Jon Stewart's guest on last night's Daily Show was Dick Armey, a Republican Congressman from Texas who served as House Majority Leader and who was one of the authors of the 1994 "Contract with America." Armey is now heading up FreedomWorks, a conservative political group. He has also been promoting himself as a leader of the Tea Party movement.
The interview as broadcast was about 7 minutes long, but the full, unedited interview is available from The Daily Show website. The embedded video clips (in 3 parts) and the full transcript appear below the fold.
|The Daily Show With Jon Stewart||Mon - Thurs 11p / 10c|
|Exclusive - Dick Armey Extended Interview Pt. 1|
|The Daily Show With Jon Stewart||Mon - Thurs 11p / 10c|
|Exclusive - Dick Armey Extended Interview Pt. 2|
|The Daily Show With Jon Stewart||Mon - Thurs 11p / 10c|
|Exclusive - Dick Armey Extended Interview Pt. 3|
Jon Stewart: My guest tonight, former Republican Congressman from Texas, served as House — U.S. Majority Leader [Majority Leader of the U.S. House of Representatives], his new book is called Give Us Liberty: A Tea Party Manifesto. Please welcome to the program Dick Armey.
Sir! Hello, sir. Come and sit. How are you, sir?
Dick Armey (R–TX-26, 1985 – 2003): [inaudible] Howdy.
Stewart: Thank you for joining us.
Armey: Oh, it's my pleasure. Thank you.
Stewart: I should've filled this [cowboy hat] with delicious fruit for us. A cornucopia.
Armey: Ohh! Actually, you can water your horse with it.
Stewart: That's why —
Armey: Actually, I brought that for you.
Stewart: This right here?
Armey: That's yours.
Stewart: Thank you so much, because I broke my old one.
Armey: Aah, aah! You gotta — You — You —
Stewart: Oh, this is interesting:
Armey: Yeah, right. Gonna make you smarter.
Stewart: Danny — Danny Feinberg Bar Mitzvah. This is interesting; it's inscribed. No, I'm excited. Which is the —
Armey: Which is the right? There you go!
Stewart: This is correct?
Armey: There you go!
Stewart: I think they [cowboy hats] don't do well with people with long faces.
Armey: You're really doing well, actually.
Stewart: It's always good to draw more attention to my giant, ridiculous head.
Armey: If I leave here —
Stewart: Thank you very much; that's very kind of you.
Armey: If I leave here sayin' you're "all horse and no cattle[*]," at least I'll know you've got the hat.
Stewart: I'm gonna look that up, sir.
Armey: You look that one up.
Stewart: I'm sure that's not nice, but I'll look it up. [places the hat on the desk, crown up]
Armey: Oh, oh, oh — turn it over. Turn it over. There you go. There you go. Now lay it down.
Stewart: Oh, you're not supposed to put it on the thing?
Armey: No, no, no, Lord have mercy! No. Put it —
Stewart: I'm gonna taunt you now, every time —
Armey: You're doin' that, yes.
Stewart: So you do it like this. [places the hat on the desk, crown down]
Armey: That's the way you lay down a Stetson.
Stewart: But in New York City, somebody's gonna look at that and say, "Oh, there's a homeless person" and gonna put money — or, God forbid, bodily fluids — into my hat, and then —
Armey: No, no, no, no.
Stewart: All right.
Armey: The money's all right, actually, but it's the —
Stewart: It's a Reagan hat.
Armey: That actually was made for Ronald Reagan.
Stewart: Are you serious?
Armey: Read it! It says in the hatband.
Stewart: Very quickly: [in Reagan voice] "Mr. Gorbachev...."
Armey: You did well.
Stewart: Thank you. I want to talk about this: Give Us Liberty, and it is a manifesto — a little close to Karl Marx there....
Armey: I wasn't very happy about that —
Stewart: I understand. But it starts with what appears to be an arithmetic formula: "Lower Taxes + Less Government = More Freedom."
Stewart: That is the thing. Now, it would lead me to believe that for maximum freedom, you would want no taxes and no government. How close am I to where you are?
Armey: Actually, you're really bordering on the edge of what is called the Armey Curve, because there is a question, and it's being addressed in debate across the world.
Stewart: Isn't that the Laffer Curve?
