Archive | Interviews RSS feed for this section

Interview with John David Lewis

The goal of a war is to defeat an enemy’s will to fight. So argues the author of Nothing Less than Victory: Decisive Wars and the Lessons of History (Princeton University Press, 2010), who makes the case that a strong military offense can win a war and establish lasting peace while playing defense often leads to destruction. This study of six major wars, from the Second Punic War to World War 2, by historian John David Lewis, contrasts the use of overwhelming force, such as the Greek victory over Xerxes’ army and navy, with a lack of reason, purpose, and commitment to fight. On the eve of the 10th year since the worst attack in American history, I turned to my friend John Lewis, a visiting associate professor of philosophy, politics, and economics at Duke University and teacher at Objectivist Conferences (OCON), to discuss today’s war from a historical perspective. Dr. Lewis is the author of Solon the Thinker: Political Thought in Archaic Athens and Early Greek Lawgivers.

Scott Holleran: What is the theme of Nothing Less Than Victory: Decisive Wars and the Lessons of History?

John David Lewis: That wars are driven and caused by people’s decisions to fight and that those decisions are based on the ideas they hold. This has enormous implications for what victory means, because it means discrediting the ideas we’re trying to defeat. For example, one could never explain Germany’s massive attacks [against other countries] or Japan’s massive attack on America, in which they launched into intercontinental warfare, without understanding the ideals that they held. The theme of Nothing Less Than Victory is that one must defeat the enemy by discrediting his ideas.

Scott Holleran: How was Nothing Less Than Victory suggested by your students?

John David Lewis: I was teaching a class on ancient and modern warfare and it became clear that a comparative history would be useful. My students posed good questions.

Scott Holleran: While writing about the rise of the Nazis, did The Ominous Parallels: The End of Freedom in America by Leonard Peikoff help your understanding?

John David Lewis: Yes, because it’s the only book I know of that places philosophical ideas as the lesson of history. It’s not only an explanation of Nazi Germany in terms of ideas but, much more deeply and widely, it demonstrates how ideas move history.

Scott Holleran: The current administration supports military involvements in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, as well as other underreported incursions in nations such as Yemen and Pakistan, with something other than, or less than, a purpose let alone a victory. The Oxford English Dictionary defines warmonger as “a person who seeks to bring about or promote war.” As a commander-in-chief who supports and initiates militarism with no purpose or end, is President Obama a warmonger?

John David Lewis: I think he’s incompetent but I don’t think Obama is a warmonger. He inherited those wars but he’s simply unable to bring those wars to a decisive end. His main goal is to bring about a fundamental restructuring of the relationship of every American to the government, which is why ObamaCare was among his top three initiatives, because there’s no better way to define that relationship than through health care. So, his major initiative is to change us from the inside out and I think foreign policy is a distraction to him. It’s a symptom of his incompetence, not warmongering. One other aspect of this is that, unlike Bush, with regard to rules of engagement, he generally lets the generals do as they want but this slight improvement [over Bush] is not because Obama is driven to victory.

Scott Holleran: Are the U.S. military interventions in Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan properly described as wars?

John David Lewis: When you have combatants you have a war. As Ayn Rand said about the Vietnam War, and I’m paraphrasing, when foreign soldiers are killing Americans, it’s a war and nothing but a war. Certainly, these are wars, but they’re wars in which one side knows it’s fighting a war and the other side is desperately avoiding using that term.

Scott Holleran: You have publicly discussed your cancer diagnosis with regard to domestic health policy and compared your battle against cancer with the themes in Nothing Less Than Victory. Has your condition affected your thoughts on war?

John David Lewis: It has sharpened something—that my battle against cancer is a metaphor, not a war. There’s intelligence gathering in the first stage, nuclear warfare—chemicals and radiation—in the second stage and then we send in the Marines—with doctors and nurses. In a war, you’re dealing with other human beings, who have free will. With cancer, the disease does not have a mind of its own; beating it is a matter of biological causality.

Scott Holleran: Are you primarily a teacher, a writer or an historian?

John David Lewis: It depends on what day it is. Tomorrow, I start teaching two courses at Duke, so tomorrow I’m a teacher. I don’t see any kind of exclusivity—I think they’re mutually supportive. I would not want to be only a historian or writer, because I need the stimulation of teaching.

Scott Holleran: If the U.S. continues to deteriorate, with, for example, an economic collapse or major Islamic terrorist attack, historically speaking, which is more likely: anarchy, civil war, or religious dictatorship?

John David Lewis: Probably some form of religious dictatorship. The two events you name, economic collapse from inside and an attack from outside, are very different. In the case of an attack, I think the American people would look for a leader to unite them and the chances are much greater that they’ll look to a religious leader and we’ll end up with a fascist dictatorship. It depends on the attack, too; obviously, if there are 20 nuclear bombs detonated at once, we may lose our infrastructure and descend into some form of anarchy, but I think we’re more likely to have a single nuclear attack. With an economic collapse, the public would [be more likely to] look for a leader who would seek centralization of power. The infrastructure—the command structure—the equipment—for a police state is already in place at our airports with the TSA. The American people are already habituated to accept it.

Scott Holleran: What is your most controversial point in Nothing Less Than Victory?

John David Lewis: That ideas drive history. Two things are necessary in war; the capacity to fight and the will to fight. During the so-called Cold War, the two great powers were the Soviet Union and the United States, but a third power with capacity was England—and no one went after them because they posed no threat. So, in fact, the most controversial idea is the most obvious; that ideas are the drivers of history. Among readers, the most controversial idea is my point that it was moral to drop the atom bomb on Japan.

Scott Holleran: We now know that the Soviets had infiltrated the United States government and U.S. industries, including motion pictures, and society. Is jihadist Moslem infiltration—including takeover—of the U.S. government possible?

John David Lewis: I don’t think takeover was the kind of thing the Communists were after. What they were going to do is [try to] elect people who would be sympathetic to the Soviet cause. I think that, in a certain sense, there’s a strong parallel, because those who want a radical Islamic war culminating in a one-world government are just as overt in pursuing their goals as were the Communists. But the Soviets were less interested in a one-world government [than jihadists]. The Iranians may be less focused on one-world government than the Saudis. The Iranians act more like the Soviets—they want to have nukes to play like the big boys, whereas the Saudis are more like the Trotskyites. They want this worldwide evolution [toward Islamic statism] and are more patient about infiltrating [Western civilization]. The Saudis have built thousands of mosques and [radical Islamic group] CAIR has directly said that Sharia law imposed over the United States will come. To actually take over the U.S. government in the sense that they impose Sharia law? We’re a long way from that. But if you mean creating sympathies and bringing about a radical Islamic-influenced government…

Scott Holleran: Certain presidential candidates have recently been linked to campaign donors who may be connected, directly or indirectly, to groups that support Islamic jihadist aims. Are you concerned that the enemy could shape and influence American government through a Manchurian candidate?

