HH: It’s the last hour of the radio week, and that means, of course, from the Hillsdale studios in the Kirby Center, I am talking with Dr. Larry Arnn, president of Hillsdale College, www.hillsdale.edu. And it is the hour in which we usually plumb the depths of greatness in the West. But this week instead, we have to talk about the State of the Union, because even though it wasn’t the greatness of the West, Dr. Arnn, it was significant. In fact, the most significant part, I think, is that it’s Paul Ryan’s first State of the Union address on the podium, long may he be there.
LA: Yeah, he, I watched him a lot during the thing, and he looked placid. I wouldn’t say he looked enthusiastic.
HH: Well, very restrained. But I said to a New York Times writer this morning, I hope he’s up there for 20 years, whether he is vice president, president or the speaker. I’ll take any of those three chairs for him for the next many years.
LA: Yeah, yeah, they’ve, I’m talking to the Republican retreat tomorrow, so in Baltimore, and I look forward to it, because there’s some energy there, I think and hope.
HH: I, for the benefit of the audience, I was with Dr. Arnn on Monday when a number of Republicans were at the Kirby Center that Hillsdale College operates. And we went back and forth, and the greatest satisfaction I have had in a long time is that one of Dr. Arnn’s former students thought that it was remarkable that I spoke more than Dr. Arnn did. I thought that was great.
LA: Silly boy.
LA: He’s an important man, now, but he’s a student of mind. And they’re getting old enough now that they sort of count coup on me, sometimes in public, and it’s just fulfilling and disturbing, so…
HH: (laughing) That’s actually, count coup, that’s a very, very funny, that’s true. They do. And there are many of them. You’re surrounded, buddy, after 20 years.
LA: I know. And they’re becoming very capable now, right? So they like take care of me the way they might their grandfather, and that is they humor me.
HH: But I hadn’t realized they’re like legion, and they’re surrounded. You can’t walk down the street without a Hillsdale grad coming at you. Well, let’s go after the substance, thin though it might be, of the speech. I’ve got to begin with this cut, because you are the president of wonderful Hillsdale College, cut number one:
BO: We should recruit and support more great teachers for our kids. And we have to make college affordable for every American. No hard-working student should be stuck in the red. We’ve already reduced student loan payments by, to 10% of a borrower’s income, and that’s good. But now, we’ve actually got to cut the cost of college. Providing two years of community college at no cost for every responsible student is one of the best ways to do that, and I’m going to keep fighting to get that started this year. It’s the right thing to do.
HH: Now the reason I begin with this, Dr. Arnn, is here you are, you’re the president of a college, and the president of the United States, who has no authority over you whatsoever, about your tuition, is telling you you’ve got to cut the cost of your college.
LA: Yeah, well, our college is expensive and cheap. It costs us a lot, but it doesn’t cost the students a lot. It costs your listeners a lot, because they’re generous with the college. And sure enough, it’s a great idea for kids to get, first of all, it’s a great idea for kids to get an education that builds their intellect and their character. And that’s not cheap if you do it at a high level. But it’s a great idea for them to do it at the lowest affordable cost. But what has he got to do with that?
HH: I know. It’s amazing.
LA: Is he proposing wage and price controls? And the answer is yes.
HH: Yes. Yes, he is. He is proposing, and Hillsdale College, for the benefit of anyone who has been living in a cave, accepts no federal money of any sort in order to be free of dictates from the bosses at the Department of Education. And nevertheless, the President just gets out there and tells you what to do, Larry Arnn. You are not, in fact, the captain of your own ship or your own college.
LA: Well, one doesn’t think so, but we, you know, we fight for that. And the jury’s out on whether or not he can actually gain control of every private institution in the country. But the tendency is that way.
HH: Oh, it is. In fact, I want to play this next cut with that thought in mind, cut number two:
BO: What was true then can be true now. Our unique strengths as a nation, our optimism and work ethic, our spirit of discovery, our diversity, our commitment to rule of law, these things give us everything we need to ensure prosperity and security for generations to come.
