Join Roger Ream ’76 in this week’s Liberty + Leadership Podcast as he speaks with John Hood, President of the John William Pope Foundation. Roger and John discuss John’s transformation from journalist to think tank president to philanthropist. They explore John’s leadership in rejuvenating the core concepts of American conservatism and the importance of Freedom Conservatism principles and the statement that he was instrumental in formulating. John also shares his insight about the importance of personal responsibility, civility and the critical role of arts and cultural programs in American society.
John Hood is President of the John William Pope Foundation and serves on the board of the John Locke Foundation, a state policy think tank he founded in 1989. As a journalist, John wrote extensively about politics and public policy for several North Carolina newspapers and penned a syndicated column that appeared in more than 40 papers across the state. John authored seven nonfiction books and two historical-fantasy novels, “Mountain Folk” and “Forest Folk.” He is also a contributing editor at Reason Magazine.
John was previously a Bradley Fellow with The Heritage Foundation and currently teaches at Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy. He received his undergraduate degree at UNC Chapel Hill and his master’s degree at UNC-Greensboro.
The transcript below is lightly edited for clarity.
Roger Ream [00:00:00] Hello and welcome. I’m Roger Ream and this is the Liberty + Leadership Podcast, a conversation with TFAS alumni, supporters, faculty and friends who are making a real impact in public policy, business, philanthropy, law and journalism. Today, I’m excited to be joined by John Hood, president of the John William Pope Foundation. We’ll be discussing several topics, but especially a project aimed at clarifying and revitalizing the principles of American conservatism during a time of intellectual and political upheaval on the right. One outcome of this was a statement of Freedom Conservative principles. This document offers a vision of how our country can come together behind a shared vision that promotes human flourishing and individual freedom. John, I’m looking forward to exploring this effort that you’re helping to lead that would restore a commitment to individual freedom and limited government on the right. Thank you so much for joining me today.
John Hood [00:01:05] You’re certainly welcome. Thanks for having me.
Roger Ream [00:01:07] Why don’t you start by giving our listeners a little background on your career. You’ve been what I would probably describe as a public intellectual and a journalist, and now you serve as president of a large private foundation located in Raleigh, North Carolina, I should add. I think that’s a fair and accurate description but could you tell us a little more about your career prior to your current position?
John Hood [00:01:32] Sure. When I went off to college, I have a identical twin brother and we went off to college and we had vague notions of what we were going to do. But primarily we had an interest in the performing arts. We quickly realized there was no money in that. So, my brother wisely went into the law and I unwisely chose journalism as the alternative, which paid even less. But anyway, while I was in college, one of the things I did was work on some student publications. I started my own. This was at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and in that context, I started to interact with the larger movement outside of my home state of North Carolina. For example, when I was on the debate team, when we were traveling around the country, I was looking for good arguments to make, and I was scouring the library and I happened on a magazine I hadn’t read before, which was Reason Magazine. I’d grown up reading National Review and Human Events, but I had not been exposed to Reason until college. So, all of these things came together. I actually ended up doing a tour at Reason Magazine as an intern and became a contributing editor. While I was in college, I also worked for newspapers in my home state. I liked working more than I like reading about someday working, and so I sometimes would even cut class to cover city councils and county commissions and things like that. So, I spent a little time, even when I was in college, working in newspapers, started a syndicated column for a couple of newspapers that I was writing news stories for, and I still write that syndicated column to this day. So, I’ve been writing it since 1986. It runs in about 40, 45 newspapers in North Carolina. And when I got out of college, got my first job, went back to Washington, where I had done some internships and educational sessions and went to work for The New Republic. This was when Fred Barnes and Morton Kondracke, who were among the senior editors, and those were the two men that I worked for specifically. I did some reporting for them, for their magazine pieces and other things they did. And I also worked with them to prep them for their appearances on The McLaughlin Group, which was the first time I got into television, something I did later in life. So after I spent some time there, I went back to North Carolina, helped start a state policy think tank called the John Locke Foundation and a magazine called Carolina Journal. I started doing TV shows in North Carolina, TV and radio shows. So, you’re right. I spent most of my career as a think tank president, as a radio, TV, print, commentator about politics and policy, wrote a fair amount for national publications like National Review and Reason and wrote some books. And I spent much of my career in that vein. Almost a decade ago, though, I started talking to the head of the John William Pope Foundation, which was a grantmaking foundation that had been instrumental in founding the John Locke Foundation and some of the other projects that we had founded since in North Carolina and beyond. And Art Pope, who’s the chairman of the foundation, asked me to come around the other side of the table. So, I spent most of my career begging for money, and now I write checks. But I still do a lot of the other things, I still write my column and I still work in a toil in some of the vineyards of the free market and conservative movements. And so that’s kind of my short version of my story. I’ve never quite got the performing bug out of my system, in addition to the fact that I still speak and do performative things. I also continue to teach tap dancing. So that’s pretty much me in a nutshell.