John David Lewis: Yes. It’s part of the insidiousness of these groups. Today, any candidate knows that accepting money from jihadist groups for influence would kill the campaign—you can’t keep that kind of thing a secret. So that would be less likely than the threat of covert multiculturalist ideas being spread and accepted throughout the culture.

Scott Holleran: What is the central lesson of each war discussed in Nothing Less Than Victory as it relates to today’s war?

John David Lewis: The need to name the enemy, identify him as an enemy and develop a strategy that defeats him at his center—an elusive concept—or close to a center of gravity of economic, social, political support for the [jihadist] war [against the West]. [Carl von] Clausewitz writes about this—that Americans have a strong moral center, so that, by attacking our moral center, the enemy imposes guilt. We saw this in the Vietnam War when we were criticized for distinguishing between [Communist] North and [non-Communist] South Vietnam. After the war ended, one of our generals went to a former North Vietnamese military general and said, “you never defeated us in the battlefield.” And his North Vietnamese counterpart said that was irrelevant. You need to be right in what you’re doing and you need to know that you’re right in what you’re doing.

Scott Holleran: You write about the citizens of ancient Carthage and those in South Carolina and Georgia during the Civil War not facing the consequences of war. Are today’s Americans disconnected from war?

John David Lewis: Yes. In a certain sense, they’re very disconnected from the war because they’re not facing an attack on their soil right now, so I don’t think they know what’s going on. When I talk to soldiers, I get a very different sense about what’s going on in Iraq and Afghanistan than what I see in the media. But, in another sense, we are more connected because we live in the age of technology, and people can get news from the battlefield. What would Americans at home have said had images from Iwo Jima been sent back home?

Scott Holleran: You write about Union General Sherman’s remarkably low casualties during the Civil War. Why is that fact not widely taught or known?

John David Lewis: Because people today are caught up in the myth of Sherman as the Attila from the North. Southerners created that myth.

Scott Holleran: How did the myth become so widely accepted in the North?

John David Lewis: That’s a good question. The intellectuals, historians and the press are all complicit in this—it strikes their morality that Sherman specifically targeted civilians—and once they accept that that’s what Sherman did, they move on rather than examine the facts of what happened. Why are Hiroshima and Nagasaki held up as moral evils while failing to consider what alternatives the United States had? Facts are forgotten and subordinated for moral reasons.

Scott Holleran: You also write about Confederates hiding behind civilians like today’s Moslem jihadists. Are there other examples in history of using civilians as covers for combatants during war?

John David Lewis: That happens all the time in war. Any time an army backs up into a city and defends against its walls, the civilians are being held hostage in some way. So there’s certainly a precedent in history. I don’t think the Confederates were necessarily worse even than the Union. Palestinian snipers look for Israeli troops where they are facing civilians and what they want is to get the Israelis to return gunfire against civilians to get publicity—they want the enemy to kill civilians as a pretext. That’s worse.

Scott Holleran: Is the mass death of freed slaves at Ebeneezer Creek in any way indicative that the Union army was racist, too, and does the tragedy diminish the moral righteousness of the Union cause?

John David Lewis: Racist? Of course. Everyone was a racist back then. Does it diminish the moral status of the Union’s cause? Absolutely not! Many freed slaves wanted to be with Sherman’s army. As Union armies were moving ahead under Union General Jefferson C. Davis’s command, freed slaves followed. Coming to the creek, with Confederates behind them, Davis ordered pontoons brought up, leaving the freed slaves behind, and then they were attacked by Southern armies. Davis may have been racist but who caused the dangers to the freed slaves? It was the Southern army. Davis is given moral criticism for failing to rescue blacks from Southerners. But it’s the Southerners that were to blame. They were the ones attacking. They were ones who’d enslaved them.

Scott Holleran: Coming to the 20th century wars, you write that President Woodrow Wilson sought “peace without victors.” Who is the last president who didn’t?

John David Lewis: Franklin Roosevelt.

Scott Holleran: You trace President Wilson’s ideals to philosopher Thomas Hobbes and, centrally, to philosopher Immanuel Kant. Is Wilson America’s first Kantian president?

John David Lewis: I don’t know enough about the intellectual history of American presidents to say whether he’s the first but he’s heavily influenced by Kant because the basis of his education was German. It’s Kant’s 1795 essay on Perpetual Peace that calls for the establishment of a worldwide state. Kant calls for “a league of nations”. Kant directly influenced the League of Nations. People forget that Kant said that all nations of the world should be republics and he rejected democracy—but he blanked out the fact that all nations in the world are not republics. The influence of Kant in education that was German-based clearly influenced Woodrow Wilson.

Scott Holleran: Why do liberals condemn Nazi Germany but drop the context of the Nazis’ government-controlled economics?

John David Lewis: I don’t know. I think the inference takes them down a road that they don’t want to go. They don’t want to face the fact that being an advocate of a government-controlled economy makes them tyrannical. It’s forgotten that these fascist states were woefully inefficient. I have evidence that Mussolini did not make the trains run on time, yet this notion that fascism is efficient persists. Last night, I saw a Star Trek episode in which Spock tells Kirk that Nazi Germany was the world’s most efficient society. That’s not true.

Scott Holleran: You report that the media aided and abetted the rise of the Nazis. Is today’s press complicit in aiding the rise of fascism, too?

John David Lewis: Oh, sure, though they wouldn’t say it that way. The press itself is almost always solidly on the side of greater and bigger government programs, except for the Wall Street Journal and some conservative outlets. They don’t want to call themselves fascists but in effect that is what they are supporting.

Scott Holleran: Did the West drive Italian dictator Benito Mussolini into an alliance with Nazi Germany?

John David Lewis: I don’t know—I don’t have a good answer for that. If it’s true that Mussolini was afraid of Nazi Germany, there certainly were times, especially when the Germans moved into the Rhineland and Czechoslovakia, when all offers and opportunities might have stopped the Nazi flood. I think the West was instrumental—and complicit—in driving Mussolini into an alliance with Nazi Germany in the same way we did with [Cuban dictator] Fidel Castro and the Soviet Union, but I would never place primary blame or cause on the West because both probably would have happened anyway. They shared a basic philosophy.

