Summer Sunset in the Blue Ridge Mountains
Showing posts with label Imprimis. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Imprimis. Show all posts

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Reasserting Federalism in Defense of Liberty

Ken Cuccinelli was elected the Attorney General of Virginia in November 2009. From 2002-2009 he was a member of the Virginia State Senate. Prior to that he was a partner in the law firm of Cuccinelli and Day, where he specialized in business law. A graduate of the University of Virginia, he has an M.A. in international relations from George Mason University and a J.D. from the George Mason University School of Law and Economics.

The following is adapted from a speech delivered on April 1, 2011, in the “First Principles on First Fridays” lecture series sponsored by Hillsdale College’s Kirby Center for Constitutional Studies and Citizenship in Washington, D.C.

SOME FAVORITE VIRGINIANS OF MINE who inspired and crafted our federal Constitution—Mason, Madison, Jefferson, and Henry—also drafted the Constitution of Virginia. And in the latter, they included a critical statement that said, “No free government, nor the blessings of liberty, can be preserved . . . but by frequent recurrence to fundamental principles.”

Our founders well understood that our liberty could not be preserved without frequently referring back to first principles. But while they pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor to defend those principles, we have often taken them for granted, as we have become complacent in thinking that government will take care of every problem.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Walter Williams on 'Future Prospects for Economic Liberty'

WALTER WILLIAMS is the John M. Olin distinguished professor of economics at George Mason University. He holds a B.A. from California State University at Los Angeles and an M.A. and a Ph.D. in economics from UCLA. He has received numerous fellowships and awards, including a Hoover Institution National Fellowship and the Valley Forge Freedoms Foundation George Washington Medal of Honor. A nationally syndicated columnist, his articles and essays have appeared in publications such as Economic Inquiry, American Economic Review, National Review, Reader’s Digest, Policy Review and Newsweek. Dr. Williams has authored six books, including The State Against Blacks (later made into a PBS documentary entitled Good Intentions) and Liberty Versus the Tyranny of Socialism.

The following is adapted from a lecture delivered on August 2, 2009, during a Hillsdale College cruise from Venice to Athens aboard the Crystal Serenity.

Future Prospects for Economic Liberty


One of the justifications for the massive growth of government in the 20th and now the 21st centuries, far beyond the narrow limits envisioned by the founders of our nation, is the need to promote what the government defines as fair and just. But this begs the prior and more fundamental question: What is the legitimate role of government in a free society? To understand how America’s Founders answered this question, we have only to look at the rule book they gave us—the Constitution. Most of what they understood as legitimate powers of the federal government are enumerated in Article 1, Section 8. Congress is authorized there to do 21 things, and as much as three-quarters of what Congress taxes us and spends our money for today is nowhere to be found on that list. To cite just a few examples, there is no constitutional authority for Congress to subsidize farms, bail out banks, or manage car companies. In this sense, I think we can safely say that America has departed from the constitutional principle of limited government that made us great and prosperous.

On the other side of the coin from limited government is individual liberty. The Founders understood private property as the bulwark of freedom for all Americans, rich and poor alike. But following a series of successful attacks on private property and free enterprise—beginning in the early 20th century and picking up steam during the New Deal, the Great Society, and then again recently—the government designed by our Founders and outlined in the Constitution has all but disappeared. Thomas Jefferson anticipated this when he said, “The natural progress of things is for liberty to yield and government to gain ground.”

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Mike Pence: The Presidency and the Constitution


A truly great reflection on what the American presidency was and must be again. May our next President possess this depth of knowledge and wisdom.


MIKE PENCE graduated from Hanover College in 1981 and earned his J.D. from Indiana University School of Law in 1986. After running for Congress in 1988 and 1990, he was named president of the Indiana Policy Review Commission, a state think tank based in Fort Wayne, Indiana, in 1991. He was first elected to Congress from Indiana’s 6th District in 2000 and was most recently elected to a fifth term in 2008. That same year he was elected to serve as House Republican Conference Chairman. During the 109th Congress, he also served as chairman of the House Republican Study Committee, the largest caucus in the House of Representatives.

The following is adapted from a speech delivered on the Hillsdale College campus on September 20, 2010.

THE PRESIDENCY is the most visible thread that runs through the tapestry of the American government. More often than not, for good or for ill, it sets the tone for the other branches and spurs the expectations of the people. Its powers are vast and consequential, its requirements impossible for mortals to fulfill without humility and insistent attention to its purpose as set forth in the Constitution of the United States.

Isn’t it amazing, given the great and momentous nature of the office, that those who seek it seldom pause to consider what they are seeking? Rather, unconstrained by principle or reflection, there is a mad rush toward something that, once its powers are seized, the new president can wield as an instrument with which to transform the nation and the people according to his highest aspirations.

But, other than in a crisis of the house divided, the presidency is neither fit nor intended to be such an instrument. When it is made that, the country sustains a wound, and cries out justly and indignantly. And what the nation says is the theme of this address. What it says—informed by its long history, impelled by the laws of nature and nature’s God—is that we as a people are not to be ruled and not to be commanded. It says that the president should never forget this; that he has not risen above us, but is merely one of us, chosen by ballot, dismissed after his term, tasked not to transform and work his will upon us, but to bear the weight of decision and to carry out faithfully the design laid down in the Constitution in accordance with the Declaration of Independence.

The presidency must adhere to its definition as expressed in the Constitution, and to conduct defined over time and by tradition. While the powers of the office have enlarged, along with those of the legislature and the judiciary, the framework of the government was intended to restrict abuses common to classical empires and to the regal states of the 18th century.

Without proper adherence to the role contemplated in the Constitution for the presidency, the checks and balances in the constitutional plan become weakened. This has been most obvious in recent years when the three branches of government have been subject to the tutelage of a single party. Under either party, presidents have often forgotten that they are intended to restrain the Congress at times, and that the Congress is independent of their desires. And thus fused in unholy unity, the political class has raged forward in a drunken expansion of powers and prerogatives, mistakenly assuming that to exercise power is by default to do good.

Even the simplest among us knows that this is not so. Power is an instrument of fatal consequence. It is confined no more readily than quicksilver, and escapes good intentions as easily as air flows through mesh. Therefore, those who are entrusted with it must educate themselves in self-restraint. A republic is about limitation, and for good reason, because we are mortal and our actions are imperfect.

The tragedy of presidential decision is that even with the best choice, some, perhaps many, will be left behind, and some, perhaps many, may die. Because of this, a true statesman lives continuously with what Churchill called “stress of soul.” He may give to Paul, but only because he robs Peter. And that is why you must always be wary of a president who seems to float upon his own greatness. For all greatness is tempered by mortality, every soul is equal, and distinctions among men cannot be owned; they are on loan from God, who takes them back and evens accounts at the end.

