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Dr. Larry Arnn On The Importance Of The Midterm Elections

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HH: This hour, though, we’re going out of turn this week, because a constitutional republic that votes ought to consider what it voted on with someone who thinks deeply about such things. That means I reached out to Dr. Larry Arnn, president of Hillsdale College on this day after the political earthquake, the tsunami, the wave, to ask him to assess. So as opposed to being here on Friday afternoon, Dr. Arnn agreed to come in on Wednesday afternoon. Dr. Larry Arnn from Hillsdale College, welcome, it’s a great day to talk to you.

LA: Isn’t it, though? By the way, I was so afraid that we were going to have some awful, miserable, gloomy conversation, but we’re not.

HH: We’re not. We’re going to have a wonderful upbeat conversation, part of which should be why did we let ourselves not believe that Tom Cotton would win by 18 points, for example, in Arkansas?

LA: Is it 18 now? Last time I looked, it was 16.

HH: It’s 18 points.

LA: Yeah, well, I commented to someone connected to the campaign, I won’t name who, a few days ago. I said you know, this is all very honorable and all that, but that guy’s not very good (laughing).

HH: (laughing) That’s not very elevating. He is good. He’s got a legacy candidacy. He had millions of dollars. But we all kind of, I didn’t have enough faith in the American people, Larry Arnn. We’re going to talk about this for this entire hour, but it really is, it’s 1980, 1994, 2010-like, but even more so, because they’re reacting to the full frontal Obama. We really do know what we were voting on yesterday.

LA: Yeah, that’s right, and there’s some caveats that we should talk about, about the election. But the first thing to say is that it was broad and deep. So they picked up three governorships, and if I can count right, they’ve got 31. They picked up, right now, they picked up, I’m looking again to see what…

HH: Seven Senate seats, soon to be eight with Alaska, and nine with Louisiana.

LA: That’s right. So they’re going to be at 54 in the Senate, and there’s a reason, the comment about why that matters, if they’re 51, then every Senator is in a position of extortion against the majority.

HH: Right.

LA: And if it’s 52, then two of them are. And if it’s 54, then it’s, you’ve actually got to sort of get a gaggle together to resist the rest of them. And so the intra-Republican politics will be greatly helped by it being as many as they’ve got. Then it looks like they got 13 in the House, and they’re at a higher level than they’ve been, I read somewhere today, since before the Second World War. I’m not confident about that.

HH: Since 1928, and there are races yet to be decided as they stand at 243.

LA: Yeah, so they’re, so that’s really good. And then if I can count right, and all I could find was a map with the current stuff, they’ve gone from 28 to 31 full control of state legislatures.

HH: Yes, you’re right.

LA: And then before this election, three states had split legislatures, and now five do. So that means the Democrats lost two houses in addition. So the thing, and you know, goodness gracious, you know, I know Bob [Ehrlich], who’s the most recent Republican governor of Maryland, and he told me he didn’t know if a Republican would ever be elected governor of Maryland again, and the parties had been that much, and darned if they didn’t elect a Republican.

HH: And from Bob Ehrlich, forget Maryland, they did. They go to Illinois. And I never thought they would ever, ever elect…the head of this great radio network, the guy in charge of all the radio programs, Dave, sent me a note last night saying he just couldn’t believe it, because he ran our Chicago cluster for a lot of time. And no one really believed after all the crooks that they had there, that it’s a place he wants to, that could become the party of Lincoln again.

LA: Isn’t that funny? And you know, Pat Quinn is not even in prison.

HH: (laughing)

LA: (laughing)

HH: Now I’ve got to say, Angus King today did disappoint us by saying he’s not really an independent. He’s going to stay with the Democrats. And the President both disappointed but didn’t surprise me. He said I’m the guy that everybody voted for, of course ignoring the fact that 49% of Americans didn’t vote for him. He has a Constitutional point, Larry, that we should respect.

LA: Oh, yeah. He’s still the president, and I’ve read an account of his statements today. I didn’t watch it, because I have a job. But it wasn’t terrible, and I feared it would be defiant and angry. And God knows what he’s going to do with the executive power, but they have more means to combat that now than they had before.

