This past September, largely ignored amid the tumult of the election season, Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana quietly delivered an address at Hillsdale College. This address was not shown live on the cable nets, although it should have been. It was not reprinted in every newspaper throughout the country, although it should have been. Nor will it be sent to every student in America, although it should be.
Pence's subject was the presidency and the Constitution; how and why improper adherence to the Constitution by presidents has weakened the system of checks and balances given us in the Constitution. Presidents have forgotten or flatly ignored their role as an independent restraint on Congress, opting instead for an "unholy unity" that "has raged forward in a drunken expansion of powers and prerogatives, mistakenly assuming that to exercise power is by default to do good."
Pence vividly described the yield of such an arrangement: "In the Congress it presents itself in massive legislation, acts and codes thousands of pages long and so monstrously overcomplicated that no human being can read through them - much less understand them, much less apply them justly to a people that increasingly feel like they are no longer being asked, but rather told. Our nation finds itself in the position of a dog whose duty it is not to ask why - because the ‘why' is too elevated for his nature - but simply to obey."
A more succinct summation of the reason for last week's election results would be difficult to find. Our delusional president simultaneously claimed he was humbled by those results, yet steadfastly holds to the notion that his message simply has not registered among we dogs of ignorance. Because he is nothing more than a programmed ideologue convinced of his own greatness, this president is incapable of humility. Because he could not care less about anything than his own ambition, power, and prestige, he immediately (though no doubt humbly) flew abroad with an obscene entourage and without a care for the cost.
The American people have stated unequivocally with their petitions, their marches, and their votes that the presidency and the rest of government must be reined in. The aftermath of the 2008 election produced an awakening among an electorate that for too long has allowed the presidency to expand well beyond its limits. We have had enough of the self-righteous air of our president and his congressional lemmings. We have had enough of an ignorant segment of the electorate foisting upon us unwanted and unqualified people who are beneath the dignity of the office. Thanks to the shamelessness of the current administration, there is no longer a need to put forward someone of "star quality" or "buzz" to win back the presidency, to reorient our country to the Constitution. It only takes a person who believes in and can calmly, confidently campaign upon the message Pence delivered:
"The president is not our teacher, our tutor, our guide or ruler. He does not command us; we command him. We serve neither him nor his vision. It is not his job or his prerogative to redefine custom, law, and beliefs; to appropriate industries; to seize the country, as it were, by the shoulders or by the throat so as to impose by force of theatrical charisma his justice upon 300 million others. It is neither his job nor his prerogative to shift the power of decision away from them, and to him and the acolytes of his choosing."
In other words, Americans must avoid placing in the role of chief executive persons with Franklin Roosevelt's sense of indispensability, the dangerous hubris of Our American Caesar, Lyndon Johnson, the schoolmarm philosophy of Jimmy Carter, the dark paranoia of Richard Nixon, or the insatiable need for adoration of Bill Clinton.
Americans must turn away from our proclivity to treat the president as a high-ranking celebrity, a megastar before whom we must swoon because he appears on "The Daily Show" or the cover of Vanity Fair. Vanity Fair is Tiger Beat for Baby Boomers. Can you imagine Calvin Coolidge sitting for an Us Weekly photo shoot or tolerating such as Jon Stewart?
All of this is not to say that, because he wrote and delivered a truly great speech at Hillsdale, Mike Pence should be the frontrunner for the Republican nomination for president in 2012 (though it is not to say that he shouldn't). Rather it is to say that whomever the Republican Party nominates for president must wholeheartedly and publicly subscribe to and advance the ideals so eloquently and simply described by Pence. The next Republican nominee for president must be dignified, self-disciplined, and a champion of the fundamental precepts of the office and our republic. Hucksters need not apply.
As Pence said toward the end of his speech, "The presidency...has become symbolic of overreaching." If we the people choose wisely and thoughtfully, it can also become, again, symbolic of the restraint and probity our forefathers recommended. In its humility the presidency and the president who practices such humility can again become great. They can both again become what they were intended to become.
It also wouldn't hurt if the next president can throw a baseball.
(Excerpts from Rep. Pence's speech reprinted by permission from Imprimis, a publication of Hillsdale College)
Matthew May is the primary author of the forthcoming book Restoration: The God and Country Education Project. He welcomes comments at email@example.com