An Interview With TV Pundit & Author S.E. Cupp

I watched S.E. Cupp on the Fox News TV show "Red Eye" Saturday night and procured a telephone interview with her Monday afternoon.

She co-authored the new book Why You’re Wrong About The Right: Behind The Myths – The Surprising Truths About Conservatives.

Her online bio reads:

S.E. Cupp was born in 1979 in California and raised primarily in Andover, MA.  She was a classically trained dancer and danced for Ellicott City Ballet, Washington Ballet and Boston Ballet for a period of 10 years. 

After high school, she studied art history at Cornell University and worked for her college paper, the Cornell Daily Sun, as the Arts & Entertainment editor.  During college, she worked for the Vose Galleries in Boston, the Whistler Museum, and the Johnson Museum as an intern.  She graduated a year early and worked for short periods at an online magazine and a PR company.  In 2002, she was hired by the New York Times to write and edit for the Index Department.

She is currently pursuing a Masters degree at NYU in religious studies, and plans to write about American culture, including politics, sports and religion, in the future.

S.E. follows the Mets, the Packers, and NASCAR, and enjoys fishing, target shooting and travel.

Luke: "S.E., tell me about your name. What does ‘S.E.’ stand for?"

SE: "For Sarah Elizabeth."

Luke: "Have you always been ‘S.E.’ or were you ever Sarah or what?"

SE: "Personally, I’m still Sarah. I don’t make my parents call me ‘S.E.’ But ever since I’ve had a byline, I’ve been ‘S.E.’ It started in college twelve years ago."

Luke: "And why ‘S.E.’ instead of Sarah Cupp or Sarah Elizabeth as a byline?"

SE: "I had this notion that being gender anonymous was either a cool or a smart thing to do. No real particular reason but I kinda wanted a little anonymity when I was writing. Not because I was writing on anything particularly scandalous, I did mostly art history reviews for the paper [Cornell’s student newspaper] but it just stuck. When I started sending resumes out, my byline said ‘S.E. Cupp’, so it was just how I went."

Luke: "Quite a few women do this. They use a byline where you can’t tell the sex of the person. Can you elaborate more on why that is? Because female writers get treated differently?"

SE: "Well, I mean, you know, that certainly wasn’t, you know, when I did it, again, thirteen years ago, I don’t really think I had a particularly salient reason for it, but female writers are treated a little differently in some good ways and some not so good ways, so, you know, it’s pointless for me at this point because I’m on television so you know no one you know has any questions if they know me umm you know as to my gender at this point umm but I think you know in the beginning it did offer me a little cover umm you know I would get ‘Mr. Cupp’ in a lot of emails which were sorta funny and nice but again you know when I started going on television it was completely ruined. It’s kinda silly at this point but it’s just how it is."

Luke: "Do you prefer the term ‘gender’ or the term ‘sex’ for men and women?"

SE: "Oh, I don’t really play sexual politics that well, so it doesn’t really matter to me at all."

Luke: "Can you tell by reading someone’s work if they are male or female?"

SE: "Sometimes I can. It’s a game I’m sure most writers do this when they read other people’s work. I like to guess before I know. And I can. In fact, I’ve read a number of studies, semiotic studies, that have indicated that there are certain words and combinations of words and conjugation patterns that do indicate whether the writer is female or male, but I don’t really take my gender or the role that my gender plays too seriously in what I do."

Luke: "When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?"

SE: "Madonna at first of course and then I flirted with becoming a geologist. I really loved rocks. And then I started taking ballet lessons and became a semi-professional ballet dancer with the Boston Ballet for about ten years. During that period I thought that’s what I would end up doing.

"I ended up going to college and figured I would be an art critic. I got really disillusioned with that idea pretty fast. Just settled on writing because it was something I was good at naturally. I didn’t ever take a writing class. I really enjoyed it. I found it really satisfying to formulate opinions in your head and craft them expertly on paper and then see them in print."

Cupp majored in Art History at Cornell.