Armey: No, no, the Laffer Curve is kind of old information. This is, like, real good stuff.
Stewart: Oh, okay. Fair enough.
Armey: Better name.
Armey: No "laffin'" at the Armey Curve, but at any rate — you know, if you've got anarchy, then you've got a mess, and if you listen to the small-government — Constitutional small-government folks that make up this movement, what they're saying is, "We all understand that we desperately need a good government that clearly focuses on those things that governments must do, and do those things well, and cost-effectively." But our problem is, governments don't always do the things they should do, well, and they mess up other things. Armey's Axiom is, "Division of labor works best when people mind their own damned business." The problem with government is, it's just not very disciplined at minding its own business. Write that down. But so —
Stewart: But those seem like competing ideas.
Armey: No, no, no. No, it isn't. Actually, I mean, it's the most fundamental thing in the world: if you and I were left on a desert island —
Stewart: Now, how would that happen? Why — All right.
Armey: Take delivery lessons from Tom Hanks, and there you are, bang.
Stewart: Boom. All right.
Armey: The two of us and a UPS package.
Stewart: All right.
One of us is going to be the government.
Stewart: How tall are you?
I'm gonna have a gun. [audience laughs and groans] I'm a Second Amendment guy, you know that!
Stewart: All right, but I'm gonna have a boat. [audience cheers]
Armey: I'm gonna shoot a hole in it!
Stewart: I know. Not as long as [inaudible].
Armey: The question is, and the question is being addressed quite seriously, has been addressed, was addressed in the Continental Congress, What is the appropriate balance between the private sector and the government, and what are the necessary tasks that we assign to the government, and how do we restrain government from overstepping? Because government has something that you and I — private citizens — do not have, which is the power to compel people to do what they will not otherwise do.
Stewart: That's right.
Armey: So how do you constrain government? And, of course, the great constraint against excessive government is our Constitution. I like to remind officeholders — there's not an officeholder in America today who doesn't take a singular oath of office: protect and defend the Constitution. Why? Because it's a marvelous blueprint.
Armey: It is the structure of division of responsibilities, authorities, prerogatives, between the private sector and the public sector.
Stewart: Nobody's arguing that the Constitution's not good.
Armey: Oh, yes!
Stewart: The idea is — and I think this is sort of where the rubber meets the road — what you're describing is a very reasonable system of checks and balances and a pendulum swing, but you've written something called a "manifesto," and on it, it says, "Join the revolution," and it speaks of it as though we — you know, have we misappropriated — you know, the [1773 Boston] Tea Party was about taxation without representation —
Armey: The original one.
Stewart: They've gotten the taxation part, but do they understand that we actually do have representation? Are we losing your very cogent — and, I thought, very balanced — argument, with this idea that we're fighting "Tyranny" to "take back" our government?
Armey: I tell ya, if you take a look at these folks, and go walk among them —
Stewart: Yeah — [laughs]
Armey: I think —
Stewart: [laughing] "Walk among them"?
Stewart: What, are you Moses, for God's sake? "I have walked among these people. I have seen."
Armey: Trust me.
Stewart: I get it.
Armey: All right.
Armey: The first source of heartburn is TARP.
Armey: And — Now, but —
Stewart: Well — that's not the Garden of Eden, Original Sin — TARP is a long way down the road.
Armey: But, what caused these folks to say, "Hey," you know, like Popeye, "I've had all I can stands, I can stands no more"? I'm going to get out in the street and let people know I'm unhappy with the government.
Stewart: A Democrat got elected.
Armey: Noooooo, absolutely not. No. You take a look at the first real incident of their disaffection was the Troubled Asset Relief whatever [Program].
Stewart: What was the first real big rally?
Armey: The first big rallies came after Obama was elected, but only because Obama campaigned saying, Elect me and I'll give you something different from Bush. All he gave us was doubling down on Bush.
Stewart: Aren't you rebranding Republicans?
Stewart: Democrats ran on "I'm not Bush"; aren't Republicans now running on, "I'm not Bush, either!"? "I'm a Tea Partier"; what's different about lower taxes and less government than what Bush said?
Armey: No, no, no. These folks are people who are, in fact, fairly disenchanted with both political parties and officeholders from both —
Stewart: [skeptical look]
Armey: Hey, I was there, man.