Scott Holleran: Was Imperial Japan as racist as Nazi Germany?

John David Lewis: In its own way, yes. The more I read about Japan, the more I realize what a truly foreign nation it is—in their morals, in their writing, you see now that, when something goes wrong in a company, the executives have to bow down and apologize. Japan was as racist as Germany in the sense that they saw themselves as racially superior and destined to rule Asia.

Scott Holleran: Is General Douglas MacArthur underestimated as leader and thinker in occupied Japan?

John David Lewis: Yes. In terms of the occupation of Japan, which MacArthur was put in charge of, it resulted in zero deaths and there were no insurrections. What he did was a monumental task and it went as benevolently and well as any occupation in history. He is greatly underestimated.

Scott Holleran: Is it possible for the U.S. public to come to worship a leader, such as Texas Governor Perry, Minnesota Congresswoman Bachmann, or President Obama, as a deity as people did in Japan?

John David Lewis: We’re a long way from that, especially the way it was done in Japan. But the way people treat Barack Obama—as if he’s the divine one, his word is oracle and he can do everything—has parallels.

Scott Holleran: There are a number of war movies in recent years, from 300 and The Alamo remake to recent war-themed pictures such as Stop-Loss, Jarhead and The Lucky Ones—even The King’s Speech hinges upon an understanding of what’s at stake in war. Do you recommend any movies as effective dramatizations of war and/or a proper historical perspective?

John David Lewis: I don’t have a recommendation. I did see one war movie recently—Escape from Sobibor [British made for television, which aired on CBS in 1987] with Alan Arkin. It’s about a German concentration camp—a death camp—in Poland. Like all these camps, there were some prisoners who were not killed; they were out in barracks. Sobibor was where the only full-scale revolt by camp prisoners took place. They ran into the woods and escaped—it’s the one case where everyone, especially the Jews but also the Poles, fought back. They killed the Germans, and then they rushed the main gate and hundreds escaped. That’s worth seeing. I stopped seeing a lot of modern war movies. I have not seen 300. I’ve got the graphic novel and it looks awful. A much better movie about the historic battle is The 300 Spartans [starring Richard Egan, 1962].

Scott Holleran: Any other classic movie recommendations?

John David Lewis: I still like to see Battle of the Bulge [starring Robert Shaw, 1965], which is about reversing the wills to fight. In the beginning, the Americans are demoralized and the Germans are motivated. In the end it’s the opposite. There are some good classic war movies set in World War 2. Even a movie like A Bridge Too Far [1977] has a certain point to it.

Scott Holleran: You write that President Franklin Roosevelt wrote about “the destruction of a philosophy” in achieving victory in World War 2. Does the planned construction of an Islamic mosque near where the Twin Towers once stood—before Islamic jihadists destroyed them on 9/11—represent a victory to the enemy?

John David Lewis: I think it does. It’s not because the people who want to build the mosque are on the side of those who want to destroy the U.S. but they chose to build it near the World Trade Center site for sympathetic reasons and those reasons—for building a $100 million cultural center—are the same reasons that make me want to oppose it. In the plans, there are separate places for men and women, so it’s clearly a place to enforce certain political ideas, which are not consistent with the ideals of the United States. That they choose to build it there is why I oppose building it there.

Scott Holleran: You contrast the Japanese with the Americans in terms of motive, demonstrating that the Japanese, like today’s jihadists, were motivated by death while the Americans fighting in World War 2 were motivated by life. We have been fighting and appeasing jihadists for over 10 years with thousands of U.S. casualties and no progress toward victory. Are Americans losing the will to live?

John David Lewis: That’s a difficult question. If one sees an enemy as out to destroy you and does not act against him, and instead builds bridges to him, then certainly Americans are losing the will to live. Certainly, if we don’t demand a nation that defends itself, that’s true.

Scott Holleran: You write about dropping napalm and atom bombs, not food, on civilians during war. What is the primary reason why we drop food packages not bombs on our enemy?

John David Lewis: On one level, we don’t want to destroy and kill people that way—Americans are very benevolent—and we fail to make the connection between dropping bombs and saving our lives. American intelligence in Japan looked at what was happening inside the country of Japan—inside the houses. When they found out that civilians were being trained to kill Americans, they realized that within those houses were weapons and that civilians were an active part of the war effort and an American intelligence officer made a direct connection; he reported there were no civilians in Japan as far as the war effort was concerned. Recently, we saw a Navy SEAL team come across a group of shepherds that were hostile to the U.S.—and they let them go, knowing the shepherds would turn them over to the enemy if given a chance. It goes back to your question about the will to live, and, in that sense, it’s gone.

Scott Holleran: Which is the greater threat to the United States—Iran, which openly declares its intent to destroy America—or Saudi Arabia, which sponsors Islamic jihadism while claiming to do otherwise?

John David Lewis: They’re both threats. I can’t elevate one above the other.

Scott Holleran: The Nazis were appeased by the West and swept into power, exterminating millions of Jews. The Soviets were allied with and appeased by the West and subsequently conquered much of the civilized world, exterminating millions of people, enslaving tens of millions and fighting a proxy war with the U.S. that funded the forces that created jihadist Islam. Islamic jihadists, too, were allied with and appeased by the West and are fighting a proxy war with the U.S. through subversive terrorism. What horror awaits civilization should jihadists prevail?

John David Lewis: The first thing we would see is the entire Middle East given to Islamic government and all-out war—we would see Islamic rule in the south of France, Spain, and Indonesia, and the predominantly Islamic republics of the former Soviet Union. I do not think that we would see a single caliphate against the United States. I think we would see Iran and Syria against Saudi Arabia and Egypt and whatever would come out of that would push out against the West. European nations are already failing by internal rot. But how far are we from France becoming an Islamic state? Probably far off. The war would spread like a plague through Africa and South America, where they would come to regret the alliance that [Venezuelan dictator] Hugo Chavez made with Iran. And if Iran gets nuclear weapons—and then the Saudis do, too—that would be very bad for the rest of the world.

Scott Holleran: Is America’s current predicament with regard to the unacknowledged war with jihadist Islam fundamentally comparable to either the 300 Spartans or the Alamo?

John David Lewis: [Pauses] No. I don’t think so. In neither Greece nor the Alamo was it denied that there was a problem. Today, we are evading the fact that there’s a problem—that this politicized Islam [jihad, which means holy war] is what motivates the enemy. In that sense, it’s not comparable. The Greeks made a stand against the Persians and it became a rallying cry—the men at the Alamo made a stand against the Mexicans and it became a rallying cry—but when the passengers of United [Air Lines flight] 93 made a stand against the radical Moslems, there should have been a rallying cry, and there wasn’t. Throughout history, we’ve heard “Remember the 300 [Spartans]!” “Remember the Alamo!” and “Remember the Maine!” No one cries “Let’s Roll” to remember United 93.