Roger Ream [00:05:19] All right, that’s great. You mentioned a few things there that I want to just mention in passing mostly, and that is you mentioned Fred Barnes, who’s a longtime trustee of The Fund for American Studies and a good friend. I had lunch with him just last week. Great, great journalist. And I should not hesitate to mention we’re using the studio of Reason Magazine today in their new office off DuPont Circle. So, I want to express my gratitude to Reason Magazine for letting us use the studio here. And the Carolina Journal, I should say, I get the Carolina Journal and see your column regularly. So, I enjoy reading it, even though sometimes it’s focused very much on North Carolina, but not always, often not. And it’s great you’ve kept that up and continue to write. Now, just a question too about the John William Pope Foundation. I guess in the interest of full disclosure, I mentioned you support our education, some of our educational programs that The Fund for American Studies, which we’re very grateful for, but I had the opportunity to go down now, must have been a dozen years ago to your great anniversary gala in Raleigh. And I learned a lot more about the foundation than I knew at the time. The great work you do, not just in supporting the ideas of a free and prosperous country, but the work you do in North Carolina, in the area of social philanthropy, of working with nonprofits in that area, is just remarkable as well. I think at that dinner you donated the proceeds to help people coming out of prison, as I recall, and getting job skills to find jobs. What is the John William Pope Foundation focused on today?
John Hood [00:07:03] Well, we were founded in 1986, the Pope family, John William Pope, the patriarch of the family, and then our Pope, his son, who’s currently the chairman or in the retail business. And so, they came out of a very competitive business. They have hundreds of stores around the country and they also have a passionate interest in North Carolina and in the places specifically where they’re from. So, our philanthropy, as is appropriate, fulfills donor intent by directing our funds into four different categories. Real quick, they’re public policy, North Carolina and beyond. They’re education, particularly higher education, that’s largely in the Carolinas, that we also fund organizations like The Fund for American Studies that do work on many campuses across the country or draw from many campuses to Washington or other places where programing occurs. Our third category is entirely restricted to just a few parts of our state that we’re from. That’s human services. So, you’re right. We fund soup kitchens, homeless shelters, addiction treatment, job training, a variety of other programs aimed at rectifying the difficulties that people have to succeed in a free and open society. We believe that everyone is benefited when we have the right policy infrastructure. We protect freedom and the delivery of basic public goods and all the things that we talk about in our public policy grantees work on. But we also believe that human beings have agency, they have choice, they make choices. We can help them make better choices. We can help people who make poor choices, learn from them and do better. And we look for programs that marry a belief that everyone has value and worth and dignity and something to contribute with personal responsibility. Ask people for something. We need help for something and it is part of that process. It isn’t just a handout. This is the traditional shibboleth. But it’s true. You don’t just want to give a handout. You want to give a hand up. In fact, that organization that you referred to that was the beneficiary of our anniversary event was called Step Up. And it is indeed a program aimed at providing a variety of interventions to help people make better decisions, be able to present themselves, learn skills, practice those skills. We think virtue is something that isn’t just a singular choice. It’s a series of choices. It’s behaviors, isn’t it? I mean, all the things that we learn from our mom and our grandma and society in general about being responsible and productive adults has to do with habits. Practicing things over and over and over again. So, we think that that’s what’s one of the principles that guides our human services giving. And finally, our fourth category, which as I mentioned particularly have a personal interest, is the arts we give to arts and cultural programs from the Carolina Ballet to the Museum of History or the Museum of Art to a variety of other institutions in our state. We believe that we are better public policy grant makers because we also come in alongside organizations that work in the trenches of making people’s lives better. And we think that we are better grant makers to humanitarian relief and human services programs and arts programs because we have a certain set of principles that we believe should guide not just private life, but public life. And as we do good work and our grantees accomplish things in the public policy sphere, we think that helps us better understand some of the problems we’re dealing with as a grant maker closer to home.
