Skip to main content

tv   Charlie Rose  WHUT  August 11, 2010 11:00pm-12:00am EDT

11:00 pm
>> rose: welcome to our program, tonight we continue our look at president obama and his presidency with john harris, editor-in-chief of politico. >> his great success in 2008 was he transcended the internal divide in the democratic party. these questions that most democratic presidents, presidential candidates get. hey, are you a new democrat, a so-called d.l.c. democrat, or are you more traditional old-line liberal? he said those questions are irrelevant. i'm barack obama. he united the party around his personal story and, of course, around the democratic party's disdain for president bush and that was enough. he never defined himself in a philosophical or ideological way. that was great in the campaign. i think it doesn't work as effect ily in governance. i'm struck.
11:01 pm
every decision he makes if the left is unhappy they assume he's selling out, he made an expedient decision. if he makes a decision that makes the liberal wing of the democratic party happy the moderates say he must be in the pocket of labor or some other liberal constituency. his own party seems to assume the worst of his motives and i think that... he's allowed his decisions to be made... to be viewed through the prizm of mechanics and washington maneuvering as opposed to, hey, here's what i really believe. here's where i'm trying to take the country, this is my world view and follow me as i try to lead the country toward that. >> rose: we move from politics to literature and a conversation with martin amisabout writing and friendship and mortality. >> it started out being me when i stupidly tried to write for quite a long time an autobiographical novel about the sexual revolution with that title. and then realized a, that real
11:02 pm
life in fiction is dead. it's inert. life is chaos, it has none of the symmetries and patterning of a novel. also that you can't write about your own sex life without being disgusting or at least embarrassing. there's just not... there isn't a voice that can do it. in fact, writing about sex may, indeed, be a dead end. i manage it there for in the sex that is described is pornographic in nature and there are various plot reasons why this is so. and it's perfectly easy to write about emotionless sex. but what has always defeated writers is... including lawrence and updike and everyone else who's really tried it is that you cannot... sex is
11:03 pm
deuniversallizing. >> rose: john harris and martin amis next.
11:04 pm
captioning sponsored by rose communications from our studios in new york city, this is charlie rose. >> rose: we begin this evening with a continue situation about our conversations about the obama presidency and the challenge the president faces. tonight we look at domestic politics, including the midterm elections and yesterday's primaries and the political leadership by the president. joining me now from washington is john harris. he is editor-in-chief of politico. i'm pleased to have him back on this program, especially after an election night. welcome. >> hi, charlie. >> rose: john, tell me, what did these election results tell us? >> well, they told us... and i think this was probably the most significant primary night we've had in several months. this was a big one. in particular this primary
11:05 pm
battle in colorado where the incumbent, michael bennett, the person appointed senator, was in a tough intraparty battle. president barack obama had clearly picked sides and was backing bennett over his challenger andrew romanoff. and it looked like this place was pretty close. in the end it turned out not to be so close. i think it was eight points by which bennett won. if he hadn't won, it would have been a real embarrassment. the white house knew it. they were primed for it. i was talking just yesterday with a senior obama political radded advisor who was very nervous and if they knew bennett had stumbled it would have been not just his defeat but seen as a defeat for obama because obama had been out to colorado time and time again and made it clear in his choice. so anyway, they got some good news for a change and they've needed it. >> rose: it's said that by him... by the president that what he was able to do in 2008
11:06 pm
was make his personal narrative a narrative of the country he clearly did that. what narrative would the president like for the country to see going into these midterms and as a precedent to what the narrative might be in 2012? >> right. i think we have to look at this, as you asked, what he would like the narrative to be. but then also acknowledge that he is not succeeding right now in 2010 the way he did in 2008 of making his preferred narrative the way that most of the country has seen it. i think president obama's narrative would be hey, i came into office in very difficult circumstances, i said i was going to do big things, it's been a rough ride along the way but we've done those big things. we've stopped the economy from freefall, we've passed a comprehensive health care legislation, we've passed an overall of financial laws in response to the meltdown in 2008. i said we would end the combat
11:07 pm
mission in iraq by august of this year and that's precisely what we're doing. so i think his narrative would be hey, times are tough but they're getting better. i'm somebody who's good to my word, i say what i'm going to do, i'm sort of an earnest conscientious president. maybe i'm making some mistakes, maybe washington is... i haven't been successful in taming washington the way i hope to, it's still a rough, divided, polarized time but we're making progress and why would you want to go back to the crowd that had power stpwh-fr that's his narrative. i don't see that being the dominant narrative in the country right now. >> rose: what's the dominant narrative in the country right now? >> i think the dominant narrative in the country is that what the obama administration is calling the recovery, the first to acknowledge it's an uneven recovery, doesn't feel like a recovery to most people. that drowns out much of the other messages that politicians want the public to hear.
