A Conversation with Lynne Cheney

Recently Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) discussed rewriting the First Amendment and revising the Bill of Rights as a means for Congress and the states to regulate campaign spending. This is just one example that exemplifies the value of reading the former Second Lady Lynne Cheney’s latest book, James Madison: A Life ReconsideredAmerican Thinker had the privilege of interviewing her.

The brilliance of Madison’s principles, Cheney writes, is embodied in the protections provided to political speech by the First Amendment. He believed that the Federal government’s job was to protect people’s basic rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. This is in contrast to President Obama’s abuse of presidential authority through executive orders, and this Federal government’s overreach. Cheney noted to American Thinker, "Madison was the man who said we're a government of laws, not men. President Obama seems to be showing us that we can be a government of man and not laws.”

She chronicles in the book how Madison at first advocated for a strong central government, seeing the threat to liberty as coming from the states. Each state made its own money, forced merchants to accept this form of payment, and oppressed religious freedom. Cheney directly noted, “Madison witnessed Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton attempting to ignore the fact that the Constitution created a government of limited powers and chose instead to see it as a document that allowed Congress to do whatever its members concluded best for the general welfare. I don’t think he would like today’s expansion and intrusion by the Federal Government. Hopefully we will see in 2014, with the election of a Republican Senate, a difference.”

She further noted, “I point out in the book the most dangerous threat to liberty was not coming from the states, but from an overweening federal government. In this changed situation, Madison changed his mind. He decided the problem wasn’t a central government too weak, but one too strong. He spent the 1790s founding and building the first opposition political party to defeat those of the Hamiltonian persuasion. Along with Thomas Jefferson, Madison would found the first political party in the country’s history, the Democratic Republicans.”

The opposition party was a remedy and a solution to Madison for the overreach of the Federal Government. Cheney noted, “And that was a very unusual thing to do. Parties did not have such a good reputation then, just as they don't now. But it was a way to have a legitimate opposition and to combat the idea that the Constitution could mean whatever Alexander Hamilton wanted it to mean. The founding of this party ushered in an era of partisan politics that's easily as combative, cruel, mean and nasty as today. That political party led to an era of partisanship in the 1790s that's the equal of anything we have today.”

America’s Founding Fathers were not above the fray of politics, with even Dolly Madison being attacked. In the book, Cheney writes that Madison was portrayed as the “evil genius who debauched the president from his principles… Such an approach managed two things at once:  making the person blamed seem threatening while simultaneously making the president look weak.” Yet, Madison ignored the vicious and unpleasant contentiousness making sure that people understood that there was nothing wrong with opposing the government, and that such an act would not be seen as traitorous.

Gridlock is occurring today because of the “career politician.” It is too bad that the “Father of the Constitution,” James Madison, did not take a provision from the Articles of Confederation: term limits.  It restricted politicians from serving more than three terms, and had it been a part of the Constitution some political “lifers” might no longer be serving.  Yet, as Cheney told American Thinker, “Even though the Articles of Confederation were essentially thrown under the bus after the Constitution was written, Madison’s most important accomplishment was to establish the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.  He is responsible for the ideas and beliefs of this nation with a representative form of government.” 

Senator Schumer, President Obama, and many other political figures need to read James Madison: A Life Reconsidered to get an understanding of the overreaching of the Federal government. Cheney brilliantly explains Madison’s political philosophy and rationale for the union of states that he so eloquently presented in The Federalist, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. Americans should read it to learn why Madison advocated limited government and intellectual freedom as well as to make sure that government stays accountable to the people.

The author writes for American Thinker.  She has done book reviews, author interviews, and has written a number of national security, political, and foreign policy articles.