Roger Ream [00:10:47] Well, that response to my question could be transcribed and appear as your next column, John. I thought that was just such a great recitation, really, of the Tocquevillian role of civil society, of nonprofit organizations, of the voluntary sector in stepping up and dealing with problems effectively so that people aren’t turning to government agencies which don’t have that same approach of trying to deal with the underlying cause of a problem and instead often just dish out money. And I think this brings us to the statement of principles that has been called the Freedom Conservative Statement, because that too tries to stress the importance of not just political freedom, freedom to act, but also the importance of virtue of moral habits, of civil society, kind of the synthesis of two that are needed. Sometimes the word fusion’s use. Some people would say maybe there’s a tension between the two, but let’s talk some about that. As far as I know, you can tell me if I’m wrong, but you kind of really coined that phrase, Freedom Conservative in a piece you wrote. And could you illuminate a little bit about kind of what you were hoping to capture with that phrase, Freedom Conservative? Before we talk about the actual principles.
John Hood [00:12:13] Certainly. It is certainly the case that we at the Pope Foundation, a lot of my allies around my state, around the country are unabashed about calling ourselves fusionists. Not sure it’s a useful political label. That’s why we chose Freedom Conservatism, and I’ll explain that in a moment. But we do believe although the term fusion is not so great, the concept is really important. One of my mentors, I did the National Journalism Center Program back in the eighties when I was a college student. So, one of my mentors was Stan Evans, who I had first gotten to know his byline as a ten year old, reading his columns in Human Events, eventually got to meet him at many points in my early career. I asked Stan first for advice, most of which consisted of “don’t ever come back to Washington,” which I wasn’t going to anyway. But I mean, he was, as you might know, he was very, very strongly advocate of conservatives coming perhaps to Washington, like to his programing or other organizations and learning things, but then going and doing what he did, be the editor of a newspaper in Indianapolis or in my case, doing journalism in North Carolina, that was what he advised me. But the other thing that I got from Stan was an understanding of this concept of the politics of freedom and the politics of virtue or order, not just being two separate things that you have to build a coalition out of, but actually being mutually reinforcing. In fact, if you’ll allow me, let me just quote something Stan said. He wrote, “the traditionalist and libertarian strands in conservative thought are congruent instead of contradictory.” It’s one of the reasons he didn’t like the term fusion, because it suggests you take these two different separate metals and you kind of meld them together. And his argument is that’s not really what liberty and virtue are about. They’re really mutually reinforcing. And similarly, another intellectual hero of mine, obviously I never met him would be Friedrich Hayek, and he wrote that to be a libertarian in America means a respect for a tradition of rules that we only imperfectly understand. And this would include not just rules about government or abstract society, but actually rules about families and community organizations and how businesses really work the ground level. In other words, civil society, a Tocquevillian, as you say understanding. So, the people that I venerate, be it Bill Buckley or Stan Evans or Friedrich Hayek or Frank Meyer, of course. These are people who didn’t see American conservatism as some sort of strange collection. You know, it’s part of a drag and part of a lie and part of a grifted and it looks like some otherworldly creature. They saw American conservatism as about conserving classical liberalism because that’s what the American founding was drenched in, in part, and also what one might call classic Republicanism, civic virtue. And I appreciate these ideas abstractly. I’m not a philosopher, but I’ve employed philosophers as like I say, I’m not an economist, but I hire economists. But for us, as you may be able to tell from my previous answer, this isn’t just about theory. This is about practice. This is about living in the world and yet also trying to understand how that world works. Our board members, myself, we have not just been commenting about public policy. We’ve served in office or served in public boards and agencies or gotten our hands dirty, writing bills, you know, very much being involved in the government process. And similarly, we’re very much involved in civil society directly giving money, serving on boards, volunteering. There’s