Scott Holleran: What’s your favorite war memorial?

John David Lewis: It makes me sad to think of that. [Pauses] There is one that comes to mind, though I haven’t been there—the U.S.S. Arizona at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. The [sunken] ship [destroyed with her 1,777 crewmen by the Japanese] was left there and a memorial was built over it. Some of the Confederate war memorials, such as the memorial at Shiloh, are very moving. But the one that seems most moving to me is the Arizona memorial. [Pauses] I do not think it’s time to build a memorial to the victims of 9/11. There’s a line about building a war memorial during a war that may be attributable to, of all people, Eleanor Roosevelt: We’ll win the war—then we’ll have a memorial.

Scott Holleran: What one idea, more than any other idea, must be accepted in our culture for the West to achieve victory over jihadist Islam?

John David Lewis: Knowledge of our own good. Most of all, we must realize that we stand for the values of freedom, the sanctity of the individual, and reason.

Maltin on Movies

Film historian Leonard Maltin, promoting the latest edition of his Movie Guide, recently chatted with me about movies. The teacher, critic and historian, a regular on the syndicated television show Entertainment Tonight since 1982, who teaches a film class at the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts, is also the author of The Disney Films, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide. Leonard Maltin writes, co-produces and hosts the Walt Disney Treasures DVD series, which he tells me has been suspended, and produces a newsletter.

Scott Holleran: What single movie do you get the most out of with repeat viewings?

Leonard Maltin: It’s a tie between my two favorite movies—Citizen Kane and Casablanca. In both cases, I seem to notice and appreciate new things each time out. With Casablanca, I recently wound up writing a lengthy article on all the background music—it occurred to me that there’s “Love for Sale” by [composer] Cole Porter and others—and here we thought just about everything that could be written about Casablanca had been written.

Scott Holleran: Why are you migrating old movies from your annual Movie Guide to your classic film guide? Why not jettison some of today’s mediocre, irrelevant pictures?

Leonard Maltin: Because in a reference book I don’t feel it’s my place to decide what’s irrelevant in the main scheme of things. I certainly express my opinion film by film—it’s as thick as it can be without falling apart—and that’s what gave birth to the Classic Guide, so those films have a place to reside.

Scott Holleran: And it’s another way to make money?

Leonard Maltin: Uh, no. Let me just say that being in the reference book business in the Internet age is not a doorway to great riches.

Scott Holleran: What is the primary purpose of the Movie Guide?

Leonard Maltin: It hasn’t changed since it was introduced—to be a fingertip guide to movies for people who watch movies at home—to provide a brief review and opinion and to provide more information than one can get from TV guides and screen guides.

Scott Holleran: What single, consistent reader response do you get to the Movie Guide?

Leonard Maltin: Well, now when we make a mistake, we hear about it right away by e-mail—they used to let us know through snail mail. People still seem to be grateful for some guidance. I hear a lot of comments like “I was deciding whether to stay up late and watch this movie and, thanks to you, I did”—or, “thanks to you, I didn’t.”

Scott Holleran: Do you think film criticism can be reduced and aggregated to a number?

Leonard Maltin: No. That’s not criticism, that’s shorthand for an opinion. It may be a consumer service. We hope that in our brief reviews we offer a compact form of criticism.

Scott Holleran: You use stars in the Movie Guide. Does your friend Roger Ebert’s Thumbs Up symbol dumb down motion picture criticism?

Leonard Maltin: No. It’s another form of shorthand, and it’s legitimate within the boundaries of what it can cover. An editor forced the stars on me. I argued with him but he said people will love it and he was right. People respond to those things.

Scott Holleran: Are you primarily a teacher, a critic or an historian?

Leonard Maltin: I wear different hats at different times. If I could do only one, I would be an historian.

Scott Holleran: What’s the next installment in the Walt Disney’s Treasures DVD series?

Leonard Maltin: There is no next installment. That is out of my hands. I would love to do more but it’s up to the Walt Disney Company.

Scott Holleran: What’s your favorite Hollywood movie theater?

Leonard Maltin: I love Grauman’s Chinese Theatre [on Hollywood Boulevard]. I also like [Disney’s] El Capitan, the ArcLight Hollywood and the Samuel Goldwyn Theater at the Academy [of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences] on Wilshire [Boulevard]. If I had to pick one, I would probably pick the ArcLight. It’s a nice environment and a nice theater.

Scott Holleran: What’s your best movie review?

Leonard Maltin: I can’t say. I can tell you the review that has gotten more compliments than any in my career. It was a review of a [horror spoof] movie called Transylvania 6-5000 [Maltin delivered a short sentence during an appearance on Entertainment Tonight in 1985 in which he declared that the movie “stinks” on cue with the tune “Pennsylvania 6-5000” by the Glenn Miller Orchestra]. The review appeared on ET and it was as thorough and as definitive a review as that movie warranted.

Scott Holleran: What’s your most controversial movie review?

Leonard Maltin: Either Blade Runner or Taxi Driver. Both get negative reactions. There’s also my positive review of Cecil B. DeMille’s [1952] The Greatest Show on Earth [starring Charlton Heston, Jimmy Stewart, and Betty Hutton], a film which gets attacked as undeserving of winning the Academy Award for Best Picture. I feel somewhat vindicated by Steven Spielberg’s praise for The Greatest Show on Earth, which he has said influenced the train wreck scene in Super 8.

Scott Holleran: Who is your favorite movie critic?

Leonard Maltin: I don’t read a great many movie critics—I certainly don’t read reviews before I write my own—but of those I read, I like David Denby in the New Yorker, also Anthony Lane and [former newspaper critic] Kenny Turan and possibly the best film critic in America is Todd McCarthy now with the Hollywood Reporter. He is incredibly knowledgeable and incisive and eloquent. And I like Roger Ebert.

Scott Holleran: I’m going to put you on the spot and ask you for a one-word evaluation or estimate of 22 movies you recently added to this year’s edition of the Movie Guide. 22 movies in 30 seconds—are you ready?

Leonard Maltin: I’ll try—unless it’s a movie that one of my associates [editors for the Movie Guide] saw and reviewed for the Guide.

Scott Holleran: Super 8?

Leonard Maltin: Terrific.

Scott Holleran: Win Win?

Leonard Maltin: Great.