Luke: "Where were you in the social pecking order in high school?"

SE: "Oh, you know, I went to a really strange, small, all-girls Catholic school north of Boston. My class was only 63 people, so everyone knew everyone, and the cliques were really blurred because you were in all the same classes and because it was a Catholic school there was a lot of forced socializing projects. I had some cool friends and then probably some nerdy friends, but I was also really involved in ballet. That was my life. I’d leave school early every day to go rehearse. That was really my social life. School was really a means to an end."

Luke: "Has your role in a social circle changed over the course of your life? Are you the organizer? Are you the observer? Are you the class clown? Are you the resident intellectual? I’d like to pin a hat on you."

SE: "I’d like to pin a hat on me as well, but I moved a lot as a kid. I was always the new girl. I think I moved eleven times before high school. I was always sorta being watched and scrutinized and trying to make friends. Sometimes that went really well and I made friends easily, and sometimes it just went horrendously wrong… I guess I got more comfortable with myself in college. I was done with the all-girls stuff so I really eschewed the sorority route in favor of just finding my good friends. I found them pretty easily, and they’re still my very close friends today. Socializing got a lot easier in college… I don’t know what you’d call me now. I’m not a person who has thousands of friends, despite what it says on Facebook [where S.E. has 5,000 friends]. That’s promotional.

"I have a small circle of friends. They’re very important to me. I’ve always found quality to be a lot more important than quantity."

Luke: "Do you bring people together? Do you stand off to the side? I’m just picturing you at a cocktail party of fellow intellectuals."

SE: "Not quite. I’m not like shy, but I’m not really a networker either. I don’t enjoy networking and exchanging business cards and who do you know? I have no patience for that. When I’m at a party, I’m pretty social. I like to talk to everyone. I like to have interesting conversations. I’m a social misanthrope."

Luke: "What do your parents do for a living?"

SE: "My dad was a salesman until just a few months ago when he retired. He worked for one company his whole life — Office Max. It used to be Boise Cascade. Selling office supplies. He started in the warehouse and he ended up being a senior vice-president. It’s a really nice story, and I’ve always been very proud of him. My mother was an English teacher who retired when I was in high school."

S.E. is an only child.

Luke: "What did your parents most want from you?"

SE: "They would say for me to be happy, which I always felt, but there’s also a certain expectation of being a moral person."

Luke: "You were raised Catholic?"

SE: "Yeah, I mean my mom’s Roman Catholic. My dad’s a recent born-again. But religion wasn’t a big part of my childhood. We all experimented with religion. When I was really young, I wanted to go to church a lot. That lasted about a year. And then it became more important to concentrate on keeping our family nuclear through all of these moves than it did to keep our family religious. My parents are still religious. I was turned off by religion very very young. I did a lot of my own studying. Even when I was in Catholic school, I was really the only non-practicing Catholic that went there. I consider myself an atheist from the age of 16 or so."

Luke: "From your experience of religion, what did you love and hate about it?"

SE: "I loved a lot. I loved the belonging. I’m a consummate fan; whether it’s with the Mets or with a religion, I really like to be a cheerleader, a supporter. I get really into it. I was really turned on by that sense of group identity. You’re one of us. But I never found the answers that everyone talked about happening. I didn’t get any answers. I just got a lot of questions from religion, questions that were not easily answered, and when they were answered, I was not convinced. It was a sad process for me to back away from faith. I really wanted it to be part of who I was, but it wouldn’t have been honest because I didn’t believe it."

Luke: "How did the clergy-children sex abuse scandals of the Catholic Church affect you?"

SE: "I was involved in [the Church] at the time it was happening right in front of me. It affected people who were part of those congregations a lot more than it did me. I was already at a place in my late teens to say, I’m not surprised. I didn’t excuse it but I said that doesn’t really affect me. That doesn’t really have anything to do with me. I was outside of it looking in."

Luke: "Author William Lobdell…says that when he was writing his memoir, he was inspired by the example of Howard Stern as a truth-teller. He felt like Howard Stern told more of the truth than any clergy person he knew."