11:08 pm
they don't believe that president obama has fundamentally changed the character of washington. they don't like the way that washington works in either party. they see more polarization. they see more bickering. and i think at a very fundamental level, lots of people don't see his major policy initiatives working as remedies to the things that they care about: health care reform, maybe it's... maybe... it's certainly a formidable legislative achievement. but it's not clear that it's a... passing that is a big political achievement. and i don't think it will be clear, certainly not by november. it won't be clear until people can see it also being effect i have policy and that people don't see that yet. so they're unhappy. they're angry. >> rose: and they blame him. >> i think certain parts of the electorate do blame him directly and i think certain other parts of the electorate don't necessarily blame him but they're saying, hey, wait a
11:09 pm
minute, this is not what change was supposed to feel like. i was supposed to peel better now and i don't. >> rose: we have a 9% plus unemployment and people are sayings where this recovery and what is the president doing and what did he do that didn't take care of this? >> that's right. and i do think that this goes directly to the question of how we perceive president obama's leadership. people like me, political reporters, we tend to analyze messaging. we tend to sort of critique presidents on whether or not they're striking the right rhetorical posture or how they handle the mechanics of individual decisions. and yet i think there is a fair argument to make all that is almost irrelevant in a climate where you've got almost 10% unemployment. that's the dominant reality. the most brilliant messaging by the... president obama and his political team, by the democrats
11:10 pm
on capitol hill, the most brilliant messaging is basically beside the point when people are upset about 10% unemployment and if unemployment were 5% these guys would look like geniuses but it's not so there's all kinds of second guessers. my personal view, charlie, is that may let them off the hook a little bit too easy. i have been struck... the point you made, about president obama's success in 2008 was making his narrative the country's narrative and i think there's some specific reasons beyond the economy that that's been the case. >> rose: and they are? >> you follow this whole flap this week with robert gibbs giving an interview making clear his frustration with certain commentators on the left. he says "they must be on drugs if they think there's no difference between president obama and president george w. bush." i think one reason that
11:11 pm
president obama doesn't get credit from the left and doesn't... if you look at the polls doesn't get a lot of credit from independents who also are deeply disaffected is that he doesn't spend a lot of time talking about the broader context of his decisions. his great success in 2008 was he transcended the internal divide in the democratic party. these questions that most democratic presidents, presidential candidates get. hey, are you a new democrat, a so called d.l.c. democrat, are you more tradition old-line liberal? he said "those questions are irrelevant, i'm barack obama." he united the party around his personal story and, of course, around the democratic party's disdain for president bush. and that was enough. he never defined himself in a philosophical or an ideological way. that was great in the campaign. i think it doesn't work as effectively in governance.
11:12 pm
i'm struck... every decision he makes if the left is unhappy they assume he's just selling out, he made an expedient decision. if he makes a decision that makes the liberal wing of the democratic party happy, the moderates say oh, he must be in the pocket of labor or some other liberal constituency. his own party seems to assume the worst of his motives and i think that he's allowed his decisions to be made, to be viewed through the prism of mechanics and washington maneuvering as opposed to hey, here's what i really believe, here's where i'm trying to take the country, this is my world view and follow me as i try to lead the country toward that. >> rose: do you think there's a difference in terms of this? admiration and likability? i mean, you can admire someone for their skills, and on the other hand to like them is something very different and is a very, very important political quality.
