Melika Willoughby

2016 Publius Fellow

Ms. Willoughby’s duties include speech writing, press releases, interview preparation, and grassroots engagement.

What is your current position?
I work for Kansas Governor Sam Brownback as his communications director.

What inspired you to choose this career path?
Frankly, America was my first love. I was the little girl wearing a flag-collared dress and a Statue of Liberty headband while testifying to protect classroom recitation of the pledge of allegiance at my local school board meeting. I was six. I wanted to defend freedom; I wanted liberty and justice for all. I didn’t know any deep definitions for these principles, but I knew they were good and I knew the respect of them made America special.

What are you currently working on?
Taking big ideas and making them accessible to real people is what makes me tick. As the communications director for a sitting governor, I wake up everyday thinking about how I can best present conservative ideas and communicate how they lead to human flourishing.

How did you hear about the Claremont Institute?
Office hours with politics professors at Hillsdale College, my alma mater, were always in high demand. Tables in the reception area groaned with seemingly endless copies of the Claremont Review of Books. I leafed through many an issue waiting to meet with professors who, come to find out, were Claremont faculty members. Claremont was the dominant trait of my intellectual DNA.

What’s your fondest memory of the Claremont Institute?
Patriotic recitations on the Fourth of July will forever be a fond memory. Nothing parallels walking through the annals of history side-by-side with fellow warriors defending the intellectual founding and traditions of our constitutional republic.

There are all sorts of educational programs out there for current and rising conservative professionals. What do you think makes the Claremont Institute’s Fellowships unique?
I have come to appreciate the crucial link between sound constitutional scholarship and practical conservative politics. The theoretical and tactical must not be decoupled, for theories without sound tactics become ineffectual, while tactics without sound theory become authoritarian. Statesmanship, rightly defined, balances fidelity to sound principles and effective stratagems. The Claremont Institute exists to develop a proper ordering and understanding of these first principles.

If you could have a drink with an American Founder, or any great thinker, who would it be, why, and what would you order?
The mystique of George Washington seems to pivot on his indubitable character. Dining with Washington, engaging the hospitality of Martha at Mount Vernon, would surely give a glimpse of that commanding presence and guiding prudence. Imagine the wisdom to be gleaned! Besides, I could finally ask about that cherry tree. 

Who was more important for their time, George Washington or Abraham Lincoln? Why?
Though Lincoln would have no republic to unite had Washington not played the role of indispensable man, I must answer this question with both my head and my heart.

Lincoln captures the imagination of Americans because, under his leadership, the slaves were freed and the Union preserved–Lincoln alone was the figurehead. Washington’s burden of founding was great, but he carried it alongside Hamilton, Jefferson, Adams, and Madison. Washington’s legacy is built from a life of action; it was bold, courageous, and prudential. It is, however, bereft of an extensive body of thought, leaving posterity with more questions and speculation than certitude. Lincoln’s pen immortalized his political philosophy, decisional struggles, and personal anecdotes. His address at Gettysburg stands as the finest poem ever penned by an American author, speaking to the immediate moment of pain and grief as well as the future memory of sacrifice for freedom and self-government. His Second Inaugural stands as the finest public lament of sorrow and justice, grappling with the interaction of divine sovereignty and personal action, while working to bind the wounds of a sharply divided country.

Through both words and actions, Lincoln reiterated and reaffirmed the principles of our founding.

What is the greatest challenge facing the United States today?
Moral relativism is pervasive and destructive.

Progressives use language unhinged from absolute truth, resulting in words that have no fixed definitions and instead merely bear the ascribed meanings of the speaker or the perceived meanings of the listener. This lack of common meaning and understanding is prevalent, and it is a product of systemic relativism. When human life isn’t inherently worth preserving and causing emotional discomfort ranks as the most grievous public sin, any discussions of the public good revert to debates over the most basic elements of thought.

Moral relativism threatens the common perception of what is “good and bad and just and unjust,” the very unifying thread that Aristotle contends in The Politics defines a country. We are rapidly losing Jefferson’s “harmonizing sentiment” of the American mind: the belief that all men are created equal and endowed with natural rights. We must work to revive the conception of immutable Truth, and with it the philosophy of natural law, in the effort to maintain our republic as one dedicated to true human flourishing through freedom.

What books are you reading right now?
Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy
The Weight of Glory, by C.S. Lewis
Onward, by Dr. Russell Moore
The Conservative Heart, by Dr. Arthur Brooks

You grew up in the Midwest and are a Green Bay Packers fan. Who’s the better quarterback: Brett Favre or Aaron Rodgers?
Easy. Aaron Rodgers. He remains faithful to the green and gold.