HH: Dr. Arnn, what makes us a unique nation is that we were the first to have a written Constitution. He said so many things that sounded like he believed that, but he doesn’t really believe that that’s what makes us a unique nation.
LA: Well, there’s a good fact-checking thing at the site of the Heritage Foundation. People should go look, too, because there’s a lot of facts that he goes into there. But we can talk about the bit whoppers. And you know, innovation and central planning are not the same thing.
LA: And so there’s lots of salutes to innovation. He talks about solar power, and solar power is, true enough, getting cheaper. And it might even become economic, and I pray that it does. But that’ll be because a bunch of people invented stuff. And he’ll say it’s because the government subsidized it. But look at the story of fracking, because you know that, I happen to know this, because I know a guy who ran Helmerich and Payne, a really great big oil drilling company. Fracking was a government project in the beginning, the shale oil project in the Nixon administration. And they finally closed it, because they couldn’t make it economic. And then there’s an employee, and I can’t remember the name or the company, but it’s one of the big companies, Exxon or somebody, and this guy decided to stay on it for 20 years, and the company let him, and he was a lone guy. And one by one, he solved the problems, and fracking became economic. Well, that’s, isn’t there a lesson in that?
LA: You know, I mean, he’s worried about robots. How do they come to be?
LA: Some guys that build labs, you know, invented a transistor. And then thousands of people having very great insight have one by one by one put that technology in place, and that’s how things work, isn’t it?
HH: Well, he has a different vision. In fact, it sums up in this next cut, cut number three, his vision of how things work, which is so upside down, cut number three:
BO: In fact, it turn out many of our best corporate citizens are also our most creative, and this brings me to the second big question we as a country have to answer. How do we reignite that spirit of innovation to meet our biggest challenges? 60 years ago, when the Russians beat us into space, we didn’t deny Sputnik was up there. We didn’t argue about the science or shrink our research and development budget. We built a space program almost overnight, and 12 years later, we were walking on the Moon.
HH: And so he wants people to draw a conclusion, Dr. Larry Arnn, from that, that the government leads successfully in every problem that it confronts.
LA: Yeah, and that’s, you know, the old saw that was popular in the second administration of George W. Bush, that after the Sputnik, we passed the Higher Education Act, and that’s how we got to the Moon. That’s a very common thing to hear said.
LA: But it’s silly, because 12 years after the Higher Education Act, and 10 years, sorry, 12 years after the Sputnik, and 10 years after the first federal money started going to colleges for general purposes, a lot of it, by the way, not for people who were engineers and physicists, we landed on the Moon. So long does it take to go to college and then get a graduate degree? And were all those guys who put the Moon project together, were they all two years out of graduate school?
LA: So the truth is it just doesn’t have anything to do with that, right? I mean…
HH: But that, but it’s such a beautiful bit of sophistry…
LA: Isn’t it?
HH: …because it makes you believe that that is in fact cause and effect.
LA: And see, it’s not, it is true, by the way, that a lot of good things for the economy have come from the military, and from the space program. It’s not like it’s simply, what would you put it, sterile processes. It’s not at all. It’s just that the government is so big now, it’s half the economy. And its method is rules and plans and centralized authority, with authority, by the way, in people who are not innovators themselves. And so at this scale, especially where everything is to be done that way, then it stifled the process. And there’s signs that it is stifled in America. For example, I learned from the Heritage Foundation today, because they sent out something today that gains in productivity are down in the Obama years.
LA: Isn’t it?
HH: Interesting. Yeah, it is, and because what we have to argue, and it’s a difficult argument to make, is that there are some things that only the government can do, and that’s why we have a government. And one of those things is the military defense of the Continental United States and getting to the Moon. But that does not empower them or even make them very good. It’s just that they are the only people that can do them.