HH: It was unnecessarily combative, referring to the 2/3rds, he hears the 2/3rds of Americans who didn’t vote. I expected him to say I see dead people as well. It’s just…

LA: Yeah.

HH: It’s not what one would expect from a gracious loser as George W. Bush was a gracious loser in 2006.

LA: Yeah, and he was, you know, he’s, of course everyone knows that he’s God’s special gift to mankind. And on the other hand, he’s not very popular. And how do you, how does that compute with a guy like that?

HH: Not easily.

LA: You know, it doesn’t seem to come naturally to him to be…

HH: Let me do something. I had Duane go and pull some clips from Senator-Elect Tom Cotton’s acceptance speech last night. He calls it Arnn porn, because Tom Cotton got up and immediately began to fulfill our expectations by talking seriously about serious things. I’d like you to comment on some of these.

LA: Yeah.

HH: Let’s play cut number one, Congressman, now Senator-Elect Tom Cotton.

TC: Every election is about a choice, a choice for the people. In this election, the people had a choice between two ways of governing and two ways of living. It’s a choice about the equal rights that God granted us, that the Declaration proclaims and that the Constitution protects, a choice to live as a free people and to govern ourselves freely under the greatest Constitution in history.

HH: So Larry Arnn, how long has it been since you heard a Republican or a Democrat cite the Declaration in their acceptance speech?

LA: 1861?

HH: (laughing)

LA: (laughing) So first of all, that speech, which I took special trouble to look at the minute, I checked three times before it was up on the web, and I had high hopes for it, because he’s a very remarkable man. And mostly, he’s a remarkable man because he’s got the combination. He’s studious, he wants to know, he’s very curious, he puts those arguments together. You heard the speech. It’s just beautiful. But then, and you know, a victory statement and beautiful, but then he has thought that through. And he understands that the question of the time, just like in every critical time, and there have been two before, is what is the meaning of the Declaration of Independence, and what is the standing of the Constitution? And it’s a microcosm of what American politics is about. And to hear a statesman say it is just wonderful.

HH: He goes on. Let’s play a little bit more, cut number two, because there’s two types, this choice that he said was before the country is the theme of his speech. And I want people to dwell on that as we review yesterday, cut number two:

TC: The people of Arkansas tonight have made their choice. We have again chosen Constitutional self-government which allows each of us to flourish according to his abilities and industry, to live with the blessings of civil and religious liberty, to live as free men and women under law, and to control our government rather than be controlled by it. Throughout this campaign, Arkansans have told me they’re ready for America to again be a great, strong and prosperous country. We reject the pessimism and defeatism inherent in the other way of governing, the centralizing and bureaucratic rule of presumed elites. This other form of government for taxing and spending and regulating now consumes nearly half the fruits of all our labors and all our savings. It intrudes on private life. Every community, every business, every school, every person gets unwanted instructions from on high from unaccountable and unelected elites. This other form of government always wants to help, but it always hindering.

HH: Larry Arnn, what he said there, it’s a question of whether or not we’re going to control the government or whether the government’s going to control us.

LA: That’s one of Winston Churchill’s favorite sayings, he said it many times in his life, is that there are two kinds of countries – the one where the governments own the people, and the ones where the people own the governments. And I think that’s the distinction we’re after. And I’ll tell you a marvel to me. Of all the things that are clear, and many things are obscure in public opinion polls, but all the things that are clear in public opinion polls, one of them is that the American people are afraid of their government. And they ask them do you have consent of the governed, somewhere between 18-22% say yes to that. Ask them if they fear the government, something like 70% say yes to that. So it’s, and the truth is, I actually think that’s the case. I think the government is about half the economy. And if you add the regulatory power in, it might be a bit more than half. And I think that it is a force unto itself, and a force that affects elections. And so Cotton named that.

HH: And people do. They shuddered last night. They’ve got the full brunt of Obamacare unveiled in front of them now, and they shuddered.

