On this week’s Political Gabfest, recorded at a live show in Oakland, California, David Plotz, Emily Bazelon, and John Dickerson chewed over conundrums provided by listeners.
Adam Savage, former co-host of MythBusters, joined them for the final segment. This transcript represents just a few of the questions they answered. Their conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.
David Plotz: You have to trade places with a main character from any book, who do you swap with?
Emily Bazelon: Just think how much better Hamlet would have gone if Ophelia had a sunny disposition and had gotten it together, rolled with the punches, and didn’t turn into a really depressed waif who then floated away.
John Dickerson: The question wasn’t which character would you like to give Prozac to!
Bazelon: No, but I want to swap and then fix things.
Dickerson: I would like to be Nick Charles in The Thin Man, because he could disarm a man with his revolver and never spill his Martini.
Plotz: I’ve always had a crush on Lizzie Bennet from Pride and Prejudice, so I would like to be Mr. Darcy, because I would be rich. I’d have Pemberley and then I’d get to end up with Lizzie Bennet, which would be awesome!
Would you prefer to have Donald Trump as your president or as your father?
Bazelon: If he’s my father, then he’s not the president, so that’s taking it for the team, right?
Plotz: I posed this question to a couple of listeners before the show, and one of them pointed out that you’d also be rich, which would be cool.
I definitely would pick him as a father.
Dickerson: But you enjoy golf.
Plotz: I cheat at golf, too, so it would be perfect.
You have the power to go back in time and change the result of one presidential election, but not 2016. Which do you choose?
Dickerson: The election of 1876, between Republican Rutherford B. Hayes and Democrat Samuel Tilden. Tilden beats Hayes but four, five states are up in the air. The 20 Democrats in those states give 20 electoral votes to Hayes. Hayes becomes president on the promise that he will remove troops from the South, and Reconstruction ends. The rights that were given to African Americans basically end until 1965.
Bazelon: Is it reassuring that that happened, and it was terrible, and the country still continued? Or does it show how really terrible things can get and people will still tolerate it?
Dickerson: The country continued, but there was deep and profound suffering and lost hope as a result of it.
Bazelon: So maybe it wasn’t worth it that the country continued?
Dickerson: I guess the alternative is Civil War 2.0, so I don’t know.
Bazelon: I have another candidate, which is 1828, because Andrew Jackson would have been a really good president to just kick off the list.
Plotz: I would pick 1992. I would’ve had George H.W. Bush win a second term. That was the last chance to maintain an establishment Republican Party that behaved in reasonable, rational ways. That loss was crucial to push the Republican Party farther to the right.
Now please join us in welcoming the author of Every Tool’s a Hammer, who you may also know as the former host of MythBusters, Adam Savage.
Adam Savage: Thank you.
Plotz: This is really a question for you, Adam. Is it better to learn how to fix things around your house, even if you don’t do it very well, or to pay professionals to fix them for you and then use your time to do what you do best and earns you the most money?
Savage: You should learn to fix something.
Savage: There is no downside to learning a new thing. What you learn while learning is applicable to everything else you’ll ever learn again in your life.
Plotz: And you have a richer and more fulfilling life along the way. The people who think you should pay people to do these things for you, it’s basically an economist’s view of the world, trying to maximize efficiency. Would you tell somebody who can’t write poetry, someone who’s a plumber who wants to write poetry: “Don’t write poetry. Leave it for the poets.” No, you tell the plumber go write poetry. Even if it’s bad.
Bazelon: But you’re assuming that the person who can’t fix things wants to learn. You’re assuming that the plumber wants to write poetry, not that they’re a plumber who’s like: “Oh my God, are you serious? I can’t do this. Why are you trying to make me do this?” That’s how I feel about fixing anything.
Plotz: Have you ever mastered something like that and you’re like, “I’m glad I did it. I feel so much better that I’ve done it. What a sense of accomplishment I have.”
Bazelon: I have on very rare occasions had that experience, but I have much more often tried to fix something, gotten incredibly frustrated, and given up.
Plotz: Last one. What will be the last line of your obituary?
Dickerson: “He was survived by his wife and two children.”
Bazelon: That’s what I want the last one of mine to be, too. More than anything else, I care about my children surviving me—it would be nice if my husband survived me, but especially my children.
Plotz: Mine is, “According to a National Park Service spokesman, the cliff is clearly marked on maps.”
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