LA: So I, here’s a guide. I looked up today, I love to do things like this, I looked up George Washington’s 8th State of the Union message and compared it to Obama’s 8th. Obama’s is about three times as long. The 8th is George Washington’s longest. Here are the subjects it discusses. Relations with the Indians, as they were called then, a treaty with Britain, a treaty with Spain, a treaty with Algiers and Tunis having to do with the Barbary Pirates, the Navy, buying things for the military, but making sure not to interfere with the prominence of private manufacturing, and then support for education. And after the break, I’ll tell you how he wanted to do that.
HH: Don’t go anywhere, America, it’s Hugh Hewitt with Dr. Larry Arnn on the Hillsdale Dialogue.
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HH: When we went to break, Dr. Arnn was reviewing George Washington’s last State of the Union. I’d like you to restart that for the benefit of people who just walked in and didn’t hear your comparison between the two, President Washington and President Obama’s last, eighth State of the Union address.
LA: Yeah, and they’re, Washington’s are all the same, by the way. You can go read them, and they always concern Constitutional subjects. And when they don’t, they concern government support for, and always small, for things that are private that are good for the country, with an effort not to supplant the private things. So there’s relations with the Indians, treaty with Britain, treaty with Spain, treaty with the countries that the Barbary Pirates came from, the Navy. Then, he says we’re going to have to buy a lot of stuff, and make sure we can make a lot of stuff so our military can be strong. But we’ve got to be careful not to supplant private manufacturing. We’ve got to encourage and support that, not take over it. Then, he says, he wants to give premiums for people who invent things in agriculture, and he mentions that they should be small. And then he says, and then he has a big plan in education. And this is kind of a lifelong plan with George Washington. And he wanted to start a military academy, which he did, West Point. And he wanted to start a national university. He actually left his largest bequest outside his family for the founding of such a thing. And there’s some idea of the curriculum, which is of course very different from the curriculum of most colleges today, but not, I’m happy to say, my own. And it’s an interesting fact about this thing, because Washington, and then Adams and Jefferson and Madison, and then Monroe, all tried to get that thing funded. And they were all told by the Congress that it wasn’t Constitutional. And of course, the Congress was speaking to the makers of the Constitution.
HH: Yes. (laughing)
HH: But they took their Article I power very seriously, didn’t they?
LA: They did, though, didn’t they? It was very good. And so if you just read Washington’s, they’re full of restraint. They’re at least as full of hope as Obama at his best can be. You know, Washington swelled at the thought of the great nation we were building. And remember, we built that nation, we talk about how complex the times are. The population of the United States and the land area of the United States increased by orders of magnitude in the first hundred years of the Union. And the government kept up with that, and didn’t grow in scope or size nearly as fast as that, and didn’t grow in scope at all.
HH: And did not lose touch with its people, nor the organization of the necessary order. It did not fall apart.
LA: That’s right, and it depended so much, like the, you know, so my favorite piece of legislation in history is either the Northwest Ordinance or the Homestead Act. The Homestead Act gave away 10% of the land area of the United States to private parties, about two and a half million of them. And it did it in a law that is 1,320 words long. And you know, one of the things I’m going to say to the Republicans tomorrow, Nikki Haley, in her very excellent response, made the point that Republicans have to own their part in this transformation of our government, which Obama intends to continue. It’s plain from his speech last night. And I think that’s very true, because until we get back to the art of making simple laws at the federal level that are actually made by the people who are elected to make them, then we won’t have a government that we can control.
