Matt Labash is the author of “Fly fishing with Darth Vader: And Other Adventures with Evangelical Wrestlers, Political Hitmen, and Jewish Cowboys,” now available in paperback.
Besides being a senior writer at the Weekly Standard, Labash is also the finest advice columnist The Daily Caller employs. Incidentally, he is also widely considered one of the best magazine writers in America. But that’s just not right. He is the best — sorry Katrina vanden Heuvel.
Since the release of the hardcover version of “Fly fishing with Darth Vader,” the book has received rave reviews, including in Esquire magazine, a card-carrying member of what Labash’s political idol calls the “lamestream” media. The Atlantic Monthly’s Jeffrey Goldberg dubbed it the “funniest book of the year.”
Despite his busy fly fishing schedule, Labash found time to answer 10 questions from TheDC about his book, what he would do as Caliph of the Islamic Republic of Egypt and how Scientology changed his life:
1. What made you decide to put together a collection of your essays?
To be honest, it wasn’t my idea. The visionary Colin Fox (formerly an editor at Simon & Schuster, he’s since departed), wrote me one day out of the blue about two years ago. I’d gotten reach-outs from editors before about writing a book. We’d talk, they were great, some even became friends. I felt horrible about not obliging. But I hadn’t found anything that I was burning to do at book-length. And I’ve always been of the opinion that a book is a long enough haul that if you’re going to write one, you should burn to do it. Because there’s nothing worse than being one year into a two or three year project, thinking, “I don’t care about this subject anymore.”
Colin, however, said the magic words – let’s collect stories you’ve already written, put them between hardcovers, and pay you for them. I’m not a big fan of getting paid for work you don’t believe in. But getting paid twice for work you do believe in – well, I’m a big believer in that. If anyone would like to pay me for the same work a third time, I’m all for it.
2. One of the essays in your book, “Trump on the Stump,” is your firsthand account of the short-lived Reform Party candidacy of Donald Trump for president in 2000. Now, as you may know, The Donald is considering a run for president as a Republican in 2012. What do you think of his candidacy? Does he cause a tingle to go up your leg? What would a Trump presidency look like?
I think a Trump presidency would look classy, for lack of a better word. Donald Trump is a prophet and a sage. He is the alpha and omega. Put a tape recorder in front of him, and it works like Wonder Woman’s lasso of truth – he becomes incapable of lying. Except about his net worth. He probably fudges a little on that. At a Tony Robbins seminar, I watched a potential voter ask him how she could create capital “when all I have is my knowledge and training.” Trump’s answer, in front of a big crowd, was “meet a wealthy guy.” If you don’t like that, then you don’t like honesty. So I sincerely hope he is reading my early endorsement, so I get a shotgun seat if he runs again. He was not pleased with my story – though I’m told he never got past the headline, which was “Chump on the Stump.” I didn’t even write the headline, and changed it for the book to “Trump on the Stump” – because I thought it seemed classier, like The Donald himself. So consider this answer a down payment on our future. D.T. – call me. Together, we can make America great again.
3. Speaking of ex-politicos, one chapter in the book is on former Democratic Ohio Rep. James Traficant, who since getting out from prison, incidentally, has provided some wonderfully interesting thoughts on the the Jews. Traficant ran for Congress as an independent in 2010 but failed to get elected. How great a loss was that for America?
On balance, his defeat was probably good for the Jews. But for everyone else – especially for feature writers or those cursed with having to cover Congress – it’s a tragic loss. There are not a lot of inherently interesting members of Congress. Which might explain why I haven’t renewed my congressional press pass since the late fifties. You can say what you will about Traficant: that he was a bombastic, profane crook who had a troubling haircut. But boring he was not.
4. You include essays on the time you spent with Vice-President Dick Cheney and the Reverend Al Sharpton (separately, of course). Are the two similar in any way? Which is the more naturally gifted politician? Who would you prefer as president?
Little-known fact: both have a passion for the music of ABBA. Particularly Cheney. He couldn’t go five minutes without humming a few bars from “Dancing Queen” in our drift boat as we fished the Snake. Actually, they’re not at all similar. But in one way, they’re very similar. Both know exactly who they are, and don’t give a toss what their many critics think of them. Both are fearless in that way, which is an anti-political impulse, since most politicians’ worlds revolve around self-preservation and caution. If forced to choose, I’d probably take Cheney as president, even though I disagreed with many of his policies. But he is a serious fisherman, which racks him up some points, since I’m a shallow person. Though let’s face it, Sharpton would bring down the house during State of the Union addresses, even if he arrived for them an hour-and-a-half late, which he would if he had to make a phone call.