Scott Holleran: The Tillman Story?

Leonard Maltin: Profoundly moving.

Scott Holleran: Atlas Shrugged, Part 1?

Leonard Maltin: Didn’t see it.

Scott Holleran: Tangled?

Leonard Maltin: Great fun.

Scott Holleran: The Social Network?

Leonard Maltin: Exceptional.

Scott Holleran: The King’s Speech?

Leonard Maltin: Wonderful.

Scott Holleran: District 9?

Leonard Maltin: Disarmingly original.

Scott Holleran: Up?

Leonard Maltin: Enchanting.

Scott Holleran: The Hangover?

Leonard Maltin: Really funny.

Scott Holleran: Milk?

Leonard Maltin: [pauses] Ambitious—and emotionally stirring.

Scott Holleran: Frost/Nixon?

Leonard Maltin: Brilliant.

Scott Holleran: Slumdog Millionaire?

Leonard Maltin: Also brilliant. [pauses] Awfully tough but rewarding.

Scott Holleran: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button?

Leonard Maltin: Great entertainment.

Scott Holleran: There Will Be Blood?

Leonard Maltin: Tremendously compelling.

Scott Holleran: No Country for Old Men?

Leonard Maltin: Riveting.

Scott Holleran: Juno?

Leonard Maltin: Unexpectedly winning.

Scott Holleran: Little Miss Sunshine?

Leonard Maltin: Sleeper.

Scott Holleran: The Lives of Others?

Leonard Maltin: Unforgettable.

Scott Holleran: The Queen?

Leonard Maltin: Superb.

Scott Holleran: The Sea Inside?

Leonard Maltin: Unjustly undervalued.

Interview with Gary Johnson

American businessman Gary Johnson, a candidate for the Republican nomination for president in 2012, served two terms as governor of New Mexico, from 1995 to 2003. The 58-year-old North Dakota native, whose mother worked for the Bureau of Indian Affairs and whose father was a public school teacher, is best known for having vetoed over 750 bills during his tenure as governor, more than all other 49 governors combined, earning him the nickname “Governor Veto.”

In a state with 2 to 1 Democrat voter registration, he cut the rate of government growth in half and oversaw the elimination of the state’s budget deficit without once raising taxes. In fact, Johnson cut taxes 14 times as governor, and by the time he left after term limits forced him out of office, New Mexico was one of only four states with a balanced budget. Additionally, he pushed school choice reform, which the New York Times described as “the most ambitious voucher program in the country.” In 1999, Gov. Johnson became the highest-ranking public official to speak out against America’s so-called war on drugs, arguing that prohibition of marijuana in particular is the chief cause of violence along the U.S.’s southern border. He favors a reassessment of the nation’s drug laws, and he recently endorsed Proposition 19, California’s campaign to legalize marijuana in the state.

Working his way through college as a handyman, Gary Johnson later founded one of the largest construction companies in New Mexico, with over 1,000 employees. The athlete and outdoorsman is an avid skier, cyclist, and mountain climber and he has reached the top of Mt. Everest, which he climbed with a partially broken leg. The divorced father, who announced his candidacy for president in Concord, New Hampshire, earlier this year, spoke with me during a nine-day swing through the Granite State.

Scott Holleran: You told the Wall Street Journal last year that you support means testing for Medicare and Social Security, for which you said you would raise the eligibility age. In what specific ways would you cut entitlement programs to balance the budget?

Gary Johnson: Specifically, and this is waving the magic wand, because I recognize that there are three branches of government, I would have the federal government cut Medicare and Medicaid by 43 percent and block grant the programs [to the states] with no strings. Instead of giving the states one dollar—and it’s not really giving because there are strings attached—the federal government needs to give the states 57 cents, take away the strings and give the states carte blanche for how to give health care to the poor. I reformed Medicaid as governor of New Mexico and, in that context, even with strings attached, I believe I could have delivered health care to the poor. I believe I could have done the same thing with Medicare. Also, I would cut military spending by 43 percent believing that we can provide a strong national defense as opposed to what I would call an offense and nation building. I would cut Social Security by raising the retirement age and have common sense means testing that’s fair. I would scrap the entire federal tax system and replace it with the fair tax—a one time consumption tax, with no more Medicare and unemployment payroll deductions—so we’d have one national consumption tax to replace all federal taxes, abolishing the IRS.

Scott Holleran: Which programs will you terminate?

Gary Johnson: There are currently two that I advocate abolishing: the Departments of Education and Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

Scott Holleran: Do you favor a balanced budget amendment?

Gary Johnson: I do—but the problem is that passing balanced budgets for future years is what we do and it takes away the immediate problem and kicks it down the road.

Scott Holleran: Is it your position that we should audit, not end, the Federal Reserve—that ending the Fed may be desirable but not immediately realistic?

Gary Johnson: I think ending the Federal Reserve would be positive but if we end the Fed it’s important to point out that that’s not the end of the solution. A lot of the central banking function would have to be taken up by regional banks.

Scott Holleran: Will you issue an executive order to repeal ObamaCare as unconstitutional?

Gary Johnson: Yes, if it’s possible. I would do the same for [President Bush’s Medicare] prescription [drug subsidies]. Two parties can take responsibility for where we’re at right now.

Scott Holleran: You’ve said that you would not have raised the debt ceiling and that it would have still been possible to avoid default. How?

Gary Johnson: I believe that we would have still brought in $200 billion a month and [control] how we make payments and whether we default on any bills. But obviously going forward, we have to put the brakes on spending. I just argue that it will never be easier than now. In the bond market, if no one was buying our debt, that would mean the Federal Reserve printing money as opposed to individuals or countries loaning us money; that’s the bond market collapsing—so when that happens, that is a whole lot of money and it has to result in inflation. Russia is the most recent example. As frightening as that scenario is, that’s what going to happen. But we can fix this—there’s going to be a lot of hardship and pain, but that’s better than killing the patient and, the way we’re going, we’re going to kill the patient in a monetary collapse. But I am an optimist because I think it can be fixed.

Scott Holleran: You write that “[m]aintaining a strong national defense is the most basic of the federal government’s responsibilities. However, building schools, roads, and hospitals in other countries are not among those basic obligations. Yet that is exactly what we have been doing for much of the past 10 years.” Do you oppose current U.S. military intervention in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya and, if so, on what moral grounds?

Gary Johnson: I do. In all three cases, I don’t see a military threat. I initially thought the intervention in Afghanistan was warranted—we were attacked and we attacked back—but we’ve wiped out Al Qaeda and here we are; we’re still there.