HH: Very, very well said. Let me play for you the most disturbing thing he said last night, Dr. Arnn, to me, at least, cut number nine:
BO: Our foreign policy has to be focused on the threat from ISIL and al Qaeda. But it can’t stop there. For even without ISIL, even without al Qaeda, instability will continue for decades in many parts of the world. In the Middle East, in Afghanistan, and parts of Pakistan, in parts of Central America and Africa and Asia, some of these places may become safe havens for new terrorist networks. Others will just fall victim to ethnic conflict or famine, feeding the next wave of refugees. The world will look to us to help solve these problems. And our answer needs to be more than tough talk, or calls to carpet bomb civilians. That may work as a TV soundbite, but it doesn’t pass muster on the world stage. We also can’t try to take over and rebuilt every country that falls into crisis, even if it’s done with the best intentions. That’s not leadership. That’s a recipe for a quagmire, spilling American blood and treasure that ultimately will weaken us. It’s the lesson of Vietnam. It’s the lesson of Iraq, and we should have learned it by now.
HH: So Larry Arnn, this is where Bill Ayers was ghostwriting, and the inner Obama is revealed as the anti-Vietnam 60s radical sprung back with a generational shift. It was remarkable.
LA: Yeah, yeah, it, you know, first of all, omissions in this section of the speech are glaring.
LA: And ISIS is located, it’s based, its headquarters are in southern Iraq, and that’s the Iraq that Obama left. And if there had been two or three thousand American troops in that part of the world, that might have stopped that from forming. Also, I read that the ISIS leadership is, many of them are generals from the Republican Guard, where we didn’t finish, you know, we had the Republican Guard trapped against a river in middling, in Eastern Iraq, and we stopped the fight and let them go.
HH: Yeah, in 1991.
LA: Yeah, that’s right. And so, yeah, what are the lessons of Vietnam? It’s a fact that Winston Churchill didn’t want to get involved in Vietnam. He thought if you go to a place that’s a jungle place and you fight proxies of theirs with your own troops, that’s a bad strategic calculus. So there’s something to that argument, right? But if you do go and do that, and win, and don’t finish the job, as we did in both Vietnam and Iraq, that’s a worse strategic folly.
HH: That’s exactly what I, I looked up and said my God, he’s got it exactly wrong. The lesson of Vietnam and Iraq is if you win, don’t give it back.
LA: Yeah, and see, they’re, you know, I would favor, have favored a Middle Eastern strategy that relies more on our allies, and doesn’t try to build free governments in the middle of tribal warfare. And I do favor that very much right now. And having said that, though, you’ve got to give it to the George W. Bush administration, that they got a lot done there, and it was an act of courage to do the surge. And then we gave away the benefits of that.
HH: We lost the peace, yeah. I’ll be right back.
LA: And that’s just amazing.
HH: Dr. Larry Arnn is my guest from Hillsdale College, www.hughforhillsdale.com for all of the Hillsdale Dialogues.
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HH: We are reviewing the substance and the specifics of President Obama’s last State of the Union address. He referred to Abraham Lincoln, about whom very few people in this country know more than my guest, Dr. Larry Arnn. Let’s listen to that clip, cut number 13:
BO: It’s one of the few regrets of my presidency, that the rancor and suspicion between the parties has gotten worse instead of better. I have no doubt a president with the gifts of Lincoln or Roosevelt might have better bridged the divide. And I guarantee I’ll keep trying to be better, so long as I hold this office. But my fellow Americans, this cannot be my task, or any president’s, alone. There are a whole lot of folks in this chamber, good people, who would like to see more cooperation, would like to see a more elevated debate in Washington, but feel trapped by the imperatives of getting elected, by the noise coming out of your base. I know. You’ve told me. It’s the worst-kept secret in Washington. And a lot of you aren’t enjoying being trapped in that kind of rancor. But that means if we want a better politics, and I’m addressing the American people now, if we want a better politics, it’s not enough just to change a congressman or change a senator, or even change a president. We have to change the system to reflect our better selves. I think we’ve got to end the practice of drawing our Congressional districts so that politicians can pick their voters, and not the other way around.
HH: We could spend hours on this segment alone, Dr. Arnn, but what do you make of his summoning of Lincoln and FDR, and his asserting that he has few regrets, which is really the opposite of humility.
LA: Well, he, first of all, he has, in recent weeks, referred to people who opposed his action on immigration as shameful and un-American.