SE: "I don’t think it’s a fair comparison. Howard Stern’s an entertainer. I’m sure some of the things he says are true, and some of them probably aren’t. His responsibilities to the truth are at a different level than, say, a clergyman. I didn’t find anything sinister going on in the church. It wasn’t that that I backed away from. I have a lot of friends who just think of the church as a business and as a sinister machine. I don’t really have those sentiments. I think that the people who belong to and lead congregations are honest and sincere for the most part. I’m not a militant atheist. In part, I became an atheist became I’m not really a big joiner. I didn’t want to leave one club for another. I wanted to leave a club I didn’t think I could be an honest member of… If that changes, I’d gladly go back to the club but not a second before I actually mean it."

Luke: "What is the story of you and God?"

SE: "I really wanted a relationship with God. I played the part for a long time. I wrote a cross necklace when I was 12. My grandmother took me to get one. It was really important to me, and going to church was really important to me…for a year. It just wasn’t a two-way relationship. I just wasn’t getting anything back. I really loved the ceremony of it all. I really loved all of the rituals associated with going to church and taking communion, studying the Bible and catechism. I really liked all of those rituals but it was always really empty. It was always waiting for something to click in and it just didn’t. Some will say I didn’t give it enough of a chance, but I think I worked harder than a lot of people I know at being a person of faith. And it just never happened for me."

Luke: "Have you been in any figurative foxholes over the past ten years when you were calling out for God?"

SE: "Yeah, around 16-18 were trying times. I was really kinda lost. I didn’t know if the ballet thing was going to work out. It’s a really competitive environment and unique experience that only a fraction of the population goes through. Crazy scrutiny at a very young age on a pretty big stage. That was hard. I certainly prayed and asked for guidance, which I didn’t get or didn’t recognize getting. But there was no turning away from God because I had been abandoned by Him. For me it was an intellectual process. I couldn’t intellectually buy it. I wrestled with my head a lot. It just didn’t happen for me."

Luke: "Have you turned to anything as a God and religion substitute?"

SE: "I’ve moved on. I don’t think there’s anything that I consider filling that hole. I leave that hole open. I’m leaving a space for that in the chance that God wants to come and find me. I would really relish that. I envy people of faith. I’m not an angry atheist who thinks they are all angry or crazy."

Luke: "How have you figured out right and wrong?"

SE: "It’s not easy because I don’t have a written doctrine or dogma of any kind. I really believe that a lot of it is visceral. I know when I’ve done something wrong. I’ve never once been in a situation where I did something wrong and didn’t know it. I always know. A lot of it is, ‘What would my mother say if I did this?’ That seems to have worked well enough up to this point… I’m very much in touch with where I’m going, who I am, what I want, what I should do. I’m asking those questions of myself constantly, so I don’t feel as blind as maybe other atheists do."

Luke: "How have friends from childhood reacted to your becoming a pundit?"

SE: "I didn’t keep in touch with too many of them, but the ones that I did have been all very proud and happy for me even though most of them are in a different political camp."

Luke: "Could you tell me the story of your political journey?"

SE: "I didn’t grow up in a particularly political household. My parents talked a lot about hard work, personal responsibility, compassion, so I guess fundamentally those things were always with me. It didn’t occur to me that those might be conservative ideals…until much later. I always thought my parents were Democrats. It wasn’t until I came into my political own that I discovered they’d been Republican and that I was too. It wasn’t until college when I was at a debate between Jeremy Rabkin and some visiting professor on affirmative action, and I just found myself siding with Rabkin. It pushed me to research my own political ideology and figure out what it is I believed in. It just became very apparent that I’m a conservative. A quick step after that was to identify myself as a Republican. Nine-eleven certainly helped jell that. I was here in Manhattan when it happened.

"It was a natural progression. You start making money and you wonder where it’s all going."

Luke: "How did this book come to be?"

