‘If we could exhume the Founders and, before we put them all on trial for crimes against humanity, could ask them how many laws they would have considered enough, and then showed them the Federal Register alone, they’d all hop back into their graves and commence spinning.”
That is the unique voice of one David Kahane, who was originally published — discovered — by National Review Online. He’s a Hollywood liberal who has a habit of sharing way too much about the rules by which they live to a conservative audience.
Kahane is actually a pseudonym for Michael Walsh, a longtime screenwriter and novelist, former mainstream-media journalist, and current mainstream-media fact-checker at BigJournalism.com. Walsh, in the person of Kahane, has a new book: Rules for Radical Conservatives: Beating the Left at Its Own Game to Take Back America. Walsh talks to NRO’s Kathryn Lopez (known in the book as Dave’s mom) about how all this came to be and why it’s important for American politics and culture.
KATHRYN JEAN LOPEZ: I was around at David Kahane’s conception, and yet I don’t think I could answer this question: What was the moment where you knew you had to bring Kahane to life?
MICHAEL WALSH: Oddly enough, “Dave” started life because I wanted to explain the ways of Hollywood to the Right. There’s a lot of suspicion of the creative community among the wingnuts, including the notion that conservatives are uniformly “blacklisted” in Hollywood, and while that may be true in some cases, it’s not necessarily a Tinseltown-wide conspiracy. Are most people in Hollywood left-liberal? Yes. But given a choice between the lefties in academe and the liberals in Hollywood, give me L.A. every time. They’re some of the smartest and most accomplished people I know, and they’re a lot better looking.
LOPEZ: Why didn’t you just play it straight from the beginning? You’re Michael Walsh. You’ve worked in Hollywood. You know how liberals think. Why not have Michael Walsh tell us?
WALSH: Because nobody would have cared to hear yet another author/screenwriter whining about what a tough racket Hollywood is. Far more fun to invent an alter ego like Dave, a complete idiot who never understands that the joke’s always on him. I also find that you can speak the truth more bluntly when you disguise it with humor.
LOPEZ: How much of David Kahane is Michael Walsh?
WALSH: None. I type what he tells me to type. But, although he’s a goofball, he’s a very wise young man. Handsome, too.
LOPEZ: And you’re hoping Tim Robbins will play David Kahane in the movie version of Rules for Radical Conservatives?
WALSH: I think he would make a very good Kahane, although he’s too old for the part. Someone like Michael Cera would be perfect ten years older and 50 pounds heavier.
LOPEZ: Why does David Kahane want to share the Left’s playbook?
WALSH: Because he can.
LOPEZ: Why is he so convinced we can’t win?
WALSH: Because, unlike the Right, he has spent his life studying the opposition, rejects everything about it, and is absolutely impervious to any of its arguments. He knows conservative leaders, by and large, are a sorry lot, ever willing to compromise on principle in order to wave a program at their constituents. One thing you have to give the Left: They never compromise on principle unless they are backed up against a wall with a gun to their heads. And even then, they hardly ever cave. Just look at the Obama administration.
LOPEZ: Does David Kahane resemble anyone in particular in real-life Hollywood politics?
WALSH: I don’t think so. I certainly didn’t model him after anybody in particular — although, as Carly Simon once sang, “You’re so vain, you probably think this Kahane is about you.”
LOPEZ: “I want you to get mad,” Kahane writes. I get why Rush might want me to get mad. I get why you do. Why does Kahane? Is he just a show-off?
WALSH: It’s a religious allegory: His father, the sainted “Che” Kahane (who will be played by Lucifer in the movie), has sent his only begotten son, Dave, on a mission of mercy to teach the Enemy how to fight, in order to make the final victory that much sweeter. Remember that the Left doesn’t just want to win — it also needs our submission, our acquiescence, our acknowledgement that they’ve been right all along.
In The Screwtape Letters, Screwtape tries to explain to his nephew Wormwood how to seduce the Patient. Modestly, I’ve gone old Clive Staples Lewis one better.