LA: And that’s strong talk. In the height of the Civil War, Lincoln was reserved about his criticism of the Confederacy and its leaders. And for example, one of the strongest things he said is the beautiful thing. It is strange that some men should pray to a just God that they may wring their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces. But he acknowledged them as praying people. So that’s one thing. The second thing is you can’t say that Lincoln is your example for radical innovation, because Lincoln did write as our case is new, so we must think anew. That’s in his annual message to Congress in December of 1862. But Lincoln is the man who believes that the laws of nature and of nature’s God are abiding truth, always and everywhere judges of all human action, and that the Constitution of the United States is the legal expression of them, and must be upheld and respected at all cost. And if you’re going to isolate the great themes of Abraham Lincoln’s life, those are they.
LA: And so like Lincoln suspended the Writ of Habeas Corpus in 1861 right after he was inaugurated, to save the state of Maryland from going to the Confederacy. Then, the Capitol would be surrounded. So he gets Congress reconvened, and he justifies that in a long argument, and then he asked them to ratify that, you see? So when he takes an expansive view of his powers at a time when the Union is cracking up, he then goes to the competent legislative authority and asks them to support him. And they have the option not to do that. And this is not the same.
HH: Oh, it’s so far removed. Rather, not only non-personal humility, but institutional humility is absent from these seven years, and that is really a necessary ingredient in Constitutional order.
LA: There were good passages in this speech, by the way. You know, I will confess to you, I liked it better than I have liked most of them, which is saying something of some meaning. But on the other hand, you know, he says we’re fighting to keep the internet open, right? Well, it’s been more heavily regulated in his administration than ever. And in his first term, his regulatory czar called that, Cass Sunstein, has called for requirements that people recognize opposing remarks on each individual website. And if they won’t do it, we will give them the famous nudge.
HH: Yeah, the nudge theory.
LA: So those things, you know, if you’re going to make a case that you’re standing up for the rule of law, you should admit the charges against you and say why they don’t fit.
HH: Very well said.
LA: But you don’t get that from him ever.
HH: Ever. I’ll be right back with more from Dr. Larry Arnn. Stay tuned.
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HH: We have spent three segments talking about the President’s speech. I don’t want to allow the hour to pass, without in our last segment here, talking about Nikki Haley and the Governor of South Carolina’s response. Let me play two clips from them, Dr. Arnn, cut number 15:
NH: Barack Obama’s election as president seven years ago broke historic barriers and inspired millions of Americans. As he did when he first ran for office, tonight, President Obama spoke eloquently about grand things. He’s at his best when he does that. Unfortunately, the President’s record has often fallen far short of his soaring words. As he enters his final year in office, many Americans are still feeling the squeeze of an economy too weak to raise income levels. We’re feeling a crushing national debt, a health care plan that has made insurance less affordable, and doctors less available, and chaotic unrest in many of our cities. Even worse, we are facing the most dangerous terrorist threat our nation has seen since September 11th. And this president appears unwilling or unable to deal with it.
HH: And then, she added this, cut number 16:
NH: Today, we live in a time of threats like few others in recent memory. During anxious times, it can be tempting to follow the siren call from the angriest voices. We must resist that temptation. No one who is willing to work hard, abide by our laws, and love our traditions should ever feel unwelcome in this country.
HH: Now Dr. Arnn, about this speech, there has been much controversy. I was on ABC listening to it live, didn’t hear any anti-Donald Trump rhetoric in that, but many people did. And in fact, Nikki Haley said one of the angriest voices she was referring do, on the Today show, or the following morning on the Today show, was Donald Trump. What did you make of her, generally? Specifically, what did you make of that comment about angriest voices?
LA: Well, first of all, I thought she was superb.
LA: She’s really good. She should, you know, the traditions of America, by the way, begin with a radical revolution that stated universal and eternal principles. So I like to talk about American principles. I think that’s a better term, and the institutions that gave rise to them. About the angry voices, first of all, you know, Donald Trump doesn’t seem angry to me. I mean, for one thing, he’s hilarious.
