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Dr. Larry Arnn Looking At The Big Issues To Be Campaigned On In 2014 And 2016

Friday, January 3, 2014

HH: It’s the last Hillsdale Dialogue of the year, and you are at the right place indeed. Dr. Larry Arnn, president of Hillsdale College, joins me now. Dr. Arnn, a premature Happy New Year to you.

LA: And do you, Hugh.

HH: You had a very blessed Christmas, I hope?

LA: Oh, yeah, really great. Family’s home. That’s what matters.

HH: It was a wonderful Christmas card, and I must say your children are lucky they favor their mother.

LA: Boy, isn’t it true? People write and tell me how bad I look compared to my children, and I always wonder, yeah, but I made them, huh?

HH: They’re yours. They’re yours. Hey, I do want to remind our listeners that our annual ideathon will air on the last day of 2013 and the first day of 2014, six hours of Larry Arnn and I on the History of Ideas, in an effort he resisted doing for many years but which is now much beloved by the audience as a way to get through the end of the year and the start of the new year. So that is coming up next week. But today, I want to take a look ahead and a look backwards. But I want to begin very specifically, Dr. Arnn doesn’t know I’m going to do this. He frequently doesn’t know what I’m going to do. I want to talk about Hillsdale College at the end of 2013, because I want to appeal to all of you who are sitting at your desk to write out your tax deductible contributions at the end of the year, to send them to Hillsdale. Arnn, how’s the year been for the college?

LA: It’s just a great year. You know, it’s, we’ve been so blessed at the college. The college is probably stronger than it’s ever been, and at least in modern times. And the student body’s strong, and the retention rates are great, and it’s in good financial shape. So yeah, and you know, it’s besieged in some ways because we don’t really do what anybody else does, or hardly anybody else does anymore. And we swim in the academic ocean, and so it’s a very unusual thing. And we feel the pressure of that all the time, and it makes us more firm in trying to keep it the way it is.

HH: Are the legions of your supporters growing?

LA: Yeah, they, last year, you know, our fiscal year ends in June. Colleges tend to do that, on June 30th. So the year that ended a year ago was the best year we had in numbers of the people who gave us money, and we’re running ahead of that this year.

HH: Well, we want to run further ahead right now, and I’m beginning this hour with Dr. Arnn by making an appeal to people to send them checks large and small for projects of a variety. I have three favorite projects I want to propose to you. First of all, you have statues all over the campus. I’ve been lucky enough to be on Hillsdale’s campus on a few occasions, and they’re beautiful statues. Who do you have besides Churchill and Thatcher and Reagan?

LA: Well, we’re working right now on a statue of Frederick Douglass. There’s a book coming out in a few weeks that mentions that maybe the most famous photograph of Frederick Douglass who they claim is the most photographed person in the 19th Century was taken on the Hillsdale College campus in 1863. And he had a relationship. He was here on the campus twice, and we honored him very greatly, and we were an abolitionist college when we were first founded. So we have a project now to sculpt a statue of Frederick Douglass. We’re going to choose the sculptor soon. And my wife and I giving some significant money, along with other people, and we’re also raising scholarships for people who have high financial need who come from poor families. And so we’re doing the Frederick Douglass scholarships and the Frederick Douglass statue, and that’s a drive right now, and we’re going to put that right here on the campus, and some replica of it at our Kirby Center in Washington, D.C.

HH: Oh, there is a fine subscription for you to be a part of, America, as we come to the end of the year, the Frederick Douglass scholarships and statue at Hillsdale College. Now I, myself, have in mind a tiny little sculpture gathering, Dr., and which I just want to put out there. I would like to see a statue group of Caesar and Cicero talking, Alcibiades and Socrates talking, and Plutarch seated among them scribbling. I just want that, I just want to put that out there to kind of sum of the year that we’ve had, because that’s the year that we have had. Those are the big five of the many people that we have been speaking about this year.

LA: That’s a great idea. You know, we have a statue of Socrates on the campus.