LOPEZ: I’m afraid my country is in danger. Kahane seems to confirm it. What can I do? And how can this book help?
WALSH: Learn to fight like they do. Stop being nice to the Left; after all, they’re never nice to you. Stop caring what they think. Stop trying to get along. You’re not going to get along. In fact, the only way you can get along is for you to abandon your bedrock principles and become a kind of Lefty Lite. Remember this simple mantra: Principles, Not Programs.
Most important, remember that the Left is a Potemkin village of hatred. Punch them and they run away; kick over the facades and there’s nothing there except empty, destructive rage masked as “compassion.” It’s long past time to stop being afraid of them and what they say about you. But do mock them; as Luther said, the devil cannot stand to be mocked.
LOPEZ: Why can’t journalists “afford to be quite as snooty as they used to be”? I know the industry has seen better days, but they still have more money and resources than, say, NR.
WALSH: Journalists — or “Finemans,” as Dave refers to them — are done. The Internet has made writing an essentially worthless commodity and as for opinions, well, you know the old saying. The liberal pundits now resemble Custer’s men at the end, herded onto Last Stand Hill — the MSNBC studios — and waiting for the end. The way you finish them off is by no longer paying any attention to them.
“Reporters,” on the other hand, are worth their weight in gold. J-schools ought to be training reporters instead of “journalists.” Give me 50 hungry, brave, well-read, literate, acculturated, multilingual young people of no ideological bent, and I’ll give you the best news organization in the country in six months.
LOPEZ: How did you come to develop your rules?
WALSH: They evolved out of the first half of the book, which is a brisk trot through the history of the past half-century or so, for those readers born after 1969. Since I lived through that history and paid very careful attention to what was happening at the time, I felt it was important to ground the rules in the events of the recent past. It’s vital to remember that the Left has reached this current apogee precisely because they play hardball, and the Right has a lot to learn from them. After all, the first thing you owe a mortal enemy is a healthy respect for his capabilities and hostile intent. So think of this book as an early warning.
LOPEZ: Kahane advises, “Pretend to be like us, so do what we do: lie. Adopt all of our manners and mores, right down to our mannerisms.” I refuse to do that. Am I destined to lose?
WALSH: Typical Dave hyperbole. But, in answer to your question, no more Mr. Nice Guy. Time to get your warrior face on.
LOPEZ: How important is Saul Alinsky, really and truly, to understanding the Left today?
WALSH: Critical. I arrived in Rochester, N.Y., to attend the Eastman School of Music just three years after he arrived in the aftermath of the 1964 riots to organize the black community under the banner of an organization called — you guessed it — FIGHT. Alinsky preached a “progress” that was essentially nihilist; tearing things down was his specialty. He’s one of the most contemptible figures in modern American history, a man filled with bile against civilization who masked his maleficence with the fig leaf of “good intentions.” He also created the classic leftist whipsaw: Destroy an institution (“because it’s wreckable, okay?”), but replace it with nothing; that way, that the people you are “organizing” will always have something to complain about.
Let’s also not forget, by the way, that although Obama is famously an Alinskyite, so also is Hillary Clinton, who’s busily positioning herself as the “sane” alternative to BHO II for the 2012 primaries. But she wrote her college thesis at Wellesley about Alinsky — titled “There Is Only the Fight” — which ought to tell you all you need to know about her.
LOPEZ: Your first rule involves, among other things, knowing your enemy’s weaknesses. Who is the enemy and what are his weaknesses right now?
WALSH: Depends on whether you’re asking me or Dave. The Right’s weakness is its continued willingness to reach across the aisle, to extend the olive branch, to hold out the hand of friendship — insert cliché here. It wants to be liked instead of feared, which is why the Left happily continues its demonization of the Right with no pushback. The Left’s weakness is its utter lack of humor and its inability to see that there’s no there there: The entire Marxist edifice is an evil pipe dream cooked up by a stateless psychotic living off the capitalist system of Victorian England and scribbling madly in the British Library. Put it into practice and I’ll show you the Soviet Union. No, wait! The USSR is on the ash heap of history.
