He’s a husband and father. He has been the secretary of education and the drug czar. He’s been a professor, a think-tank co-founder, and now he’s a successful radio talk show host. And through it all, William J. Bennett has always been a writer. Today, publisher Thomas Nelson releases the bestselling author’s new book, A Century Turns: New Hopes, New Fears, the third in his series on American history, this one taking us up to the present day of Taylor Swift and Sarah Palin. Currently the Washington fellow at the Claremont Institute (where I’ve also become a fellow in the last year), Bill Bennett took questions Monday on his latest book and on America today.
KATHRYN JEAN LOPEZ: You quote your late dear friend Jack Kemp as saying, “The leaders of the Democratic Party aren’t soft on communism, they’re soft on democracy.” More than a year into Democratic control of all branches of government in Washington, how might you adapt that to the current moment?
WILLIAM J. BENNETT: I don’t think Jack’s comment could be more apt, actually. Look to Iran. It was a liberal editor, Leon Wieseltier, who recently observed that “our Iran policy seems not to have discovered the connection between Iranian nuclearization and Iranian liberalization. The only sure solution to the former is the latter.” And yet where have Obama and the Democrats been? Perhaps the single most famous statement out of the president thus far is what he said after the fraudulent election in Iran, when democratic students and protesters (who wanted America’s help) were being crushed in the streets. What did the legatee of “tear down this wall” say? What did the legatee of “bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend” say? The U.S. should not be seen as “meddling.”
Right now, there is nothing to stop Iran from becoming a nuclear nation and a nuclearized foe of the West — except one thing: a different government. That different government could have come from the students and the democrats in the streets. Our national response to them was less than “soft,” it was a cold shoulder and deaf ear. It is continually astounding to me this former community organizer who wrapped himself in the cloth of civil rights sees this not at all.
LOPEZ: You mention that you weren’t originally planning on writing about the Nineties on — you were inclined to wait for time to lapse, perspective to be gained. In that vein, if you had to do it all over again, would you write The Death of Outrage, about the Clinton impeachment years, any differently?
BENNETT: No, I don’t think so. The country went through a crisis in the latter part of the Clinton years, a crisis the president and his deputies put us through. I thought we needed some perspective on all that. There was some other perspective to be found at the time, and I try to highlight some of that; Ted Koppel, for example, in a really great commencement speech he delivered in 1998, gave some great responses to the defense of Bill Clinton in 1998. I write about that in the book.
Also, journalist Michael Kelly, who died in Iraq, told me over lunch he would never vote Democrat again after Bill Clinton. He thought the Democratic pattern of consistent lying over Bill Clinton would haunt them. I agree. And it haunts them still. That’s the worst deposit of the Clinton legacy.
I am still proud of what I wrote in my book. I don’t think Democrats should be proud of their defense of Clinton — and I think without that defense they may have had a clearer path to the 2000 election, too. Having said that, I think Bill Clinton has been a very good ex-president. Oscar Wilde said every saint has a past, every sinner has a future.