It is a tragedy indeed that new generations taking office attribute failures in governance to insufficient power, and seek more of it. In the judiciary, this has seldom been better expressed than by Justice Thurgood Marshall, who said: “You do what you think is right and let the law catch up.” In the Congress, it presents itself in massive legislation, acts and codes thousands of pages long and so monstrously over-complicated that no human being can read through them—much less understand them, much less apply them justly to a people that increasingly feel like they are no longer being asked, but rather told. Our nation finds itself in the position of a dog whose duty it is not to ask why—because the “why” is too elevated for his nature—but simply to obey.

America is not a dog, and does not require a “because-I-said-so” jurisprudence; or legislators who knit laws of such insulting complexity that they are heavier than chains; or a president who acts like, speaks like, and is received as a king.

The president is not our teacher, our tutor, our guide or ruler. He does not command us; we command him. We serve neither him nor his vision. It is not his job or his prerogative to redefine custom, law, and beliefs; to appropriate industries; to seize the country, as it were, by the shoulders or by the throat so as to impose by force of theatrical charisma his justice upon 300 million others. It is neither his job nor his prerogative to shift the power of decision away from them, and to him and the acolytes of his choosing.

Is my characterization of unprecedented presumption incorrect? Listen to the words of the leader of President Obama’s transition team and perhaps his next chief-of-staff: “It’s important that President-Elect Obama is prepared to really take power and begin to rule day one.” Or, more recently, the latest presidential appointment to avoid confirmation by the Senate—the new head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau—who wrote last Friday: “President Obama understands the importance of leveling the playing field again.”

“Take power. . .rule. . .leveling.” Though it is the model now, this has never been and should never again be the model of the presidency or the character of the American president. No one can say this too strongly, and no one can say it enough until it is remedied. We are not subjects; we are citizens. We fought a war so that we do not have to treat even kings like kings, and—if I may remind you—we won that war. Since then, the principle of royalty has, in this country, been inoperative. Who is better suited or more required to exemplify this conviction, in word and deed, than the President of the United States?

The powers of the presidency are extraordinary and necessarily great, and great presidents treat them sparingly. For example, it is not the president’s job to manipulate the nation’s youth for the sake of his agenda or his party. They are a potent political force when massed by the social network to which they are permanently attached. But if the president has their true interests at heart he will neither flatter them nor let them adore him, for in flattery is condescension and in adoration is direction, and youth is neither seasoned nor tested enough to direct a nation. Nor should it be the president’s business to presume to direct them. It is difficult enough to do right by one’s own children. No one can be the father of a whole continent’s youth.

Is the president, therefore, expected to turn away from this and other easy advantage? Yes. Like Harry Truman, who went to bed before the result on election night, he must know when to withdraw, to hold back, and to forgo attention, publicity, or advantage.

There is no finer, more moving, or more profound understanding of the nature of the presidency and the command of humility placed upon it than that expressed by President Coolidge. He, like Lincoln, lost a child while he was president, a son of sixteen. “The day I became president,” Coolidge wrote, “he had just started to work in a tobacco field. When one of his fellow laborers said to him, ‘If my father was president I would not work in a tobacco field,’ Calvin replied, ‘If my father were your father you would.’” His admiration for the boy was obvious.

Young Calvin contracted blood poisoning from an incident on the South Lawn of the White House. Coolidge wrote, “What might have happened to him under other circumstances we do not know, but if I had not been president. . . .” And then he continued,

“In his suffering he was asking me to make him well. I could not. When he went, the power and glory of the Presidency went with him.”

A sensibility such as this, and not power, is the source of presidential dignity, and must be restored. It depends entirely upon character, self-discipline, and an understanding of the fundamental principles that underlie not only the republic, but life itself. It communicates that the president feels the gravity of his office and is willing to sacrifice himself; that his eye is not upon his own prospects but on the storm of history, through which he must navigate with the specific powers accorded to him and the limitations placed on those powers both by man and by God.

The modern presidency has drifted far from the great strength and illumination of its source: the Constitution as given life by the Declaration of Independence, the greatest political document ever written. The Constitution—terse, sober, and specific—does not, except by implication, address the president’s demeanor. But this we can read in the best qualities of the founding generation, which we would do well to imitate. In the Capitol Rotunda are heroic paintings of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the victory at Saratoga, the victory at Yorktown, and—something seldom seen in history—a general, the leader of an armed rebellion, resigning his commission and surrendering his army to a new democracy. Upon hearing from Benjamin West that George Washington, having won the war and been urged by some to use the army to make himself king, would instead return to his farm, King George III said: “If he does that, he will be the greatest man in the world.” He did, and he was.

To aspire to such virtue and self-restraint would in a sense be difficult, but in another sense it should be easy—difficult because it would be demanding and ideal, and easy because it is the right thing to do and the rewards are immediately self-evident.

A president who slights the Constitution is like a rider who hates his horse: he will be thrown, and the nation along with him. The president solemnly swears to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution. He does not solemnly swear to ignore, overlook, supplement, or reinterpret it. Other than in a crisis of existence, such as the Civil War, amendment should be the sole means of circumventing the Constitution. For if a president joins the powers of his office to his own willful interpretation, he steps away from a government of laws and toward a government of men.

Is the Constitution a fluctuating and inconstant document, a collection of suggestions whose purpose is to stimulate debate in a future to which the Founders were necessarily blind? Progressives tell us that even the Framers themselves could not reach agreement in its regard. But they did agree upon it. And they wrote it down. And they signed it. And they lived by it. Its words are unchanging and unchangeable except, again, by amendment. There is no allowance for a president to override it according to his supposed superior conception. Why is this good? It is good because the sun will burn out, the Ohio River will flow backwards, and the cow will jump over the moon 10,000 times before any modern president’s conception is superior to that of the Founders of this nation.

Would it be such a great surprise that a good part of the political strife of our times is because one president after another, rather than keeping faith with it, argues with the document he is supposed to live by? This discontent will only be calmed by returning the presidency to the nation’s first principles. The Constitution and the Declaration should be on a president’s mind all the time, as the prism through which the light of all question of governance passes. Though we have—sometimes gradually, sometimes radically—moved away from this, we can move back to it. And who better than the president to restore this wholesome devotion to limited government?

And as the president returns to the consistent application of the principles in the Constitution, he will also ensure fiscal responsibility and prosperity. Who is better suited, with his executive and veto powers, to carry over the duty of self-restraint and discipline to the idea of fiscal solvency? When the president restrains government spending, leaving room for the American people to enjoy the fruits of their labor, growth is inevitable. As Senator Robert Taft wrote: “Liberty has been the key to our progress in the past and is the key to our progress in the future.... If we can preserve liberty in all its essentials, there is no limit to the future of the American people.”

