Twitter Personality of the Week #30: 10 Questions for Kurt Schlichter (@KurtSchlichter)

                NO HOLDS BARRED.

                That has been my consistently reinforced impression of Kurt Schlichter, from the first tweet I stumbled across nearly a year ago (thanks to a Follow Friday recommendation from Erick Erickson) up to the present moment.  Kurt traffics in blunt, unvarnished, pithy truth telling that glimmers with such rough hewn glory that it requires neither refining nor polish. And we’re swept along in the wild wit and wisdom of it all.

                A few months back, I heard another Twitter friend opine that we all should be so privileged as to be familiar with a writer or two who “makes us all feel embarrassed to pick up a pen.” @JazzShaw, himself no mean slouch at the wordsmithing craft, was referring to the likes of George Will and Christopher Hitchens when he uttered that targeted observation, and I wholeheartedly concurred. But I call that sentiment to mind and sink a little lower in my chair every time I read a new Big Hollywood column by Kurt Schlichter. Then I chasten myself and resolve to use my humiliation as motivational grist to goad myself towards further improvements (one of my mental techniques as a writer, which at times, is partially effective)…                                                                  

Kurt Schlichter in uniform on Memorial Day 2010. Memorial Day 2010. Clockwise: @thekelliejane, Hot Wife Irina, Kurt, @ktabin, Jackie, John, @Sdigda.

                Kurt, on so many levels, is the distinctly American man we all aspire to be. Devoted husband, adoring father, courageous warrior, fearless litigator, passionate patriot…all the above and more, yet all the while, inspiring the rest of us to follow along, rather than lagging in his wake. Kurt relentlessly skewers those who would remake this country in their own inferior image…and we all relish those moments. But as many can attest, he also dedicates his considerable powers of badinage to fostering esprit de corps among members of the conservative community.

                One of the rhetorical niches Kurt has carved for himself is the label #Caring…which he hilariously employs to devastating effect. I assure you, dear readers, of the veracity of what I’m about to tell you: After typing the previous sentence, I went to his Twitter timeline and the most recent Schlichter-ism awaiting me was as follows: “The basketball thing is on the TV reminding me of how lame basketball is. Bracket this, losers. #Caring.” A few slots down, here was another one: “There’s nothing more depressing than an airport bar. If by depressing you mean AWESOME! #IDontMeanAwesome #Caring.”

                Banter aside, the paradoxical truth is that Kurt Schlichter does care…a great deal. For his family, for his country, for the battalion he commanded and, I believe, for many of us, as well. I look forward to meeting him someday…soon, I hope! In the meantime, I’ve welcomed the chance to learn a bit more about the anecdotal accoutrements along life’s journey that have combined to render the Kurt Schlichter life story a tale worth telling. Enjoy!

10 Questions for Kurt Schlichter 

1. I’m always interested in the path that, early on, pointed a person in the direction on which they ultimately embarked. Were pro-American principles instilled in you early on and whether or not that was the case, please expand on how your younger years influenced the trajectory of your life?  

I was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, but at age six, the family moved to San Mateo, California, which at the time was a sort-of conservative Bay Area town founded by people disgusted by San Francisco.  I was always conservative, and the reason was simple – liberals and liberalism didn’t make any sense to me.  I was a big news watcher and newspaper reader even as a kid, and I remember being very young and watching a story about the Vietnam War, where they had decided that it would be smart to disarm medical evacuation helicopters because maybe then, the communists wouldn’t shoot at them.  I was maybe six or seven years old, but even at that age, this struck me as about the stupidest thing I’d ever heard.  That sums up liberalism to me – this bizarre insistence that other people screw themselves over in the name of a naïve, utopian vision, regardless of the objective evidence telling all who will heed that the idea will never work.   

I was always very pro-free speech growing up, as well as very militantly right wing and pro-military.  The day the Iranian hostage rescue failed – I had contempt for Jimmy Carter before having contempt for that sanctimonious, anti-Semitic gasbag was cool – I was so ticked off I refused to go to school. 

Now, my parents were both pretty conservative, but I became conservative in spite of that.  My natural inclination is to be in opposition to anyone who tries to tell me anything, so their being right-wing actually made it less likely I would be. (For the curious, I guess in the case of the military, I rationalize it unconsciously because I volunteered and agreed to follow the chain of command.) I just always saw conservative values as making more sense to me, so I went that way. 

2. What led you to enlist in the armed forces and what keeps you there today, even with a law practice and a “hot wife” waiting at home? 

