Nationally-known columnist and commentator Stephen Hayes entertained as well as lectured an estimated 750 people Thursday night at DeSales University in Center Valley.
He took a sip of water shortly after he began speaking, then said: “Sorry, a Marco Rubio moment early.”
Hayes, who delivered the university’s 30th annual Marcon Lecture, is a senior writer at the Weekly Standard and a Fox News contributor.
To loud applause, Hayes said: “I understand there are some Fox News viewers in the audience and we appreciate that. My wife sends her thanks for helping to buy our children groceries.”
Hayes is a regular member of the “Fox News All Stars” on “Special Report with Bret Baier.” He said Baier was his college roommate. “That’s why I have a seat on the show. I’ve seen Bret in a number of different positions.”
Anticipating questions from the audience, Hayes said: “Yes, Charles Krauthammer is in fact that brilliant. He’s every bit as smart as he appears on television.”
He added what people don’t understand or can’t appreciate is that Krauthammer is “a good person, a good man. He is down to Earth. You can have a conversation with him. He’s not full of himself. If I were as smart as Charles Krauthammer, I would be insufferable.
“The second answer is yes, we do in fact argue during commercial breaks. – almost every single one. And we argue after the show.”
“The third and final answer is no, I have never actually punched Juan Williams. We have come close.” He said when the two of them are on assignment together they’ll go out and have a burger and “basically just argue like we do when we’re on the show. He’s fun and I enjoy spending time with him. He’s a very good guy.”
One man who stood up to ask Hayes a question confessed: “My wife loves you, that’s why I’m here.”
Hayes also is a frequent panelist on Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace.
He described himself as “pretty conservative/Libertarian in my thinking but I was never much of a yay-rah party Republican Party guy.”
While working as a volunteer at the 1996 Republican National Convention in San Diego, Hayes’ best assignment was serving as host in a luxury trailer on former presidents’ night. Convention speakers came to the trailer, which literally was under the stage, before or after they appeared on stage. “This was a huge thrill for a 26-year-old kid from Wauwatosa, Wisc. I had never met the president of a Kiwanis Club, much less the president of the United States.”
He said when Gerald Ford and Betty Ford came to the trailer, he did exactly what he had been told to do when VIPs arrived. He went to a bar, grabbed a big bottle of bourbon and two tumblers, and walked over to the couch where the Fords were sitting.
Many in the audience began laughing.
“Yes, I offered a drink to Betty Ford -- the most famous alcoholic in history.”
Despite the fact that the former First Lady graciously declined the drink, Hayes said at that point he realized: “Clearly I’m not meant for politics. So I decided to go into journalism where you can insult people on purpose and earn a living by doing that.”
But he indicated he also had a moment of doubt about journalism after being invited to appear on “The McLaughlin Group.” Host John McLaughlin suddenly turned to him and asked a question about the organ transplant lobby.
Hayes recalled thinking: “What? The organ transplant lobby? I didn’t know there was an organ transplant lobby.” His response to McLaughlin: “This is a really big issue. And a lot of people on Capitol Hill have very strong feelings about this. The organ transplant lobby, for instance. I guarantee you there will be fierce debates in the coming weeks about this. And it will be very interesting to see how this ends up.”
Said Hayes: “It was easily the most vapid commentary in the history of Washington commentary and obviously that’s saying something. I was never asked back to The McLaughlin Group. The lesson for me was if you don’t know something, just say you don’t know it. Just admit it.”
While his personal stories brought laughter and applause from the audience, the more serious “lecture” aspect of Hayes’ speech focused on the “unsustainable” national debt.
He said Washington, D.C. is broken, out of order and dysfunctional: “For years our elected representatives have led us slowly toward catastrophe.
“Just how bad is it? In the 70 seconds since I declared that Washington is broken, we ran up $3,360,000 in debt. In the nine seconds it took me to just tell you that, we added another $432,000. We’re adding debt at a rate of approximately $48,000 per second. That’s nearly $4 billion in new debt every single day.”
He warned the audience that such huge numbers can leave people bored to death or scared to death.
He said everybody is responsible for the debt: “The political parties worked together to create and expand the programs that are the drivers of our debt: Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Spending on these programs is renewed and increased automatically. Americans grew to depend on these benefits and politicians of course were loathe to remove them.”
He named Rep. Paul Ryan as one of the new leaders in Congress trying to bring a new approach to government, which involves everything from actually reading bills before voting on them to coming up with an “ambitious” plan to solve the problem of the national debt.
Hayes said virtually everybody in Washington now sees the debt as an urgent problem, but President Obama still doesn’t like to focus on it. “He doesn’t talk about it a lot. He said it’s not a short-term problem.” He said the president’s proposed federal budget, unveiled this week, “won’t solve the problems.” He also said he is bothered by Republican Rep. Greg Walden’s response to the president’s budget proposal, which involved resorting to “demagoguery of the worst order.” And he said other Republican leaders have failed to challenge Walden publicly.
At the end of his speech, Hayes said “In the time I spent speaking, we accumulated approximately $130 million in new debt.”
During a brief Q&A session, Hayes offered some insight into why Mitt Romney lost last year’s presidential election.
He reported extensively on the 2012 election and has interviewed Romney.
When asked why people at Fox incorrectly predicted Romney would win, Hayes said his opinion was that Obama was likely to be re-elected and “I was beaten up a little bit” for it, including by Rush Limbaugh – for an hour.
Hayes said he did not vote for Obama.
“My criticism of the Romney campaign is they didn’t make arguments, they made statements.” He said Romney failed to “prosecute a big case.”
Hayes said a national exit poll asked 25,000 people which presidential candidate “cared most for voters like me?” Obama scored 81 percent on that question, but Romney only scored 18 percent –“a stunning difference. It’s not difficult to explain. Romney, on more than one occasion, in effect said: ‘I don’t care about you’.
“He basically dismissed people are irredeemable. That’s not how we think in this country. I found that offensive as a conservative. I became a conservative because I believed that free markets are what lift people out of poverty.”
Previously Hayes was a CNN commentator and appeared daily with Wolf Blitzer on “The Situation Room.” He was part of a CNN team that won a Peabody Award for its coverage of the 2008 elections. His media appearances include “every major television network” and his writing has been featured in many major publications.
Hayes is the author of “Cheney: The Untold Story of America’s Most Powerful and Controversial Vice President” and “The Connection: How al Qaeda’s Collaboration with Saddam Hussein Has Endangered America.”
Before Hayes spoke, Father Bernard O’Connor, president of DeSales, told the audience “This is the largest—or at least one of the largest – gatherings we’ve ever had for the Marcon lecture.”
The lecture series honors the memory of Frank L. Marcon, who served as a DeSales University trustee from 1966 until his death in 1982. Previous speakers include Charlie Rose, Tim Russert, Mark Shields, Ann Compton, Tucker Carlson, Lisa Myers and Larry Kane.