Whereas the president must be cautious, dutiful, and deferential at home, his character must change abroad. Were he to ask for a primer on how to act in relation to other states, which no holder of the office has needed to this point, and were that primer to be written by the American people, whether of 1776 or 2010, you can be confident that it would contain the following instructions:

You do not bow to kings. Outside our shores, the President of the United States of America bows to no man. When in foreign lands, you do not criticize your own country. You do not argue the case against the United States, but the case for it. You do not apologize to the enemies of the United States. Should you be confused, a country, people, or region that harbors, shelters, supports, encourages, or cheers attacks upon our country or the slaughter of our friends and families are enemies of the United States. And, to repeat, you do not apologize to them.

Closely related to this, and perhaps the least ambiguous of the president’s complex responsibilities, is his duty as commander-in-chief of the military. In this regard there is a very simple rule, unknown to some presidents regardless of party: If, after careful determination, intense stress of soul, and the deepest prayer, you go to war, then, having gone to war, you go to war to win. You do not cast away American lives, or those of the innocent noncombatant enemy, upon a theory, a gambit, or a notion. And if the politics of your own election or of your party intrude upon your decisions for even an instant—there are no words for this.

More commonplace, but hardly less important, are other expectations of the president in this regard. He must not stint on the equipment and provisioning of the armed forces, and if he errs it must be not on the side of scarcity but of surplus. And he must be the guardian of his troops, taking every step to avoid the loss of even a single life.

The American soldier is as precious as the closest of your kin—because he is your kin, and for his sake the president must, in effect, say to the Congress and to the people: 'I am the Commander-in-Chief. It is my sacred duty to defend the United States, and to give our soldiers what they need to complete the mission and come home safe, whatever the cost.'

If, in fulfilling this duty, the president wavers, he will have betrayed his office, for this is not a policy, it is probity. It is written on the blood-soaked ground of Saratoga, Yorktown, Antietam, Cold Harbor, the Marne, Guadalcanal, the Pointe du Hoc, the Chosin Reservoir, Khe Sanh, Iraq, Afghanistan, and a thousand other places in our history, in lessons repeated over and over again.

The presidency, a great and complex subject upon which I have only touched, has become symbolic of overreaching. There are many truths that we have been frightened to tell or face. If we run from them, they will catch us with our backs turned and pull us down. Better that we should not flee but rather stop and look them in the eye.

What might our forebears say to us, knowing what they knew, and having done what they did? I have no doubt that they would tell us to channel our passions, speak the truth and do what is right, slowly and with resolution; to work calmly, steadily and without animus or fear; to be like a rock in the tide, let the water tumble about us, and be firm and unashamed in our love of country.

I see us like those in Philadelphia in 1776. Danger all around, but a fresh chapter, ready to begin, uncorrupted, with great possibilities and—inexplicably, perhaps miraculously—the way is clearing ahead. I have never doubted that Providence can appear in history like the sun emerging from behind the clouds, if only as a reward for adherence to first principles. As Winston Churchill said in a speech to Congress on December 26, 1941: “He must indeed have a blind soul who cannot see that some great purpose and design is being worked out here below, of which we have the honor to be the faithful servants.”

As Americans, we inherit what Lincoln in his First Inaugural called “the mystic chords of memory stretching from every patriot grave.” They bind us to the great and the humble, the known and the unknown of Americans past—and if I hear them clearly, what they say is that although we may have strayed, we have not strayed too far to return, for we are their descendants. We can still astound the world with justice, reason and strength. I know this is true, but even if it was not we could not in decency stand down, if only for our debt to history. We owe a debt to those who came before, who did great things, and suffered more than we suffer, and gave more than we give, and pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor for us, whom they did not know. For we “drink from wells we did not dig” and are “warmed by fires we did not build,” and so we must be faithful in our time as they were in theirs.

Many great generations are gone, but by the character and memory of their existence they forbid us to despair of the republic. I see them crossing the prairies in the sun and wind. I see their faces looking out from steel mills and coal mines, and immigrant ships crawling into the harbors at dawn. I see them at war, at work and at peace. I see them, long departed, looking into the camera, with hopeful and sad eyes. And I see them embracing their children, who became us. They are our family and our blood, and we cannot desert them. In spirit, all of them come down to all of us, in a connection that, out of love, we cannot betray.

They are silent now and forever, but from the eternal silence of every patriot grave there is yet an echo that says, “It is not too late; keep faith with us, keep faith with God, and do not, do not ever despair of the republic.”


Reprinted by permission from Imprimis, a publication of Hillsdale College.


Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Tea Parties and the Future of Liberty

Stephen F. Hayes is a senior writer at The Weekly Standard and a FOX News Contributor. His work has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, Reason, National Review and many other publications. He is the author of two New York Times bestsellers: The Connection: How al Qaeda's Collaboration with Saddam Hussein Has Endangered America and Cheney: The Untold Story of America's Most Powerful and Controversial Vice President. His great-great uncle was a president of Hillsdale College and many of his relatives have attended Hillsdale, including two grandparents.

The following is adapted from a speech delivered on June 6, 2010, during a Hillsdale College cruise from Rome to Dover aboard the Crystal Symphony.


Barack Obama was inaugurated on January 20, 2009. Within a month he signed a $787 billion “stimulus package” with virtually no Republican support. It was necessary, we were told, to keep unemployment under eight percent. Overnight, the federal government had, as one of its highest priorities, weatherizing government buildings and housing projects. Streets and highways in no need of repair would be broken up and repaved. The Department of Transportation and other government agencies would spend millions on signs advertising the supposed benefits of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. I saw one of them on Roosevelt Island in Washington, D.C. It boasted that the federal park would be receiving a generous grant to facilitate the involvement of local youth in the removal of “non-indigenous plants.” In other words, kids would be weeding. We need a sign to announce that? And this was going to save the economy?

Then there was American Recovery and Reinvestment Act project number 1R01AA01658001A, a study entitled: “Malt Liquor and Marijuana: Factors in their Concurrent Versus Separate Use.” I’m not making this up. This is a $400,000 project being directed by a professor at the State University of New York at Buffalo. The following is from the official abstract: “We appreciate the opportunity to refocus this application to achieve a single important aim related to our understanding of young adults’ use of male [sic] liquor (ML), other alcoholic beverages, and marijuana (MJ), all of which confer high risks for experiencing negative consequences, including addiction. As we have noted, reviews of this grant application have noted numerous strength [sic], which are summarized below.”

So what were those strengths? “This research team has previous [sic] been successful in recruiting a large (>600) sample of regular ML drinkers.” Also, “the application is well-written.” Well-written? With three spelling mistakes? But who am I to judge? As for the other strength, there is no question that the team’s recruitment had been strong. But is that really a qualification for federal money? After all, they were paying people to drink beer!