Stewart: You're telling me that there is a reasonable amount of disaffected Democrats and —
Armey: If you take a look at, What incumbent officeholder has suffered the most grievous loss at the hands of the grass-roots activists that you all want to call the Tea Party Movement, it's a Republican Senator from Utah, for Heaven's sake.
Stewart: Who wasn't conservative enough.
Armey: He stood up and said, Gee, why me, I'm such a fine fella. How come ya turned on me? They had a chant, and the chant was, "TARP, TARP, TARP." He didn't get it. And what TARP was — the most egregious part of TARP other than this horrible waste of money — was Congress handing over $700 billion to the unilateral action of the Secretary of the Treasury, and that is —
Stewart: So, they're targeting anyone who wanted TARP?
Armey: That's a direct violation of the whole concept of separation of powers.
Stewart: But TARP was not — it's just a program that was instituted on a temporary basis. That is not a permanent entitlement program for our government. That's a temporary program.
Armey: That remains to be seen. Most of us don't believe it's at all —
Stewart: So you believe they will do a TARP every year?
Armey: First of all, insofar as you have —
Stewart: By the way, TARP came about because of some deregulation in the financial markets. Isn't that more freedom for —
Armey: TARP came about because the legacy of 20 years of foolish public policy principally directed at maintaining artificially low interest rates — and I'll lay this at the feet of both parties — gave us this big bubble in real estate that was bound to burst.
Stewart: The bubble was not based on — to use another arithmetic — it wasn't arithmetic home value to mortgage loans, it was based on bundling those and creating these enormous derivatives —
Stewart: — creating trillions of dollars of debt when it could've been billions —
Armey: The incentive for which came out of Freddie Mae and Fannie Mac, or whatever. [sic]
Stewart: No. That's not true at all.
Armey: The government sponsored — that guy's got it right, he's got the names backwards.
Stewart: Fannie and Freddie are one small part of it; this came from the bundling of derivatives — Fannie and Freddie weren't even in that game yet. They didn't create those derivatives, that was the financial unregulated Wall Street houses.
Armey: Fannie and Freddie represent a secondary housing market, and they let the public know, let the bankers know — irresponsible bankers — If you bundle up these assets, we will make sure they're purchased. And they did.
Stewart: Were they the main purchaser of them in 2007?
Armey: Probably was; I'm not sure, because by this time they had become —
Stewart: "I'm not sure," to blame Fannie and Freddie — I guess my point is this: this [book] seems like flattery to some extent, to say to people, "Lower taxes and less government — you know better," and then you say, "Well, we do need smart government" —
Armey: Well, wait a minute: who knows better?
Stewart: The people.
Armey: That's the point of the Constitution: it begins with "We, the People" will lend to you elected officials some limited authorities and responsibilities if you can exercise them like responsible adults. Rather than being short-sighted and self-indulgent, taking power onto yourselves —
Stewart: But that's not "tyranny." That's just —
Armey: No, that is tyranny.
Stewart: [drops pencil, puts head in his hand]
Armey: I'll give you a simple example.
Stewart: How is that tyranny?! How is that tyranny, if you can democratically then remove them from office?
Armey: Well, that's what we're about to do! That's what we're doin'! I'm glad you got there! This whole thing is about, "Let's take them out of office! They're a bunch of juvenile delinquents, acting irresponsibly. Let's remove them and" —
Stewart: But here's the difference: let's say America had voted, "You know what? I don't like King George's tax policy on tea. I'm gonna vote him out," and then they vote him out.
Armey: They couldn't.
Stewart: Right. Do you see the difference now, between tyranny and elections?
Armey: I do.
Stewart: Do you see the difference?
Armey: Now, do you see the difference between people who are active —
Stewart: Wait a minute! How are you the messenger for this?? You were a Congressman for how many years? You were the House Majority Leader and then you became a lobbyist!! How are you the messenger??
Armey: Isn't that a remarkable thing?
Stewart: How did you wind up as the messenger of Tea Party, no government, freedom? This seems very opportunistic!
Armey: Could you imagine? No, this is very —
Stewart: I think you might've filled my hat with something! How is this possible??
