In the stubbornly divisive world of TV politics, Morning Joe’s former GOP congressman, Joe Scarborough, has managed to cut through the partisan noise and make a reasonably intelligent oasis of morning news. Not bad for a guy who once tried to impeach Clinton.
Do you think he did anything right?
Look, even though I was discouraged by his foreign policy — and Obama’s, in [nearly] tripling the number of troops in Afghanistan and launching drone attacks all over the world, dropping bombs everywhere — I understand that there’s been success. There’s just no doubt that if Al Qaeda leadership could get their hands on a dirty bomb or chemical weaponry or biological weaponry and put it in the middle of Manhattan’s water supply or Times Square, they would do it in a second, and they haven’t been able to. Obama and Bush together will be remembered, a lot more closely than Obama’s supporters will like, as the two presidents that gutted Al Qaeda.
So what’s the answer to these wars?
It’s time to end them. We’re spending $2 billion a week in Afghanistan. I have a great idea — let’s spend $2 billion a week building infrastructure, improving America’s broadband capabilities, building roads and bridges, investing in R&D, doing the types of things Dwight Eisenhower did in the late 1950s that caused the economy to explode over the next 20 years. Are we going to invest in Afghanistan, where you blow buildings up and rebuild them, or are we going to invest in America?
Why do you think Obama hasn’t done that for the most part?
Despite Republicans calling him a Marxist or a Nazi or a radical, I think he’s just moderate in all the wrong ways. He’s not a big thinker — he governs by a hodgepodge, the opposite of FDR and Reagan, who had big ideas and pursued them vigorously. If the president had decided instead to use the moment that he got the stimulus to rebuild infrastructure, to try to build a power grid, a grain power grid, he could have transformed our economy like China’s transforming its economy every day.
You’ve said that you left Congress because your sons, particularly the one who has diabetes and Asperger’s syndrome, needed the influence of their father in Florida. You’ve since remarried and have two more children. How is your family now?
My kids have changed my life in every way. There’s an old saying that you’re always only as happy as your saddest kid, and I think that’s true. I have a checklist of the different kids in my mind: How’s kid number one? He’s good today. That’s great, but what about two and three and four? The truth is that my oldest is 23, my youngest is three, and I worry just as much about the 23-year-old as I do the three-year-old.
Do your kids listen to the Beatles, or do they want to listen to pop and Justin Bieber?
I’ve indoctrinated my eight-year-old daughter, Kate, into the Beatles. The other night, at a restaurant, she recognized “Martha My Dear” on the stereo. I thought, “My eight-year-old girl recognized songs from the White Album — that’s pretty cool. I’ve done my job.” In return, I will gladly listen and sing along to Katy Perry. Unfortunately, as a dad, I have to deal with the fact that every song that she sings encourages 13-year-old girls to take their clothes off and streak and have sex or whatever. I guess you can talk about getting laid every 15 minutes as long as you have a Jesus tattoo, right?
Your parents ran beauty pageants for a while in Florida, and you worked the mic. What was that like?
It wasn’t like working in the coal mines, but I’d get bored to death. I’d mix things up every once in a while. One girl’s hobby was that she collected pigs. So I said, “And her hobby is collecting pigs. How exciting. She brought one with her tonight to escort her.” And it happened to be her father, who was very insulted. [He laughs.] I’m laughing at my own dumb jokes 30 years later — it’s so pathetic.
Do you think you’ll run for office again?
Probably not for a while. My wife says no. We’ll see. And Mika has absolutely no interest in finding another co-host. So I have two forces pulling me against that. This year, I’m looking forward to the production company I’m starting with Mika. I’m also going to start recording my songs. I have a studio at home and an internet connection, so distribution is not the challenge it was when I was a kid trying to get a record contract. I’ve got about 300 songs. They’re in the mode of the New Pornographers and Stars: alt pop/rock, pretty melodious. I’ve got some political songs, but it’s not right-wing rock. I have a song called “Contract with Bulgaria” that could be adopted by Occupy Wall Street: “We can’t change the world, we can’t change the world, but baby’s life is rich, at least it will change our market share.”
What are your short-term goals then?
I grew up playing sports, and I played football, basketball, and baseball in high school, but I’ve had back surgery, a double laminectomy, and it’s taken me a couple of years to get back in an upright position again. So my New Year’s resolution was to get in shape. Pensacola has something called the McGuire’s St. Patrick’s Day Run, and my goal is to be running 5-K by St. Patrick’s Day.
What would you do about reviving the economy if you were still a congressman today?
If we scaled back our war efforts, if we cut down Pentagon spending, if we slowed down the rate of growth for Medicare and Social Security, and told people who are 50 and younger “You’re going to be getting your Medicare when you’re 70” — we’d send a message to the markets that the United States is serious about taking care of our obligations, that we’re not going to be Italy or Greece. That would actually cause investment to flood into the United States, and we’d be the safe haven in a chaotic world right now. Then we could focus on reinvesting in the economy, which we’re not doing right now. The federal government has basically turned into a big health- insurance company.
When do you think the country might turn around?
I think we’re going to be in a holding pattern through the next election, and we’ll just have to see after 2012. But I’m very optimistic in the long term. It’s like Bismarck said, “There’s a special providence that protects fools, drunkards, and the United States of America.” We always win in the end, America. There’s always a happy ending.
This article originally appeared in the March 2012 issue of Men’s Journal.