These same scholars were behind a groundbreaking 2007 study that used regression analysis to discover that subjects who got drunk and high were more intoxicated than those who only abused alcohol. The new study pays these pot-smoking malt-liquor drinkers at least $45 to participate. They can buy four beers per day for the three-week project—all of it funded, at least indirectly, by the American taxpayer.

Perhaps not surprisingly, when President Obama visited Buffalo in May, he chose to highlight other stimulus grants. On the other hand, he could have pointed out that the beer money goes right back into the economy. Think of all those saved or created jobs! In any case, the findings of this new study are expected to echo those of the first study, which found: “Those who concurrently use both alcohol and marijuana are more likely to report negative consequences of substance use compared with those who use alcohol only.” Reading results like this, I tend to think that those who concurrently get drunk and high are also far more likely to believe the stimulus is working.

And have I mentioned that the estimated cost of the stimulus was later increased from $787 billion to $862 billion? That’s a cost underestimate of nearly ten percent. Anyone in private business who suddenly had to come up with ten percent more in outgoing funds than previously anticipated would likely go out of business.

All of this set the stage for a revolt. The accidental founding of the Tea Party movement took place in February 2009, when CNBC commentator Rick Santelli let loose a rant against the stimulus package, and in particular the proposal to subsidize what he called “the losers’ mortgages.” He proposed a ceremonial dump of derivative securities into Lake Michigan, and a few hours later a website popped up calling for a Chicago Tea Party. The video clip raced around the Internet, and it was soon clear that many average Americans were furious about the massive new spending bill and the plan to subsidize bad mortgages.

The stimulus was bad, but by itself it was probably not enough to sustain an entire movement. This is why the larger context matters: Under President Obama, federal spending has been growing at an unprecedented pace. We are adding $4.8 billion to the national debt every day. The long-term viability of Medicare and Social Security isn’t merely uncertain—as so many analysts would have us believe. In fact, their failure is a sure thing without structural changes. By adding a massive new entitlement with the health care bill, we are simply going to go broke faster. Americans understood much of this even before Mr. Obama was elected.

Consider this story from the recent presidential campaign: In July 2008, Republican nominee John McCain stopped in Belleville, Michigan, to participate in a town hall. After several friendly questions, he took one from Rich Keenan. Wearing a shirt with an American flag embroidered over his left breast, Keenan told McCain that he would not be voting for Obama. But then he said: “What I’m trying to do is get to a situation where I’m excited about voting for you.”

The audience laughed, and many in the crowd nodded their heads. Keenan explained that he was “concerned” about some of McCain’s views, such as his opposition to the Bush tax cuts and his views on the environment. Keenan allowed that he was grateful that McCain had begun taking more conservative positions. But he concluded: “I guess the question I have, and that people like me in this country have, is what can you say to us to make us believe that you actually came to the right positions? We want to take you to the dance, we’re just concerned about who you’re going to go home with.” The audience laughed again. McCain laughed, too, but then he grew serious: “I have to say, and I don’t mean to disappoint you, but I haven’t changed positions.” He defended his vote against the Bush tax cuts and, at some length, reiterated his concerns about global warming. Later, he went out of his way to emphasize his respect for Hillary Clinton and boast about his work with Joe Lieberman, Russ Feingold and Ted Kennedy.

I talked with Rich Keenan after the town hall. He described himself as a conservative independent. He said he often votes Republican but does not consider himself one. He added, “I do think that there are millions of Americans out there like me who are fairly conservative, probably more conservative than John McCain, and I think a lot of them are concerned about what’s going to happen if he does get elected.” Keenan was right. There were millions of people out there like him—conservatives, independents, disaffected Republicans, and many of them stayed home on election day. These people form the heart of the Tea Party movement.

In recent years, the Republican Party has seen its approval levels sink to new lows. In 2005, 33 percent of registered voters told Gallup they considered themselves Republican. By 2009, that number was 27 percent. The number of voters who identified themselves as independent showed a corresponding rise. But what’s interesting is that over that same time-frame, the number of voters self-identified as conservative stayed relatively constant: 39 percent in 2005 and 40 percent in 2009. (Self-identified liberals constituted 20 percent of respondents in both 2005 and 2009.) So even as the number of self-identified Republicans declined and the number of self-identified independents grew, the number of self-identified conservatives was constant. Of course, it’s too simple to postulate a one-for-one swap, but the trend seems clear. The Tea Party movement arose in an environment in which a growing number of Americans believed neither party was voicing its concerns.

All of this has liberals in the mainstream media and elsewhere flummoxed. At first they were dismissive. Think of the footage of Susan Roesgen of CNN going after Tea Party enthusiasts at a Chicago rally, suggesting they were irrational and stupid. And consider a few of the many other examples:

Eugene Robinson of the Washington Post wrote: “The danger of political violence in this country comes overwhelmingly from one direction—the right, not the left. The vitriolic, anti-government hate speech that is spewed on talk radio every day—and, quite regularly, at Tea Party rallies—is calibrated not to inform but to incite.”

MSNBC’s Ed Schultz said: “I believe that the Tea Partiers are misguided. I think they are racist, for the most part. I think that they are afraid. I think that they are clinging to their guns and their religion. And I think in many respects, they are what’s wrong with America.”

Actress Janeane Garofalo: “This is about hating a black man in the White House. This is racism straight up. These are nothing but a bunch of tea-bagging rednecks.”

Comedian Bill Maher: “The teabaggers, they’re not a movement, they’re a cult.”

Perhaps the most stunning comment came from prominent Democratic strategist Steve McMahon: “The reason people walk into schools and open fire is because of rhetoric like this and because of attitudes like this. The reason people walk into military bases and open fire is because of rhetoric like this and attitudes like this. Really, what they’re doing is not that much different than what Osama bin Laden is doing in recruiting people and encouraging them to hate America.”

We’ve seen this before. On November 7, 1994, the Washington Post ran an article about the loud, hateful fringe on the right: “Hate seems to be drifting through the air like smoke from autumn bonfires. It isn’t something that can be quantified. No one can measure whether it has grown since last year, the 1980s, or the 1880s. But a number of people who make their living taking the public’s temperature are convinced it’s swelling beyond the perennial level of bad manners and random insanity. It’s fueled, they say, by such forces as increasingly harsh political rhetoric, talk radio transmissions, and an increasing sense of not-so-quiet desperation.” The next day, Republicans took Congress.

Are today’s Tea Party supporters on the radical fringe? In a National Review/McLaughlin Associates poll conducted in February, six percent of 1,000 likely voters said that they had participated in a Tea Party rally. An additional 47 percent said they generally agree with the reasons for those protests. Nor is the Tea Party movement “monochromatic” and “all white,” as Chris Matthews claimed. Quite the contrary: the National Review poll found that it was five percent black and 11 percent Hispanic.

