state actors, he claims, just as you do, which exempts Russia’s brutality in Chechnya, Iraq’s crushing of the Kurds, Sherman’s march to the sea, [the British RAF fire-bombing of over 130 German cities], [Hiroshima and Nagasaki], and countless other horrors and atrocities throughout history designed to cause terror for a political goal. Terrorists, he continues, target ordinary citizens, or, when they kill soldiers, their attacks don’t take place on the field of battle. That’s a convenient tautology: if any conventional government decides to pound a village to dust, it’s a field of battle; if a villager kills a soldier in the exact same spot a day before the invasion commences, that’s terrorism. Terrorism, according to Webster’s, is “a mode of governing, or of opposing a government, by intimidation.” That definition has the virtue of consistency and fairness; it focuses on the use of coercive violence, whether committed by a religious cult, a political sect, a group of zealots, or the state itself.
We can’t all be level-headed moderates like you, Bill. What is the rightwing loony trope you are referring to? That the Weather Underground bombed buildings? I think that’s called a fact. I don’t think we need to get into a debate on terrorism. But government’s can commit crimes and holocausts that are every bit as bad as what we define as terrorism—or, in many cases, worse. It just might not be classified as “terrorism.” Don’t be simplistic.
But let’s move to President Obama. I imagine you are not a big fan of the president’s foreign policy, particularly his use of drones. Do you believe he is a war criminal who should go to prison for the rest of his life?
First, stop the name calling! How offensive: I’m no level-headed moderate!
And the trope I referred to is an old and worn trick: Investigator, “Are you sorry you beat your wife?” Husband, “But I don’t beat my wife!” Investigator, “So you’re still not sorry!”
On “terrorism,” you don’t think we need to get into a debate (or a dialogue?). Sorry, but we’re already in a discussion about it, and the more I reflect on your definition the weirder it seems to me. Any reconsideration? To you, the Syrian opposition is a terrorist outfit, right? And the Chinese workers in Hunan who seized a factory and smashed the machines? And the residents of the Warsaw ghetto? The youth in Tahrir Square, and the generals who took out the Muslim Brotherhood? Oh, and now that Palestine is a recognized state and no longer a “non-state actor” any sanctioned act by that state against a neighboring state may be terrible but it escapes the awful label of terrorism, right?
If you stick to it, I’m sure, as with your definition of “conservative” it makes your life much simpler—none of the messiness of actual thought in a real world. Rather a kind of comfortable connect-the-dots exercise with bits of received wisdom strung together in a strict ideological frame.
On to your question: as I mentioned to you at our dinner, I’m a prison abolitionist and believe that caging our fellow human beings is an atrocity and a stain on society. Further, mass incarceration is as defining a feature of our times as slavery was in 19th Century America. There are hundreds of alternatives to prison, and those of us who believe in a just and humane future work to develop those options.
So, no, the president should not go to jail for the rest of his life.
Now it’s my turn: Do you think Henry Kissinger should be given a pail and a shovel and asked to walk the length and breadth of Viet Nam digging up the remaining unexploded ordnance? Or do you think Bush and Cheney and Rice and Rumsfeld and Powell should be put on a desert island and asked to resolve their differences and come up with their collective accounting of how they marched the US into two costly and catastrophic wars?
Bill, you’re the one with the book out. The public is dying to know your thoughts. You evaded my questions. One more time. 1.) Do you believe President Obama is a war criminal? 2.) If he is, what should happen to him if you don’t believe in prison?
You spoke to the “public” and they are “dying to know?” OMG, I had no idea of the power of YOU!
So, you won’t answer my questions? You defined terrorism earlier, why now the stone wall? Is TC pulling your leash?
We stipulated at the start that we would publish the whole thread or nothing at all, and in spite of your awesomeness, I have questions for you too. In a conversation, all parties speak.
Your turn now, then mine.
And yes, this too is part of the thread.
Everything will be published, even the part about Tucker being my puppet master. But this is an interview. If people think my definition of terrorism is stupid, so be it. But I am genuinely interested in whether you think Barack Obama is a war criminal? For the record, I don’t. But considering your past “activism,” I imagine you might. And if you indeed do think he is a war criminal, what should happen to him and other war criminals since you don’t believe in prison?
Tucker? How did he get into it?
Anyway have you read PUBLIC ENEMY?
And will you answer the questions?
It’s like pulling teeth to get you to answer questions, Bill! You referred to TC pulling my leash. I assumed by TC you meant Tucker. I haven’t read Public Enemy. My definition of terrorism is on the record, along with your refutation. I would add to my definition the use of force against civilians. But to answer your last question: I don’t think Obama is a war criminal and I don’t think Bush was a war criminal so I don’t think they should be punished for anything. But for the love of all that is holy Bill, let’s answer the damn questions: 1.) Do you believe President Obama is a war criminal? 2.) If he is, what should happen to him if you don’t believe in prison?
You didn’t answer my questions about Kissinger, or the desert island.
And if you read PUBLIC ENEMY—any self-respecting working interviewer would at least read the book that is the putative point of the so-called interview—you would find the answers to most of your questions.
On this question of war criminals, what is your definition or understanding of war crimes? I mean are there actions that are war crimes regardless of the actor, or does it always depend on who does the deed?
I guess I am not a self-respecting interviewer. I accept all the insults you want to hurl at me. Just please answer the questions! Is President Obama a war criminal, as you define it? And if he is, what should happen to him since you don’t believe in jail? If you don’t want to answer the question, say so, and we can move on.