11:13 pm
>> well, there's been a lot of conversation that president obama, his personality is too austere, too detached, too intellectual and that people aren't getting the feeling that human connection with him. some of that is certainly stylistic. he is cool, low key, cerebral style politician. wasn't true in 2008 where many people did feel an intensely emotional attachment. >> rose: does he have in terms of the party and in terms of washington and in terms of the country a sense of reaching out? a sense of wanting to make sure that he is engaged and is connected? >> rose: well, i think you can overstate these things. you know, president obama's still popular with his party. if you look at polls you see the democrats are by overwhelming
11:14 pm
margins they like him and they support his presidency. so i think you can put too much stock in the... some of the liberal commentators, the columnist ins, the bloggers or whatever. and i go back to... i do agree with the people who say, look, if unemployment were 5% rather than almost 10% everything would look different. he's out there. his team feels when he's out there in front of the country he does connect more than he does when he's in washington but for all that there's no getting around the fact that he doesn't have yet the kind of almost mystical connection with the public. the country sort of understanding at a human and each thet i can level of who this person is and where he's trying to 25eubg the country. i don't think he's succeeded in that. >> rose: what's the biggest
11:15 pm
challenge for him for the next two years? >> i think it's hard to define that challenge because it's going to be affected by such profound ways in what happens in these midterm elections. if democrats come out alive with modest losses and... but still retain control of the congress that's an entirely different picture. it allows him to continue to be -- to my mind-- a very ideologically ambitious president. i've been struck with some of the complaints on the left that they don't know what obama stands for or they think he's been a big disappointment. it's been an enormously productive season of governing in washington. you can't say that barack obama is jimmy carter and he's gotten licked by washington. he hasn't. he's accomplished big things. you can argue whether those are good things or bad but you can't argue that they're small. and i think that... a decent democratic result in november would allow him to continue that. if democrats get licked in the fall, you're going to have...
11:16 pm
you're going to see a... i think a much different presidency. they're going to have to come up with a new theory of a case of how they govern. and, you know, this obama team, charlie, has been often pretty disdainful in private conversations of bill clinton. they think he stood for kind of a small-ball presidency, al about tactics and not about a larger vision. i think they're going to start to appreciate bill clinton's presidency if they find themselves in a similar situation as clinton did facing a hostile republican congress. >> rose: you once wrote a book about politics with mark halprin, i heard him say this morning he could see the republicans winning an extra 60 seats, which would give them the majority. is that in your judgment and among the political cognizant that you know likely? >> there's a lot of people who think it's likely. i think what mark was citing was not some kind of outlandish prediction. you're asking me personally do i think it's likely, i don't. i do think that you're seeing
11:17 pm
plenty of instances of republicans no, ma'am putting forward the most electable candidates. not putting forward the most attractive face for their party and the closer we get to november you're going to have not simply a referendum on obama and the democrat bus a clear choice. i don't think that choice is likely to produce the sort of overwhelming gains, republican gains that some people are forecasting. i think they might be fairly modest. >> rose: so democrats retain control of the house and the senate would be your guess now. >> that's my guess now with the proviso, charlie, that anybody who would consistently bet on my electoral predictions would not be a wealthy man. >> rose: i thank you for joining us. >> great fun. good to see you, charlie. >> rose: john harris from politico as we look at the politics and the political leadership of president obama. back in a moment. martin amis is here to talk about his new novel and his close friendship with christopher hitchens. stay with us.
11:18 pm
martin amis is here. at just 24 he published his debut novel "the rachel papers." he was quickly branded a career rival thaofg his famous father kingsley amis. 20 books later, martin amis is now 60 and going strong. ron charles of the "washington post" says "there's not a smarter cleverer writer alive than martin amis." "the pregnant widow" is his 12th novel. i'm pleased to have him here back at this table. and there's also this in the beginning of the book. from that you chose this title.
11:19 pm
>> yeah. he was talking about social and political revolutions and the revolution i'm talking about is the sexual revolution, that that was no different than from any other in that it isn't a flip, it isn't a capsize when you have a revolution, it's a... you know, you start from a new basis but then it takes forever to adjust itself because your old beliefs and inhibitions in the case of the sexual revolution don't evaporate at the snap of a finger. they have to work their way through you. and i think, for instance, the rise of women-- which i applaud and encourage whenev i can-- will take at least another century. so "the pig are widow" is in her first trimester. it isn't a fate acomply. it's something that will evolve
11:20 pm
where where we are now and it's still evolving. >> rose: you set this in 1970 because of your subject matter, aassume. >> the hinge year. i remember very clearly. people say "you didn't know it was a revolution then." oh, yes, you did. you would have been a little bit older, but can remember what it was like before the sexual revolution and how tremendously dedicated girls were to the old ways. i.e., you know, you save yourself for your husband and there will be no sex before marriage. >> rose: and then all of a sudden? >> then all of a sudden it was like when you see these documentaries about the wildebeest in africa and there's a tremor and then a stampede and they're off. and it was very like that. and slightly unreal as always these things always are. above all, unreal. and the thought that, you know,
11:21 pm
walking along or sitting around the pool with girls who are sunbathing topless, i had this this persistent thought which is where the where are the police?" >> rose: you had experienced this going to italy on a vacation about that time? >> yeah. there was such a summer. but it was... whereas this is full of teeming sexual tensions and aspirations, that summer was pa thet nick that nothing would ever happen. young people and possibilities, but nothing came of it. >> rose: your narrator is a 20-year-old keith here inning. is that you? >> it started out being me when i stupidly tried to write for quite a long time an autobiographical novel about the sexual revolution with that title and then realized, a, that real life in fiction is dead. it's inert because life is chaos, it has none of the symmetries and patterning of a novel. and also that you can't write
11:22 pm
about your own sex life without being disgusting or at least embarrassing. there is just not... there isn't a voice that can do it. and, in fact, writing about sex may, indeed, be a dead end. and i manage it there for... in that the sex that is described is pornographic in nature and there are various plot reasons why this is so. and it's perfectly easy to write about emotionless sex. but what has always defeated writers is... including lawrence and updike and everyone else who's really tried it is that you cannot... sex is deuniversallizing. >> rose: why did you want to write about sex? >> i... well, charlie, as you get older... >> rose: (laughs) yes. tell charlie. >> you want to know what you lived through. what was the big political...
