Each year in honor of Constitution Day, Sept. 17, the American Founding Initiative (AFI) hosts Constitution Day on campus. AFI, housed in the College of Social Sciences and Public Affairs, is dedicated to the specific principles of limited government, economic freedom and educating individuals on the principles of limited government, constitutionalism and classical liberalism.
Scott Yenor, director of American Founding Initiative, welcomed dozens of students, members of faculty and the public to the Fourth Annual Constitution Day celebration Tuesday in the Student Union Building.
“Our celebration of the Constitution is a perfect symbol for our governing predicament in the United States today. We first celebrate the Constitution because we are a free people and the constitution is the form of government that we have adopted based on reflection and choice,” Yenor said. “The constitution deserves our admiration for its effectiveness and endurance. And its endurance itself is a cause for wonder and it forces us to ask why has it endured.”
Yenor added, “the second reason (for celebrating the Constitution) is because we are forced to by law,” which amused the
Yenor went on to announce the evening’s inaugural speaker from Claremont Mckenna College, Charles R. Kesler, Ph.D., editor of the Claremont review of books that examines the arguments in contemporary books from the perspective of the principles of the american founders.
Kesler’s book, “I Am the Change: Barack Obama and the Crisis of Liberalism,” published in September is the basis for his speech.
“The title of my book might strike you as strange, ‘I am the Change.’ The title is meant to bring out Barack Obama’s Louis XIV side,” Kesler said. “Louis XIV is famous for supposedly saying, ‘I am the state.’ Obama never quite said I am the change but he came very close to saying that in a press conference between his election and his taking office in late 2007. It expressed the spirit of his administration which is that he is the vehicle for change who would pour his vision into the administration and into the living constitution of the day. There were other suggestions for the title of my book, my favorite was suggested by my friend…, ‘Barack Obama: What the Hell were we thinking?’ I suggested something different, ‘50 Shades of Barack Obama,’ I figured it would sell well.”
Yenor mentioned copies of Kesler’s book were available for sale, but cautioned, “Let us not miss the main course for the dessert,” as he welcomed Kesler on stage.
Kesler, a prominent conservative thinker and commentator, stepped up to the stage only to lament his lack of an empty chair next to him, “normally when I talk about Barack Obama I like to have an empty chair beside me,” Kesler said, “but we couldn’t arrange that tonight, someone stole my shtick.”
Kesler moved on rapidly, after the laughter subsided, to announce the main points of his speech; The differences between liberalism and conservatism including the difference between the two parties views of the constitution, with the conservative viewpoint of the constitution vs. the liberal viewpoint of the living constitution and where President Obama sits on the liberal scale.
Kesler put to bed accusations which have been made citing Obama as a socialist but instead drew a parallel between FDR and Obama, or rather about the way Obama thinks of himself, in relation to FDR and perhaps sees his presidency and administration as the new, new deal.
After Kesler’s identification of three main waves of liberalism he also made the claim Obama could very well be the fourth wave in a series.
The initial three are comprised of: 1. progressivism, associated with Woodrow Wilson when liberalism broke into politics 2. The new deal and Franklin D. Roosevelt and 3. the great society of the 1960’s and Lyndon B. Johnson.
“These are great periods of breakthrough and social change. Each wave set out to change the country,” Kesler said.
Parrish Miller, a political science major, currently taking a hiatus away from school appreciated the insights Kesler shared on how Obama sees himself. However, he doesn’t believe the current political climate will allow for Obama to make the level of change he would like to implement and be remembered for.
“If he was re-elected, not so much because of a second term but because of what that would indicate in terms of public acceptance he may be onto something, but again I don’t think Obama’s long term legacy will eclipse even L.B.J. in terms of movement from one side of the spectrum to the other,” Miller said.
However, regardless of Obama or Romney winning the upcoming election, it doesn’t change the fact, which Kesler pointed out, that Americans today have higher expectations of government and expect more than Americans have in the past 100, 50, or even 30 years, Kessler said. He spoke of a crisis in liberalism, not as an emergency that is about to befall, but uses crisis in an older more literal sense that a crisis is a turning point.
Kesler said liberalism is coming to a turning point in which it will either collapse, go out of business as a political ideology or it will have to become different and radicalize.
The crisis facing liberalism is identified by Kesler as the crisis of entitlement. Social and economic programs have grown so large that either benefits will have to be cut drastically or taxes must be raised to pay for these rights. Essentially people are in a position where they have to give the government more power so the people can receive more benefits. This is what Kesler referred to as the first rule of big government.
Although Kesler doesn’t see a dissolution of liberalism in the future he does foresee a period of increasingly bitter and fundamental conflict between the parties and the two different views of the constitution.
Sam Wonacott, junior economics major, and one of perhaps a large handful of students not in attendance for extra credit said, “My major criticism of the speech would be I think he overstated Obama’s radicalism,” said “What you see is Obama continue many of the Bush administration policies.”
In the next few decades it is Wonacott’s belief that many policies seen now as liberal will lose their liberal connotation as society moves forward.