HH: I didn’t know that. Well then, you can put the other four around him.

LA: It’s in the library. And you know, it’s a very, it’s a good time of year to talk about things that are permanent. And we are so far astray in what education is about these days, but the truth is, what do you need to know when you’re young except the purpose of your life? And the people you just named are figures in the great story of working out that purpose as best as human beings have been able to do it. And we study all those people here. And it’s a riveting experience. I just finished a class on Aristotle’s Ethics, and I graded the papers over the last three or four days, and it’s just, you know, nobody likes to grade papers, and yet everybody likes to grades papers, because this is an inspiring experience to watch these young people grapple with that great book and the other great books we teach here.

HH: I can’t tell you how much more fun that is than grading Con Law finals, because it’s the best class one can teach in law school, and yet it remains very dreary aside that kind of element. Now my next wish list is what does it cost to endow a chair at Hillsdale?

LA: It depends on what kind of chair you want to endow, but it takes about two million dollars.

HH: You see, I think we need the Arnn chair in rhetoric leadership and teaching for of course, the president of the college, but also to establish who ought to be the next president, because as this may come as a shock to you, you won’t live forever. Do you worry about who that will be?

LA: No, well, you know, I’ve read King Lear by Shakespeare, and I know that it’s a story about King Lear, this king who’s highly regarded, trying to arrange for his succession. And first of all, I don’t get to do that. But second, the college insofar as human things can be organized, is well organized for that. And there are two reasons for that. One is our board of trustees is really good and knows what the college is about, and we work on that all the time. They are the guardians of the purpose and the main methods of operating of the college. And the second thing is I’m very blessed in my colleagues, and you know, we are, we do well, and you know, we live under constant pressure, regulatory pressure, all kinds of pressures, and we cope with that and have a joy in doing it, and we work out together how we do that. So if something happened to me tomorrow, the college would be well run for the next six months. And maybe I’ll take six months off, who knows? But that’s because there’s a lot of us who cooperate to figure out how to do it in this day and age. And that’s complicated. And you know, when Hillsdale College was founded, it’s always been a very intense thing. It had a very great war record in all the great wars of the nation, and always had reasons for that. But it’s also true for most of its history what it sets out to do is what any college set out to do. But for the last 75 years especially, but now, it’s almost uniform, what we set out to do is rejected. And there are constraints in the law that tend to limit doing what we do, and that’s one reason we don’t take any money from the government. And so we are a bunch of people who are aware of all that and work on all that all the time. And we’ve made a choice. This radio program is partly the product of your own bullheadedness and insistence. You actually mastered me about many subjects over the years, like making me do things like this. But the other is we decided we could try to live in a hole and be quiet, or we could try to do what we were founded to do, which is radiate the learning and the teaching and the arguments and the debates that make up liberal education. And so that’s a very conscious effort on the campus, and that means even the students have a wide understanding of what the college is trying to do and how it goes about it.

HH: That’s why I call it the lantern of the north, so that it does in fact, as you say, radiate those values. That’s why I want your chair to be in rhetoric, leadership and teaching, because there aren’t many leaders of colleges and universities who can do all three. You’re lucky if you can get one out of rhetoric, leadership and teaching. It’s very hard to get all three. That seems Hillsdale’s leader needs all three. Finally, are you going to ever go abroad? I think of the places I have just been – Brazil and Argentina, and they don’t have any lantern institutions, and they don’t have any lighthouse institutions of learning that immediate spring to mind. And in old Europe, there are some and they’re struggling. But in a place like China, which could actually be an engine for amazing things if it had just the tools, does Hillsdale ever intend to go abroad and put the equivalent of a Kirby Center somewhere in one of the developing nations that need it so?