Armey: This is a remarkable thing. I'm a walking, talking miracle. [audience laughs]
Stewart: [laughs] You've seen the light, brother!!
Armey: Absolutely, brother!
Stewart: Sort of like that thing: "I found Jesus!" When did you find Jesus? "Right after the cops found me!!"
Armey: No, no, no, no.
Stewart: It's the same thing!
Stewart: Oh, man! You're killin' me here!
Armey: I know it. I'm gonna hit you with a [indistinct] now.
Stewart: Oh, my God! A [same indistinct]!
Armey: All right; get ready.
Stewart: Let me ask you this: what — how is the Tea Party not just a more conservative, purer form of the Republican Party?
Armey: No, no, no, no.
Stewart: It's not? Okay, what's different?
Armey: First of all, the Tea Party is not a political party. We don't trust political parties. Political parties' mission is about political parties. We believe in the American Constitution is the greatest act of entrepreneurial genius for the cause of freedom in the history of the world, and we think people who have the privilege to be elected and given the opportunity to swear an oath to that Constitution, have a duty to fulfill that oath, and they haven't been doing it.
Stewart: I know, but that's just random gobbledy-gook. That's one of those —
Armey: It's not random gobbledy-gook.
Stewart: It is, because it's like this: people who want "limited government" want government limited to what they want it to do. In other words, let me just talk quickly about gay marriage. Do you think that the Tea Party would agree that gay marriage is more freedom or less? Do you think that they would think —
Armey: I think the Tea Party would say we've got more important things to concern ourselves with —
Stewart: But that's a Constitutional issue. That's freedom for one, freedom for all. What about this: net neutrality. Where does the Tea Party stand on net neutrality?
Armey: I'm not sure. We don't discuss these matters.
Stewart: Have you met these people?
Armey: Let me give you one.
Stewart: All right. Give me one.
Armey: All right, let me give you one.
Stewart: All right.
Armey: Because I'm gonna tell you something you didn't know.
Stewart: I would appreciate that.
Armey: Okay. What would you say if I told you that my neighbor, the Christian Scientist, who has never seen a physician in three generations of his family's life, has just been told that if he doesn't sign up for Medicare, he can't have his Social Security? And that, on examination, he's discovered this isn't in the law, it isn't a regulation that was acted upon with proper due process, it's a dang "policy memo" that was written in 1993 and has been enforced by whimsical bureaucrats ever since? Now, that's not tyranny? If you say to me —
Stewart: That's pretty weak tea for tyranny, I gotta say. It's kind of weak tea for tyranny.
Armey: It is, huh?
Stewart: Christian Scientists have to get insurance.
Armey: So, you're saying, "I don't care what your religion's convictions are, you either sign up for this program that you don't want, you don't need, and you won't use, or I'm taking your life's savings, and denying that to you."
Stewart: What would you say to this: being Jewish, and living in a country that has a Kathy Lee Gifford Christmas special — I mean, that — isn't that tyranny?
Armey: Is the government —
Stewart: How come I have to listen to that?
Armey: Wait a minute: first of all, you don't have to listen to it —
Stewart: But that's pick and choose.
Armey: Put it on public television and the government says you must tune in: that's tyranny.
Stewart: So, your tyranny is the government ordering people to purchase health insurance. In your mind, that's tyranny.
Stewart: In my mind, tyranny would be the government allowing segregation to occur and not stepping in. So now we have two things. Let's say the government mandates to somebody who doesn't want black people to eat at their restaurant that you have to let them. That's tyranny, isn't it?
Armey: I think that issue has been settled. No, not —
Stewart: But isn't it tyranny?
Armey: Not whatsoever.
Stewart: How is it not tyranny? The government mandating to you, you're part of the White Sandwich cult —
Armey: You're talking about civil rights —
Stewart: I'm talking about the law.
Armey: The Civil Rights Act of 1965, which is the law of the land, passed into law through the appropriate legislative processes —
Stewart: So, you have no problem, as long as it passes through the appropriate process, you have no problem?
Armey: Properly, in accordance with the Const —
Stewart: You have no problem with mandated health insurance for Americans, as long as it is passed through law —
Armey: I think it's bad public policy.
Stewart: Well, that's different than tyranny and unconstitutional.