Perhaps that poll could be dismissed as the work of a right-leaning polling firm and a conservative magazine. You can’t say that about the New York Times and CBS. Their poll, which has a long history of oversampling Democrats, found that Tea Partiers are wealthier and better educated than average voters. It also found that 20 percent of Americans—one in five—supports Tea Parties. That’s an awfully big fringe.

Other polls confirmed these findings: a Washington Post/ABC poll found that 14 percent of voters say the Tea Party is “most in synch” with their values; 20 percent say Tea Parties are “most in tune with economic problems Americans are now facing.” The most interesting poll, in my view, came from TargetPoint Consulting, which interviewed nearly 500 attendees at the April 15, 2010, Tax Day rally in Washington, D.C. Here are some results:

Tea Partiers are united on the issues of debt, the growth of government, and health care reform.

They are socially conservative on the one hand and libertarian on the other, split roughly down the middle.

They are older, more educated, and more conservative than average voters, and they are “distinctly not Democrat.”

This new information complicated the mainstream media’s narrative about the Tea Party movement. This was not a fringe. Nancy Pelosi, who had earlier dismissed Tea Parties as “Astroturf”—meaning fake grassroots activism—revised that assessment, telling reporters that, in fact, she was just like the Tea Partiers.

This brings us to the present day. The president’s approval ratings are low, and Congressional Democrats’ are even worse. Members of the president’s party are not only running away from him in swing districts, but even in some relatively safe ones. Many analysts are suggesting that control of the House of Representatives is in play, and perhaps even that of the Senate.

This dissatisfaction flows directly from the president’s policies and those of his party. It is not simply “anti-incumbent,” as many of my press colleagues would have it. This voter outrage—and it is outrage, not hate—is specific and focused: Americans are fed up with big government and deeply concerned about the long-term economic health of their country. The stimulus was unpopular, and most Americans do not believe it’s working. Obama’s health care plan was unpopular when it passed. The American people understood the rather obvious point that it wouldn’t be possible to cover 30 million additional people, improve the care of those with insurance, and save taxpayers money, all at the same time.

Does all of this add up to big Republican gains in November? Not according to the mainstream media. The Boston Globe’s Susan Milligan recently wrote: “The Tea Party movement is energizing elements of the Republican Party and fanning an anti-Washington fervor, but the biggest beneficiaries in the mid-term elections, pollsters and political analysts say, could be the main target of their anger: Democrats.” CBS News reported the same thing just a few days later. What nonsense! I think there is little question that the Tea Parties—and the enthusiasm and energy they bring—will contribute to major Republican gains in November.

One final point: For many Tea Partiers, the massive and unconstitutional growth of government is the fundamental issue. But I think there’s something deeper, too. After her husband had won several primaries in a row in the spring of 2008, Michelle Obama proclaimed that for the first time in her life she was proud of her country. It was a stunning statement. It also foreshadowed what was to come: Since Barack Obama took office in January 2009, he has devoted much of his time to criticizing his own country. He apologizes for the policy decisions of his predecessors. He worries aloud that the U.S. has become too powerful. He has explicitly rejected the doctrine of American exceptionalism.

And this is not mere rhetoric. For the first time ever, the U.S. is participating in the Universal Periodic Review—a United Nations initiative in which member countries investigate their own nation’s human rights abuses. The State Department has held ten “listening sessions” around the U.S. during which an alphabet soup of left-wing groups aired their numerous grievances. These complaints are to be included in a report that the U.S. will submit to the United Nations Human Rights Council. It will be evaluated by such paragons of human rights as Burkina Faso, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, China, and Cuba.

When President Obama spoke before the United Nations General Assembly in September 2009, he declared that a world order that elevates one country or group of countries over others is bound to fail. So he’s changing that order. If his domestic policy priority is the redistribution of wealth, his foreign policy priority seems to be the redistribution of power.

Most Americans don’t agree with the president’s priorities. And many of these Americans are now active in the Tea Party movement, a movement that has succeeded in starting a serious national conversation about a return to limited government.


Reprinted by permission from Imprimis, a publication of Hillsdale College.


Saturday, June 26, 2010

Charlton Heston: 'Remembering Great Men'


Charlton Heston, recipient of the Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance in Ben-Hur in 1959, has also received many international acting and directing awards. He served six terms as president of the Screen Actors Guild, was chairman of the American Film Institute, and was a member of the National Council on the Arts. In 1978, he received the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

We hope you will agree that Mr. Heston provides valuable insight into the nature of leadership and the importance of recognizing and honoring the extraordinary.



As the century closes, great men seem an endangered species. Indeed, in the minds of many, they are less than that; they are figments of our imagination. It’s even been suggested that greatness is in itself…somehow undemocratic. We live, after all, in the century of the common man. True enough…but I believe in the uncommon man, perhaps because I’ve played so many of them.

Certainly, we have many good men…gifted men. God knows we have plenty of famous men. But that’s not the same thing. Great men move the world not only by what they do in it but by what they tell us about it…Of all the great men I’ve had the good fortune to explore, the most towering, both in the record of his life and his impact on human history, was Moses—lawgiver to the Jews, warrior prophet of Islam for Muslims, and first among the prophets for Christians, the man of whom Christ said, “If ye believe Moses, so shall ye believe me.”

Playing Moses marked my life. To assume the role of any great man is a daunting experience. Playing Moses, I felt like a tiny figure stretching to fill the giant shape he cut in the sky.

We began filming The Ten Commandments at the Monastery of St. Catherine on the lower slopes of Mt. Sinai. It is the oldest Christian monastery in the world. It contains the shrine of the burning bush, where God spoke to Moses from the fire. The monastery is also sacred to Muslims, because of their reverence for Moses. During the Crusades nine centuries ago, Christian knights on their way to Jerusalem to take the city from the Muslims rested there in perfect safety, knowing the Muslims would never attack the shrine of Moses. For the last two generations of conflict, that same truce has held, on that mountain only, between Jews and Arabs. That’s how far the shadow of Moses reaches. He was flawed, as all of us are, but he still speaks to us as no other mortal has done.

One of the reasons Moses’ voice is heard across the centuries is that he preached the powerful truth that we are all brothers. But he realized that brotherhood is a condition that thrives best in times of hardship and danger. William Shakespeare—who knew more of the human heart than any man who ever lived—has an English king, Henry V, say to a tiny band of his countrymen on the eve of battle with an overwhelming French host:

We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he today that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother: be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition.

