Bill Steigerwald Bill Steigerwald, 9/12/2008 [Archive]

Chatting up Tucker Carlson -- Interview

Tucker Carlson hasn't been as easy to find on cable TV since MSNBC axed his show "Tucker" in March. But the former co-host of CNN's "Crossfire" and trouble-causing conservative political commentator still works as a senior campaign correspondent for NBC's liberal-tilted cable channel. Carlson, an excellent writer and reporter whose stories have appeared in Esquire, The Weekly Standard, The New Republic and elsewhere, has during his career managed to tick off everyone from the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation to the Republican Party. Known for his nonpartisanship, he told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review in 2005 that his politics "were probably closer to Pat Buchanan than anyone else." Though he has strong libertarian leanings and became a strong opponent of the war in Iraq, he calls himself a "traditional conservative."To find out what he's been doing and get his take on the McCain-Obama race, I telephoned Carlson Thursday, Sept. 11, at his office in Washington:

Q: We've heard that you've professed your love for Sarah Palin but has she saved the Republicans from certain defeat in November?

A: No. But she appears at this point to have made possible a victory. Put it this way: It would be shocking if any Republican won this year but she clearly has helped.

Q: Do you know anything about her or her politics that everyone else in North America hasn't heard already at least 10 times?

A: One of the reasons I love her is I know so little about her.

Q: Do you plan on going to Alaska to check out her background or go through her garbage or whatever?

A: I'm trying to figure out how to bring my fly rod and get up there, yeah. It's salmon season. You know what I'd like to do? I'd love to do a piece where I follow her footsteps in fishing -- where I fish in every spot she's fished in.

Q: Last December you wrote a nice on-the-road piece on Ron Paul for The New Republic. Do you think you'll have a chance to do anything like that on Sarah Palin?

A: I probably couldn't get within three counties of Sarah Palin now. It's funny. Two weeks ago you could have gone out to dinner at Sarah Palin's house. But now I think I'd probably be tasered if I got within 100 yards of her.

Q: Palin seems to have really -- what's the cliche? -- "resonated" with Western Pennsylvanians, who are socially conservative Reagan Democrats who are mainly white. People are really connecting with her and vice versa. She's like someone from around here in some ways.

A: In a lot of ways. She's pro-life, pro-gun, pro-union. It's an unusual combination, and I can see why she fits in perfectly there.

Q: You're not a partisan Republican .--

A: No.

Q: If you were, what would you be most worried about Palin? Obviously questions about her experience are out there.

A: If the press is really going after you. If you've got 3,000 people, each hoping to make a career based on tripping you up, you're going to be tripped. If you're talking in public a lot, and people are gunning for you, it's inevitable that you'll make some grave error.

Q: Do you have any sense that the Obama juggernaut, if in fact there was one, is starting to lose its wheels?

A: Definitely, they were caught off guard (by the Palin choice). They're still running against Hillary Clinton. I'm not attacking them. I understand why. But they were taken completely off guard by this. They don't know how to respond. This was news to the press because obviously most reporters in Washington are for Barack Obama, I would say. There are probably only three who aren't.

But it turns out not everybody in the country is an Obama fanatic, and yet a lot of Republicans didn't like McCain. Palin made it possible for Republicans to like McCain again. So all of a sudden you see this surge in support for the McCain ticket because of Palin and the Obama people just didn't know how to respond to it.

Q: You were an emcee at the Ron Paul rally in Minneapolis. Does this mean your libertarian streak is getting deeper or wider?

A: No. It's remained constant lo these many years. Organized groups of libertarians -- it's such a big tent that it tends to allow some unfortunate fringe elements in.

Q: The 9/11 truth squads?

A: The "truthers," yeah. I was repelled by them so I left midway through. I think Ron Paul is a completely sincere, interesting, thoughtful, decent guy. And I like him. I don't agree with everything, but I agree with a lot of it and I think he's a genuine guy.

But Jesse Ventura got up and started ranting about the United States government and how it's likely responsible for 9/11 and it was an inside job, and I thought, "That's disgusting." I don't want to be around that, so I left.

Q: Do you think Ron Paul's campaign will have any effect at all on Republicans in the medium or long run in terms of economic policy or limited-government kind of thinking?

A: You'd hope so. You'd hope that someone would call Republicans back to their roots and remind them that it was once a party based on individual liberty and small government.

Q: Do you dare to predict how this Obama-McCain race will end?

A: Well, I'll say this: If Democrats lose, they just need to think of a more profitable profession to get into. There's no excuse for Democrats losing this election. None.

Q: Yet they seem to be doing their best.

A: They're trying hard. If he had picked Hillary Clinton, this would not be a race.

Bill Steigerwald is a columnist at the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. E-mail Bill at© Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, All Rights Reserved.

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