SE: "Brett Joshpe and I went to Cornell together. We weren’t really good friends. We were friends of friends. Then we were both in Manhattan working. We’d hang out socially from time to time. It became clear we were the only Republicans we knew in Manhattan. We just talked about how fun it would be to write a political tome defending ourselves against the stereotypes and well-worn caricatures that we were constantly facing.

"It just evolved from there. We set ourselves a schedule and wrote an outline and started interviewing people. It just became."

Luke: "What surprised you in the course of researching and writing the book?"

SE: "How unglamorous it is to write a book. It is not some sexy romantic big mahogany desk with a typewriter and a glass of wine with French music playing and the windows open. It’s hard work. It’s very mechanical. It’s a business. You have to approach it like it’s a job.

"My idea of being a writer was wrapped up in this movie image that I had. It wasn’t that at all. It was hard work that required a tremendous amount of discipline when I had a full-time job and graduate school to contend with at the same time."

Luke: "What do you love and hate about being interviewed?"

SE: "I’m not in love with the sound of my own voice. That has gotten pretty annoying to me. I don’t think anyone likes having to answer the same question over and over again… For me, getting interviewed is part of my job. I’m generally happy to do it."

Luke: "Where does the publication of this book rank among your life’s highlights?"

SE: "It was number one. Absolutely. I hope that doesn’t stay the case. At the time of its publication, I was absolutely convinced, paranoid, that I was going to die before finishing the book. I would walk home from work and hope not to get hit by a bus. Every day until this book was published. I just wanted something out there so that if I died young, there was some contribution on the shelf in the public domain where my ideas about something were out there.

"It was ecstasy. I cried multiple times. I threw myself multiple parties. I was in heaven. It’s still a huge source of pride for me. I hope that I have other milestones both personal and professional that unseat it."

Luke: "What are the most interesting reactions you’ve received to the book?"

SE: "When we first pitched the book to literary agents, a fairly liberal group, most of them in New York City, the reaction was hostile. It was like threatening and violent. The responses we got from some of these literary agents ranged from, ‘We hope your teeth fall out’ to ‘You’re drowning in the blood of our children’ — just really graphic and silly responses from businessmen who should just want to make money. Politics, especially in New York, are just so divisive.

"That was funny and kind of difficult to deal with.

"Afterward, there really hasn’t been a huge range [of reactions]. The people who talk about the book most often are conservatives, so they enjoy it. Liberals have largely ignored it, which is completely fine. I get a broad range of mail in reaction to my columns and my appearances on talkshows ranging from death threats and hate mail and marriage proposals and everything in between."

Luke: "How do you like doing ‘Red Eye‘?"

SE: "It’s so much fun. I’ve been told by a number of people that it’s not good for my credibility, but if Ann Coulter and Bill O’Reilly can do it, I can do it. I love it. It’s so much fun. Those guys are hilarious. They’re some of the smartest writers I know. It’s a nice break from Hannity and the pundit pit to be able to laugh about some of this stuff. That’s been really fun."

Luke: "Do you have a philosophy of punditry?"

SE: "It’s simple. I always wonder how my mother’s going to react. I try not to say anything that would upset her. As far as how I express my political views, I try not to get really personal or nasty. I hate cutting people off, especially women. I say what I mean and try not to be too inflammatory. I say what I mean and I say it with passion. That’s what makes someone interesting to watch."

Luke: "How have you gotten so much accomplished at such a young age?"

SE: "I’m 30, which to me feels ancient. I just turned 30. It was not a happy experience. I don’t feel that young. I feel like I’ve had ten solid years in the workforce. I didn’t serve in the military, which is a regret. I’m not raising five kids on my own. Comparatively, it’s not that big of an accomplishment. I’ve worked really hard. I’ve always been a pretty ambitious person. I’ve had to be disciplined to juggle school, my job, this book project, and now this pundit life and all of my writing projects."

Luke: "How has your choice of work and political ideology affected your life?"

SE: "Like my personal life?"

Luke: "Yeah."