Contemporary examples from the Persian Gulf War to Hurricane Andrew prove the same point. Americans cast in harm’s way have joined together, regardless of rank, race, gender, or condition. Of course, Moses stood for something more important than brotherhood. Moses and the Exodus he led stood and still stand for freedom. For more than twenty-five centuries, he has inspired those who search for liberty. It’s no coincidence that the first tide of our Protestant forefathers in America bore the names from the Exodus: Moses and Aaron, Abraham, Joshua and Isaac. Two centuries later, generations of black American men bore those names, too, first searching for freedom, then celebrating it. In New England those same names are cut into the gravestones of our revolution. The words the Lord spoke to Moses before the Israelites crossed over Jordan, free at last, are cut in the rim of our Liberty Bell: “Proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof.”

The instinct for freedom seems to be part of the human condition. Yet history tells us that freedom is fragile. I remember coming back from overseas in the sunny morning of victory at the end of World War II; we G.I.s thought freedom would soon spread around the whole world. The world would be free from war and tyranny. We were wrong. It was tyranny that prospered, for more than forty years. It’s important to remember: there was an Evil Empire, there was a Cold War… and we won.

I don’t know what the outcome of all the current world crises will be, but I do know that, like Moses, we must have faith and we must keep fighting for freedom, not just for ourselves but for all of the brotherhood of man. Our country is still a shining example to the world: Men can live free. The American Dream is not success but liberty. Other countries have cherished this dream and lost it. Why have we been able to hold onto it? I think one reason lies in the vast richness of the land itself, that broad swell of continent between those shining seas.

From the very beginning, we were captivated by America. “We belonged to the land before the land was ours,” Robert Frost wrote. Many of our poets, writers, and painters have tried to express this idea…to capture something of the spirit of our nation. While I was thinking of how I might do the same, I was flipping through a file of index cards where I’d copied some of my favorite quotations by great Americans. Spanning two centuries of our history, few of these men ever met, yet their words ring fresh and true today, as if spoken in a single voice:

I have a dream. I refuse to accept the end of man. I believe he will endure. He will prevail. Man is immortal, not because alone among God’s creatures he has a voice but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion, sacrifice, and endurance. Among America and Americans this is particularly true. It is a fabulous country, the only fabulous country, where miracles not only happen, they happen all the time. As a nation we have, perhaps uniquely, a special willingness of the heart—a blind fearlessness—a simple yearning for righteousness and justice that ignited in our revolution a flame of freedom that cannot be stamped out. That is the living, fruitful spirit of this country. These are the times that try men’s souls. The sunshine patriot and the summer soldier will in this crisis shrink from service. But he who stands and bears it now will earn the thanks of man and woman. With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us finish the work we are in. Let us bind up the nation’s wounds. We must disenthrall ourselves…and then we shall save our country.


Reprinted by permission from Imprimis, a publication of Hillsdale College.


Saturday, June 19, 2010

Ed Meese: The Moral Foundations of Republican Government


Edwin Meese, III became the 75th attorney general of the United States on February 25, 1985. For four years prior to that, he held the cabinet-level position of counselor to the president and during Reagan's years as governor of California, Mr. Meese served as his executive assistant and chief of staff (1969-74), and as his secretary of legal affairs (1967-68). He has also been a deputy district attorney in Alameda, California, a professor of law at the University of San Diego, a director of the Center for Criminal Justice Policy and Management, and a vice president for Rohr Industries, an aerospace and transportation company.

Editor's Preview: Two hundred twenty-three years old and counting, the Constitution is one of the most important documents in American history. Yet in the past decades the Constitution has been relegated to the status of a museum piece rather than a practical and valid tool of law. Critics of the Supreme Court charge that Justices increasingly render decisions, not according to the constitutional merits of a case, but in light of their own agendas. Several of the Justices, most notably William Brennan, do not dispute this. They agree with the school of legal realism, dominant today in the nation's law schools, that the Constitution is outdated and the original intentions of its framers irrelevant, that only the Supreme Court can say what the law is, and that its definitions must keep up with the times.

In this 1986 essay, Attorney General Edwin Meese takes issue with the legal realists. He carefully recounts the reasons why the Constitution was written and offers an explanation for its enduring importance in our history. His remarks imply that the authority of the Constitution ought to be restored, and that amendments ought to be put before the states according to the provisions of Article V, not simply enacted in the form of judicial decisions.


Taking the opportunity to pause and reflect on the roots of our freedom is always an important thing for us to do. But it is especially important now, as we prepare to celebrate the bicentennial of our Constitution. For our Constitution remains, as William Gladstone, the great British statesman once described it, "the most wonderful work ever struck off at a given time by the brain and purpose of man."

Too frequently we view our Constitution primarily from the standpoint of litigation, as little more than a lawyer's brief or a judge's opinion. But it is, as you know, far more than that. Not only is the Constitution fundamental law, it is also the institutional expression of the philosophical foundation of our political order, the basis of our very way of life. George Roche has explained why this is so as clearly as anyone. "The Founding Fathers," he has written,

derived their principles of limiting government and protecting individual rights from a belief in Natural Law; that is, a belief that God had ordained a framework of human dignity and responsibility that was to serve as the basis for all human law and as the root assumption behind a written constitution.

During this bicentennial period especially it is crucial that we cast aside the notion that the Constitution is only a litigator's brief or a judge's opinion. Our task is to reawaken public opinion to the fact that our substantive constitutional values have a shape and content that transcend the crucible of litigation.

In order to successfully effect this reawakening, it is necessary to move beyond the current legal debate over jurisprudence. It is, in fact, necessary to move beyond current legal cases and controversies to the political and social milieu of the era in which our Constitution was written. We need to understand that generation of founders not simply as a historical curiosity. Our obligation is to understand the Founders as they understood themselves.

Now this is no small task. And, obviously, my remarks are merely an introduction to what is, by any measure, an area of inquiry as intellectually complex as it is politically rich. I would like to offer a few general observations about the moral foundations of the government the Founders designed. In particular, I will argue that the ideas of natural rights and the consent of the governed are essential to understanding the moral character of our civil society. Further, I will discuss the institutional forms of the Founders' politics that facilitated the cultivation of virtue in our people—virtues upon which our form of government still depend.

In approaching this subject, we first need to remember that our founders lived in a time of nearly unparalleled intellectual excitement. They were the true children of the Enlightenment. They sought to bring the new found faith in human reason to bear on practical politics. Hobbes and Locke, Harrington and Machiavelli, Smith and Montesquieu—these were the teachers of our Founders. These were the authors of celebrated works that had called into question long-prevailing views of human nature and thus of politics. Our nation was created in the light cast by these towering figures. That is what Alexander Hamilton meant in The Federalist when he argued that the "science of politics …like most other sciences, has received great improvement. The efficacy of various principles is now well understood, which were either not known at all, or imperfectly known to the ancients." Our Founders, in many ways, sought to give practical effect to David Hume's desire "that politics may be reduced to a science."

What, then, are the moral foundations of our republican form of government? Much of the answer, I believe, can be found in our charter of fundamental principles, the Declaration of Independence. I think it is worth recalling Thomas Jefferson's famous formulation of these first principles. "We hold these truths," he said, "to be self-evident,"

That all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.