LA: Well, there are two answers to that. One is no, and one is yes. The no answer is we were founded on the view that the United States of America is the last best hope of mankind on Earth, and I believe that even today when our country is so besieged. And so the most fruitful thing for us to do is to operate here. So that’s the no answer. But the yes answer is we get a lot of interest from abroad, as we do in the country, and through this charter school initiative we’ve got going on, we’ve sort of invented a model of how we could help other people do what we do. And it’s part of the radiation effort. There’s only two parts of Hillsdale College. There’s a nuclear reactor, and that operates on campus…

HH: There’s the fallout.

LA: And then it radiates. And so we’ve been taking the shields off. And so it…

HH: When we come back, we’re going to talk about which way the wind is blowing when it comes to that radiation. May the breeze be strong., for your year end giving, and do dig deep, whether it’s $5 dollars or $5 million dollars. Send Larry Arnn a note at All of these courses available at

— – – –

HH: Dr. Arnn, looking back at two major challenges, one, Obamacare, and two, the collapse, and I do mean that, of American foreign policy and position in the world. As we speak, Turkey’s in crisis, Lebanon had an assassination this morning that pretty much tells us that’s slipping back into a brutal civil war. Syria remains a hellhole and a killing hole, Iraq of al Qaeda is back, and Egypt is under martial law as it deals with the terrorist organization, the Muslim Brotherhood. This is all the reaping of the wind sown by President Obama in the last five years. How long will it take to repair, if indeed it can be repaired?

LA: Well, those places have been for a long time, and will be for a long time in the future, likely, immense problems. And our way of coping with those problems has been to estrange ourselves from our friends, and conciliate our enemies. And we have something backward there, because we are now openly treated with, among our friends, frustration and doubt, and that’s public now. Saudi diplomats, one of the members of the Saudi royal family, speaks in public now about how we can’t be depended upon. And those are, you now, for…it’s a difficult part of the world when you look at some of the regimes that are the best friends we’ve got, and think they’re the sources of stability. And I leave Israel out of that, which is a real source of stability and a friend. Well, first of all, they don’t know what we’re up to, and they don’t know if we put them first anymore, and so they’re in doubt. And they even prepare to take actions on their own without us, which is difficult. And then on the other hand, we go and conciliate people who hold us in open contempt, even during the process of conciliation. And by doing that, we open opportunities for Russia and China to expand their influence in that region, and their friends are waxing, and their friends are evil.

HH: And because of that, do we recover from that position if we elect good leadership? Or are we eclipsed for a long period of time?

LA: Well, the fundamental strength of the United States is not compromised, yet. The political crisis at home is the most severe thing we face, and worse than this foreign policy thing for the long term. But and so it ebbs our strength, that crisis does. But we’re still the strongest nation on Earth, and if we had eight years of good doctrine and good practice, we would be strong again. And good doctrine and practice, they would combine to make the distinction between good regimes and bad, to affiliate. You know, we can have friendships with nations that have free government and protect the rights of their own citizens. And we can have alliances with other nations. And then those who are the most vile and the most aggressive in spreading their vileness, we’re going to be confronting them. And we need weapons to do that, and that means we should probably be looking at ways to reform and restructure and diminish the cost of our military in a lot of ways it has big costs now. But we should be looking at the next generation of weapons and training and soldiers to fight the kind of wars that are going to come in this technological age. And so if we do that, then our latent strength will grow, and it will grow into actual strength, and then we, if we had, you know, if we were just plain in the world, you know, that would be really great. And if you want to find an Arab who lives in the Middle East, and who can write in the newspaper and vote in free elections, well, a very large percentage of those live in the state of Israel. And that’s a really important point

HH: Yeah.

LA: …you know, for a country founded like ours.

HH: Yeah.

LA: And so we should be making that point. And we should make that to our friends like Saudi Arabia, too, but we should, but you know, Saudi Arabia, and we should make a point to Saudi Arabia about the spreading of Wahhabism, which they do through grants and education all over the world. But at the same time, you know, Iran is a problem. And the events in Syria that you just named, and Lebanon that you just named, Iran has a hand in all of those, and they’re very effective and aggressive, and they’re a terribly despotic nation which is holding down their people by force, and there’s every sign that the people don’t like it.

