Larry P. Arnn is the 12th president of that rare thing — a conservative university, Hillsdale College, which actively promotes Americans getting educated about our Constitution.
The following are excerpts of Arnn’s answers from an interview by Hugh Hewitt for the Hugh Hewitt Radio Show, conducted on the day after the election, November 7, 2012:
[The election on Nov. 6] indeed turn out to be a terrible election from the standpoint of constitutionalism. Its results will bring about hardships and set back the time frame for reviving the kind of government our Founders bequeathed to us. [...] But I very much disagree with the idea that this election marks a decisive event in our politics, or a point of no return.
[...] the reason you can’t retreat into private life and give up on politics—is that the cost of doing it is overwhelming. If you don’t live under good laws, life becomes truncated and less happy, injustice becomes customary, civilization is compromised. And one cannot acquiesce in that. One has to be involved. And since politics is natural to us—man is essentially political, as Aristotle says—and since we do live in the greatest modern country—founded that way at least—we owe it a lot. And many of the people who have seen the republic through to where we are today have gone through things that are worse than this. So first of all, it’s a duty not to give up. But second, there are good reasons to know that the game isn’t over.
One of them is that the election is shot through with contradictions. The obvious contradiction is that we have a divided government. The presidency and the Senate are in the hands of one party, and the House of Representatives and most governorships are in the hands of the other. A second contradiction is that a large majority of people continued to say in the exit polls that they were against raising taxes in order to cut the deficit. One might be cynical and put that down to an irresponsible refusal to pay for existing benefits—to get more and more “free stuff.” But for a long time now, opinion polls have pointed towards the existence of a broad majority of Americans who favor smaller government. This obviously contradicts the re-election of the president and the Democratic gains in the Senate. The country is still a house divided against itself, and that’s dangerous. But it doesn’t mean that there’s been a resolution. It means in fact the opposite: there is not a resolution. That resolution still has to be made, and the making of it lies ahead of us, and not behind us.
Lincoln’s argument was that either slavery is right or freedom is right, and that the country couldn’t long stand if it was divided on which was so. There was an argument that slavery should be allowed to spread and be protected as a good thing, and there was an argument that slavery violated America’s principles and should be kept from spreading. There’s almost an exact parallel today, because the people who founded our country believed and wrote—and established a Constitution to provide—that there must never be unlimited rule by any man or group of men over other men. And our government is getting to a place where it threatens to become limitless.
Not only that, but government itself has become a strong force in elections: Much of the money funding the party of big government comes from inside the government through public employee unions—not to mention corporations, so many of which receive a form of welfare from the government. This new development represents a dangerous corruption of the election process—and elections are the only means left to Americans to limit government. It’s a real problem.
[...] just think of what our Constitution is doing right now—the protection it is providing. In 1946 in England, following Churchill’s ouster as prime minister, the Labor government got its first outright majority, and within a year it had nationalized 15 or so major industries. It was able to do that all at once. Compare that to what occurred here. President Obama only had that kind of united power for two years, because our Constitution divides power. He did, in his first two years, push through Obamacare and Dodd-Frank, which are significant. They will do a lot of damage, and we are stuck with them for now because of the election. But despite the election, one part of the government remains in the hands of the opposition. That means that no big new legislation is going to go through. So the Constitution is working, despite the uncharted waters [...]
[...] the principles of Progressivism that animate our government today, which are antithetical to the principles of the American Founding, lead to policies that cannot work, will not work, and result in obvious injustices. That is its weakness, and that provides cause for hope. But by the way, there is a parallel with the great twentieth century tyrannies: The modern bureaucratic form of government cannot remain accountable to the people, so in the fullness of time it will become despotic. That’s not the intention of anybody who runs it today, or at least not very many people. But that is its direction.
The experts who run the modern bureaucratic state think they are architects of a perfectly rational society. They think of themselves as scientists, and of the running of government as something more like science—the science of administration—than politics. They think they can coordinate society comprehensively so that no one is left out. That’s why they think of their work as something good and as something high. The problem is that what they are trying to do defies human nature—the human nature that led James Madison to write famously that men are not angels, and that led the Framers of the Constitution to divide government in order to limit government—and so what these experts are doing will ultimately lead to despotism.