SE: "Most of my friends are liberal. I don’t have too many fanatical, code-pink, liberal friends, but my friends are my friends and they’re excited for me and happy for me even when they totally disagree with me and can’t stand my political beliefs. They are always very kind and generous. That hasn’t been hard. I chose my friends very wisely a long time ago.

"Working in New York as a conservative is not fun or easy. You really have to embrace your minority status and take it all in stride if you are going to survive without ending up on a shrink’s couch. I work at The New York Times, which is obviously not conservative. Everyone there is a little suspicious of me. Again, I go in and I do my job and I’m a good employee. I’m not out to get anyone. I think they’re all politely accepting, which is fine. That’s the most I could hope to get."

Luke: "Have you lost friends because of your politics?"

SE: "No, I haven’t. I’ve lost acquaintances, which is fine. In my mind, the fewer acquaintances the better. Because that’s just maintenance to me."

Luke: "How do you maintain a good friendship with someone with whom you disagree about some of your most passionately held beliefs?"

SE: "It’s different for every person. With some people, you just have to agree not to talk about it, which is fine. I don’t have to talk about politics all the time. It’s not entirely who I am. Other people, you can have really interesting debates with."

Luke: "Do you understand how a Mary Matalin and a James Carville can be married to each other?"

SE: "That’s bizarre. Mary Matalin published my book, so I know her a little bit. I don’t know that I could do that, but then again, it’s not my life. It’s not entirely who I am. I think I could compartmentalize. It would just seem that in the courting process, something would fall apart. How would you get through the courting process without having huge disagreements about the way you want to spend your life?"

Luke: "Are you a conservative ideologue part-time? Do you consciously put on the armor and go forth and do battle and then come home and take it off? Or is it something that drives you all the time?"

SE: "It’s very important to me. I’m very passionate about my political views. Until there’s nothing to rail against anymore, I imagine I’ll be pretty proactive in my writing and in my punditry. I certainly take it off when I come home. I’m not this talking head around my apartment or with my mother or with my friends. When I go out and have a couple of cocktails, I’m not talking about bailout. Who would want to do that?

"I do what I have to do for my job. I watch news for my job. When I don’t have to do it, I don’t. I watch ‘The Hills’ or stupid TV, I love Bravo. I’m totally addicted.

"There are times when I feel compelled to write something. That doesn’t go away until I’ve gotten it out of my system. That drives me."

Luke: "Are you happy?"

SE: "I’m ecstatic. I’m blissful. I’m a very happy person. I’m doing exactly what I want to do."

Luke: "Have you always been a happy person?"

SE: "No. Before college. I don’t think it’s unique to be unhappy as an adolescent. I was pretty unhappy."

Luke: "When in your life were you happiest?"

SE: "When I was at Cornell and I was editor of the art section of the school newspaper. And I was bossing people around, which was awesome. I have never been happier than at that job where I had control over something. I put a paper to bed every night. I had a staff. It was awesome power. I will never have that again because I’m not in a position to be a boss. That was so much fun. I had great friends. We were all in this weird experience together, and we were hugely committed to it. We thought it was very important and serious work.

"I will talk to these people to this day and reminisce about how great it was. They all feel the same way. We’ve all toyed with ways we could recreate that in our thirties, which seems unlikely, but maybe we’ll all start some weird magazine together so we can all be bosses again."

Luke: "What is your favorite type of writing to do?"

SE: "Op-Ed. Opinion pieces. I like when I can put my voice into it. I hate reporting. I do some of that, but it is very ungratifying for me. I like to come up with an interesting opinion and put it together in a crafty way. When I’ve done that successfully, it’s the best feeling. When I haven’t done that successfully, it’s empty. I can’t read the piece again. I feel it viscerally."

Luke: "Do you notice any significant differences in the liberalism you encounter in journalism vs. the liberalism you encounter in academia vs. the liberalism you may encounter in other spheres?"