Scott Holleran: Isn’t there evidence that we merely drove Al Qaeda from Afghanistan into Pakistan?

Gary Johnson: Sure.

Scott Holleran: Each of those interventions was partially and eventually justified by the morality of altruism—with helping others as the primary purpose—not on the principle that our nation’s self-interest comes first. Which one is your criteria for foreign policy?

Gary Johnson: I think we should act in our self-interest. As I understand it, I think Eisenhower was a pretty good role model for that. Morally, you can justify almost anything we do by saying that we’re doing it for the sake of others. I would point to past realities that have unintended consequences. For example, by taking out [the secular regime in] Iraq, we removed a threat to [religious totalitarian regime] Iran—by the way, I don’t think Iran’s a military threat, though it might prove to be, but we [have the military capacity to] deal with that threat.

Scott Holleran: It’s a fact that Iran in several instances has stated its intention to destroy the United States, which Iran calls “the Great Satan.” If, as president, you had information that Iran was preparing an attack—either through sponsorship of terrorism or by nuclear strike against one of our military bases or cities—how would you respond?

Gary Johnson: I’d meet with the military experts and ask a lot of questions. We have airborne lasers that can knock out incoming missiles in the launch phase.

Scott Holleran: You state that “[n]o criminal or terrorist suspect captured by the U.S. should be subject to physical or psychological torture.” On what moral grounds should our government be precluded from using torture to protect our nation from foreign enemies that seek to destroy the United States through subversive terrorist activity?

Gary Johnson: I just think that there’s no end to that. Let’s say we know there’s a bomb ticking, so we have to torture this guy—that’s the argument for the death penalty—but the law that gets written also is public policy which allows us to put someone who’s innocent to death. The basis of our country is that we protect the innocent. Are we going to torture people to prevent nuclear briefcase bombs? It amounts to the ends justify the means.

Scott Holleran: You oppose the death penalty. Why?

Gary Johnson: As governor of New Mexico, I was a bit naïve and I did not think the government made mistakes with regard to the death penalty. I came to realize that they do. I don’t want to put one innocent person to death to punish 99 who are guilty.

Scott Holleran: You propose to let the so-called Patriot Act—which arguably violates individual rights—expire, yet you have not said you would abolish the invasive TSA, which arguably violates the Constitutional right to travel. Why not abolish the TSA?

Gary Johnson: I would abolish the TSA.

Scott Holleran: Do you support separation of religion and state?

Gary Johnson: Yes.

Scott Holleran: You oppose gay marriage, though you favor civil unions. Why?

Gary Johnson: I wouldn’t say I oppose gay marriage as a matter of public policy. The government shouldn’t be in the marriage business. I would not be opposed to belonging to a church that supports gay marriage.

Scott Holleran: You claim to advocate capitalism. So, who in America is your favorite businessman?

Gary Johnson: [Pauses, thinking] My favorite businessman. [Apple founder] Steve Jobs comes to mind—he represents incredible innovation. Maybe Bill Gates. I didn’t have any business heroes growing up. One of the realities of my life is that those I thought were heroes were not.

Scott Holleran: Who is your favorite political philosopher?

Gary Johnson: [Chicago economist and Free to Choose author] Milton Friedman.

Scott Holleran: Do you favor nuclear power?

Gary Johnson: Yes.

Scott Holleran: If Ron Paul ran as an independent or third party candidate for the presidency, would you support the Republican nominee?

Gary Johnson: Not necessarily.

Scott Holleran: You refused the Libertarian Party nomination in 2000. Why?

Gary Johnson: I refused to run as a Libertarian. I don’t see myself getting elected as a Libertarian Party or independent candidate.

Scott Holleran: You endorsed Ron Paul in 2008 for president. Why?

Gary Johnson: I thought he was saying the things I was.

Scott Holleran: You told a libertarian publication that you disagree with Ron Paul on aid to Israel; that you think “it’s important to distinguish between foreign aid and foreign alliances” and support an alliance with Israel. But you agree with Ron Paul that Iran—a religious totalitarian regime that sponsors Islamic terrorism and has threatened to wipe out the United States—is not a threat. Do you share Ron Paul’s view on foreign policy?

Gary Johnson: I’m not sure I can say whether I support or oppose Ron Paul’s positions because I am not completely versed in them. I think Israel is an important military ally and I support that alliance. I think Iran gets dealt with by Israel, which is likely to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. I think it’s wrong for our government to presume to tell Israel what to do.

Scott Holleran: Are you aware that Ron Paul is anti-abortion?

Gary Johnson: Yes.

Scott Holleran: With Congressman Paul denouncing a woman’s right to an abortion, and Mitt Romney emphasizing his newly proclaimed support for capitalism, are you more likely to gain support from Romney supporters than from Ron Paul supporters?

Gary Johnson: I don’t know. I support a woman’s right to choose to have an abortion.

Scott Holleran: On April 21, 2011, you announced via Twitter that you were running for president. You followed the announcement with a speech at the New Hampshire state house in Concord, New Hampshire. Why is New Hampshire at the forefront of your campaign?

Gary Johnson: I am being outspent over 300 to one in this race—I’m not complaining about it—so New Hampshire is a place where I can come out as a top tier candidate.

Scott Holleran: Do you support mandated government nutrition labels, such as calorie counts, on all foods?

Gary Johnson: Yes—I think that’s a good idea. It’s just labeling food we consume so we can make intelligent choices.

Scott Holleran: Do you support First Lady Michelle Obama’s anti-obesity campaign?

Gary Johnson: Yes, I think it’s terrific.

Scott Holleran: Wearing combat boots and a 35-pound backpack, you completed the Bataan Memorial Death March, commemorating Japan’s historic death march during World War 2. Why was that important to you?

Gary Johnson: For one thing, I’m an athlete and I love doing athletic competitions and it was a commemorative event, so the Bataan Memorial Death March accomplished two important things at once.

Scott Holleran: You’ve been injured with frostbite, bone fractures and a broken knee while mountain climbing, skiing, and paragliding. Are you a thrillseeker and will you continue these extreme sports during your presidency?

Gary Johnson: I like to think I live a full life. I wouldn’t say I’m a thrillseeker, I would say I like to have fun. Yes, I’m going to continue my adventures as president.

Scott Holleran: What criteria do you seek in a vice-presidential running mate?

Gary Johnson: Compatibility first. Also, support, and the notion that he could be president and best carry on my vision.

Scott Holleran: Why is The Fountainhead your favorite novel?