HH: We’re also concluding 2013 on a note of spiraling chaos in the health insurance markets as Obamacare rolls out badly across the land. But there’s a silver lining, which is everyone is seeing how badly it’s rolling out across the land. Could it be concealed in any way, Larry Arnn, that the source of this was President Obama and his social engineers, and that there is no saving it?

LA: Well, there’s a great battle going on, right? And right now, the battle is relatively favorable. They passed that thing, and they have sustained that thing, and that thing is ugly for all to see, and all do see it. And the polls are very clear about it, just right now as we speak. Now what’s going on that needs commenting on, and does get commented on some lately by Krauthammer, for example, is that their reaction to these problems is to increase the level of lawlessness that’s in it. And that’s a very dangerous thing, because first of all, the law itself and the kind of law it is, is not the kind of law that can be moderated or understood by the people it applies to. It’s 2,000 pages of legislation, and then it’s many, many tens of thousands, probably, but certainly more than 10,000 pages, of regs of one kind or another that are made. And then add to that, that the President and the Secretary of Health and Human Services basically just change the law at will when they want to.

HH: Yes.

LA: And so they’ve been handing out blanket waivers. I mean, they handed out a lot of special interest waivers, hundreds of them, to unions especially and companies, and all kinds of things.

HH: And then varying deadlines and special gigs.

LA: Yeah.

HH: And a variety of prettified rules for friends.

LA: And the law says it’s supposed to do this and that and this and that day, and it’s not able to do any of that, and the President just makes a speech and waives it. Well, if he’s got the power to do that, that means he can do a lot, and a lot more that’s in the Constitutional authorities that are given to him. And that, it strikes me, is a thing very much to fear, and something we have to be pointing out all the time.

— – – –

HH: Dr. Arnn, we have 14 minutes in which for you to react to the fifteen names, all of whom are lined up at the starting line in the race for ’16, and they have much work to do in ’14, in the elections ahead. As I read our their names alphabetically, if you can tell me what you think of them and whether they’ve been to Hillsdale College. Number one is John Bolton.

LA: Yes, he has. And he’s dynamite. He’s a principled man, yeah, deeply knowledgeable about foreign policy.

HH: A welcome addition to the stage for the presidential race?

LA: Yeah, he should try. He doesn’t fix the description, you know. I mean, it’s a pretty narrow band of people that have been elected president of the United States, mostly high elected public officials, famous generals, Herbert Hoover and William Howard Taft. I think that’s the whole list. And so it’s, that’s a long shot, but great guy, and he will help the debate.

HH: Jeb Bush.

LA: Yeah, he’s very, you know, some people say he’s the best of the Bushes.

HH: Has he been to the college?

LA: He has, yes, a long time ago.

HH: Interesting.

LA: And I talked to him in the last six months. He’s a likable guy, and he’s presentable, he’s electable kind of guy.

HH: Is the Common Core thing…

LA: And he’s more conservative than the brothers.

HH: Is the Common Core issue enveloping him? Is it consuming him?

LA: I don’t know. I hope so. But maybe he’ll withdraw from that thing, because that’s a bad thing. And you know, the Bushes, by the way, have been responsible for extensive centralization of education. And the No Child Left Behind Act was a very bad thing, in my opinion, and the control of the Department of Education, the accreditation process for colleges is another very bad thing, and they did that. And they believed the solution is standards and practices enforced from the center, and I do not.

HH: Chris Christies is the name on many lips, and in fact, he’s the picture that the editors at put above my column today. What do you make of the governor of New Jersey? Has he been to the college?

LA: No, he has not.

HH: Is he invited to the college?