SE: "What they have in common is arrogance. Liberalism in general assumes that everyone who’s smart and capable must believe the standard liberal pieties. If you don’t, you’re just dumb or backwards or uncultured or unsophisticated. Or you’re Satan. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of room for smart intellectual conservatism. That just doesn’t exist on the Left… There’s just no room for checks and balances on a liberal campus or at a liberal publication. It’s a dishonest system."

Luke: "What are the differences between the way liberals view conservatives and the way conservatives view liberals?"

SE: "Tucker Carlson said this best in our book. He said, ‘Conservatives don’t have a problem being friends with liberals, but liberals don’t have a category for people they like personally but dislike politically.’ That just doesn’t happen. You’ll be at a party and a group of liberals will hear that you are Republican and turn away and walk away. I don’t think conservatives do that. I haven’t experienced that. I would never do that. I think that I can compartmentalize. It doesn’t seem like liberals can do that.

"The liberal philosophy is a universal life philosophy. It’s complete. It dictates what kind of toilet paper you use, what kind of music you listen to, what kind of coffee you drink, what kind of clothes you wear. Conservatism is a partial life philosophy. It doesn’t dictate any of those things and rightly so, I think. I can listen to alternative music. I’m allowed to watch John Stewart. I’m allowed to have a tattoo, and in fact I do."

Luke: "Where? What?"

SE: "It’s on my lower leg and it is a signature of my favorite artist, Kandinsky."

Luke: "And when did you get this?"

SE: "About five years ago."

Luke: "Were you intoxicated?"

SE: "Oh no. This was predetermined, premeditated. I planned it out. I thought about it for months. I went to museums to find the best signature version. It was deliberate."

Luke: "Have you encountered a conservative who thought that liberals ipso facto were evil?"

SE: "Oh, of course. That exists on both sides. There are plenty of Republicans who think that Barack Obama is Satan. I’m sure there are plenty of Republicans who think you have to be somewhat evil to be a liberal."

Luke: "How do you like doing TV?"

SE: "I like it. I prefer writing, because I just naturally prefer to be in my own space and not having to worry about my hair and makeup. It just seems so silly. That said, it’s fun. It’s not hard. I get to meet a lot of interesting people. For me, it is a great way to promote my writing."

Luke: "How do you react when you feel that a man is looking at you with lust? Are you horrified, disgusted, appalled?"

SE: "Yeah. Disgusted. This is not a unique situation. Women in Manhattan are objectified walking down the street every day. A broad spectrum of women get looked at. It’s, yeah, disgusting. That doesn’t do anything for me. That doesn’t excite me. I know women who use it as a barometer for how good they’re looking that day. Eww! It gives me the creeps. I don’t enjoy it at all. There’s not a single ounce of enjoyment that I get from that."

Luke: "Are you angry about it?"

SE: "No. No. I just choose not to acknowledge it. I ignore it. I ignore it. I put it away and ignore it."

Luke: "Do you say we’ve got to educate men to treat women more respectfully?"

SE: "No, I think men for the most part are pretty respectful. The men who have been close to me in my life have always been very respectful. I don’t harbor any animosities towards the gender."

Luke: "Do you feel that media and billboards and TV feed or create this male drive to objectify women as sexual objects?"

SE: "Sure, in part, but I think women drive it too. When women stop dressing provocatively and stripping and making their looks a calling card, then maybe that will change. Women have been conditioned that their looks can be a calling card, an entree to a greater situation for them, but they’ve also engendered it because it’s easy and men and women are always looking for an easier way out."

Luke: "What do you like and dislike about getting older?"

SE makes an expression of infinite disgust. She hates getting older even more than she hates men looking at her with lust. "I don’t like anything. I don’t like anything so far. I dislike the word ‘thirty.’ I dislike it tremendously. I very much enjoyed being a twenty-something. I guess I’m getting wiser and people tell me I’ll have all this experience behind me and I’ll know so much more and my thirties are just going to be even better. I think they’re lying. I think they’re liars. I don’t think that’s true. I’ll let you know as I progress through my thirties, but it’s been traumatic. I have not enjoyed it."