And if you’d like to get a sense of what a swell guy Marx was, read Paul Johnson’s Intellectuals. One of history’s truly evil men.
LOPEZ: Rule Number Four says to “Get on offense and stay on offense — and take no prisoners.” How do Republicans do this, on the road to November and after?
WALSH: Stop being nice to Democrats. Adopt Dave’s Golden Rule: “Treat us with the same contempt with which we treat you.” Can you imagine Orrin Hatch adopting that motto?
LOPEZ: Dave advises, “Educate yourself. Get the facts. The truth shall set you free. And then spread the word. Set up e-mail lists and use them.” Is that in large part what the tea party is?
WALSH: Indeed it is. The Right is only just now harnessing the Internet, having ceded a huge head start to the Left, the netroots, et al. It’s another reason why the media has suddenly become obsolete. One of the reasons the media is so fearful and contemptuous of Sarah Palin is that she simply ignores them and rules the world from her Fortress of Solitude in Alaska via her Facebook page. The other is that, with a single tweet, she can assemble an army of half a million people and put them on the Left’s doorstep. That’s the kind of community organizing the Left understands.
Remember, they always tell us whom they fear most by whom they hate most. And isn’t it interesting, ladies, that their wrath is so often directly at conservative women: Sarah, Michele Bachmann, and now Christine O’Donnell . . .
LOPEZ: Have you put “Conservatives of the world unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains,” on a bumper sticker yet?
WALSH: I refuse to deface my car with bumper stickers, and Dave told me there’s no way he would ever put such a thing on his Prius. He would, however, consider wearing it on a sandwich board as he panhandles for change at the corner of Sunset and Douglas, near his palatial pad in Echo Park.
LOPEZ: You say that “the country is ripe for a huge rollback.” Do you believe we have it in us to follow through and “dismantle,” as Rule Number Five instructs? And what are we to dismantle and how quickly?
WALSH: Only if we, however temporarily, learn to indulge the joy of destruction that marks the Left. Remember, for a bunch of alleged freedom-lovers, they’re the worst fascists around: Burn it! Ban it! Pass a law against it! There’s no one more intolerant than the tolerant Left. So let’s get into the spirit of things: Using the Constitution as our guide, demolish everything that’s not mentioned in the founding document and its amendments and then start over on an as-needed basis. Although, come to think of it, there are a few amendments that ought to be repealed as well, particularly the Progressive Era ones — 16, 17, 18 (done!), and maybe even . . . nah. My wife would never speak to me again.
The Departments of Education, Energy, and Health and Human Services could go; their “work” is best left to the states or private individuals or to no one at all. Ditto the absurd Homeland Security department. The CIA needs to be cleaved right down the middle and separated into its two component parts, information gathering and analysis. And the amount of government Americans tolerate is simply staggering: redundant offices (why do states need a secretary of state?), wheels within wheels, ontogeny recapitulating phylogeny. The private sector — perhaps we should call it the “leave me alone” sector — is being crushed under all this dead weight.
LOPEZ: Is there any possible presidential candidate on your radar who seems to get all of this?
WALSH: Paul Ryan? Eric Cantor? Certainly not the retreads and the putative front-runners. Sarah, I think, probably shouldn’t run. She doesn’t need the grief, and she’s far more powerful right now, in her ability to push the course of the national dialogue, than she would be in the Oval Office surrounded by RINO courtiers and backstabbing Borgias.
LOPEZ: Is there any rule in particular you are worried that Republicans will miss?
WALSH: I think there’s a fair shot that, as currently constituted, they’ll miss all of them. Conservatives have simply got to understand that the Republican party is not on their side. As the great Tammany sachem George Washington Plunkitt famously said, “Me and the Republicans are enemies just one day in the year — Election day. Then we fight tooth and nail. The rest of the time it’s live and let live with us.” As the Republicans’ inaction on Lisa Murkowski proves, it’s all one big racket. They’d rather keep the club intact than bother about principles. The best thing we can hope for is that the tea party infects them and then, in November and beyond, bursts through their chests like the critter in Alien and destroys them.