Gary Johnson: I think Ayn Rand put into words that the best thing I can do for my fellow citizen is to be the best I can be. I think that’s how I can impact other people’s lives—not by having government give to them but by being my best and leading by example.

Scott Holleran: Have you read all of her novels?

Gary Johnson: No. I’ve read Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead.

Scott Holleran: Do you agree with Rand’s philosophy?

Gary Johnson: Yes, I do.

Scott Holleran: Let’s talk about movies. According to your Facebook fan page, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is one of your favorite movies. Why?

Gary Johnson: I enjoyed it very much when I saw it. I also like Groundhog Day with Bill Murray. Doctor Zhivago is my all-time favorite film. The scene where Dr. Zhivago [played by Omar Sharif] comes back to his house in Moscow after the [Communist] revolution to find all these strangers living in his home—and the whole love story—is powerful. I think it’s because my great-grandparents emigrated from Russia at the time of the Communist Revolution.

Scott Holleran: Is it true that you built your own home in Taos, New Mexico?

Gary Johnson: Yes—for two and a half years. It’s my dream home in northern New Mexico. Skiing is my biggest passion and it’s as good there as anywhere else on the planet.

Scott Holleran: Why did you sell your construction company?

Gary Johnson: We weren’t getting the work we should have gotten while I was governor. When I sold the company, no one lost their jobs.

Scott Holleran: According to a recent report, most of your donors live in California, which means you could conceivably beat expectations in New Hampshire and gain momentum coming into the California primary. Is that your campaign strategy?

Gary Johnson: It’s a possibility. We could have a breakout.

Scott Holleran: In a sentence, what is the proper role for government?

Gary Johnson: To protect you and I as individuals from harm whether to one’s property or from a foreign government. Government has a role to provide.

Interview: Randy Barnett on ObamaCare

Randy E. Barnett

Law professor Randy Barnett, who has argued before the Supreme Court, is described by Forbes as the legal scholar “who laid the intellectual groundwork for the surprisingly effective legal attacks on ObamaCare by state attorneys general.” Barnett, the Carmack Waterhouse Professor of Legal Theory at the Georgetown University Law Center, where he teaches contracts and Constitutional law, has also taught torts, criminal law, evidence, agency and partnership, and jurisprudence. He graduated from Northwestern University and Harvard Law School, tried felony cases as a prosecutor in the Cook County States’ Attorney’s Office in Chicago and, in 2008, he was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in Constitutional Studies. Professor Barnett, who lectures internationally and has appeared on the CBS Evening News, The News Hour (PBS), and National Public Radio, offered his thoughts on America’s sweeping new nationalization of medicine—ObamaCare—during a recent interview.

Scott Holleran: In terms of American law, is health care a right?

Randy Barnett: Health care is not a Constitutional right. There are a lot of spending programs that create various entitlements, such as Medicare, but these are statutory rights not fundamental or Constitutional rights.

Scott Holleran: Is ObamaCare Constitutional?

Randy Barnett: ObamaCare, or the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, is unconstitutional for at least two reasons. One is that the individual mandate requires every American to purchase [health] insurance or face a penalty, which is an extension of Congressional power that goes beyond anything that has previously been authorized by the Supreme Court. From its inception, the substantial effects doctrine, though commonly conceived as a Commerce Clause doctrine, has been grounded in the Necessary and Proper Clause. The Supreme Court developed a judicially administrable test for whether it is “necessary” for Congress to reach intrastate activity that substantially affects interstate commerce: the distinction between economic and non-economic intrastate activity. Because [ObamaCare’s] individual mandate [forcing people to “buy” health insurance] fails to satisfy the requirements of this test, it exceeds the power granted to Congress by the Commerce and Necessary and Proper Clauses as currently construed by the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court has said that Congress could not reach non-economic activity and Congress, in this case, is trying to reach non-economic activity, mandating that people engage in economic activity. The other problem is that, as certain states are contesting, Congress is using its spending power coercively.

Scott Holleran: Is ObamaCare legally inevitable?

Randy Barnett: Absolutely not—it is not inevitable that legal challenges will fail or succeed. Neither side has an argument that can dictate or mandate or require the Supreme Court to decide this issue for or against their side.

Scott Holleran: Is the Constitutional case against ObamaCare an originalist perspective?

Randy Barnett: I am an originalist who advocates interpreting the Constitution according to its original meaning, but nothing in the legal challenge to ObamaCare is based on the original meaning of the Constitution—we’re just following the opinions on the Supreme Court, applying what they have previously said to this statute. I would describe our arguments as doctrinal, not originalist.

Scott Holleran: What are the legal options for opposing ObamaCare?

Randy Barnett: There are more lawsuits than I can keep track of, but, of the five district court judges who have ruled on the Constitutionality of the law, two struck it down and all five are on appeal, and we’ve so far had three appellate arguments, in Richmond, Cincinnati, and Atlanta, involving four of the lower court decisions. There may be other options that arise but I don’t want to express an opinion at this point and I don’t want to be overly optimistic. We expect decisions in the cases that have already been argued by the end of the summer, or possibly by September [2011] and, if the Supreme Court takes a petition for appeal, there could be a decision by June 2012. That would be the earliest. I have a high opinion of the lawyers in the Virginia case, and the lawyering in the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals was excellent.

Scott Holleran: Have you read Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli’s address to Hillsdale College arguing against ObamaCare?

Randy Barnett: I have not seen that speech but I’ve testified to Congress with him. This guy is smart but what really amazed me was his press conference in Richmond. He was amazing—he got up there and gave one of the most knowledgeable, careful, legal analyses of his case [against ObamaCare] and he was crystal clear and completely on top of the case. I thought it was a masterful performance. I was really, really impressed.

Scott Holleran: What are the legislative options for opposing ObamaCare?

Randy Barnett: It would be helpful if the Republicans in Congress would pass a law that is Constitutional and market-based—I don’t think anybody wants to go back to [the mixed health care system of] 2008—and I have discussed this with several people and I get the sense that there is interest. If the GOP were to pass the [Rep. Paul] Ryan plan, it would be very beneficial [to killing ObamaCare] because it would show that there are alternatives [to ObamaCare]. It would offer something identifiable as an alternative—not just a think tank proposal—something worked out of a legislative body and that would be important. Ultimately, the people will have to elect a president who will sign a repeal bill and, if the court upholds the [ObamaCare] law, that will fuel the fires. I think any Republican who gets the nomination will have to pledge to repeal ObamaCare. I do think it’s going to be a challenge for people on the Hill to come up with something that’s not ObamaCare-lite because that’s the way they think. But the need for health care for poor people does not deprive other people of the right to choose their health care. A government takeover and distortion of the health care market is not the way to go.