no substitute for experience. And that is what led us to come up with this concept a couple of years ago called the Future of Freedom Initiative, it’s a grantmaking initiative. We articulated some of these ideas we had about American conservatism, what it’s trying to conserve. We make no bones that I don’t really fully understand English conservatism because I don’t live in England. I don’t understand Hungarian conservatism or Chinese conservatism. But in America, we have certain things we’re trying to conserve. And they are particularly our notion that we’re a creedal nation, that anybody, regardless of ethnicity or family background or whatever, is an American, if that person accepts certain rules of living in America and contributing to America, that creedal nation concept and also a real historical tradition of people getting together like the Continental Congress or the Constitutional Convention or other kinds of bodies of people get together and they didn’t agree or huge differences of opinion about how to set up the federal government. And the result was not brought down by Charlton Heston, you know, down a hill and take a look at this. It was a compromise. It was hashed out. It wasn’t perfect because you can’t be perfect if you’re a human being. So, no human institution can be perfect. So, we think this combination of basic principles that apply around the world, but also specific political and civic institutions that were built in America by Americans and tinkered with and experimented with and some parts were bad and we tried to fix them and they got a little bit better. But there were tradeoffs. That’s the tradition of American conservatism that we wanted to reinforce, perhaps to some extent reinvigorate. And so, we started this process of a request for proposal. We got a lot of different ideas from different organizations and institutions and made some initial grants. And in parallel to that, I had done a series of focus groups with various journalists, think tank leaders, academics, political actors on the center right, asking them their concerns about movement, of which there were many and what we could do about it. So, these two things together interacted led to some conversations between some like minded conservatives, classical liberals and libertarians, and what became the Freedom Conservatism Statement of Principles. That name was something I had pitched about a year ago in a National Review article. I argued that Fusionism is for reasons I just said, really doesn’t work. Really, it’s not medals being fused, conservatism in America is more like a molecule that you share electrons. I made this elaborate chemical chemistry analogy and said, but that’s no good. We can’t use that as a name either. And where we came down is what really distinguishes the brand of conservatism, we’re talking about from some of the other things that are happening on the right in America right now, the rise of nationalists and populists and other kinds of what they sometimes themselves call post liberal thinking. And if they want to say that their ideas, which I mostly disagree with, are post liberal post classical liberalism, then I guess I don’t want to go past classical liberalism in what is one of the core values that kind of sums up the distinction. It’s freedom that some of the people in the populist camp use the term national conservative. There is an organization, there’s actually a National Conservatism Statement of Principles that came out last year. We thought some of the particulars were mistaken. We also have the basic concept, though, what distinguishes the American right is the nation. Not really, lots of cultures have nations. And we think that you should start with the individual, the individual’s rights, the individual liberty. Obviously, we believe in nations. We live in a nation and protect our nation. We think our nation is itself a reflection of certain values. One of them certainly, it’s not the only one, one of them is liberty. One of them is freedom. And so that’s why we chose Freedom Conservatism and actually issued a statement of principles that is entirely fairly understood to be a response to the National Conservatism Statement of Principles, there are some shared concepts but a lot of distinctions.
Roger Ream [00:20:38] Well, there’s a lot in what you just said that I’d like to talk about. I will say first off, I’m old enough to have met Hayek on a number of occasions. You’re dating me by saying you weren’t old enough to have met.
John Hood [00:20:51] I was actually old enough and I did see him across the room one time but that’s not the same thing as meeting him.
Roger Ream [00:20:56] No, no. Also, you name some, you know, great people that we need to be reading today still. Frank Meyer and of course, Stan Evans didn’t write a lot. I mean, he did. He wrote some excellent books.