Armey: But, here's the thing: any time you don't like the law as it is, you have the right to, in whatever ways are legal, to act to change the law.
Armey: And that's what these folks are trying to do.
Stewart: That's the beauty of the Constitution.
Stewart: Right. Why is your interpretation of the Constitution the idea that anything I might think the government should do, is tyranny, and anything you think they should do, is patriotism?
Armey: No, no, you're [audience applause] — again, let me just say this —
Stewart: It's a very slippery slope.
Armey: No, it's not. It's a matter of —
Stewart: Yes, it is!
Armey: — difference of — Look: —
Stewart: It's a matter of difference of opinion, and you just said it.
Armey: That's right.
Stewart: Right! But that's not the Constitution! That's a difference of opinion. That's what I'm saying.
Armey: All right, but again I would say, the Constitution of the United States set up a structure of governance —
Armey: — with legitimate and limited responsibilities to people in the government —
Stewart: Three branches.
Armey: Three branches of the government. They did not say in the Constitution, "The Legislative Branch can cede their responsibilities to control the purses of this nation, to the tune of $750 billion, to one unelected person in the Executive Branch of the government."
Stewart: Well, that would have to then be challenged —
Armey: That's a Constitutional question.
Stewart: That would have to be challenged through the judiciary. That's why they have that third —
Armey: It would be challenged through the judiciary, but it's also something that can be challenged in the electory [sic] process. In the process of deciding what candidates will win —
Stewart: But I don't think anyone disagrees with that.
Armey: — Well, that's what we're doing. Are we not in fact, I say —
Stewart: No, no, no, no, no. I'm saying —
Armey: — We have candidates that we would prefer to see win elections —
Stewart: Right, but I guess what I'm trying to figure out is, I have this sense that people believe this is a new, magical reawakening of Constitutional principle that we have all forgotten. Anybody that believes the government should be involved in Social Security or a safety net or any of those things has "forgotten the lessons of tyranny" and the lessons of the bloody battles and all that, and all you're really saying is, "Hey, man, why don't you elect Republicans?" [audience laughs] That's all you're saying. And then, you know what's going to happen? The same thing that always happens: you're gonna elect Republicans and they're gonna leave office with a bigger government and a bigger deficit, because they always do. [audience cheers]
Armey: First of all, let me assure you —
Stewart: Come on, Armey! Come on, Armey! I am an army of one! [audience laughs]
Armey: Let me assure you that nobody in this movement that I know of has any particular affection for any political party that is winning elections in America today.
Stewart: There's not an opinion poll that's been done on the Tea Party that doesn't show it to be overwhelmingly conservative and Republican.
Armey: Overwhelmingly conservative and hopeful that the Republicans can be responsible in office — as they have been on occasions in the past. Not since I left, but still, nevertheless.
Stewart: [laughs] All right. Can I tell you this, though? I find you incredibly entertaining. [audience laughs] And I do enjoy talking with you, and it's nice. I don't — you know —
Armey: You know what's really stunning me?
Stewart: Let me tell you something I'm a little bit surprised about: I thought you'd be more "cattle," quite frankly. But you know what I'm seeing right now? A lot of hat.
Armey: Thank you, appreciate it. Let me tell you what surprised me: when my guys told me that the punditry watches you to see what's current in America —
Stewart: Yes. I don't think that's true.
Armey: — I figured they understand the American newspaper business appropriately. They got it right.
Stewart: You know the newspaper business is dead.
Armey: It started here [points to his own head].
Stewart: Do you think that this, the Tea Party movement, will break off, or they'll just take over the Republican Party? Do you think they'll break off? Or they'll take over the Republican Party?
Armey: I think we will reform and rehabilitate the Republican Party so that America has in fact —
Stewart: So, you're kind of like MoveOn.org, to some extent, for the Republican Party?
Armey: Except they're wrong, we're right, and that's it.
Stewart: Fair enough. Give Us Liberty is on bookshelves now. Sit right there. Dick Armey, ladies and gentlemen.
Armey: And you buy it.
* The expression is usually "all hat, no cattle," meaning that someone is a faux cowboy, dressing the part but not doing the actual work. The description is especially apt regarding President George W. Bush on his "ranch" near Crawford, Texas.