No no—I write about it…and happy to expand, but search for it first.
And also, answer the questions I asked about war crimes so we can see if we are talking about something similar. Your definitions of “conservative” and “terrorism” were illuminating if a bit sad. How about “war crimes?”
Sheesh! Getting you to answer the simplest thing is like pulling teeth!
This is not a research project, Bill. This is an interview. You asked me to review your book and we agreed instead to do it this way. Should we continue or do you want to back out? If you want to continue, then you are going to have to actually answer questions. Let me know.
In point of fact, you asked me to review it first, Bill. We have an email chain. That’s pretty easy to discover. Email 2—your reply to my initial email about the inaccuracy in your excerpt. If you can’t answer my questions, we can’t proceed. You didn’t do this on Morning Joe! Please do let me know if you have answers to my previous questions. 1.) Do you believe President Obama is a war criminal. 2.) If so, what should happen to him if you don’t believe in jail?
I have so much more to get to. It would be sad if we had to end it here. But that’s up to you.
Yes yes. Let’s not end it here.
Just answer my questions and we will bounce along down the yellow brick road hand in hand.
Don’t have definitions for you. The ball is in your court. But I can understand why you wouldn’t want to continue. This won’t be a softball interview like you’ll get from Truthout. I really hope we can proceed. I got some juicy questions down the road.
Oh please. Don’t flatter yourself. You are not a hard fastball journalist for real. And the ball (as long as we’re mixing metaphors) has been hit out of my court, and the puck is on your ice.
I love juicy questions by the way.
I admit—I’m no Herbert Mathews or Walter Duranity. But let’s do it this way since we don’t seem to be getting anywhere. Here are a bunch of questions. If you want to answer them for the interview, that would be awesome. If not, I’ll publish what we have. Thanks.
1.) Would you encourage today’s youth to follow your example and start a group similar to the Weather Underground to “protest” American foreign policy abroad? If not, why not?
2.) You said after you were acquitted of your crimes on a legal technicality, “Guilty as sin, free as a bird—what a country, America.” But seriously, aren’t you fortunate to live in a country that takes the rule of law seriously? What do you think would have happened to you if you committed such crimes in Chavez’s Venezuela, which you have praised?
3.) You said recently that you wake up every morning saying that today you’re going to end capitalism. How much money have you made from your books? How much do you charge to give a speech?
4.) When is the last time you spoke to President Obama?
5.) Did you, Rashid Khalidi and President Obama ever go out to dinner together when you all lived in Chicago? If so, how often and what were the discussions like?
6.) Is the Barack Obama in the White House different than the man you knew in Chicago? If so, how has he changed?
7.) What three books most influenced your worldview?
8.) Why did you write your new book and what will readers get out of it?
OK, here are my questions for you:
*Was the Lybian bombing of Pan Am 103 an act of terrorism? Was the CIA bombing of Cuban Airlines Flight 455 in 1976 in which 78 people were killed an act of terrorism? What are the differences?
*What is your definition of “socialism?”
*What aspects do you support?
*Is education a product or a human right?
*What are some reasonable community or collective or government responsibilities; which responsibilities would still be better if privatized?
*If “privatization” uses tax money, is it still private?
*What pending international treaties should the US Senate ratify?
*Should the US join the International Criminal Court?
*What’s great about America?
*What do you estimate the total cost of your schooling and education?
*How much of that did you earn and pay yourself?
I pledge to you that if you answer all my previous questions honestly and forthrightly—including my question about whether you believe President Obama is a war criminal and, if so, what should happen to him since you don’t believe in prison?—I will happily give you answers to these questions.
So, let’s agree that we’re talking about the same thing: war crimes include those detailed at Nuremberg after WW II, and later by the International Criminal Court—the crime of aggression, crimes against peace, the wanton destruction of cities or towns or villages, the murder or ill treatment of prisoners, forced deportation, and more. And let’s stipulate, following Nuremberg, that responsibility cannot be dodged because of rank or governmental position, nor can it be avoided simply because someone claimed to be following the orders from a higher ranking person. True?
No more negotiations. You answer the questions I sent you. Then I’ll answer the questions you sent me. You can define war crimes in your answer the way you want. If you don’t want to answer a question I sent, fine, just say so and answer the rest. But as long as you answer in good faith, I’ll answer the questions you sent me in good faith. But let’s get on with this.
What are you talking about?
You can’t dictate the terms of a conversation with me, sorry.
If you can’t even say what it is you mean by war crimes—and in a way I don’t blame you for your hesitation, since your attempts to define “conservative” and “terrorism” were so feeble and anemic, exposing a staggering simple-mindedness—even after I gave you a good place to begin, let’s meet up in DC at one of the book stores and go from there.
This is becoming absurd. I will define what I mean in my answers. Readers can determine if my answers are feeble. You apparently prefer to go round and round in circles. I can’t make you answer anything. But you asked me to review your book and we agreed to do an interview. If you want to proceed, let’s proceed. Answer the questions I asked in good faith and I will answer the questions you asked in good faith. But if you prefer to end it here, we can end it here. It’s up to you.
Of course you can’t make me answer. And I can’t seem to persuade you to engage in a dialogue.
Fine, back to the beginning. I’ll say it again (lightly): Review Public Enemy; don’t bother to read it first—that would just confuse you.