John Hood [00:21:10] People ask me sometimes, “why do you insist on Freedom Conservatism?” Then they suggest other ideas, which for various reasons, including advertising and marketing reasons, I reject because we can’t shorten them to free con as easily as this one. You know, there are other kinds of labels just don’t work. But one of the things I pointed out is we are obviously in the Frank Meyer and Stan Evans tradition. What are the major works that lay out this tradition? Well, Stans was called, “The Theme is Freedom.”
Roger Ream [00:21:40] Which we sponsored, we gave Stan a grant to write that book. It was David Jones.
John Hood [00:21:46] What’s the most famous of Frank Meyer’s works in this area? In Defense of Freedom. Freedom, freedom, freedom. I hear a theme. I hear a commonality.
Roger Ream [00:21:54] Yeah. One of our founders, David Jones, we had a portrait done of him and it’s in our lobby and he’s holding a copy of “In Defense of Freedom” by Frank Meyer. And of course, Stan Evans was an important part of our organization over the years and sometime we should do a show just talking about Stan because there’s a lot of material there. And if anyone’s listening to this and wants to learn more about him, Steve Hayward wrote a biography of him a few years ago.
John Hood [00:22:21] Fantastic book. All I could have added to it was a little bit more specifics about which Motown songs he really liked best to play at the parties, which I kind of remember most of those.
Roger Ream [00:22:34] Yeah, well, I’ve got some extra copies of Steve Hayward’s books. If anyone’s listening and lots of copy, I’ll be happy to send one out. There’s another figure I wonder if you know about before we dig into this statement is Richard Cornell. He was a great inspiration to David Jones and Jay Parker on my board and Tyson, so closely with the work you do at the at the John William Pope Foundation, because he really urged conservatives to get involved in civil society, to volunteer in their community. Because if we failed to do that, government would come in and take over in so many of these areas. He wrote about the student loan program. It used to be private student loan programs were very well-managed. Students could get loans from banks through private organization out in Indiana and then the government took it over. And, you know, it’s Gresham’s Law applied to charity. That bad charity drives out good charity. And we see that over and over again. But let’s dig into the statements some. First of all, have you been getting attention to it?
John Hood [00:23:44] Why, yes, we have. So the statement was released. It was developed over several months and it was a group effort. It wasn’t Thomas Jefferson and John Adams and some other people going off its drafting committee. It was a pretty large group of people and I made a conscious decision. I would have written the statement if it just been my version of American conservatism for the 21st century, Freedom Conservatism. I would have written it a little bit differently. I suspect anybody who was involved in the process, if it had been solely a one byline kind of thing, it would have ended up a little differently. But in particular, I wanted to include some younger voices. I mean, I’ve been around a long time and some of the other people have been around a long time. So we included some people in their twenties and thirties in the drafting of the statement itself and also in the recruitment of signatories. So, we did both things together. We drafted a statement and started chopping it around. Eventually, when we went public in July, July 13, we had 83 signatories. There are now over 200. And one of the things we really wanted to lean into when we recruited people for the statement is to reflect our movement broadly. It is noticeable that the national conservative statement and separate from the statement, a lot of the voices that are associated with populism and nationalism. While they talk a whole lot about the heartland, getting outside of elite bubbles and this that the other. A suspiciously high percentage of them live in elite bubbles or maybe in other countries, which we thought was a little odd. So, we leaned into recruiting people who believed in these principles and are willing to espouse them and advocate them. I think in almost every state we have at least one signatory. We have lots of organizations whose leaders signed the statement that work at the state level or at the local level. So, we certainly have some very familiar names. George Will signed the statement, Karl Rove signed the statement. Top flight academics like Hillsdale College historian, Wilfred McClay and Duke University political economist Mike Munger. People like that. So, we have some well-known people in the political world, the think tank world, the media world, the academic world. We also have younger voices, people who are the next generation representing either institutions or as they’re pursuing their careers, we’ll probably see them in two or three other roles as they get older. So, when you look down at that list of signatories, you will see a wide variety of backgrounds of interest, of policy specialists. We have people in the signatory list who are health care experts, school choice experts, constitutional law litigators, professors who teach literature, people who have served as members of Congress, as governors of the United States, members of the legislature, people who have been mayors. So, people at practical experience. And we think that it is value to mix people who could quote Hayek or lengthy discourses on Plato, but also people who have actually managed a budget, who have had to decide whether to keep the service, you know, maintaining public building, should that be done by employees or should we contract it out? That’s not a very Plato versus Aristotle question, but it is a really important question if your goal is to preserve a free society and how it works, including states and localities having more power and then exercising that power wisely.