Luke: "Did you watch ‘Sex and the City‘ and do you have an opinion on the show?"

SE: "Watched it. Still watch reruns. Love it. Totally love it because it is pure escapism. I can check out. I don’t know how much of it rings true. That’s not why I watch. I’m not one of those people who say, ‘Oh, it’s just like my life’ or, ‘I’ve been in those situations.’ Those situations, I’m proud to say, I have not been in. I don’t think those are women you want to necessarily be like or would you welcome their situations. It’s just fun. I love watching the city in places that I’ve been."

Luke: "How do you understand the very strong reactions people have to Sarah Palin?"

SE: "I don’t understand. I learn about this a lot. I had known about Sarah Palin a long time before she was picked. De facto, I became a resident pundit on her… Here you have eight years of people telling us that George Bush was a nepotism experiment gone wrong, the privileged son who had no business leading the country, and then you had this woman who started from nothing and worked her way up, never got arrested, was never controversial, went to church every weekend, became the first female governor of the state and the youngest, and to huge approval ratings, if this isn’t a woman to admire, I don’t know who is. It wasn’t because she was a woman; it was that her record was just so good. I thought she carried herself with a lot of dignity in situations where she could’ve gone for the cheap joke. I didn’t understand the women attacking Sarah Palin. It saddens me."

Luke: "Do you think Sarah Palin has a political philosophy?"

SE: "Yeah. Like me, it’s guttural and visceral. I didn’t become a conservative because I read Hayek and decided one day, ‘I’m going to be conservative.’ I don’t think she did either. I’m a conservative because I was raised to believe in personal responsibility, self-sufficiency, compassion, hard work. That’s what brought me to conservatism. I imagine that’s probably how she got there too."

Luke: "With Ronald Reagan, he stood for hating communism and lowering marginal tax rates. Does Sarah Palin stand for anything?"

SE: "She stands for family, hard work and personal responsibility. I’ve been to Alaska a number of times. Most Alaskans really prize the rebellious individualism that you haven’t seen since the great American West was won. That probably informs a lot of her decisions. When she looks at Alaska-first policies, I think that’s what she’s thinking about. When she looks at the budget and decides to sell a plane on eBay, that’s what’s informing her policies. It might not be as academic as some other conservatives or liberals, I think she does have a philosophy that you can point to that result in many of her decisions as a governor."

Luke: "Would Barack Obama have won the Democratic nomination, let alone the presidency, if he had not been black?"

SE: "Oh sure. Yeah. Sure. Yeah. It’s funny how we’ve chosen to paint this election: He came out gangbusters, this unbelievable orator with all this charisma, these great new ideas. It wasn’t that. A relative unknown but tireless and talented self-promoter won an election by exploiting gaping weaknesses in a bad economy, and an unpopular predecessor, and an inconsistent opponent to win by a mere six percentage points. A number of people could’ve won in that circumstance. I don’t see his race as one of the factors."

Luke: "So you don’t think there was a significant guilty white vote — that many millions felt that by voting for Barack Obama they were proving they were not a racist?"

SE: "I believe in white guilt. We interviewed Shelby Steele. He’s the foremost authority there. I really don’t think that it was a huge factor in the election."

Luke: "Did you read ‘The Bell Curve’?"

SE: "No."

Luke: "Which parts of life would you most like to understand that you don’t understand right now?"

SE: "Faith, for sure. Faith. I want a better understanding. It’s why I’m studying it in grad school. It’s what I’m writing my next book on, my second or third, I’m not sure. It’s why I write on religion now. It’s why I defend religious America. That will always be my last frontier. That’s always going to be something that I’m exploring."

Luke: "What are you studying at graduate school?"

SE: "It’s an individual program. There’s only 20 of us in this program. We can all set our own curriculum. My project at grad school has been a comparison study of the practices of the religious faithful against those of sports fans and looking at fandom as a form of worship."

"I’ve begun my thesis. It’s due in a year. I’m at the end of my school. I’ve been there for five years because I’ve done it part-time… I went to grad school so that I would have the gravitas to talk about these kind of things."