11:23 pm
cultural political development of your time. for our grandparents it would have been the movement of people from the land to the cities. for our father's time, our parent's time it would have been the war. for us, i think this was the great change. this was the reinvention of how men and women were to behave to each other and a great, necessary, and inevitable thing. but an ambiguous thing with its own casualties and its own ways of getting it wrong. >> rose: it's just impossible, do you think, to be autobiographical, as you suggest in to write that kind of thing that will be rivetting and interesting? >> well, how are you going to do it? are you going to say "towards morning i took her again"? there's that sort of style. or there's... you know, as you sometimes find in trashier fiction, "she was sobbing and
11:24 pm
damn near fainted." >> rose: but you also said you wanted to write about the one you missed. >> yeah, well i think that's what obsesses us all. when all you've got to do is keep your mouth shut and yet it doesn't... something goes wrong and i think you never forget those. you never forget any of them, any of your erotic sexual life but those ones hurt. >> rose: the ones you missd? >> yeah. >> rose: in fact, you suggest on your deathbed or keith suggests on your deathbed, most men... it's almost universal, keith says, they think about the ones they missed and the ones they had. >> well, bertram russell i think put it this way. i've never seen it on... no man is ever unconfirmed it, that you just wish there'd been more of it. just bulk, you know? >> rose: (laughs) is that right? is your that your sentiment now at 60? you wish there had been more of it? >> yeah. and... (laughs) but it's very... it's completely
11:25 pm
intelligible that those are the times when you're most intensely alive. >> rose: when you here in the midst of sex? >> well... >> rose: leading up to it and the act itself and thinking about it and everything else. >> yeah. this is love and life, idealliment it's all part of that. it's the most... the erotic, the life force is at its most intense. and i think if you haven't had that kind of past to look back on, you face a very denuded present when you're older. >> rose: if you haven't had a rich sexual life to look back on you'll have a denuded presence when you're older? >> yeah, i think so. because this way, as go tkpwol said, make sure you visit all the human emotions when you are young because you won't find them at the other end. the first passages of your life right up until early middle age it was as if you were entering
11:26 pm
something and it all had the freshness of surprise. and now it's more... it's a farewell mode. from saying hi to saying bye. but it... but there's a great poignancy and preciousness in that that things look the more valuable as you make your preparations for leaving them. >> rose: are you informed by the fact that you your father... you were there over the years that he was near the end? >> well, my father died 15 years ago. my mother died two months ago. >> rose: which was traumatic for you? >> in very different ways. when my father died-- and novelists always assume that what they feel is universal, that's the whole gamble of being a novelist. >> rose: (laughs) yes. i have some superior insight into the universality of human emotion. >> that you're an every man, you know? that... unlike a poet, a novelist has to be, as auden
11:27 pm
said, to become the whole of board. among the just be just, among the filthy filthy too. you have to be every man in a way a poet isn't. but when my father died i felt... as well as stunned, very stimulated. tremendously full of words and almost a sort of levitational feeling, as if i was leaving the earth to take up a higher position in my internal life. but the death of a mother, i find, is the absolute opposite. that it enervates you, it depresses you, silences you. and i'm just wagering that that's the case very even, every man. >> rose: i think the worst i've ever cried was when i found out my mother was going to die. i remember just sobbing uncontrollably. >> like a child. >> rose: and painfully. >> >> like a child. yeah. and very automatically, without
11:28 pm
any premedication, i mean just... it's like a physical convulsion. >> rose: that's exactly the way i felt. yeah. yourer the is in here. >> yes. >> rose: you've also... she died... >> very young. >> rose: very young. you made her a character and she was pleased by it because in a conversation with you she said "you have my permission." >> she said... yeah, i got her out of some terrible typical difficulty and she wanted to thank me and i could see her thinking, wracking her brains for something, a way to thank me and she just said very lucidly "write about me. you can say whatever you like." because i've actually... outrageous as the character is, i sort of slightly toned her down in this book. but she was... i wanted to write about the casualties of the sexual revolution. and there were some. i mean, nothing too... nothing
11:29 pm
too dreadful but she was an extreme case and would have struggled in any... in any society. but the sexual revolution provided by the style and setting of her... >> rose: why was she casualty? >> because she couldn't... she didn't have a very advanced mental age, basically. i think perhaps because she took some drugs when she was in her early teens. she lived in america, hallucinogenic drugs. but she couldn't cope with the freedom. >> rose: meaning she wanted to do it with everybody? >> yeah. it was her currency, her exchange with the world. >> rose: you have children. >> i do. but they never read... >> rose: you're even a grandfather now. >> i am. but your children never really tell you what they're up to. you get a pretty good idea.
