What is your current position?
Right now I am between jobs, taking a deep breath after four years as the Chief Speechwriter at the State Department in the Trump Administration.
What inspired you to choose this career path?
It sometimes seems that the speechwriting path chose me…writing has always come very naturally to me. I’ve also had a keen interest in conservative thought and politics since high school. So the path just evolved somewhat naturally.
What are you currently working on?
My physical fitness! Prior to this week I hadn’t been to the gym in two and a half years.
How did you hear about the Claremont Institute?
My former boss and good friend Bill Bennett was formerly a Fellow with the Institute. He encouraged me to do the Publius Fellowship.
What is your fondest memory of the Claremont Institute?
Tough to say! Michael Anton holding court on how the left has ruined California…Larry Arnn giving a note-free lecture on Winston Churchill’s statesmanship…thought-provoking conversations with other speechwriting fellows on what makes a good speech.
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?
Most all conservatives agree on the relevance of the founding principles to our contemporary politics. But Claremont scholars demonstrate how those principles have been applied or ignored throughout American history. The fellowships also do an excellent job seeing how the Founders were influenced by a strain of natural law thinking that extends back centuries before their time. That’s unique.
If you could have a fireside chat and drink with an American Founder, or any great thinker, who would it be, why, and what would you order and discuss?
I would not mind throwing back a Maker’s Mark with James Madison or John Witherspoon and hearing their thoughts on the moral roots of the American founding. Or a good red wine with the French gypsy jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt.
Who was more important for their time, George Washington or Abraham Lincoln? Why?
Both were essential to their era, but Lincoln was a titan of both moral reasoning and political leadership during the Republic’s darkest hour. His gifts could not have been replicated. So if I have to choose one, it’s him.
Through the lens of history in which one of the original 13 colonies would you have wanted to live and why?
It’s hard for a native son of New Jersey to say anything else, but I would have to say Rhode Island for its high degree of religious toleration.
What would the argument be if you were to write a speech geared to reach a large percentage of left-leaning individuals in order to convince them the nation’s founding principles are still relevant and worthy of being preserved?
If we normalize doing away with or curtailing free speech, a free press, etc., in service of ideological causes, eventually everyone will find himself or herself censored or otherwise victimized when others who disagree with them come to power. Ergo, our basic constitutional liberties must be preserved. Let ideas compete with one another to prove their rightness.
What do you believe is the greatest diplomatic challenge facing the current administration?
The Chinese Communist Party’s quest to dominate the international order and weaken the United States.
You have degrees in Latin and Greek. What prompted you to study those languages? Do you believe these languages still have relevance in today’s world? Why?
Latin and Greek are an incredible gateway to further study of the ancient world, which I’ve been fascinated with since boyhood. They absolutely have relevance as a source of wisdom for statesmen – indeed the Founders looked to the ancients to see why states of the ancient world succeeded or failed. Latin and Greek language study are also outstanding cognitive training tools and useful vehicles for better understanding our own English language.
Several years ago you co-authored a book with Bill Bennett, Is College Worth It? What are your thoughts on higher education in 2021?
It is an overpriced mess. The American education system has a massive competitive advantage in our ability to encourage abstract and creative thinking – important qualities for workers in an innovation economy. But schools are inculcating kids with wrong (or no) ideas about America, our history, and the world. And the curricula keeps getting weaker and standards keep getting lower across the board.
What was one of your most memorable diplomatic experiences with the State Department?
I could go on all day, but I’ll just say one: On the 30th anniversary of the German people taking down the Berlin Wall, standing with Secretary Pompeo beside a newly unveiled statue of President Reagan on the roof of the U.S. Embassy in Berlin, which itself overlooks the Brandenburg Gate, the site of Reagan’s “Tear Down This Wall” speech. Very special reminder of America’s past and present support of human freedom.
What books are you currently reading?
I am finally reading Andrew Roberts’ Churchill biography, “Walking with Destiny.” I’m also working my way through a great book on the love of Christ titled “Gentle and Lowly” by Dane Ortlund.
Do you have a favorite quote and if so would you share?
George Costanza’s ending monologue in the Seinfeld episode “The Marine Biologist.”
What is the most distinctive attribute/character of the people in the state where you grew up that you genuinely admire?
New Jerseyans do not shrink back from telling you exactly how they feel! We also know how to make great Italian food. That’s a character virtue in my book.
Where do you see yourself in ten years?
In a future Republican administration, helping ensure American national security, economic prosperity, and liberty in the face of threats originating from outside our borders.
What is your favorite cultural/recreational pastime (or hobby) and why?
I love playing jazz guitar. It’s fun to activate that part of the brain with a hobby far removed from the quotidian political and media noise. I’ve developed a new appreciation for just how practiced the jazz masters really are. And it doesn’t involve a screen.