Real Crisis in Washington Is Constitutional

In the past year, the White House has talked about a health care crisis, an economic crisis, and an environmental crisis.

But Hillsdale College faculty member Dr. David Bobb is talking about a different crisis: a constitutional crisis.  And it’s one the college’s First Fridays lecture program in Washington, D.C., is determined to help solve.

The lecture program, which celebrates its one-year anniversary this week, generates discussions about the constitution and focuses on giving public policy a constitutional framework, which Bobb says has been neglected too often in Washington. The monthly morning series draws anywhere from 50 to 100 attendees per lecture according to Bobb, who is director at the college’s Allan P. Kirby, Jr. Center for Constitutional Studies and Citizenship in D.C.

“We really look at them as participants in a conversation, because that’s what we’ve tried to foster — a community of people who are interested in ideas,” Bobb said of the morning faithful.

The program kicked off with an inaugural talk last December by college president Dr. Larry Arnn, who will speak again this Friday on the topic of self-government and czarist bureaucracy. Arnn believes the First Fridays program has grown even more relevant in the past year.  

“So many people are frightened and angry at the same time, which is at once a sad spectacle and also an opportunity,” Arnn told HUMAN EVENTS in an e-mail. “If they are frightened about their personal security, and angry at the decline of the strength and independence of their country, these can be motives both to think and to work. We hope that we can help with the thinking part.”

Several of the lecturers come from the college faculty in Hillsdale, Mich., though the program has also featured speakers such as Stephen Moore of the Wall Street Journal. Bobb said one of the most well-received lectures was given in September by ambassador John Bolton.  Bolton talked about how limiting government makes it more powerful — not weak —  in protecting people’s rights and the nation’s borders.  

For Bobb, the program has been effective because he sees people in education, public policy, and on Capitol Hill getting ideas and sharing them with each other.  For those not in D.C. or who can’t make the 7:30 a.m. meeting time, the Kirby Center has started making podcasts of the lectures available (the center has also launched a new website where you can RSVP to attend the Friday lectures).

There’s also a sister endeavor at the Kirby Center known as the Madison Fellows program, run in partnership with the Heritage Foundation and the Federalist Society. According to Bobb, almost one hundred senior level congressional staffers have participated in the program, which requires fellows to attend a day of formal training where they turn off their BlackBerries and talk first principles and the constitution with Kirby Center, Heritage, and Federalist Society-affiliated faculty.

“They’re eager to do this because so much of their day is putting out fires. They’re dealing with the immediate.  And all to a person, they got into politics because of ideas,” Bobb said.  “What we’re really gratified to see is that there’s a strong core of staff members who are at a senior level who really care most about the Constitution.”

After the formal training, the Madison fellows try to meet monthly.  The meetings may include a guest lecturer who also spoke at the First Fridays program.

Arnn is confident the program will continue to maintain Hillsdale standards and integrity despite its satellite location.

“Most of us still live in Hillsdale, which means that we operate as we have ever done,” Arnn said. “The work in Washington is accomplished by people with close connections to the college in addition to the fact that they work for it now. And we conceive our work in Washington as a work of teaching. We have well established habits in pursuing that task.”

Visit the Kirby Center website for more information on Dr. Arnn’s lecture this Friday at the Heritage Foundation.