Roger Ream [00:27:34] Well, now, in the statement, I should mention, for those who haven’t read it, of course it’s available on your website, correct?
John Hood [00:27:41] We do. Freedomconservatism.org is the site. You could go there, read the statement, look at the signatories. We also put out updates every week or so or chronicle. As you said, you asked if there’s been a lot of coverage. There’s been a lot of coverage. Media coverage, there have been articles that free cons and their allies have written. And we try to put all that together for people at Freedom Conservatism.
Roger Ream [00:28:03] And are you still looking for people to sign? Are you looking for people in the general public to sign, or are you looking more specifically toward leaders of organizations?
John Hood [00:28:13] We’re looking for leaders or people who are working in this movement in some capacity. It doesn’t have to be CEOs or anything. We certainly welcome anybody who will endorse the statement. And we’ve had, you know, between the different platforms, social media and hundreds of thousands of people have read the statement and liked it or something. But as far as people adding people to the signatory list, we’re looking for people who work in this movement writ large. It could be people who work in politics or journalism or academia or public policy organizations or litigation shops. So we try to keep it fairly broad, but we also are trying to focus on people who are really working in this movement in some capacity.
Roger Ream [00:28:58] So the statement itself is an affirmation of the idea of individual liberty, of the importance of people being able to pursue their happiness. You’ve got a point on the importance of free enterprise as a direct cause of our prosperity in this country and a statement on expressing concerns about skyrocketing federal debt that risks bankrupting our country. The importance of the rule of law. Equality under the law is part of that. This idea you’ve touched on already of us being a creedal nation that welcomes immigrants who accept our values as a country. And I won’t go through all their ten in total freedom of conscience. I think it’s a very important one. There’s one that touches on America’s national security and foreign policy about us being a shining city on the hill. What I found interesting is when I first received it from you and read it, that you could put together a statement of this, you know, broad statement of principles that while sure, I could take issue with a word here or the way the sentence was worded, there was very little of that where I would say, “oh, this isn’t quite how I would word it,” but maybe one or two instances. But it really was well-crafted in a way, as I read the signatories that are on it now, you know, they aren’t all in line on you know, every policy choice that’s out there. But they can all agree that this is a very well written general statement of principles about freedom and about the American experience really.
John Hood [00:30:47] Well, I appreciate that. It did take a lot of thought to try to accomplish that end. And in particular, can you, in fact, write a series of statements, a statement of principles that clearly distinguishes what we’re talking about from other kinds of understandings of the American right that we think are either philosophically or politically problematic or even dangerous? I mean, there are some clear distinctions, but at the same time have language that is capacious enough to include people who may disagree about particular applications. I mean, we have a lot of statements in the principles that they do say. But there aren’t so many that we specifically saying we commit to. But, for example, one of them is you mentioned earlier the debt, the deficits in debt, which, for example, the National Conservatism Statement makes no mention of at all. But if you think about American conservatism, certainly postwar, I teach a course on this at Duke University. So, I sort of steeped myself in the history of the postwar American conservative movement. And it would be impossible to imagine any of the major characters of that drama. Who wouldn’t have cared a great deal about the size of the federal government in particular, but government per se. The implications that it has for the tax rate. And if you’re running deficits, if you’re spending more than your revenues coming in, that wouldn’t have a tremendous effect, not just on sort of business or the inflation rate. We assume relationships there or something, but also that a country can’t not have the capacity to defend itself militarily if it’s running up these huge debts, because you just don’t have enough fiscal capacity for that. Or that it would actually harm communities to make them dependent upon a faraway federal government that’s borrowing money and putting money down into local governments or even into nonprofits that a government that big would corrupt free enterprise because businesses would see it as a great opportunity to try to use government to block their competitors out or get subsidized, and that it wouldn’t affect the family, which it clearly does. We have used this borrowed money in part to supplant functions like taking care of parents and grandparents when they get older or infirm, taking care of children. We have supplanted the roles of families, nuclear families, and extended families with bigger government paid for by making the next generation pay back the principal and interest. So, we thought that was essential and we commit ourselves to taking action. But you notice, Roger, we don’t say and therefore we should be just with Medicare, and it should be set up the following way, the means test should kick in in 2032. We don’t have a lot of those policy details. And I’m confident that if we brought together and we have and will continue to bring free cons together to talk about these kinds of things, we’d have disagreements about what should we do on the spending side and the tax side to over time get rid of these deficits and pay down the debt. But we all commit to do something because the alternative is intolerable. That’s an example of pretty specific distinguishes us from other kinds of people on the right who don’t seem to care about this. But at the same time, broad enough to encompass differences of opinion about the details, which of course, you’re always going to have.