Now these rights were neither the result of legal privilege nor the benevolence of some ruling class. They were rights that existed in nature before governments or laws were ever formed. As the physical world is governed by natural laws such as gravity so the political world is governed by other natural laws in the form of natural rights that belong to each individual. These rights, like the laws of gravity, antedate even mankind's recognition of them.

But because these rights were left unsecured by nature, as Jefferson said, governments are instituted among men. Thus there exists in the nature of things a natural standard for judging whether governments are legitimate or not. That standard is whether or not the government rests, in the phrase of the Declaration, upon the consent of the governed. Any political powers not derived from the consent of the governed are, by the laws of nature, illegitimate and hence unjust. Only by such a natural standard can arbitrary power be checked.

"Consent of the governed" is a political concept that is the reciprocal of the idea of equality. Because all men are created equal, nature does not single out who is to govern and who is to be governed. There is no divine right of kings, for example. Consent is the means whereby man's natural equality is made politically operable.

In this theory of government, this philosophy of natural rights and the consent of the governed, we find the most fundamental moral foundation of republican government. For it presupposes a universal moral equality that makes popular government not only politically possible but morally necessary. However accustomed we have become to ideas of natural rights and the consent of the governed, we should never forget that these were, two centuries ago, morally revolutionary ideas. During this bicentennial period we should refresh ourselves as to the truth of these ideas.

Of course, it is one thing to argue that the only legitimate foundation of government is the consent of the governed, but is is quite another matter to put this theory into practice. The key here is the Declaration's maxim that in order to secure rights "governments are instituted among men." It is then, by the act of choosing, by the political act of constituting a government, that the moral standard of the consent of the governed is given definite shape and formidable weight. But such an act of creation is not easy.

That is what Alexander Hamilton had in mind when he introduced the first essay in The Federalist by asking "whether societies of men are really capable or not, of establishing good government from reflection and choice, or whether they are forever destined to depend, for their political constitutions, on accident and force." For after all was said and done, after the Revolution had been won, it remained to be seen whether the glowing rhetoric of the Declaration could actually be made the standard of political practice.

One thing their recent experience with England had taught the Americans was the necessity of a constitution. And not just any sort of constitution would do. The celebrated English Constitution, after all, had allowed what they saw as a gross abuse of political power. That, we must remember, is what most of the Declaration of Independence is about: the long catalogue of abuses the Americans had suffered. This experience with the all-too-malleable English Constitution bolstered their own earlier inclinations—from the Mayflower Compact on—toward a written constitution. The one best way to hedge against arbitrary political power was to clearly stake out the lines and limits of the institutions that would wield power. Thus the purpose of our written Constitution was, as Walter Berns has said, to get it in writing.

This belief in a written constitution was the fulfillment of the more basic belief in the moral authority of the consent of the governed. A written constitution, when duly ratified, would stand as the concrete and tangible expression of that fundamental consent. This document would stand as testimony to the Founders' unfaltering faith in (to borrow the late scholar Alexander Bickel's term) the "morality of consent."

The question facing the Americans then became how to devise such a constitution that would, in the language of the Declaration, be "most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness." Indeed, as James Madison would bluntly put it later in The Federalist: "A good government implies two things; first, fidelity to the object of government, which is the happiness of the people; second, a knowledge of the means by which that object can be best attained."

After the War for Independence was won, the Americans set about to secure their revolution. The states began to draft their constitutions and the confederation of the states sought to draft a constitution for its purposes. By 1787, one thing had become clear. Popular government was not simply good government. The state governments, had in many instances, proved tyrannical. The national authority under the Articles of Confederation had proved inept. The period between 1776 and 1787 had shown many Americans that they did not yet possess that "knowledge of the means" by which the happiness of the people could best be secured.

By the time the Federal Convention came together in Philadelphia in May 1787, however, there was a collection of men who had thought through the causes of their present difficulties. They were convinced that the mechanics of republican government could be adjusted in order to defend against charges that it was "inconsistent with the order of society." What was at issue was the very question of the moral basis of the republican form: Could a republic be saved from its own excesses? A sufficient number of Americans believed it could. And they set about to do just that.

The new science of politics, Hamilton confidently argued, provided the "powerful means by which the excellencies of republican government may be retained and its imperfections lessened or avoided."

Now one of the basic problems of the old political order was what many began to see as an unhealthy reliance on the virtue of the people. In many ways, the earlier republicans in America, those historian Pauline Maier has dubbed the "Old Revolutionaries," had created their constitutions in light of their belief that somehow the Americans were a new breed of man, self-reliant, commonsensical and, above all, civically virtuous. They had thought themselves uniquely capable of continuing self-denial and unfaltering devotion to the public good. As a result, the constitutional order they had created depended to a great degree on "Spartan habits" and "Roman patriotism." By the mid-1780s it was clear to many that to love the public and to sacrifice personally for it was proving more easily said than done. Americans, too, it seemed, were corruptible. And this unhappy fact called into question the old assumption that Americans were somehow blessed with exceptional character.

Hamilton's perspicacious collaborator, Madison, was even more succinct. "If the impulse and opportunity be suffered to coincide," he wrote in the famous tenth Federalist Paper, "we well know that neither moral nor religious motives can be relied on as an adequate controul." In what is arguably one of the most famous passages in American political writing, Madison laid the theoretical foundation for the Framers' "novel experiment" in popular government. Reflecting on the institutional contrivances of the new Constitution, Madison, in The Federalist, No. 51 neatly captured his new theory of republican government. His theory, at its deepest level, relied on a certain understanding of human nature. Thus, he wrote, "What is government itself but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controuls would be necessary." However, he concluded, "In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this; you must first enable the government to controul the governed; and in the next place, oblige it to controul itself." According to Madison the purpose of the Constitution's mechanics—separation of powers, bicameralism, representation, and so forth—was to hedge against an all too predictable human nature. The object was to offset "the defect of better motives." Good intentions were to be replaced by good institutions.

To many, the most shocking feature of the Framers' new science of politics was its bold and nearly unqualified reliance on the power of commerce to make civil society orderly. This was a truly radical step. Commerce, you see, had long been thought to be the primary cause of corruption of the manners and the morals of free people. And private vice, the prevailing belief held, could never produce public virtue.

We take commerce so much for granted that this idea is puzzling to our generation. But to many of the founding generation, commerce produced greed and venality—it brought forth, as its critics said, the worst impulses of mankind. One Anti-Federalist critic of the proposed Constitution summed it up by arguing that such a reliance on commerce would encourage an "excessive fondness for riches and luxury" that would, if left untempered, and unchecked by a concern for public virtue, "totally subvert the government and erect a system of aristocratical or monarchaic tyranny," thereby losing "perhaps forever" the liberties of the people.