LA: And so I don’t know. His methodology about immigration is like his methodology about free trade. He says the boldest, dynamite thing first, and then he qualifies it to make it more moderate. And that generates spectacular headlines, which he may very well understand, but it makes him weak with the independents. And I don’t know whether he could campaign successfully in front of them or not. But if he doesn’t, he won’t get elected president, and probably won’t get the nomination. So you know, I do know a lot of Republicans are very disturbed about Donald Trump, and I think what they ought to be doing instead is learning what’s good in him, and there are some things, and then try to beat him. And then, you’ll have a real contest. And we’re beginning to get that, I think, too.
HH: And when I was listening, and I heard her say that, I thought she was talking specifically. Now I stand corrected. On the Today show the day after, she said yeah, one of the angrier voices is Donald Trump, and I agree with you, he’s wildly entertaining, and I don’t think of him as angry. I think of a lot of his supporters as being particularly angry. They do attack anyone online whom they believe to be not of the true faith with a vengeance that the Inquisition might have had a tutorial from. Nevertheless, he his himself not angry, and I don’t think she was talking about the same thing when she was asked that question on the Today show. It’s an interesting time, Larry Arnn.
HH: And she gave a great speech in response to a vacuous one.
LA: She did. And see, here’s, the thing about immigration, the worst thing, I wish these guys running for president would say it, and maybe they will. The question presented by immigration as it’s run right now in America is the fundamental question in politics. In Aristotle, the good regimes of the various kinds all serve the people. And the bad regimes serve the rulers. So just think about immigration. The question is do the people pick the government, or does the government pick the people? And that’s what’s going on, right? I mean, there’s a very large group of people who are in the country illegally, and they’re a political football, because both sides tend to think they’re going to vote for one side, right?
HH: The Democrats. Yup, yup.
LA: And so it’s all wrapped up with that. And I think Obama would do a very good thing, a presidential thing, if he would talk about that and give assurance about that.
HH: Yeah, but he won’t. In fact, last night, he did the opposite, or not last night, on the State of the Union night, when he said he wants to take away political redistricting from the traditionally representative bodies that have controlled it, and give it to the progressive-minded, non-partisan technocrats, which is in fact code for let us gerrymander with a gloss into Democratic majorities everywhere.
LA: Yeah, see, that, and one fears that. The same stuff about the internet, the same stuff about campaign finance funding, right? All those big bills that regulate campaign finance are fought out on partisan lines. And so unions are allowed to give a lot, and they give more than any other single group, especially public employee unions, and corporations, they want to restrict them, see? And all of that means, and that’s very sensitive in a free country, because the only means in this purely representative form, which is the first one ever made, that we have of controlling the government, is through elections. And how elections are regulated is therefore very sensitive. And that means that these, just like immigration, these questions of voter ID, and these questions of campaign spending limits, I mean, God, the McCain-Feingold, part of the way through, still had a provision in it that made it illegal to criticize a candidate for office 90 days in advance of an election by many groups that give in politics.
HH: I know. It was remarkable. In fact, you’re going down to talk to the Republican retreat, and I hope you remind them that one of the great champions of free speech in this country is Mitch McConnell, because he always knew this.
HH: 45 seconds, Larry Arnn, he always defended free speech.
LA: That’s how I got to know him, and I don’t think nearly as ill of him as most people. I like him.
HH: I like him a lot.
LA: And I respect him greatly for that.
LA: And yeah, and see, remember, one of the things that appeals in Trump is that he is whole-heartedly and unashamedly that the purpose of the government of the United State is to serve its citizens.
HH: Yeah, well said, as usual. Dr. Larry Arnn, good luck at the Republican retreat, and in energizing our Article I muscles. And we will talk again next week on the next Hillsdale Dialogue. Stay tuned, America.
End of interview.