Interview with Mickey Kaus

Interview with Mickey Kaus

By RealClearPolitics - March 12, 2010

(Note: Yesterday, RealClearPolitics tracked down Mickey Kaus, the prominent blogger and author who surprised nearly everyone last week by announcing he had taken out papers to challenge Barbara Boxer in the Democratic Senate primary in California.)

RCP: Did you gather enough signatures to challenge Barbara Boxer in the Democratic primary?

Kaus: I think I did. I'm going over them right now and last night when I went over them I had enough.

RCP: You need 65 valid signatures out of 100 submitted. That seems an absurdly low number.

Kaus: It seemed low to me but it's harder than I thought. If it was 65 of an unlimited submission then it would be very very easy. But 65 out 100 means you have to make sure that they are people who are Democrats, active voters, that they print the right name legibly and that they print the right address legibly. So there is a built in advantage for an organization candidate that has a list or a roomful of good solid active Democrats to draw from. That said, I still think it's relatively easy given the magnitude of the office and that's why I thought it was a good opportunity. It's a surprisingly low hurdle.

RCP: The last time you served in elective office was in high school, when you were the student body president. How close was that vote?

Kaus: I forget. It was not a Florida-style ballot. There were no hanging chads. My opponent conceded, so it was a perceptible margin. I had broad support in the geek and nerd community.

RCP: Tell me a little bit about your family's roots in California politics.

Kaus: They're not that deep. My father was an immigrant from Austria and he became a lawyer and became a judge and I think he was a good judge. Eventually Jerry Brown appointed him to the state Supreme Court, from which he retired. My father was not a political animal. He was a Democrat and he was a liberal and he went to the minimum number of Democratic events that you had to be a member in good standing with the party. But he just wasn't a political guy. He was a judge.

RCP: What is it about Barbara Boxer that made you want to run against her?

Kaus: I don't have any particular beef with Barbara Boxer. My beef is with the official Democratic doctrine that anybody who reaches Boxer's position has to spout and has to endorse. She's sort of a state of the art Democratic senator and that's a problem. The state of the art Democratic party has some positions that depart from common sense and also undermine, in practice, the ideals that the party stands for.

I certainly support Boxer's efforts on healthcare reform, but as a state of the art Democrat she has to endorse comprehensive immigration reform, which I think is a very misguided idea. She has to support card check because of the power of the labor unions within the party. I think that's another very very bad idea. There are a lot of Democrats who I call common sense Democrats who agree with me on those and other important issues. I want to find out how many of them there are. I think there is a substantial minority within the party and a majority within the overall electorate. I want to try to give those people a voice.

RCP: Why mount a primary challenge, as a Democrat, rather than a third party challenge in the general election, like William F. Buckley, Jr.'s run for mayor of New York?

Kaus: First, one had to make an election [call] a few months ago and I decided I was a Democrat. Second, I want to make the point that you can be a Democrat and not be blindly pro-union and not be in favor of amnesty before the borders are secure - that those are Democratic positions, they are not Republican positions. Third, if you are an independent you really are a spoiler because you're stealing votes from somebody and you're probably stealing votes from the Democrat. So you're in the Ralph Nader position. The way this, in theory, is structured is, we can have our debate within the party. I can raise some issues. I can get the votes that I get. And then we can all unite behind the winner in November.

RCP: Are you not worried that you'll soften up a fellow Democrat for the general election?

Kaus: Of course I'm worried about that. But that's always the issue, whenever anybody tries to start a debate within the party: "Oh you're going to cost us votes in November." Boxer has been a strong candidate in the past. The Republican opponents are pretty weak. Even though her poll numbers are medium range, indicating some vulnerability, I don't think she'll have any trouble with Carly Fiorina, for example. California is a heavily Democratic state. If I thought it was really endangering Barbara Boxer, I wouldn't do it. But I don't think it is and I don't intend to run that kind of race.

RCP: You're said that you want to run a serious campaign but also that the odds against you are, so-to-speak, crushing. Can you run a serious, doomed campaign?

Kaus: Did I say crushing and doomed? Gore Vidal ran a campaign. He's a much more eminent person than I am but he ran a campaign to make a point. He got a substantial chunk of the vote. Ron Unz over in the Republican Party ran a similar campaign against Pete Wilson and got a much bigger chunk of the vote. And they made their points.

So it's a perfectly honorable thing to do, to run for office as a way of starting a discourse within the party that's been suppressed. The unions and the ethnic lobbies are so powerful that anybody who is in the system, working their way up the ladder, by the time they get to the top they have to say these things. They have to be for card check. They have to do what the unions tell them. They have to be for amnesty. The only way to get the opposite opinion expressed is for someone who is not trying to climb their way up the greasy pole of the party, who comes from the outside [to speak up]. Doomed is not a word I'd use. I would say I don't think I'm going to win but I can accomplish what I want to accomplish without winning.

RCP: Speaking of making your points, do you expect to hold debates with Boxer?