Roger Ream [00:34:14] Well, I mean, I think you’re talking about an existential threat to our country as we know it.
John Hood [00:34:20] Yes.
Roger Ream [00:34:20] The ballooning national debt. I mean, it could very well threaten not only, as you said, our ability to defend ourself and, you know, for government to provide the basic functions that it’s constitutionally obligated to provide at the federal level. And we’re in an environment now as we’re recording this today about, you know, a potential government shutdown and, you know, efforts being made around the edges to try to trim the growth of spending but it’s certainly out of control.
John Hood [00:34:53] Very far edges. Government shutdowns are just exercises of theatricality, they’re not anything real. People should never assume that there’s anything real behind any of that, it’s all just political gamesmanship. A real solution is going to require some sorts of compromises unless you’re going to get like the party of freedom is going to have two thirds of all the U.S. senators and a president and a U.S. House and then that do exactly what my perfect budget plan is, they’ll just implement it. I mean, that’s a wonderful fantasy to have. But then you got to wake up in the morning and go to the real world and in the real world, these are tough. The reason they haven’t been done yet is because they’re challenging. They mostly involve entitlement spending. I mean, everything’s got to be on the table. You have to have entitlements in the story. And a shutdown theatrics have very little to do with the heavy lifting. One of the things that I point out about the statement and then another commitment we make here is just how important it is to get the right levels of government doing the right things. We need to decentralize. There’s a familiar sort of federalism as good laboratories of democracy, subsidiarity sort of case that you and I could make. And I agree with much of that. But I also would simply point out that states are better run. Almost every state has to balance its operating budget. That doesn’t mean states don’t borrow money. They can borrow money for capital needs, but they can’t borrow money to pay salaries of teachers or police officers or pay Medicaid bills. That has to be done with current revenue. Well, obviously, the federal government should have something like that should be a requirement. I don’t know how we get from here to there. But one of the solutions is to decentralize, have states have more power because they operate under better rules than the federal government does. It’s also closer to the people and all the other arguments that you can make, which is quite literally state. States are better run because their constitutions are better written to handle fiscal matters. And until we do that at the federal level, which I believe we need to do. And in addition to doing it at the federal level, we need to push responsibilities back to where they’re supposed to be at states, local governments, which frankly are less likely to be corrupt at this point. Maybe not more passed, but today they are less likely to be corrupt and they’re more likely to have sensible rules to follow.
Roger Ream [00:37:22] Well, that seems like an area, this area of federalism that isn’t talked about enough, among others here.
John Hood [00:37:29] Part of what has happened to our debate about the future of America, but also the right is this intense and increasing nationalization. I mean, literally the term national conservatism makes me quiver because we’re not supposed to be national everything. We’re not supposed to be nationalizing things. I don’t just mean government programs, Roger. I mean our conversations. Why is everything about something like what happened in Indiana or Idaho? And I’m very angry and I want to do something about it. Now, I don’t actually live in Indiana or Idaho and maybe people who live in those places can probably handle it. And if they can’t handle it and it continues to be really dumb, I guess I won’t move to Indiana or Idaho. So, this constant making everything nationalized and being really, really focused on Washington, really, really focused on presidents and the national political debate is unhealthy. It’s not the way America was set up. It’s not the way we operated our system of self-government for most of its history. Obviously, we know the media has changed how we get information has changed. There are some real challenges here. But conservatives being in the 18th century or the 21st century, one of the principles we need to stand for and one of the principles of Freedom Conservatives do stand for, is localism. Let communities solve their own problems. Let region solve problems that communities can’t solve. Let states solve problems that regions can’t solve. Let Washington at least attempt to solve problems that only a national government can solve, which is, of course, primarily national defense and a few other matters that are really beyond the appropriate role of states.