11:30 pm
>> rose: (laughs) yeah. aging. you fear? you have said that writers kind of lose it at 70. >> well, yeah, and this didn't used to come up because, you know, shaeurbgs spear dead at 54, dickens at 59, jane austen at 41. there was no question of anyone going off or losing their gifts. >> rose: how old was tolstoy when he wrote war and peace? >> all those great books were in their 30s. some writers obsess by this and have charts. >> rose: or you? >> no, i never paid it much mind until i read the last nabakov novel and the... that little fragment, the original of laura, and i thought that a decline was traceable there. and in every other writer i come
11:31 pm
across. so writers die twice, you know? >> rose: how much of your fear of all of this has to do with vanity? >> well, i never thought i was very vain but old age forces it on you, does it not? there's a sort of mechanism at work that is... comes to your aid as it seldom does in age where you... the mirror no longer actually tell kwhraous you look like. >> rose: or you don't look at the mirror. >> well, you look at it and it probably is telling you the truth but you can't see it. all it gives you in at least two senses is a rough idea. but to put your reading glasses on and stare in the mirror makes you vain. willy-nilly. >> rose: so yo are you less happy because of all of this? >> no, i wouldn't say i was less happy. i'm less something, but i wouldn't say less happy. >> i mean you don't look... can you come to grips with the arc
11:32 pm
of life? you inevitably will have to but... >> my mother was a great example of this. she was a country girl, grew up with animals and worked with animals and she never had any illusions about... you know, that life comes to an end. and i think, you know, it's famousedly case that we can't see our own deaths. no man can look at the sun or his own death with a steady eye. but there is an obligation to. and as saul bellow wrote "death is the dark backing a mirror needs before we can see ourselves." so you have to make a reckoning with it. sober, decent terms with death. you have to see it coming and see it for what it is. it's hard to do. >> rose: what it is is the end. >> it is. but not all of you will die is what you think if you're...
11:33 pm
certainly if you're a writer. and... >> rose: you think hitch believes that? >> yeah. yeah. >> rose: because of you what you leave? >> what you leave and this is universally true for anyone who has children. >> rose: of course. >> that the desire for immortality is perhaps... perhaps explains all the extraordinary achievements, both good and bad. but it is universal and that is what we want and that's why death is so painful. >> rose: this book is called "hitch 22, a memoir" christopher hitchens, author. he's in the book. he's in this book. he's the older brother norman. yes? >> yeah. with adjustments, yes. you can't quite put a... >> rose: well, what part of him is in it. >> the intelligence. >> rose: oh, it's more than that. >> intelligence, the... you know, his use of words. his insouciance, his bravery.