Luke: "Which fictional characters, be it in film, literature or TV, do you most identify with?"

SE: "That’s a great question. Hmm. This is probably going to sound horrible but I really love Harry Angstrom in Rabbit, Run by John Updike. It’s always been my favorite book. I just identify with his, I think everyone can identify with him in that everyone wants to check out once in a while and just say, ‘I’ve had it with my responsibilities. I’m walking away.’

"No one really has the guts to do it. I certainly don’t. I don’t know that everyone would agree that that’s a brave thing to do, but I thought it was really brave. He made a lot of mistakes but I just identified with him.

"Another one is Meursault in Camus’ The Stranger, another character who has the guts to live the way he wants to live, regardless of society’s disgust at his behavior, at his lack of empathy, his lack of compassion.

"I don’t know that I try to be like them, but I identify with them."

Luke: "Wow. So for a really happy up girl, the two fictional characters you most identify with are pretty sad people."

SE: "They are sad existentialists, but I really find some integrity and some honesty in those characters. I prize self-knowledge and honesty and I think they were honest people."

Luke: "When you have time to read for pleasure, what have you read?"

SE: "Oh God, it’s been forever, because I’ve been reading so much for school. It’s been Durkheim and Foucault and Weber and Derrida, which makes me want to blow my brains out. That’s what I’ve been doing for the past five years.

"I recently read Cock and Bull by Will Self. Hilarious. He’s a great British satirist."

Luke: "How much, if at all, has MySpace and Facebook affected your life?"

SE: "Ohmigod, enormously. I was so reticent to get on Facebook. I’m not a social networker. And the idea of putting my information up on a webpage and updating people as to my status, I found it abhorrent.

"In terms of promoting my work, it’s been invaluable. I can let people know when I’ll be at a certain place, whether it is for a book signing or a speech or TV. I can accumulate a friend base. I don’t like to say fan base, because it’s pretty obnoxious. I can interact with people who want to interact with me and learn more about my work.

"I fired my publicist after two months because I was just getting everything I needed, even professional contacts, off Facebook.

"I am very pissed, very annoyed, that Facebook has cut off your friends at 5,000. They have a cap. I can no longer add friends, which I just find kinda communist. I should be the one to decide how many friends I can have. Not you. I’ve been trying to plead with them to remove the cap but no luck so far."

Luke: "Can you point to any turning points in your life, be it the reading of a certain book or a specific event that forever changed you?"

SE: "Reading The Stranger, reading Rabbit, Run, certainly changed me unequivocally."

Luke: "How?"

SE: "I think I just became cynical. Not in a bad way. Any New Yorker will tell you that cynicism is something to be proud of. I became a person who asked questions, who wanted to slough off the veneer of various systems and see what was really underneath. Those were ‘Aha’ moments when I read those books.

"I was 15 when I read The Stranger and 17 when I read Rabbit, Run."

Luke: "Someone said that a cynic is an idealist who’s been hurt. If that’s true, you’re an idealist in wanting religion and God to be real?"

SE: "Yeah. Absolutely. I’m very comfortable saying I don’t know what the answers are, but I’d really like to find them… I’m completely open to external events changing my mind."

Luke: "Was there any event that precipitated your loss of religious faith?"

SE: "I was recently talking about this with my mother… My parents got divorced when I was three. She remarried when I was six. I remember going to church with her when I was maybe seven or eight, and she told me that she could no longer be married in a [Catholic] church because she’d gotten divorced. This to me was like, ‘How could these people pick on my mom? How could these people not want my mom?’

"That was a real turning point. The veil came off and I looked at religion a little differently."

Luke: "I assume you believe that Hitler and Mother Theresa have the same fates? If that is true, how are you able to maintain your equanimity?"

SE: "That’s a very peaceful thought to me — death, nothingness, story over. That gives me a great deal of peace and well-being — the idea that my time here is finite and when it’s over, it’s over. That’s reassuring for me."

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been noted in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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