Constitutional discourse returns

Framework discussed with ‘newfound respect’

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As a city marked by both “power and forgetfulness,” the nation’s capital is an important place to discuss and honor the U.S. Constitution, according to Hillsdale College President Larry P. Arnn, marking the college’s third annual Constitution Day Celebration on Thursday.

“It’s always a good thing to talk about the Constitution and especially is it a good thing to talk about it here,” said Mr. Arnn at the Renaissance Hotel in the District, where the daylong event was hosted.

Speakers and panelists included former Commentary editor Norman Podhoretz and Randy E. Barnett, professor of legal theory at Georgetown University Law Center. According to conference staff, more than 400 guests were expected over the course of the day.

“Right now, people are talking about the Constitution, they’re talking about it in a new way and, to a certain degree, with a newfound respect,” said David J. Bobb, director and lecturer in politics at the school’s Washington-based Kirby Center for Constitutional Studies & Citizenship. “I think that we’re in a place where Americans still love that document and they love their country, but they can’t explain why. The purpose of today is to teach.”

Participants addressed various topics on the nation’s foundation document and how it remains relevant to the current political moment.

In the afternoon session, Charles R. Kesler, political scientist at Claremont McKenna College and author of “I Am the Change: Barack Obama and the Crisis of Liberalism,” described the history of liberalism in America, from President Wilson in 1912 through the Obama administration.

“It seems to me one has to begin by understanding Obama as he understands himself: as a liberal, as a progressive,” Mr. Kesler said. “Woodrow Wilson said something that in a way tells you all you need to know about the difference between liberalism and conservatism that the objective of college education ought to be to ‘make the sons as much unlike their fathers as possible.’”

This was the second year John Shadegg has attended the Constitution Day Celebration. The former GOP Arizona congressman, who now serves as distinguished scholar for Hillsdale College, said he believes that education about the past is necessary for the nation’s political and civic health.

“It is said, and I believe accurately, that those who forget history are doomed to repeat it,” he said, adding that he found constitutional education in his children’s schools singularly lacking. “The founders of this nation wrote a Constitution that is stunningly different than [other] countries.

“In our founding documents, we said that people are sovereign and they lend power to the government. I think that this day is an important reminder to the tens of millions of Americans who have forgotten what makes America different and, I would argue, what makes America great.”

Michigan-based Hillsdale, founded in 1844, established the Kirby Center in the heart of Washington to help expand the institution’s reach.

“The point of Hillsdale being in Washington is not to lobby,” Mr. Bobb said. “We’re not a think tank, but we are standing in the gap for constitutional principles.”

At their second Constitution Day event, alumni Kathryn and Dean Melchi of Columbus, Ohio, said they usually find they do less reuniting with former classmates and more meeting new people.

“It’s an interesting mix because Hillsdale’s reach has changed so dramatically,” Mr. Melchi said. “With only 1,200 or 1,400 students, the alumni population is not that large. Hillsdale has, in the last 10 years, reached out to such a broad audience.”

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