LA: I should have asked him sometime. He’s a force of nature. There’s a lot to learn about him. Here, I’ll interject what I think one should think about here. You have to know, Lincoln said in the House Divided speech, if we could but know where we are and whether we are tending, we could then know what to do and how to do it. So where are we? The answer is we’re living under a political system that is getting close to the place where it can overwhelm the people it governs. And the people know that. And the polls show people fear their government and think it’s getting out of control by 60% plus numbers consistently. So that’s the crisis. What do we do about that? And my opinion is we return to Constitutional forms. And I believe that’s going to require a mixture of things that few people have. The first is you have to be adamant in principle, and that means you have to be able to explain what the country is about and how it is to be governed, and stand up for that. And I think, for example, the leadership in the House, which I respect, myself, could learn lessons about how to be more like that. And they would find that the conservatives would follow them more consistently. But then second, you have to be flexible in policy, because prudence is the art of choosing practical courses of action, and a lot of things that we need to do to get out of this mess do not fit strictly the Constitution. They have to lead back toward the Constitution. And so Christie is a man who’s got a lot of adamancy in him. Can he, and that’s good, right? He’s a firm guy, and he fights. Can he take that candor and turn it into an eloquent discussion of principle?

HH: Interesting. Ted Cruz, the next alphabetical entrant. Can, can he not? And he’s been to the college.

LA: And yeah, he’s a commencement speaker last year, and I know him well, and he’s a very impressive man. And I myself didn’t like the government shutdown all that much, but on the other hand, what I thought, I think I said it on your show was, it’s making him famous, and good, because he’s a talent.

HH: And so someone that you would welcome to the stage if he decides to proceed to race in that regard?

LA: Sure, yeah.

HH: 30 seconds to the break, Bobby Jindal.

LA: He’s a brilliant guy. He’s a wonderful story. He’s a policy wonk. He’s got to become big and inspiring in his language. But yeah, he’s a talent.

HH: Has he been to that little hill in Michigan, yet?

LA: No, he hasn’t.

HH: Bobby Jindal hasn’t been to Hillsdale?

LA: No, but he should, because one of my kids is working on his staff.

HH: Oh, now that’s an admission against interest. Interesting. You ought to lasso him up there.

— – – –

HH: John Kasich, governor of the great state of Ohio, the Buckeye State, that state that’s produced more presidents than any other state.

LA: Yes, he should be in, good on the budget stuff, a governor, good to look at governors. They know how to run things if they’re any good at all.

HH: Has he been to Hillsdale, yet?

LA: Yes, years ago.

HH: Oh, it’s in Michigan, so I would give him a pass if we were not there. All right, Peter King, who is not a governor nor a Senator. He’s a congressman. He’s not very serious, but he’s definitely running.

LA: Yeah, okay, let him run.

HH: All right, enough of that. Rand Paul.

LA: He’s a very interesting guy, very smart, very well positioned as regards, you know, he wants to control the military, the people in the budget cutting mode about Defense. He’s pro-life, and not crazy about it, which is what pundits always say you’ve got to be like, and he’s a fiscal conservative. So he’s a very interesting candidate.

HH: Has he been to the college?

LA: No, but he’s been to the Kirby Center.

HH: You have much to do at the college. Rick Perry.

LA: Yeah, I don’t think so.

HH: All right, Marco Rubio.

LA: Yeah, sure. He didn’t do well in the immigration stuff, in my opinion, because mostly, because what I think what he was trying to do wasn’t bad, but I think he got hoodwinked. And so there’s a setback there, but he’s an important force.

HH: Has he been to the college, yet?

LA: No, he has not.

HH: You know, it’s interesting to me that if you’re serious about running for president, and you really want to win the hearts and minds of the conservative movement, you have to go to Hillsdale. And I don’t know if you intended to set out that way, if you intended the college to become that, but it is something of a touchstone for people.

LA: To the extent that that’s true, it’s true because we’re a college of the old type, and we did help to found and direct the original Republican Party. And we don’t, you know, we’re not in campaigns at all, and we’re not, you know, we’re in the middle of the policy debate through the Kirby Center, so we have a kind of independence and long term view that the right kind of people…

HH: The equivalent is when I was a young man at Harvard in 1974, those who wanted to become president in 1976 on the Democratic side started to appear. They just would come, and they would come to the Institute of Politics, because they had a journey to make. They had to go touch base with people about whom they wished to speak in the course of the next two years. And so that, it just strikes me as necessary. Here’s one of the people I’ll bet has been there, and I’m hopeful he will enter the race. It’s Paul Ryan.