Scott Holleran: Are there executive options for opposing ObamaCare, in case Congress buckles in favor of the law?

Randy Barnett: [Former Massachusetts] Governor [Mitt] Romney says he’ll give a waiver to everyone. But I’m a Constitutional lawyer and, when you’re talking about something so far down the road, a lot can happen.

Scott Holleran: Are there state law options for opposing ObamaCare?

Randy Barnett: Some states have enacted health care freedom [from ObamaCare] acts and the Constitutionality of those acts are at issue in the lawsuits. If we lose [and ObamaCare is upheld], those acts will be inoperative. States can try to resist the Medicaid part, if they can afford to—and they generally can’t—but the idea that 27 or 28 state attorneys general are suing is significant and it’s going to be noticed by the Supreme Court.

Scott Holleran: Are there opt-out provisions that a single individual can exercise in compliance with U.S. law to get out of ObamaCare?

Randy Barnett: I don’t want to comment on that.

Monroe Anderson on Leanita McClain

Leanita McClain with Monroe AndersonJournalist, former Chicago Sun-Times columnist, Chicago television executive and host and blogger Monroe Anderson recently talked with me about the 1984 suicide of his friend and colleague, Leanita McClain. He wrote a column about losing her in 2009.

Scott Holleran: How did you meet Leanita McClain?

Monroe Anderson: I was still working for Ebony and living in Prairie Shores at 28th and South King Drive by Michael Reese [Hospital] and it was a very black middle class apartment complex that [Ebony/Jet publisher and businessman] John Johnson had a stake in. I had moved to Chicago in 1972 to work for Ebony. We had a meeting in my apartment to talk about organizing black journalists, which eventually became the Chicago Association of Black Journalists. I was married to Christine Harris, my college sweetheart at Indiana University. Leanita was a student who struck me as very quiet, very poised. She was attractive. I remember her not saying anything.

SH: Where did you live in 1984?

MA: In Lincoln Park.

SH: Where do you live now?

MA: Lincoln Park.

SH: Did you feel guilty about moving to a predominantly white neighborhood?

MA: No, no, no, though there have been attempts to make me feel guilty. I looked in Hyde Park and the DePaul [University] area and I couldn’t afford it. I didn’t move here to live with whites but because I didn’t know how long I’d be in Chicago and I wanted to make a profit and gain [property] value.

SH: Leanita McClain was a friend and colleague and you both split from your spouses around the same time. Following your divorces, did she confide in you about her mental state?

MA: Yes. Leanita had talked with me about her attempt at suicide, and how her stomach had been pumped. This was my first and only [experience with] suicide. She was talking about suicide, like a kind of banter back and forth, and I did not take it seriously until she attempted it. Then, instead of banter, I lectured her about it. I talked her into going to therapy. In retrospect, I know that she wasn’t honest with me. She had reached out to me first—she felt I was safe. She came and told me about leaving Clarence [Page] to find herself, which is what my wife had left me to do.

She knew I wanted to write opinion pieces and she encouraged me. I would talk to her about them. Because I had grown up in a segregated community, I had not known any white people until I went to college. So I felt comfortable talking about my ideas with her. Leanita became my go-between.

SH: Was Leanita friends with other black Chicago journalists, such as Vernon Jarrett, Bob Petty, Rosemarie Gulley, and Harry Porterfield?

MA: She was friends with all of them. Vernon was her mentor.

SH: Was she political?

MA: No.

SH: Did she think Harold Washington was a type of great black hope when he ran for mayor of Chicago and did she have unrealistic expectations about his candidacy that were dashed?

MA: It was the idea of Harold Washington—and he was a charming communicator—and, when she was forced to face reality, it was too personal. All those Democrats [who refused to support Washington’s candidacy] became Republicans overnight. From her perspective, when he met all the benchmarks that should have allowed him to be mayor and wasn’t supported, it was a rejection of her.

SH: She wrote of being her brother’s keeper. Did Leanita McClain consider serving her race as a moral obligation?

MA: No. It was because of the history of racism in this country. I know that when I went to Indiana University in 1965, in this lilywhite environment, I felt that I, too, carried the weight of my race on my back. These things are rarely discussed openly.

SH: Is there anything you would have done differently about Leanita McClain?

MA: No. Because there’s nothing I could do. We talked literally every day, like Gayle [King] and Oprah [Winfrey], and the weekend before Memorial Day, she had avoided me. I didn’t make too much of it but then I didn’t talk to her that Friday, or Saturday, or Sunday, so on that Monday I called her, because she hadn’t called me. There was no answer. I came in Tuesday morning and her office was dark and the newspapers were stacked up in front of her door. That’s when I called a friend who knew her real estate agent—she was selling her house—who had a key. They went over and found her. He called me and said ‘she’s gone’. I had just come out of a divorce and I had just lost my father, who had a heart attack, and her suicide was part of a maturing process for me. I had done everything to save my marriage and I realized that, sometimes, there’s nothing you can do. It’s gonna be what it’s gonna be. I think she was just crazy. I would tell her that too. She would say ‘I’m not happy’. She just didn’t get the mental health help she needed. Not a week went by when she didn’t talk about suicide. Her mother was an albino and she didn’t talk about—she talked about being poor but not about her mom being an albino.

SH: Have you spoken with Keenan Michael Coleman, whom she was reportedly dating prior to her suicide?

MA: No. I had met him while she was dating him.

SH: Did Leanita McClain pull a gun on him after they split?

MA: Yes. She shot at him. She called me and I went and got the gun. She didn’t shoot to hit him; she shot to scare him. She was hysterical. I got a call from her saying ‘I shot at him! There’s a big hole in my wall and he left and he’s gone!’ I got in my car and drove there and she was crying, tears running down her face, and she showed me the gun, and the hole in the wall—and her concern was that she would never see him again. I was not gonna leave that gun there—I calmed her down, and I took it home and, since I didn’t want a gun in the house, I called Clarence [Page] and told him to take it. I later went to see her and she wasn’t frantic anymore.

SH: What advice do you have for those who have been affected by suicide?

MA: There’s nothing you can do about it. Don’t encourage it—but when they do it, they do it. A friend of mine here in Chicago, who moved to L.A., has written this book about his son’s mental illness and suicide called The Dragon and the Angel. If someone wants to end their life, there’s nothing you can do to stop them.

SH: A Chicago Tribune reporter was quoted in her obituary as saying that Leanita McClain carried the weight of the city upon her shoulders. Should she have shrugged?

MA: Yes.