11:34 pm
various necessary qualities. >> rose: his love of politics? >> yes. but that's not gone into there. his engagement. fearlessness, which he's still displaying, i think. >> rose: fearlessness? >> yeah. >> rose: talk about him. he's very much alive, i just did a conversation with him that will be airing soon. but as he has announced himself, he has cancer of the esophagus and he has said eloquently in a piece in "vanity fair" he understand it is numbers. tell me about the friendship and tell me what happens when you know that someone that close, that you love that much, perhaps like a brother, is... >> more than a brother. >> rose: more than a brother. >> yeah. >> rose: characterize it for
11:35 pm
me and just tell me about it. >> well, it's... it's actually best characterized as an unconsummated gay marriage, really. >> rose: (laughs) . >> when we met it was a sort of ... like the lightning stroke. >> rose: really? >> yeah. i mean, i thought, here's someone who knows exactly what i think and feel about everything and i think he thinks that about me, too. as if our sensibilities and our minds were somehow interchangeable. but very... a romantic friendship from the start. >> rose: love. >> and based on, as i say, unconsummated physical attraction. >> rose: i understand you said that. but on the other hand he talks about consummated affairs when he was young. >> yeah. >> rose: why did it never happen? >> because i just sort of let him down by not being... by not going to a british public
11:36 pm
school, basically. >> rose: (laughs) yes, indeed. >> had i than that's... who knows? but, no, i just... he was pan sexual, i'd say. and often at gatherings if he was having to leave early he said "i'll just make a brief pass at everyone in the room and then i'll be on my way." >> rose: (laughs). >> and he would make a brief pass at everyone. >> rose: but this relationship for the most part stood the test of time. this friendship, this love, this beyond-brother. >> we never had any... >> rose: well, you've written critically of each other. that's the nature of what you are and what you do. >> never got in the way of anything. it's on the record. but it's a cloudless friendship. >> rose: you've said that. it's a wonderful phrase. "a cloudless friendship." >> a love whose month is ever made. >> rose: both of those two things. in fact, he uses seasons also to talk about things.
11:37 pm
he uses these words like "churlish" all the time. you can see there's a repetition. the language was a bonding. >> yes, and soon playing sort of word games and... >> rose: what kind of word games? >> you know, that notorious one where you take phrases... >> rose: hysterical cell? >> that sort of thing. or stop in the name of hysterical sex. and it's very like a familial relationship in that as you do with your wife, you build up these hundred little code words and sort of stupid pronunciation s and imitations and other voices are introduced and it becomes like a... it makes up the texture of the friendship and it's... it is done with words and repetitions of words. >> rose: so what do you say to someone when you know who that they have gotten the worst
11:38 pm
possible news? >> i'm finding that it's... i'm finding the two streams very difficult to separate-- my mother and my friend. it's like two parallel rivers of distress. but i... it's very hard for me to analyze. it's getting a bit clearer. but the world looks sort of lousy, you know? and not something that you... that you feel the same oneness with. it looks alien. >> rose: because it's taking away things you love so much? >> it's denaturing it, yeah. it's taking away something that you've come to regard as part of its essence. >> rose: and its beauty and its... >> yeah, and it had... the world has much... doesn't have such
11:39 pm
good color as it did for me before this summer. >> rose: here's what you said i think last year. "what kills us all in the end is the death of people we know. it become this is terrible weight. it builds up and we can't take it." >> yeah, and i also think that we live half our lives in shock and it's the latter half. and you... someone very close to you dies and you think you're not over it but you're past it or you're through it or... but, in fact, you're not. you're just in shock about it. and i think when the wheels do come off for people my age-- as they sometimes do-- it is just the accumulation of shock. you know, when something terrible happens, you can feel these chemicals coming to your aid. and this puts you in a numbed state. but then suddenly they wear off and it's a false state, really,
11:40 pm
of... it's a false calm. and if these things accumulate very thickly then it can, i'm sure, sort of push you to the side of your own life in a disastrous way. >> rose: two things about hitch when we're talking about him. he said that he was in the beginning certainly considered himself always the smaller fish. again, sort of the gift of describing himself. >> well... i've been criticized for saying this but i think he flowered as a writer in 1989. it sounds simplistic and not meant to be the slightest bit insulting to him. but he always had that bit of his mind that was loyal to the soviet union. loyal to trotsky. >> rose: it wasn't the soviet union it was trotsky and marxism. >> and lenin up to a point.
11:41 pm
>> rose: but it was more trotsky than... >> trotsky because trotsky had great literary talent and flare. but once... the obligation, as he said, to raised his scarred old fists to defend these, in many ways, beautiful ideals, although as we saw, sort of horribly travestied in the end. >> rose: never to become. >> no. and actually, you know, what sort of a utopia would it be? it would be hideous, the marxist you open the kwrarbgs it's an appalling vision. utopias are always hells. but once he'd start needing to do that, it was almost instantaneous that his literary gifts were suddenly free. writing is free... >> rose: liberated and enhanced. >> yeah. writing is freedom. if you've got some commissar staring over your shoulder, you're not free. if you have some consensus that you're loyal to, you're not free. >> rose: the power of
11:42 pm
reference. is that a learned thing? i mean... >> the power of reference is very close to what is so extraordinary about christopher. >> rose: yeah, exactly. >> that, you know, it's like a lawyer who can marshall dozens of precedents and counterexamples and he does, as ian mcewen said of him, he has this extraordinary library in his head where he can pick out... >> rose: access. >> ...whatever he needs, at the. and a google in his mind. eight million results. >> rose: he has a search engine. >> yes. but that, i think, is... it's temperament, training, like memorizing things. >> rose: it is. >> he knows a lot of verse, as i do,. and you train yourself up with that. i mean, you... once you start doing it, you get that right.