The new science of politics of the Constitution was as bold as those Founders who pushed the hardest for it. They were, as one historian has described them, young men of a continental vision. This was the time of Madison and Hamilton and Morris; the day of Adams and Franklin and Lee was quickly passing. They saw more in America than just America. They saw in the founding a great example for all the world. And they believed that commerce was an essential part of this vision.

So it was that these young nationalists rejected the cautious confederalism of the older generation of founders. Their object was not to secure a confederacy of small and virtuous republics of public spirited citizens. Their object was—in the words of one of their guiding lights, Adam Smith—to establish a "great mercantile republic." Indeed, they sought to establish nothing less than a great republican empire of commerce.

Unleashed, these nationalists believed, the commercial power of self-interest that the Anti-Federalists feared could be turned to republican advantage. By drawing people together, by making them work together for their private gain, commerce could help to tame human nature. Brutish greed would become a prudent concern for profits. A nation of shopkeepers would not be characterized by crude self-interest but by what Alexis de Tocqueville would later celebrate as "enlightened self-interest." While commerce would surely depend upon human passions, it would also serve to moderate them. Commerce and constitutionalism together would make Americans free and prosperous at home and secure among the nations of the world. America would be, they believed, a new kind of republic in a world itself quite new.

But what of civic virtue? Would there be none? Surely there would have to be, because the new science of politics demanded it. As Madison pointed out in the Virginia ratifying convention, a certain degree of virtue was necessary if our form of civil society was to endure.

As we have seen, the political science of the Founding Fathers did not seek to inculcate virtue in its citizens by the terms of the Constitution. But that document, as I have said, is morally praiseworthy because it does protect natural rights and it does rest upon the consent of the governed. Still, the Founders understood the relevance of what I would call the "character question." They knew the oldest question of politics (the question Aristotle asked)—the question of what kind of people does a regime produce, what kind of character do they have—is always important.

Under the new political order of the Constitution, the cultivation of character was left to the states and the private sphere. Through the political principle of federalism, the Framers left to the people in their states sovereignty sufficient to legislate in these areas; state governments could attempt, under this scheme, directly to promote virtue among the people. In addition, family and church and private associations were expected to provide the support for the inculcation of virtue. And, in a curious way, even the thriving commercial republic the Founders envisioned would itself promote a new kind of public virtue. It would, of course, not be virtue in the classical or the Christian sense. Nor would it be the old small republican variety starkly Spartan in its demands. Rather, it would be what the late Martin Diamond accurately described as the "bourgeois virtues"—the virtues of honesty and decency that commerce itself, that business, presupposes.

But the question we must ultimately confront is how well has our Founders' constitutional handiwork in this regard fared? I suspect I will shock no one by suggesting that it fared very well for most of our history. For while not overtly concerned with morality, our Constitution, I submit, has produced the frame of government in which America has thrived as one of the most moral nations in the history of the world.

How is it that in America the moral concerns of republican government and the concomitant demand for individual liberty have been maintained in such a steady balance?

At its deepest level popular government—republican government—means a structure of government that not only rests upon the consent of the governed, but more importantly a structure of government wherein public opinion can be expressed and translated into public law and public policy. This is the deepest level precisely because public opinion over important public issues ultimately is a public debate over justice. It is naive to think that people only base their opinions on their conceptions of their narrow self-interest. Very often public opinion and political debates do reflect deeper concerns—if you will, moral concerns.

It is this venting of the moral concerns of a people that is the very essence of political life. In a popular form of government it is not only legitimate but essential that the people have the opportunity to give full vent to their moral sentiments. Through deliberation, debate, and compromise a public consensus can be formed as to what constitutes the public good. It is this consensus over fundamental values that knits individuals into a community of citizens. And it is this liberty to debate and determine the morality of a community that is an important part of the liberty protected by our Constitution.

The toughest political problems deserve to have full and open public debate. Whether the issue is abortion, school prayer, pornography or aid to parochial schools, the people within their communities within the several states must be allowed to deliberate over them and reach a consensual judgment.

This is not to say, of course, that the people must be allowed to choose any substantive end a majority at any given moment prefers. That is not good republican government; that is a simplistic notion of popular sovereignty. The political theory of our Constitution rejects such a simplistic theory. As one commentator has observed, "There are certain substantive things, such as slavery, that a democratic people may not choose because those substantive ends would be inconsistent with the fundamental premises that give majorities the right to decide."

But to deny the right—the liberty—of the people to choose certain other substantative ends reduces the American Constitution to moral relativism. In that direction lies the danger, to borrow Abraham Lincoln's phrase, of "blowing out the moral lights around us."

During the past several decades an aggressively secular liberalism often driven by an expansive egalitarian impulse has threatened many of the traditional political and social values the great majority of the American people still embrace. The strong gusts of ideology have indeed threatened to blow out the moral lights around us. This has been the result of our knocking down certain institutional barriers to national political power—in particular, the abandonment of an appreciation for the necessity of the separation of powers, and for the continuing political importance of federalism.

I would argue that the demise of these two institutional arrangements has had a disastrous impact on the moral foundations of republican government. I would further argue that these deleterious developments should be abandoned as the dangerous innovations that they are. For they violate our most fundamental political maxim: That in a system of popular government, the people have the liberty and the legitimate power within certain limits to define the moral, political, and legal content of their public lives. When we allow this principle to be transgressed, we risk severing the necessary link between the people and the polity. Indeed, we cut the moral chord that binds us together in our common belief that we have a vital role to play in deciding how we live our collective lives.

We have an obligation today—a moral obligation, if you will—to restore those institutional arrangements that the Founders knew to be essential to the nurturing of public virtue. We have an obligation to restrict the insensitive intrusiveness of the national government in order to allow the most important decisions to be made by the people, not by those Adam Ferguson once called the "clerks and accountants" of a large and distant bureaucracy. We have an obligation to allow the states and communities the maximum freedom possible to structure their politics and infuse them with the moral tone they find most conducive to their happiness. This is the moral obligation of our generation.

We may either reassert our right to govern ourselves or we can surrender to the stultifying leviathan of big government. We must restore those structures that will shore up our sagging moral foundations or we risk losing the liberties which rest upon those foundations.

A decade after the adoption of our Constitution, the Anti-Federalist Mercy Warren, with a good bit of melancholy, expressed her fear that in the end, her countrymen might be remembered as having been "too proud for monarchy,…too poor for nobility, and…too selfish and avaricious for a virtuous republic." While we may not ever be simply a virtuous people, we must surely endeavor to assuage Mercy Warren's fear by recognizing and perpetuating what Madison believed us to have: "sufficient virtue for self-goverment."


Reprinted by permission from Imprimis, a publication of Hillsdale College.