That’s another “in spite of.”  I think I always knew I’d join up; I’d been so gung-ho, it kind of would have been lame not to put my money where my mouth was.  As college (UC San Diego, 1987, with a triple major in Communications, Political Science and Coors) came to an end I needed to figure out what was next.  My dad, who was a reserve naval officer, suggested I join up.  Naturally, I rejected that out of hand.  Instead, I decided independently to talk to the Army and found I could enlist, go through Basic Training and then get a slot at Officer Candidate School and be a lieutenant.  Sounded great – except no one told me 1/3 of an OCS class doesn’t pass.  I made it through the first time, but it was the worst period of my life.  Utterly miserable – they try to weed out the folks who should not be leading our young people in battle, which I understand.  It just sucks to be weeded.   

First Lieutenant Kurt Schlichter by his humvee during the Persian Gulf War, 1991.

I was stationed in (West) Germany from 1988 to 1990, which was cool, but I did not have good role models among the people I was working for and frankly did not know what the hell I was doing as a lieutenant.  The Gulf War came up and I volunteered to take a step down to being a platoon leader again and went for six months – all my guys came home – but I was already applying to law schools.  I got out in May 1991 and started Loyola Law School a couple months later.  It was nice to be ex-military around a bunch of kids who mostly just came from college.  I was underestimated a bit – it freaked some out when I was one of the law review competition winners.  I think a lot of people associated “Army” with “dumb,” which is a grave mistake. 

Still, I felt restless and tried out the California Army National Guard.  I remember standing in the operations room at the Inglewood Armory in 1992 and saying, “What happens if we mobilize?” and having the full time guys laugh at the funny lieutenant.  In 2008, standing on that very same spot as the commander, I mobilized a company for Iraq. 

I have been blessed to have worked for and with incredible officers and noncommissioned officers in the Guard.   If I’m any good at what I do, it’s because of them.  Plus I get to work with the best young people in the world.  I’m frankly amazed I even get to be one of them.                                  

And I stay in large part because I don’t think I can ever pay our country back what it’s given me and my family.  My Hot Wife @irinamoises escaped with her family from Cuba in the late 60s; much of her family was imprisoned.  We appreciate freedom. 

3. You have built a reputation of bristling commentary, writing for Andrew Breitbart’s “Big Hollywood” publications. How long have you done this type of writing and do you write anywhere else? 

I wrote for the UCSD humor paper, The Koala (before it descended into hardcore near-pornography) and the California Review, the conservative paper.  CR was a lot of fun because we could really annoy dumb people, which is kind of my favorite thing to do.  The administration used to call me in to try and talk sense to me; that was unsuccessful. 

 After law school, I wrote TV trivia questions and jokes part-time for that network that used to have trivia games in bars in the mid-90’s.  I got $3.50 a joke and parleyed them into a 5-series BMW.  I spent a few years as a stand-up, which I loved, but it was the writing I was best at.  People always wanted me to write material for them, which appealed to my enormous ego (I am a cavalryman and a lawyer!).  But hanging out in clubs all the time?  The Hot Wife started getting tired of it, then Jackie came along, and then I deployed to Kosovo for 15 months in 2004-2006, and John showed up, and I stopped doing it.                                                        

Kurt Schlichter and "Hot Wife" Irina, with daugher Jackie and son John at Hermosa Beach, California.

Now I occasionally write for legal or military professional publications, but I save my more personal writing for the Breitbart “Big” sites.   I actually “met” Andrew on Facebook a couple years ago talking about our mutual love of 80’s/90’s post-punk alternative bands (Breitbart is one of the few other people I know who actually appreciates Ned’s Atomic Dustbin).  One day, I saw a story about the Star Trek cast going to Kuwait to premier the movie for the troops and sent him an email telling him that he might want to have one of his guys write about it.  He writes back and says that I should do it.  What the heck?  I did, and then I get this email back telling me how to submit more stories.  So I submitted more.  They either liked them or were utterly desperate.  Here we are. 

4. Speaking of writing…your “I am a Conservative” riffs are a constant source of enjoyment on Twitter for me and many others. How were they spawned?  

I love Twitter because it allows me to capture the improvisation of stand-up that I miss.  Growing up in San Mateo (Apparently Greg Gutfeld came from there at the same time, but I did not know him), being clever and funny was a big deal.  I like cracking people up, but I also like to help people on my side know they are not alone.  The “I am a Conservative” riffs were born out of me wanting to make it clear where I stand, but then I found I was saying what a lot of other people were thinking. 

You know, I don’t like to argue – odd for a lawyer.  But as a lawyer, I don’t argue with my opponents – I don’t expect to change their minds and if they think they’ll turn me, they are taking whatever Charlie Sheen is on.  I make my case only to convince the undecided – at law, the judge and jury – and to reinforce my side.  What I want with an “I am a Conservative” is maybe a laugh, but definitely for an undecided person or someone on our side to think “Yeah, someone else feels just like I do!”  