11:43 pm
>> rose: and you continue to do it. >> yeah, yeah, i do. >> rose: he says you have an amazing ability at mimicry. that, in fact, when you'd have these conversations that you would lower your voice and change the inflection and you would inhabit the character that you were talking about. >> yeah, up to a point. i mean, very... not much to compare with my father who could do imitations of ten different tramps having coughing fits in the same bus shelter. >> rose: (laughs) yes. >> and things that would almost put him in hospital they were so demanding. but i think mimicry is... i always value it in anyone. >> rose: so when you met hitch, it just changed... it was like... >> yeah, and he was... >> rose: beyond a soul mate. >> it was a bit like my father and phillip larkin although unreciprocated in larkin's case. the prospect of seeing him excited you pretty much, as much as the prospect of seeing a
11:44 pm
marvelous woman. the same kind of anticipation. >> rose: knowing you would enjoy it. knowing that something would be happening unexpected. knowing there would be discovery. >> that great combination of the expected and the unexpected, yes >> rose: he loves politics. you don't seem to care much about politics. >> i'm a dilettante with politics. i have written a fair bit about it by now, but what i haven't got and what christopher is' got is you never took the wound, you know? you never suffered. you never had the disappoint disappointment. >> rose: he expected more and therefore was disappointed, you never expected. >> no, i never expected. and i'm... he's basically a rebel and a revolutionary, whatever anyone thinks now. he doesn't respect anything.
11:45 pm
except, you know,... >> rose: you know what he said to me, he like blair, admires blair a great deal. does that surprise you? >> it does rather, yeah. >> rose: he says in the the interview. >> well, i travel with blair, i went to washington, ireland, iraq with him. and he was... what he is is tremendously able. he's rather ignorant. >> rose: of what? >> politics and history. history. i mean, he's a tremendous... he has great antenna, but he doesn't have a deep feeling for history and there was one extraordinary moment in basra where we'd been to baghdad and we'd... he was giving a speech and he gave a good speech. >> rose: basra's in southern iraq, is it? >> southern iraq. and then we went into the room where there was a padre and these young soldiers and they were having a very bad time. they'd lost a lot of comrades and a lot of serious injuries
11:46 pm
and it was the only time in the whole series of trips i took with him and his entourage where i wanted to say "tony, let me deal with this." >> rose: (laughs). >> because what he had to do was find words of comfort and of decorum for these bereaved very impressive young men. but, you know, in great pain. in a very dark place. and tony blair just couldn't manage it. i don't know if he has the sort of... the high style of politics at all. he's a great fixer and a great pragmatist. but i don't think... >> rose: you mean he doesn't have the poetry of politics? >> he doesn't feel the poetry of politics as even stalin did. >> rose: clinton does. >> clinton's very eloquent. >> rose: but, i mean, he feels the poetry but he's no... he has no fan in chris hitchens. >> no, hitch loathes clinton.
11:47 pm
and i think obama has a great feeling for the poetry of... >> rose: certainly the words more than the heart. >> i think he has the heart. there was a... i love obama. and when people criticize him i feel as if they're criticize ago member of my family. >> rose: do you really. >> yeah. >> rose: because he made america young again or... well... >> rose: he made america thinking again? >> what a terrific writer in the white house. the last time that was true, i think, was lincoln. there was an old science fiction film 20 years ago called "the brother from another planet." >> rose: right, of course. >> and it had a very good song. >> rose: didn't john what's his name make a movie about it? "the brother from another planet? >> yeah, and i always thought of obama as "the brother from another planet." because in the film he comes and sees the absurdities of earth and dreams up novel solution but alas, the president of the
11:48 pm
united states funnily enough can only put his little finger on the tiller of this great ocean liner and he can only change so much. >> rose: you have said that british politics, for example, is irrelevant and that britain is irrelevant. >> yeah. and by god you feel it when you're... spend some time in america and you see how... >> rose: vibrant? >> well, how little... >> rose: we care about... >> the "new york times," dismissive occasional pieces about what's going on in britain. >> rose: what do you think of cameron? >> i... he's... i thought he was a sort of pretty boy with no bottom to him, but he's overseeing some really savage social change. >> rose: necessary? >> probably. and i don't think ideological. i think just budgetary and necessary. >> rose: or economically necessary because the deficit will kill you at some point. >> it will kill you at some point. but the simple truth is what happens in britain doesn't matter in the world.