LA: Paul’s one of my, he’s a tremendous man. And his work, whether he runs for president or not, is among the most important work going on in the Republican Party.

HH: Agreed, but you know, he’s making noises like he’s not going to do it, and the door is not open often for people, is it, Larry Arnn?

LA: Well, he may be making those noises, but his friends have not hammered him, yet.

HH: Okay, well said. Rick Santorum must have been to Hillsdale.

LA: Oh, yeah, sure, and he’s a good guy. And I don’t think he’s a really great candidate, but God bless him, and he should get in. And here’s another thing. Everybody who might be a strong candidate ought to run, because it makes the race better.

HH: Yes, and that brings me to, you have to be very careful with this next one, because he could send the militia to surround the college, Rick Snyder, governor of Michigan.

LA: Yeah, okay, he’s a pretty good, he’s a good governor.

HH: Careful now, really, you could be completely occupied by the end of the day.

LA: Yeah, no, he’s good. And you know, he hasn’t been on the national stage, and one will find out a lot about him in a hurry when he gets there, like Kasich has, and you skipped over Mike Pence from Indiana.

HH: He’s not on my list, because I don’t think of him as running, because he has made no noises, yet.

LA: No, and he may. And he’s very good, and learned a lot from being governor, learning, he says, a lot from being governor. And he’s been on the national stage. So Snyder has not done that, and we’ll learn a lot when he does.

HH: John Thune is my penultimate name.

LA: Thune is a really great guy. And he looks right for the part, and he’s from a good state, because you know, he knows about pheasant hunting and stuff like that. And he’s super, and so I hope he runs.

HH: Has he been to the college? Has he been up there?

LA: Oh, yeah.

HH: Oh, yeah. All right, the last one on my list is Scott Walker.

LA: Yeah, I admire him very much. I know him pretty well. He’s not been to the campus, mostly because he’s been up to his ears in alligators every month since he’s been governor.

HH: Is it a bar not to have gone to college?

LA: Yeah, I’m sorry, what did you just say?

HH: It is a bar not to have gone to college?

LA: No.

HH: Oh, you said with contempt for a college president. I’m glad to hear you say that, because I agree with you. But some raise that against Governor Walker.

LA: Well, okay, but you know, George Washington, Winston Churchill and Abraham Lincoln…

HH: That’s a pretty good response. All right, so all that list, I’m enthusiastic. We have, by the way, 14 terrific Senate races open with people like Tom Cotton and Meade Treadwell, Bill Cassidy, Steve Daines, Thom Tillis, Terri Lynn Land in your own state, Shelley Moore Capito, Mike Rounds, others yet to be named in Colorado, New Hampshire, Oregon and Virginia. This is going to be a great year for American politics, Larry Arnn, if people stay focused on the biggest issues.

LA: Yeah, well, Tom Cotton is, you know, you talk about him all the time, but he’s a tremendous human being and a friend of mine, now, for getting on 20 years. And he’s awesome, and he’s going to contribute tremendous things to the American nation before he’s done. So yeah, it’s great to have him, and Meade Treadwell, I’ve known forever, and Steve Daines I know very well. And those are very talented people. That whole list you just named, it’s just refreshing and good. And in that list, there are many people who are thinking people. And as I say, the issues that are before us today cry out for a deep understanding of what the country is about and the alternatives that face it. And these are people who could talk about that.

HH: And that leaves us in an upbeat mood as the year comes to a conclusion. Let me thank you for a wonderful year of Hillsdale Dialogues. We begin with Constantine in the first week of the next year, but Dr. Larry Arnn, on behalf of everyone who listens and sends me the emails, thank you for spending time with us each week.

LA: Blessings on you, Hugh, and all your listeners.

HH: Happy New Year.

End of interview.

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