5. One of the most interesting essays in your book is your attempt to get into Iraq with the great Christopher Hitchens. What do you think of Hitchens? Did he convince you during your Iraq adventure to become an atheist and/or the chief war crimes prosecutor of Henry Kissinger?
Hitchens was a carnival – he’s a hard charger, and excellent company. If he has it in mind to do something, like crash Iraq against the wishes of the Kuwaiti government, with no provisions or Kevlar, he will not accept no for an answer. A lot of journalists talk a good game, but are, at heart, gelatinous posers. Hitchens is the opposite of that. He has a lot of physical courage, and a generous spirit to go along with it.
When I began that piece, I fully intended it to be solely about the war. But it became more about Hitchens, just because he’s so Hitchensesque. I found myself writing down things he said or did on the side, and next thing I knew, he’d hijacked the piece. If I hadn’t switched course, with apologies to the Iraqi people, it would have been journalistic malpractice. And even after the cancer, he’s very much the same guy. I saw him several weeks back for the first time since he’d gotten sick, and even with all the weight he’s lost and with diminished strength, he hasn’t lost a step conversationally. We put a nice dent in a bottle of scotch, while he chain-smoked throughout the evening. He was as fluid and erudite and entertaining as ever. You get the sense he really resents the inconvenience of cancer – and wants to stick it in the eye. He’s in a fight. But as in most of his fights, my money’s on Hitchens.
When we were in the Middle East, we did indeed talk about matters divine. And I’m pleased to say he accepted Jesus Christ as his personal Lord and Savior. He’s a part-time usher at my church, now. Though he asked me to keep a lid on it. He has appearances to keep up. So don’t circulate this widely.
6. Why do we never see you on television? You probably could get more sales promoting your book on Fox News’ “Red Eye” than submitting to TheDC’s 10 questions.
Red Eye? Never heard of it. I kid. Greg Gutfeld is my lodestar, and his show should be put on prime time, yesterday. He’s an old friend, and has asked me to be on Red Eye, but I respectfully declined, because I think television damages your soul. I mean, look what it did to Greg. No, the real reason is TV makes me uncomfortable on several levels. It makes me feel like a pretender, popping off about things I know next to nothing about. Not that that ever stops me in print, as readers of my advice column know. But at least in print, I can think about something for a while, before feigning expertise. I also hate public speaking, so it gives me performance anxiety. And the only way I can really suppress that is with strong drink. That works fine if I absolutely have to do radio. But it’s not good to drink on TV. I don’t want to be the Snooki of the pundit class, getting carried out flip-flops first, with my skirt riding over my head. There’s enough people already willing to humiliate themselves on television. The world won’t miss one abstainer.
7. It’s early and I don’t want to Americanize the Egyptian Revolution just yet, but if the Muslim Brotherhood asks, would you consider becoming the Caliph of the Islamic Republic of Egypt? And, if so, what would be some of your first decrees?
Sure, why not? I’m all about pluralism. I think the first thing I’d do is ban Sharia Law, just to throw a curve. If my Muslim brothers in the Brotherhood don’t like it, tough nuts. They should move to some other hotbed of Islamic extremism – like London. Because what good is a revolution if you throw out the old oppressive order, then impose a bunch of new ridiculous rules afterwards? Iran did that. And it was a real drag. It’s like singing “We don’t need no education,” then forcibly enrolling everyone in military school. What a way to stop the party. The second thing I’d do is ban social networking. Not because I’d try to repress a second revolution against my rule – if it’s my time to go, it’s my time to go. But rather, because I’m going to retch if one more person uses the words “Twitter Revolution.” I’d much rather my people live in totalitarian darkness than to see Twitter get credit for anything.
8. So I take it from your recent writing in the Weekly Standard that you are supporting Sarah Palin for president in 2012. What made you come out in full support of the Alaska barracuda, if I am reading things right?
Boy, Jamie, you are one perceptive reader. Yeah, I thought it was time for somebody to finally make a stand and stipulate that if you want to be president of these here United States, then you need to prove your seriousness by starring in a bad reality show, preferably one with cameos by Kate Gosselin, to pick fights on Facebook and Twitter 24/7, and to peddle ersatz populism any time you get boxed into a corner. Mitch Daniels, take note.
9. What are the three books that most influenced your worldview?
1. “Dianetics” – by L. Ron Hubbard
2. “Justin Bieber (Get the Scoop)” – by Ronny Bloom
3. “Dear Socks, Dear Buddy: Kids’ Letters to the First Pets” – by Hillary Rodham Clinton
10. Any plans for another book? If so, about what?
I don’t really like to talk publicly about projects while I’m in the middle of them. But I have been tooling around with a novel. It’s about four kids in war-torn England who stumble through the back of a wardrobe into a magical land that I’m calling “Narnia.” So we’ll see what happens. It’s really more like a sketch at the moment.