And, of course, I enjoy annoying the other side.  People reveal their true selves under pressure.  You get a progressive riled up and you are likely to see racism, homophobia, anti-Semitism and sexism (and just generic hate) that you would NEVER see among conservatives.  None of us would tolerate it. 

5. If you had to distill all of the above down into a paragraph or so: What IS a conservative and when did you know you ascribed to that philosophy?  

A conservative is an optimist because he/she believes that everyone is capable of living in freedom and being responsible and accountable for him/herself.  Conservatives do not fear others exercising their liberty or envy those who succeed in their goals – they want the ability to do those things themselves.  But they also understand duty and honor, and above all, understand that there is evil in the world that needs to be confronted and defeated.  If that sounds like a guy who lived through the dreadful ‘70s only to see Ronald Reagan turn the country around, well, now you know the rest of the story.  Reagan is the quintessential American because he is the quintessential conservative. 

6. Since you’re a cultural critic, name some books, musical artists, films, TV shows and the like that have impacted you in a positive fashion. 

I’m a huge fan of alternative music from my formative years – The Replacements, Husker Du, the Clash, Joy Division.  It speaks to me in a way other music can’t – and yeah, I know some of the artists style themselves as leftists.  Sheesh, nobody’s perfect!                                                                        

Kurt with local Albanian kids in Vitina Municipality, Kosovo, 2009.

I dig The Simpsons and I won’t miss the NBC Thursday night line-up of Community, Parks & Recreation, The Office and 30 Rock.  I watch nothing with “Housewives” or “Shore” in the title. 

I think a film like Casablanca really sums up what duty is; when you put it next to a modern, over praised moral disaster like The English Patient (which basically said it’s cool to sell out to the Nazis if it’ll help you score with some other dude’s wife), there’s just no comparison.  I recently saw and wrote about Battle: Los Angeles; my thought there was that it’s sad that Hollywood can’t come out and tell the stories of our fighting men and women without making the enemies space aliens.  And of course I love Heat, but you could tell that by the fact that I’m male. 

7. What type of law do you practice and how would you describe the ups and downs of that profession, as you’ve experienced it?

I am a civil litigator – I mostly defend companies in lawsuits but occasionally do other things.  The nice thing is that I only take clients I really believe in.  I’m a name partner and like being able to do things our way – my law partner met me on the first day of law school.  I said something obnoxious and he overheard me.  Recently, I hired @ktabin as my newest associate – I met her via Twitter, got to know her, and she’s been awesome. 

8. You assist regularly with the production of Larry O’Connor’s Stage Right show. How did this venture begin and did you get to know Larry through Breitbart Enterprises?  

We met because we were both writing for the “Big” sites.  He had me on with Ben Shapiro (@BenShapiro) and we were just brutal to whomever we were talking about.  Larry loved it.  I don’t know who dubbed our semi-regular appearances the “Hour of Hate,” but it’s fitting.  I’m a soldier – my feeling is you hit the other side hard and take them down.  I think that’s kind of what underlies my Twitter style.  

9. A punditry question for you: You’re a conservative in California. A gloriously beautiful state to be sure, but in unprecedented financial and ideological shambles. Can California come back? 

I think that, like a drunk, California needs to hit bottom before it can recover.  Somehow, the people who made California great – the entrepreneurs, the hard-workers, the entire middle class – became the “enemy.”  They are taxed to death, vilified as “selfish” and their concerns about things like immigration are ignored.  But California can’t make them stay, and without them, it’s finished.  I think my beloved state is going to hit bottom hard.  I hope it can come back. 

10.  In the colorful life you’ve led so far, what are three highlights that you point to with pride or joy, in terms of accomplishments, memories, milestones…that sort of thing?  Number One has to be Hot Wife and the monsters and the hideous terrier – and the first thing she’s going to say when she reads this is that I said this is number one just so she would not get mad at me!  One of the things that makes life fun is she is totally Latin and I am totally Scot-German in personality.  Neither of us is mentally capable of backing down.  She was my primary comedy critic and now she reviews all my articles.  Also, did I mention she’s hot? 

Jack, the hideous terrier

I’m also proud that I’ve helped create jobs and opportunities for people by creating a thriving (knock on wood) business. 

And, of course, my military career.  I served in Desert Storm and did civil affairs work helping people in Kosovo.  I was in the Rodney King riots and the Northridge Earthquake and commanded a reinforced battalion in Northern San Diego County during the 2007 fires.  I was honored to be able to lead some of the finest people I’ve ever met as the commander of the 1st Squadron, 18th Cavalry.  It’s California’s best battalion. (Of course, every commander thinks his or hers is number one, but in my case, I’m right!). When I left command after my tour ended, the troops gave me a saber and spurs as a gift, but someone forgot to pick up the spurs so (as I found out later) a sergeant gave me his own pair.  That meant more to me than any medals I’ll ever pin on.

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