11:49 pm
whereas what america... america matters everywhere. >> rose: but we live in a multilateral world. there are british troops in afghanistan. that matters. >> it's going to become more multilateral. >> rose: so your next book is called "the state of england." where are you on that? >> nearly finished. coming to the end. >> rose: and what's it? >> it's a satire about british culture. and the main character... >> rose: (laughs) is the culture dead, too? >> well, it's very weird. there's something very wrong with it. but it's about a violent criminal who wins... a young violent criminal who wins $99 million in the lottery and becomes a national figure. and immediately goes back to prison where he invest it is $99 million and comes out with close to $700 million. and the excesses that... >> rose: and what does he do and how he... >> well, i read a book about a
11:50 pm
lottery winner who was a criminal and i... am amused and touched by it. but i thought my guy can't do any of this because this is the sort of cliche road so i won't tell you, but it's more convoluted than you might think. >> rose: have you written what you think is your best book yet? >> well, anthony burgess when asked what his best book was always said "the next one." >> rose: i know he did. yes. >> and you'd like to think that. >> rose: that's like saying that, you know, people ask you to choose your best book and you say "it's like choosing among my children." >> exactly. it is like that. it would be deeply wrong to single one out. but... so i... >> rose: but size up what you think you have achieved. give me a sense of where you put yourself today in terms of where you expected to be. what is your assessment at 60 of martin amis? >> did more than i thought i was going to. >> rose: really?
11:51 pm
>> i always knew i was in it for life and that was it and it was the only thing that really... >> rose: and you knew that early. >> at once, yeah, from teen years. >> rose: and how much of that was your father? >> it seemed quite independent of him. and i hadn't read him and for all i knew he was writing westerns or detective stories. but... so i... my father once said my ambition was to create a niche in literature. >> rose: he said that about you or... >> about himself. >> rose: and your ambition was? >> i think that's a... that's how one should pitch it really. that you just want to make an impression and then it's up to time to tell you how capacious that niche was. >> rose: some have said they think of you and your father as one entity. >> yeah, i think that's the slightly ridiculous relationship i have with the press in england
11:52 pm
is to do with that. that they want know die and they think i was born in 1922 and... >> rose: they want you to die? >> well, they can't understand why i'm still around. because i... all my father's books are somehow on my c.v. now. it's not a conscious thought. but it... i think this is there's a slight impatience that i'm heading for 100 years old and i ought to turn it in. >> rose: (laughs) so what do you say to them? >> i cheerfully retaliate and i... >> rose: retaliate in what way? >> well, i wrote a piece sort of mocking in view that i wrote my first novel when i was five. you know, "lucky jim." >> rose: (laughs). >> and been writing two a year for... >> rose: (laughs) yeah. well someone wrote that you simply don't fit the mold of what england wants its novelists to be. >> and also the affiliation with
11:53 pm
america, which is much resented and the affiliation with the american novel in that... >> rose: mainly the... how much you admire bellow. >> and all the others. that i feel that i'm at least a sort of mid-atlantic novelist and not just... >> rose: halfway between. >> not just a little englander. >> rose: gray i don't know den carter and others have written about the way the sort of rollout of martin amis books, comparing it to steve jobs bringing us a new iphone. do you recoil at that or you say that's commerce or what do you say? >> i don't know what he's on about, really, because i just do what my publishers ask me to do. but then what happens in england is that i say a couple of controversy things. >> rose: and they say you say that deliberately in order to promote the book.
11:54 pm
>> yes. >> rose: like euthanasia... that kind of thing? >> you'd have to be a jerk to say controversial things on purpose. and also how would you know it's going to be controversial until you've said it, you know? you know, that's blaming the victim. >> rose: thank you for coming. >> been a pleasure. >> rose: martin amis "the pregnant widow" a his latest novel. the next one we'll see in about a year, i assume, "the state of england." thank you. >> rose: thank you. for joining us. we'll see you next time.
11:55 pm
11:56 pm
11:57 pm
11:58 pm
11:59 pm