— – – – –

HH: Before we roll through some of the other challenges, I want to go back to two more cuts from Congressman, now Senator-Elect Tom Cotton’s speech last night, Larry Arnn. This is cut number three where he talks about whether or not the nation is in decline.

TC: It constantly seeks to aid, but constantly ends up constraining. We may gain some material security by choosing this other form of government, but under it, there’s no true security for anyone, and because a government big enough to grant everything is big enough to take away anything. And in this campaign, I have contended if we choose this form of government, we’ll spend so much trying to make us all the same that we’ll all be impoverished, and will elevate the presumed elites further still. Our country will be too poor to defend itself from enemies that multiply abroad, too diffident to protect our borders and provide opportunity to our citizens, and too sluggish to care for the needy and provide work to the able. But Arkansans know that decline is a choice, and tonight, we have resoundingly rejected it.

HH: Decline is a choice resoundingly rejected. One more cut, Larry Arnn, on what kind of a nation we are from Tom Cotton, cut number four:

TC: Arkansans are a free people. And tonight, we have once again chosen a free government, one that is limited in scope, yet strong and competent in its rightful duties. We have chosen a government that aids our fellow citizens who are struggling without overwhelming them or taking away their freedom, or everyone else’s freedom in the process. Arkansans have chosen a government that protects all the things that we hold dear and in common – our natural rights; the national defense; a system of free enterprise built on private property rights, not special privileges; and the right to think our thoughts and speak our mind, and pray our prayers and raise our kids according to our faith and our conscience. To do these things does not require a relentlessly centralizing bureaucratic administration of supposed elites. In fact, it requires the exact opposite, a constitutional self-government. That’s the choice that we have faced. But this election was not so much about Mark Pryor or about me, but about you, and about how we choose to govern and live as a people.

HH: Larry Arnn, that is like music to my ears, and it wasn’t, it was uniquely delivered, but it wasn’t uniquely felt. A lot of the Republicans who were nominated, Joni Ernst in Iowa, Dan Sullivan in Alaska, Cory Gardner in Colorado, share these sentiments if they are not expressed as eloquently as the Harvard Law-trained Cotton put them.

LA: No, but he’s, you know, a special guy who’s paid so much attention to learning things, and learned so many of the right things. But he will teach them, right? He was, there was energy in the room, if by watching the video, it appeared that there was energy. You know, he asked me to go down there, by the way, and I wish I could have. There was energy in the room, because truths were being spoken simply and powerfully and comprehensively. And that is what politics is about today. Do we secure the good things that we need in our lives, and from government, through one of…there are two options. We’re going to appoint the government to do it for us, and it’s going to cost a lot, and there are going to be many, many people about the task, or we’re going to preserve a system of limited government in which we cooperate through government under our control to do those things. And to hear that articulated in that brief compass, and by the way, in a high, emotional moment? You know, he’d been busy all day.

HH: Yup.

LA: And he got up there and said all that. It’s just tremendous, in my opinion.

HH: And I want to underscore, because in one race, perhaps the entire election is understood. And Cotton’s been on this show a lot, so this audience is very familiar with him. He won by 18 points…

LA: Yeah.

HH: …in a state that is traditionally Democratic, which has not had two Republican Senators since Reconstruction. He won in a time when, and the average median income, I believe, is $52,000 dollars, when the government is offering benefits to that median income.

LA: Yeah.

HH: And he took on Mark Pryor directly. And they rewarded him resoundingly, and not against someone who was unpopular, but against a legatee of the old system, the old spoil system. So it was really a remarkable insight into what happened yesterday.

LA: Well, Mark, I’m told, that Mark Pryor started spending money in the spring, in the middle of the spring of this year. And they were spending a couple hundred thousand dollars a month on negative ads. And that went on for six months, basically unanswered. And at the end of it, Tom was up two.