Roger Ream [00:39:15] Well, very good. I appreciate that discussion and congratulate you on the statement. I’d like to also ask in the remaining few minutes about you as a novelist, John. Could you give our listeners a little background there because it shows you, as a man of many talents, not just a tap dancer.
John Hood [00:39:37] I will also say this also has an origin story that involves Reason Magazine. I wrote a column a couple of years ago for Reason about if you’re going to fight for freedom, it’s not enough to have the facts. It’s not enough to have a good graph. It’s not enough to say, well, you know, the latest Journal of Public Economics has a paper that says we need to do all of those things. But human beings are not calculating machines. We’re not robots, we’re storytelling creatures. Our history involves, you know, sitting around the campfire at night and telling stories about who we are, where we came from and what we should be doing and what heroism consists of. And I’ve always loved to read fantasy and science fiction in particular. So, I decided to start a series of novels. The first one is called “Mountain Folk.” It came out a couple of years ago. It’s set in the French and Indian War and American Revolution period. And the central characters include Daniel Boone, George Washington, some other historical figures, a Cherokee heroine. Her name was Junaluska, a real person who was very important in the interaction between white settlers and Cherokees. But there’s also a sea monster. And other kinds of monsters and creepy crawly things and dwarves and elves and other fantasy creatures that exist parallel to the real world. So, this is what is called historical fantasy. It’s not like high fantasy, like Lord of the Rings or Chronicles of Narnia, where it happens in some other place. This is happening in America. All of my stories are set historically in America. The first book, as I said, ends in the 1790s. The second book, “Forest Folk,” starts around 1800 and takes you through the War of 1812 and the Trail of Tears and some other events on the frontier. The third book, which will come out next summer, is called “Water Folk,” and that will depict the Texas War of Independence, the Mexican War, westward expansion and adventure on the high seas. So, I’m having a lot of fun with it. If you really, like, sat on me and tried to make me fess up, I would admit that there are some philosophical themes about freedom and community and virtue in these stories. But first and foremost, I think that if you’re going to try to tell a story that will be meaningful to someone, it has to be fun. It has to be exciting. These are adventure tales, first and foremost. Daniel Boone, in the very first scene, is a young man. He’s going up the mountains hunting for something for his family, and he encounters a giant monster cat with lightning eyes and a fairy. And what happens next, you’ll just have to read for yourself.
Roger Ream [00:42:28] Yeah, well, that’s a great setup because the next Liberty + Leadership Podcast guest is a woman who got a Novak Fellowship from us, Alexandra Hudson.
John Hood [00:42:42] This is Lexi’s book, which I have read and very much enjoy and I’m about to review.
Roger Ream [00:42:47] Yeah, yeah. I’m going to be talking with her about storytelling and the importance of that.
John Hood [00:42:52] I believe that book is entitled “The Soul of Civility.”
Roger Ream [00:42:56] Yes, that is correct. That is correct. And her Novak Fellowship was along those lines and helped spark that book. Well, thank you very much. My guest, John Hood, a friend and supporter of ours. We appreciate you taking your time to be with us today.
John Hood [00:43:13] Thank you.
Roger Ream [00:43:14] Thank you for listening to the Liberty + Leadership Podcast. Please don’t forget to subscribe, download, like or share the show on Apple, Spotify or YouTube or wherever you listen to your podcasts. If you like this episode, I ask you to rate and review it. And if you have a comment or question for the show, please drop us an email at podcast@TFAS.org. The Liberty + Leadership Podcast is produced at kglobal Studios in Washington, DC. I’m your host, Roger Ream and until next time, show courage in things large and small.
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