Kaus: I would like to hold a debate with Boxer. If I were Boxer, the standard political strategy would be not to debate. But I hope to appeal to her good nature and if not that then I hope to demonstrate enough support that she has to debate. I plan to go around the state and talk to anybody who wants to have me and also wage a vigorous Internet campaign. Nobody knows what the limits of that are. There's more potential for video now than there was. Also, I have a small but not nonexistent web following that I hope to attract to my campaign website once it's up. So we'll see what happens. It's an experiment to see if this sort of campaign can work.

RCP: Your politics are hard to characterize. Near as I can tell, you're an anti-welfare, anti-immigration, anti-union, anti-affirmative action, pro national healthcare liberal.

Kaus: I would not use those words. I'm certainly not anti-immigrant, for example.

RCP: No, anti-immigration. I didn't say anti-immigrant.

Kaus: I'm not anti-immigration. I want more immigration but legal immigration. I think immigrants have been very very good for California. Even illegal immigrants, I concede, sort of make the place run. But we can't have another wave of illegal immigrants and another wave and another wave without doing serious damage to the unskilled labor market and the wages that Americans who don't have skills and who have been the hardest hit in the economy in recent decades can get. I don't think the Democratic party should be lowering the wages of unskilled workers. I think that's sort of a first principle.

I wrote a book starting in '84 and it wasn't published until '92, at a time when the Democratic Party was similarly anxious and maybe more introspective and less confident in its beliefs than it is now. I came to the conclusion that, as a Democrat, I'm not for money equality, but I'm for social equality. And I think that all of my positions follow from that. Healthcare reform is a great boon to social equality. It basically says, look, we have different incomes but they don't determine who lives and who dies. Everybody gets healthcare and the more you have people use a common system the more it reinforces social equality.

RCP: In that book, The End of Equality, you also endorsed bringing back the draft. Do you still favor that?

Kaus: Um. I favor it but I don't think it's going to happen anytime soon because the army is pretty happy with the volunteer army and there are things that have changed since I wrote that. For example, weapons have become much more technical so an army who are just in for two years and out is less useful to the military than an army of professionals who can understand these weapons and use them. I would stay I still support it but it's not something I would push.

The idea of the draft was, there was an institution that established social equality. Rich people in World War II - Malcolm Forbes, the Kennedys - served alongside poor people and they carried that experience with them for the rest of their lives. The idea is to to have an experience like that in modern America that reinforces social equality, regardless of income. The draft could do that. If you don't have the draft, you have to have something else. And that something else seems to me most likely to be healthcare.

RCP: So we'll be like Canada, where we're all in it together?

Kaus: It's not only we're all in it together. It's not only that we all have equal opportunity. It's not only that we're all equal under the law. It's all those things but it's also, as I'm afraid Ronald Reagan said, "We're all equal in the eyes of each other." That's what social equality means. I regret that Reagan said that but he did say it and it's the best expression I've found. What he didn't realize is you'd need a lot of government to get there.

RCP: Why are you constantly plagued with allegations by fellow liberals that you are a conservative?

Kaus: Because I like sniping at doctrines that I think have undermined the goals of liberalism. For example, unions have helped destroy the public schools in Los Angeles and throughout California. Public schools were once a great liberal achievement. Rich and poor people attended the same schools or at least they were in the same school system. When I grew up, I went to a rich public school but the idea of going to a private school was considered wacky. Now, because the public schools are so deteriorated, because you can't fire bad teachers, anybody who has any money tries to get out of them. And they go to private schools or they go to exclusive suburbs where they mingle only with other affluent people. So liberal support of unions have destroyed the liberal ideal of public education.

And liberal support of amnesty without border control undermines unskilled wages of the lowest earners in our society. There is some sort of money minimum that you need to have respect and if you can't earn a decent living just showing up and doing unskilled work - if work doesn't pay because you are competing against desperate immigrants from very very poor countries - then its hard to achieve the liberal ideal of social equality. The liberal position on immigration should be, we like immigrants but we have to get control of the borders.

RCP: Is Ann Coulter going to endorse you?

Kaus: God, I hope not. I'll have to do something to piss her off.

RCP: How about Bob Wright?

Kaus: He might be tough. He's my sparring partner. I certainly hope he endorses me. I think my mother will be a tough get too but I'm working on her. I think she'll come around.

But this all started because I kept meeting people who are far more numerous than just the people I know, like my dermatologist, who said, "Look I'm a good Democrat, but I don't agree with what the party says on immigration." I meet hundreds of people who say, "Mickey, I officially am not going to support you, but God the teachers unions are awful." I mean, nobody likes the teachers unions anymore.

RCP: What will this campaign do to your relationship with Slate?

Kaus: The issue is whether it's illegal if I keep writing for Slate for money - both illegal in the in-kind contribution sense and illegal because they're paying me money. My impression is, it's a gray area and that we would win a lawsuit if there was a lawsuit. But do I want to be embroiled in a lawsuit? I don't know. The Slate people have been very very good about this. I haven't gotten paid since I took out the papers, so the legal issue hasn't been triggered yet. We have to decide soon what to do, but it's still being worked out. It raises interesting issues but I don't know if I can afford to raise those interesting issues.


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