HH: (laughing)

LA: And so, you know, I think if the election had been on August 15th, Tom would have won. And that means that, it does mean something both broad and deep. And Tom, you know, the reason I, you know, I’m fond of Tom and I’ve known him a long time, and I call him a friend, but I admire and respect him in part because he chose that moment to put together something so serious and good. And I think others will hear that and repeat that. And in the end, remember this election is important, because we, no candidate, and not me and you, Hugh, not even people as powerful as we get the power to decide this, right? The people of America as they are arranged under their Constitution, have the right to decide this. And the job of statesman is to present the choice to them.

HH: What we are waiting so long for, Paul Ryan, another of your buddies on the Hill, was on the show last night, and I asked him to what he attributed the success of the Republican candidates. And he said they are principled, unifying conservatives who aim high and hope to achieve much. And that’s exactly right. They’re not low people. They’re not trying to get contracts for their friends. They’re not in this to expand their staffs or get private airplanes.

LA: Yeah, you know, Tom Cotton, you know, I’m going to tell a personal story about him. If he’s mad about it, I apologize in advance. Tom Cotton’s never really been in a position to make a lot of money. And he has a Harvard Law degree. And you know, he was on a partner track at a big D.C. law firm for not very long, and his sister said you know, to me one time, she said what’s the boy thinking? He quits and joins the Army?

HH: On Friday in the space of where we normally would be talking, I’ll be talking with Rajiv Chandrasekaran, who wrote a new book, For Love Of Country, which has two chapters on the Rangers and what they did in Afghanistan and Iraq. It was not insignificant what he did there. And I think that combined with the votes for Joni Ernst and Dan Sullivan tells the Republicans a lot about whom they ought to be seeking for 2016.

LA: Yeah.

HH: Men and women who have put themselves in harm’s way for the country.

LA: That’s a big deal, and you know, turn to this day and age, being in the Army is dangerous.

HH: Very, very. When we come back from break, we’re going to talk about what happens now that the President has picked up the gauntlet and said I am going to nevertheless move forward with unilateral action on amnesty, and Mitch McConnell’s job and John Boehner’s job with Dr. Larry Arnn, Constitutional scholar, president of Hillsdale College.

— – – – –

HH: It’s a gift to be simple. It’s a gift to be free. And it’s a great day in America on the day after the election. Dr. Larry Arnn is my guess, a special edition of the Hillsdale Dialogue. My thanks to Guy Benson for sitting with me Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, but this hour, I wanted to set aside to get the musings of the president of Hillsdale College on what happens next. President Obama said look, I’m going to move forward with executive action on immigration, and I’m going to use my veto pen. This is a distilled summary, fair, objective of what he had to say today. And I’m the guy that everyone voted for.

LA: Did he mention immigration, Hugh?

HH: Yes, he did, in response to a question.

LA: Yes.

HH: He said if they do not act by the end of the lame duck session, I will act. I’m paraphrasing, but that’s what he said.

LA: Yeah, yeah, he’s still got his pen and his phone.

HH: He’s still got his pen and his phone. And that is, as I tweeted this out, he’s threatening unconstitutional action as a means of levering a constitutional charade. And the Congress won’t give it to him. The House and the Senate aren’t going to give it to him. So he’ll act. What ought to be the response?

LA: Well, it’s, the constitutional response is the right response. In other words, it’s, you know, the center of Tom Cotton’s thing is we control the government and empower the government through the Constitution. And if the Constitution is not followed, then it’s not a government of law. And the guy who now proposes to be the man who is the government on this issue, people don’t like him very much right now. You know, 60% don’t like him. And so why would he arrogate that power unto himself? And that’s, you know, I think people are asking themselves that question, and it’s written in these results. But remember, it’s not unprecedented, because after the very bad 2010 election, in the election of Scott Brown, who almost won in New Hampshire last night. And the national referendum on the health care law, he went ahead with that.

HH: Right.

LA: And you know, in dead of night by exotic procedures in the Congress, he got that thing through. And so he’s going to do what he can, and he’s got a long record of that.

HH: Now there’s a very wise guys, I’m in Kentucky tonight in Louisville, where I was last week with Bobby Jindal and the new majority leader, Mitch McConnell. And I think Mitch McConnell is a very wise fellow. And I think he’ll fight back in deftly and gentlemanly fashion. But if I were he and he acted thus, I would simply deny him the ordinary fruits of the business. I wouldn’t confirm any of his people, and I’d stay in session so he couldn’t use the recess appointment.