But [...] there are many indications that there’s a deep and even intensifying opposition to bureaucratic government today. People don’t like it, and they don’t trust it. They want less of it. And I don’t believe that yesterday’s election signified any change in that. Now, how to harness that opinion politically is the challenge. No one yet has been able to capitalize upon it.
One obvious theme to strike is that people didn’t vote for, and don’t support, higher taxes and bigger government. But conservative statesmen have to get better. Calvin Coolidge once said that great statesmen are “ambassadors of providence, sent to reveal to us our unknown selves.” What that means is that great statesmen are not going to be around very often. I’d say that the standard of conservative statesmanship today is improving, but too few prominent conservatives are skillful at explaining the problem of the modern bureaucratic state. This form of government proceeds by rules, and rules upon rules, and compliance with those rules becomes a key activity of the entire nation. That results in bureaucracy, and in the inefficiencies of bureaucracy. Constitutional government, on the other hand, proceeds by clearly stated laws.
Not grasping this is an important failure of conservative statesmen today. During the first presidential debate I stood up and slapped my leg, and my wife said to sit down and be quiet, when Mitt Romney said that business and prosperity require regulation. What he should have said instead was that of course we require laws in order to be productive and to live safely, but that laws are different than regulations. Laws are passed by elected (and thus accountable) representatives, they cover everybody equally, and we can all participate in their enforcement because they are easy to understand. Not one of those three things is true of the regulations imposed by independent boards such as those established under Obamacare and Dodd-Frank. Romney was not able to make that distinction, and yet that distinction is at the heart of the choice Americans must make about how they will be governed.
[...] there are some fine young conservatives in Congress and serving as governors who give one hope. They understand the urgency of the situation, and that makes them better.
[...] let me close with a word about Churchill. The service that he did in 1940, when his nation stood up against Hitler alone, was preceded by a service equally great. In the 1930s, British politics were ugly and ill-directed. Churchill’s own party leaders conspired to deprive him not only of his seat in Parliament, but of his livelihood writing for the public. One of his colleagues, an official in the Foreign Ministry named Ralph Wigram, was threatened with transfer to a remote place without medical care—his son had birth defects—if he continued speaking with Churchill. Churchill, Wigram, and Wigram’s wife Ava stood up to this kind of thing, year after year. First a few, and then many, and then legions joined them. Finally the British people realized the truth, and then all over London billboards appeared with the words in large black letters, “What Price Churchill?” He was called to lead in 1940 because he proved in the 1930s that he could do so.
That same year, Churchill asked one of his assistants, John Colville, to find him the precise text of a prayer he remembered from the siege of Gibraltar. It reads:
Fear not the result, for either thy end shall be an enviable and a majestic one, or God will preserve our reign upon the waters.
We might follow Churchill in saying that prayer in hard times. We might cultivate the strength that it can give.
To the reasons Arnn gave, I’ll add another one:
Conservatives far outnumber liberals in America. In 2010, 62% of Americans identified themselves as conservatives.
Of course, the question is why those 62% didn’t translate into a victory for Mitt Romney on last November 6.
Was it massive Democrat voter fraud? The GOP tying its own hands because of that stunning 1982 agreement it made with the Democratic Party not to prevent or contest vote fraud? How about the thousands of U.S. military votes that were uncounted or missing? Was it the Ron Paulists who stayed home? Was it the partisan media and public schools who brainwashed Americans? Or was it because too many of those 62%, while they say they’re conservative, are dependents on Big Government?
I don’t mean to be disrespectful to Dr. Arnn. But until and unless Conservatives find out why we lost the election and how to fix the problems, his rah-rah chins-up cheerleading only means Conservatives will continue fruitlessly expend our time, money, and energy — like caged hamsters furiously running on wheels, but going nowhere.