In his new book, Black Belt Patriotism, the martial arts champion and star of Walker, Texas Ranger delivers a roundhouse kick to American society, on policy issues ranging from debt and immigration to foreign affairs and the role of religion in public life. TIME spoke with the pugilist and pop culture icon about his favorite Chuck Norris facts, why Congress should be smaller and how reviving the values of the Constitution's framers is our last best hope.
You cover a lot of territory in this book, but it seems like the unifying message is to realign ourselves with the views of the country's Founding Fathers.
While I filmed the Walker, Texas Ranger series for eight and a half years, I had never had much time to read, except for screenplays of the episodes. But once I wrapped the show up, I started doing a lot of reading. And I really got into history. I started reading about the Founding Fathers, and how they started our country and why. And actually, amazingly, the reason they left England was because of the heavy taxation that was being implemented on the citizens of England. They were getting taxed over there just the way we are right now in our own country, and that's why they left.
What else struck you about the framers?
I really believe our Founding Fathers had a vision for us that wasn't conducive to greed, power and materialism. And that's really what we've become, you know: a country of greed. I don't think that's what they envisioned, and that's why I'm such a complainer about Congress. I really believe Congress has been overwhelmed by greed, power and materialism. That's why we have a nine trillion dollar debt. Congress really is controlling everything. They can blame the president and he has a lot to be blamed for but the real blame goes to Congress. You've got 535 people in Congress, 100 Senators and 435 Representatives. Now, [my wife] Gena and I went to the House chamber last year. They were debating a bill. Well, not debating they were screaming at each other across the aisles. And I'm watching them and thinking, this looks like a grammar school class. Who do we hold accountable in the House of Representatives? If you blame one Congressmen for something, he blames Joe Blow over there. Well, how do we know? Let's reduce it down to one or two Congressmen per state. First of all, we'd save millions in salaries and secondly, now we'll know who to blame.
Regarding the debt issue, what advice would you give to young people dealing with issues like paying off college loans, a tight job market, or ballooning gas prices?
One thing that impresses me about the young people in this country is they care about social issues. I even dedicate the book to the "millennials." People have got to become more responsible, and be aware of what's going on in our country. But you know how I think we can really solve this? Get rid of our tax structure. That's what's killing our people: the income, state, capital gains, corporate, property and social security taxes. It's not right, and it's not the way it was intended in the beginning from our founding fathers. Implement a Fair Tax where we tax consumption.
In your book, when you discuss September 11, you talk about it as a renewal of the war on terror, rather than the beginning.
I think you can learn from history. When I started reading, I got interested in the Barbary Wars, when extreme Muslim pirates were capturing our ships and holding them for ransom. Congress decided to negotiate with the Barbary pirates, and Tripoli started a war with us anyway. It was interesting reading about this situation where we dealt with extremists 200 years ago, and thinking about where we are now.
You're of the opinion that the original meaning of "separation between church and state" has been distorted.
Separation of church and state didn't mean we should take religion out of government. Thomas Jefferson said we will never have a single religion monopolizing our government. Unfortunately, people are re-interpreting the Constitution as a living document, and it's not. It's a solid-based document and it shouldn't be played with.
And you'd like to return to teaching the Bible in public schools?
As an option. I'm not trying to cram it down people's throats. Give people an option, a choice, of what they want to do. We teach evolution in school. Why can't we give kids an alternative choice of a Bible curriculum and let them make up their own mind?
In your book, you call Jimmy Carter's decision to approach Hamas a "treasonous gesture" and oppose all negotiations with extremists.
[Terrorists'] ideology is for the extermination of our country. No amount of negotiating is going to change that ideology. So how can you sit down with someone whose only goal in life is to exterminate you?
You also talk about how a preemptive attack can be the most effective military tactic. Would you advocate a strike against a country like Iran?
No, no, no. What kept Russia away from us was our strength. We just have to become a strong country that no one wants to fool with. I'm afraid we don't have the strength we had during the Reagan days. Back then no one wanted to mess with us. We diminished that strength through the Clinton days. We've got to get that strength back, where everyone says, "Don't mess with America, man." It's like [being] a martial artist. You walk down the street and it's like, "Don't mess with him, man. He'll kick your head off."
You mentioned there are certain points on which you're critical of President Bush. Is one of them this reduction of our military's strength?
Yeah, but again, I don't know whether to blame him or to blame Congress. I really think that between the two, Congress has the power. We've got to get these people working together. I'm not talking as a Democrat or Republican here because I think they're both to blame. I think when the Republicans had control of Congress they drove it into the ground; over the last two years, when the Democrats gained control, they drove it deeper into the ground.
During the Republican primaries you were an outspoken backer of Mike Huckabee. How are you feeling about the GOP ticket at the close of its convention?
I had some trepidation until I heard Sarah Palin talk. I was very impressed by that lady, and I was impressed by McCain's [acceptance speech]. What he talked about was taking the control out of government and giving it back to the people. That's what my book is about. I feel like right now we're wards of the state. Congress says we'll give you this, but you're not going to have that. That's not for them to decide.
As someone who speaks in his book about the dissolution of the American family and the problem of teen pregnancy, how do you feel about the controversy surrounding Palin's own family?
That's a personal thing. It happens to millions of young kids today. That's because of our open society, where sex is not a big thing: "If it feels good, do it." These young kids take that to heart and wind up making a big mistake, just like Bristol did. But you cannot condemn her. It's a mistake she's going to have to live with, but that has nothing to do with Sarah Palin and her abilities as a leader.
How did the Chuck Norris facts start?
About three years ago, a kid from Brown University started sending these Chuck Norris facts around via e-mail. I'm reading them and going, hey, these are pretty doggone funny. My favorite was, "They wanted to put Chuck Norris on Mt. Rushmore, but the granite wasn't tough enough for his beard." [Laughs.] I figured they'd just last a couple weeks; it amazes me this has gone on for so long. All of a sudden the college crowd picked up on it, and it became a phenomenon, going through colleges, high schools, then middle schools. I started getting emailed facts from Africa. The military in Iraq and Afghanistan started developing their own Chuck Norris facts. That's actually how I got to Iraq in the first place the troops started bugging their commanders. I went to camps way out in the middle of nowhere and shook hands and took pictures with over 17,000 troops. I'd go to an outdoor toilet and there are Chuck Norris facts on the walls. When I arrived in Iraq, I saw a sign that said, "Chuck Norris is here. We can now go home." Man, I wished that was the truth.