LA: That’s it.

HH: That’s what I would do.

LA: Yeah, it’s, you know, we should be sure that, one should be sure, the Congress should be sure that everything it does is within its constitutional scope.

HH: Yup.

LA: And so I’ll add to your point that we don’t proceed by budgets in America anymore. And that liberates the executive branch to spend resources more broadly, and with a wider range of options than if there is a budget. So they should get about the business of passing a budget. And the budget should be by department. And then they can manage departments. And if there’s one they don’t like, they can cut its budget.

HH: And you know, this brings us to the divide in the Republican Party. I don’t think it’s ideological so much as it is about pacing and urgency. Our friends, led by Ted Cruz, are urgently invested in moving bills to the President’s desk and passing a budget, and putting the appropriation riders in. And perhaps some of our more experienced members who have been there longer like the old pace of the old world. How do you suggest they bridge that gap? And maybe Paul Ryan’s the guy to do it.

LA: Well, you’ve got to have a budget, right? I mean, it’s an organization. It spends money, and it takes money in. It has to have a budget. You know, a college has a budget. The Hugh Hewitt Show has a budget. And so they have to do a budget. And the budget has to reflect their priorities. And then there will be some kind of compromise over that budget. But for the first time in years, their priorities will be more seriously asserted. And so that’s not radical or easy. That’s just how you have to do business if you’re going to have accountability.

HH: And they need to, well, I think they need to really grab the budget in the way that Paul Ryan was talking about last night and make it truly a reforming budget, and to put it on, to agree to it quickly, and then to follow quickly with the appropriations bills. Normally, they don’t get to the budget to April or May. I don’t think that’s acceptable, Larry Arnn. What do you think?

LA: Well, I think it’s unusual that somebody is able and far-seeing and knowing so many details as Paul Ryan is, the head of the Budget Committee, and you know, probably Ways and Means, right? Isn’t that where he’s going to go, we think?

HH: Yes.

LA: And so that’s an important opportunity. And you know, I also think this. We have to remember, I was going to make some caveats about the victory. These races were close. And it’s amazing when you look at the races, by the way, that hardly anybody won by 55%. And then maybe I’ll finish that point when we come back, but the second thing is the turnout was much lower than in general elections. So we don’t know what’s going to happen in 2016 right now.

— – – – –

HH: Dr. Larry Arnn, our last segment here, and the late James Q. Wilson used to say turnout schmurnout. I’m paraphrasing here. They modeled that people stay home and they genuinely and generally reflect those who showed up. The President seemed to be putting a lot of store in the 2/3rds who didn’t show up yesterday, and suggesting that they were with him as opposed to agin him. But you’re right. We don’t really know what 2016 looks like. And the Republicans can’t expect to be rewarded if they don’t do anything with, especially their state majorities, and I think especially in an area like education reform.

LA: So I talked to the wise Phil Gramm a couple of months ago about all this, and he’s a former Senator. And he said that in the ideal world, what they will do is present to the world how they would like the country to look through a series of bills that both houses pass, and the President signs or vetoes, and that that’s their job. They are communicating. They are saying what they would do, and education is a great place, because education is ripe for reform.

HH: Yup.

LA: And there are large reform movements going on, of which we happen to be a part. And they should, and you know, by the way, the ones we represent are tried and true and old, and they work on the modern world. We can prove it. And so they should be given scope. And they also, by the way, have this really great feature. They empower teachers and parents and local schools. And teachers are crying out for that. And so they should pass a series of bills that breaks the centralization of everything. And then Obama will veto them or he will not, and there will be some kind of compromise, and it’ll be messy. But they will have made their point in their budget, and in their appropriations, and in the legislation that they pass. That’s what they should do.

