Mollie Hemingway, 2014 Lincoln Fellow
A longtime journalist, Mollie Hemingway writes about culture, policy, and the political horse race for one of the Right’s hottest new web magazines.
What is your current position?
I’m a senior editor at The Federalist, which has only been around for two and a half years, but I’m really pleased with the impact we’re having as a relatively new publication.
You first wanted to be an economist, what inspired you to pursue journalism?
Well, truthfully, I lost my job right after 9/11. Up to that point, I was making good money in an entirely different line of work, but I wasn’t happy. I looked around and realized that so many of my friends were journalists and really enjoyed what they do. They were living lives of penury, but at least they were enjoying themselves!
What are you currently working on?
Everything! It’s an election year, and between hammering out my own thoughts about this depressing circus, my other editorial duties, and holding the fort as a wife and mother, I don’t lack for things to do. My husband I are going to be teaching journalism for a few weeks at Hillsdale College, so I’m looking forward to that.
How did you hear about the Claremont Institute?
Obviously, I was vaguely familiar with Claremont already and enjoyed reading the Claremont Review of Books long before I was ever directly involved. But a friend who had been through a Publius Fellowship emailed me out of the blue and said she thought that I would benefit and enjoy the program, so I applied for a Lincoln Fellowship. She was not wrong—both the academic program and the experience itself wildly exceeded my expectations.
What’s your fondest memory of the Claremont Institute?
That’s honestly difficult to pin down. There were so many “aha!” moments during the lectures and reading that not a week goes by where something I learned at Claremont doesn’t shape my current thinking and writing. And I still regularly see and talk to many of the other Lincoln Fellows with whom I went through the program, as well a number of the lecturers who taught us, so it feels like an ongoing experience. Though I have to say, as part of the program on the Second Amendment, Claremont took us to a firing range. I hadn’t fired a gun in years, and it turns out I’m not bad with an AR-15. The lecture on self-government and gun ownership blew me away. I had always supported 2nd Amendment rights, but my understanding of the importance of self-government and its implications was greatly expanded.
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’ve had wonderful experiences at other programs, but the Lincoln Fellowship was just on another level in terms of both the quality of instruction and what was expected of the participants. It was a lot of work and thought, but being a mid-career journalist, it had been a long time since I was so inspired on an intellectual level. It turned out that my week with Claremont was about giving me more tools to expand my understanding of politics and some other very big subjects, not a just moment in time.
If you could have a drink with an American Founder, or any great thinker, who would it be, why, and what would you order?
Hmm. This is a hard one. As for founders, Jefferson and Franklin would probably be the most interesting conversationalists, because they were interdisciplinary autodidacts the likes of which I’m not sure we’ve seen since. As for other thinkers, I’d really like to have a drink with Martin Luther. Being the daughter of a Lutheran pastor and committed Lutheran, this choice isn’t exactly a shock to those who know me. And sure, Luther was a world-changing historical intellect and theologian, but he also seems like a fun guy to knock a few back with.
Who was more important for their time, George Washington or Abraham Lincoln? Why?
You rocked me into thinking this was Claremont’s version of the Proust questionnaire, and now you want me to write a thesis? When I said Claremont expects Fellows to work hard, I was not kidding! Seriously though, I will say this, even if it doesn’t directly answer your question. Claremont really opened my eyes to Lincoln’s particular genius. We’re going through a period right now where everyone is making a lot of the fact that racism was America’s original sin, and so many people are cavalierly using this as a justification to dismiss our constitutional order as illegitimate. This is largely, I think, because Lincoln’s rhetoric is not properly taught and understood. Lincoln essentially saved America by persuasively, and I think definitively, showing that our founding documents deliberately and clearly undercut slavery even if the institution was accepted as a necessary compromise to allow the founding of a nation where “all men are created equal.”
What do you think the current presidential candidates can learn from Lincoln?
Politics these days are a smash-mouth, 24-hour news cycle affair. I wish today’s leaders had Lincoln’s ability to seize on the big existential problems facing America and pound the issues rhetorically—for years if necessary—until they are fixed. That said, I hope fixing things doesn’t involve another civil war.
What is the greatest challenge facing the United States today?
Entitlement reform and other fiscal issues loom pretty large, as does reining in our continuously metastasizing administrative state. And relatedly, Obama’s been a pretty good reminder that the Caesarism of our recent presidents means the executive branch desperately needs to be reined in. But our greatest challenge is that we are not a virtuous or educated people. Constitutional order can’t survive long without a virtuous people.
What books are you reading right now?
I’ve read two books recently that I enjoyed. The first was My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante, which is a deservedly praised and sophisticated novel about the inexcusably neglected subject of female relationships. The other is The Great Divide: Why Liberals and Conservatives Will Never, Ever Agree by William Gairdner. The book is interesting for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is the book does a good job of explaining how liberals have elevated sexual autonomy to such an extent that it is used to justify infringing on nearly every other important freedom.
You’re originally from Colorado: skis or snowboard?
Skis! Though my husband is from Oregon, and he’s a snowboarder. In alpine terms, it’s a mixed marriage.