A rule I hope they pay special attention to is Number Seven: “Adapt the time-honored conservative message for a new kind of America and a new kind of American.” One of the current leftist talking points is that the troglodytic Right fears the “browning” of the country, and that its opposition to Obama is founded in, naturally, racism. It’s one of the comforting fairy tales the Left tells itself as it stares down electoral disaster this fall. But conservatives should refuse to put up with this: Every time some frothing nutroot calls you a Nazi or a racist, get right in his grille. If you believe in the idea of America, and if you truly believe that all men are created equal, then the Constitution provides a level playing field for everybody. The “racism” card is just about played out, but that won’t stop them and their media stooges from playing it until the bitter end.
LOPEZ: How do we “think constitutionally,” exactly? Waving around a Heritage pocked-sized Constitution will only get you so far.
WALSH: But it’s a start. Every American should read the Constitution and think about it. It’s not a set of rules, it’s a framework for liberty. It’s about principles, not programs. And we’ve let the Left move us off a distressing number of foundational principles. It’s time not only to take back our country, but to take back the Constitution, and use it as both a sword and a shield.
LOPEZ: Why is the culture – Hollywood — so important for conservatives to toil in?
WALSH: Because it’s still the dream factory, the mirror we use for self-reflection. And because it’s damn good at what it does: telling stories in the most efficient and thrilling possible manner. It’s true that the industry is in a kind of Spenglerian late-crystalization phase at the moment, but there’s no reason we can’t turn things around. After all, it all starts with the scripts.
Which should be non-ideological. I don’t buy into the notion that there ought to be “conservative” movies. Some of the greatest “conservative” movies were written and produced by leftists — hello, High Noon, I’m talking about you. Carl Foreman, the writer, was on the blacklist, for crying out loud. Just write a great picture and let the politics sort themselves out. Is On the Waterfront a conservative movie? What about Three on a Match, an underrated classic from 1932 starring Ann Dvorak, Joan Blondell, and a very young Bette Davis? As Sam Goldwyn famously said, “If you want to send a message, use Western Union.”
LOPEZ: How exactly do conservatives “seize it,” as Rule Number Three commands?
WALSH: Hollywood is liberal in the same way academe is liberal: It attracts liberals. But it also attracts conservatives, just not as many of them. It’s long past time for conservatives to stop complaining about Hollywood and academe and do something about it. You can’t win if you don’t play, so get a mitt, get out to L.A., and get in the game. If you’re any good, your politics won’t matter.
LOPEZ: And how do we “reclaim academe”? That seems easier said than done. We’ve been at it since the Fifties, after all.
WALSH: Believe it or not, this one is tougher. Hollywood still has to sell its product to an audience that largely does not subscribe to its politics — and, in fact, as the string of “antiwar” flops proved, shuns them. Plus, there are other uses for your entertainment dollar. Academe, however, is the only game in town, protected by the myth that it’s indispensable (ask Rush, or Bill Gates, or Andrew Lloyd Webber to speak to that). It’s also self-replicating, offering levels upon levels of “achievement” that can be yours if only you fork over the dough; in search of “mastery,” a student can plausibly stay in school until his or her late twenties, or even longer, and then, of course, there’s not much else to do except to teach.
Glenn Reynolds, the Instapundit, has been warning of the “higher-education bubble” for some time now, and it may well be that the whole notion of value-for-service is about to come in for a rude reevaluation in the current job market. And that’s just private school. On the public-school level, it’s basically just another racket, of, by, and for the teachers’ unions.
LOPEZ: Will your life in Hollywood change now that you’ve outed yourself?
WALSH: We’ll find out soon enough, won’t we?
— Kathryn Jean Lopez is an editor-at-large of National Review Online.