HH: And to the point, the President also said an agreement is within reach with Iran. That’s laughable. A capitulation to Iran is within reach, but not an agreement. They’re not serious about an agreement. Anyone who knows the regime knows that. There are some serious people arriving in the Senate, I’ve named them repeatedly – Sullivan, Ernst and of course, Tom Cotton, who have seen the enemy and have come to blows with the enemy. They will buck up the Senate in regards to this enemy. But he’s still the commander-in-chief, Larry Arnn. And it will require real leadership on the part of Mitch McConnell and John Boehner to pass a sanctions bill in the face of a Munich-like agreement with Tehran.

LA: Yeah, that’s right, and he’s got two years, and goodness knows what he’ll do. But first of all, make this simple point. The regime in Iran is an oppressor of its own people, and is a sponsor of terrorism abroad. And those are facts. And so to calculate your foreign policy upon an agreement with them is a really, and especially before you have it, is a really remarkable approach. And so that’s crazy, and they should pass bills. They should pass bills about the military, by the way, because the military needs some shoring up, and it probably, I think it does, need some reform, both. And you know, we need to be lean and mean, and we need to be ready to go, because there’s a lot of danger in the world.

HH: Now I’ve got to ask you about lean and mean and ready to go. You run the Kirby Center in Washington, D.C. A lot of the people who are ascendant in the Republican Party come by the Hillsdale College Kirby Center for a lecture, for a conversation, for some generation of ideas. And I think you’ve got an expanded mission now. I wonder, are you gearing up to sort of be there more as this year unfolds?

LA: Well, you know, Matt Spalding runs that, and he’s very good, so he’s there all the time. But I am there a lot, and I will go more, and there’s more people to see now. You know, Ben Sasse from Nebraska is a very promising guy, too.

HH: Oh, my goodness, yes.

LA: And so there’s more to do. And you know, our job, you know, first of all, political tactics is not what I run from Hillsdale, Michigan. Our job is what is the nature of the conflict, and how would you proceed under the Constitution? And some of these things, by the way, that Obama’s going to do, it’s very hard to stop them from the Congress. And some of them will not be stopped. And in those cases, what one must do is register plain opposition and reasons for it.

HH: And to argue that, to argue that case.

LA: Yeah.

HH: Lay it out.

LA: Like you know, Tom, you know, Tom’s speech, which I liked so much, and you know, what it does is it lays out a different approach to the problems of the day. And it breaks out of this thing that you’re either for or against the government. And I personally am for the government of the founding of America, and I am against the government of Joseph Stalin. And come to find out, it just matters what the government is like whether you’re for or against it.

HH: You know, last night, and I talked earlier in the show with Thomas Edsall, that the political scientist at Notre Dame, David Leege, wrote Thomas Edsall, “By Election Year 2014 was the final chapter in making the President small. The immediate aftermath of 2008 was that Americans had finally conquered their racial aversions. The election of Barack Obama was a victory both for renewed hope and long awaited democracy. By 2014, Obama was small, a punching bag, easily bullied, the one to whom small politicians could talk tough abusively, the ones whose ideas were ignored, the one whom his fellow partisans would come to avoid at all costs. How could this happen in six short years?” I think that’s profoundly wrong, Dr. Larry Arnn, but how would you respond to someone who thinks that somehow President Obama is a victim in this election?

LA: Well, first of all, understand that Barack Obama, it seems to me, at least, to be a man of serious principle. And according to his lights, he acts as his conscience dictates. And he’s very firm about that. And I dislike what he does, and I dispute his principles, and I’m even afraid of him. But having said that, he’s, we are where he has taken us. And he meant to do it. You know, a member of Congress, Pete Roskam, a friend of mine, had a kid here, and a very good guy from Illinois, he said to me once, he said you know about this Obamacare thing, they are very ready to cull the herd, that is to say there were Democratic members in Congress. They’re very ready to lose a lot of seats to get done the things that they’re going to do. And that means he, in some sense, he’s intended this.

HH: And he got it, and now we have to see whether or not we’re ready to cull our herd in order to get rid of it, Larry Arnn, a question for a future Hillsdale Dialogue. Thank you for joining me on the day after the landslide, Dr. Arnn. Visit to see how the Constitution and the presidency ought to work.

End of interview.


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