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Year of the Disruptors (National Radio Commentary, Salem/Townhall.com) April 26, 2016

Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds.
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If we made a movie about campaign 2016, it would be “Year of the Disruptors.” On the Republican side, we are down to Donald Trump, a complete disruptor of the political process, and Ted Cruz, a U.S. Senator but a disruptor in style. On the Democratic side, Bernie Sanders is a socialist who wants to disrupt the system, leaving only Hillary Clinton as an establishment candidate.

Disruptors are great for making statements, and frustrated voters clearly want to do that. But they may not be the best at governing, and it’s not clear voters will elect one as their president. And, as companies like Amazon and Uber have learned, it takes a long time for disruptors to capture and change a market.

Unless Republicans have a disrupted convention in Cleveland this summer, which is still possible, the fall election will be a Republican disruptor versus the Democratic establishment candidate. The result, of course, remains unknown … as Hollywood would prefer.

To listen to the audio at Townhall.com:





Judge Erases History (National Radio Commentary at Salem Radio/Townhall.com April 24, 2016

Posted by daviddavenport in Radio Commentaries.
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College students, seeking to remove the names of campus founders who don’t live up to contemporary standards, aren’t the only ones erasing history.  A federal judge in Los Angeles has done some erasing of her own, saying the little tiny cross on top of a mission depicted on the county seal must go.

The Los Angeles County seal is a patchwork of history—a ship, a fish, the Hollywood Bowl, a mission church, and so forth.  But a lawsuit sought to remove the cross from the top of the mission, and a federal judge agreed that it violated the First Amendment establishment clause.

Apparently it’s more important these days to be politically correct than historically correct, because the missions (and crosses) are very much a part of California history. Reflecting that heritage on the seal hardly rates as an endorsement of the Catholic Church, much less an establishment of religion.

I can understand naïve college students endorsing this silliness, but not a federal judge.

To listen to the audio at Townhall.com:


Trump and Sanders Agree on Something? (Salem Radio/Townhall.com) April 19, 2016

Posted by daviddavenport in Politics, Radio Commentaries.
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They say politics makes strange bedfellows and what could be stranger than far left Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump on the right agreeing on something? Both think free trade is a mistake and both oppose the proposed new TPP, a free trade agreement of 12 Pacific Rim nations.

 But free trade modernizes economies and promotes political relationships among allies, in this case creating a major economic force to counter China.  Prior free trade agreements like NAFTA have increased trade and raised wages.  The problem Sanders and Trump point to is a loss of low-wage jobs. But that comes from modernization and globalization, not free trade.


This is one more case where Sanders and Trump are out of touch with the realities of modern economic policy.  In the 21st century, it’s a mistake to turn back the clock to isolationist times when America tried to build walls of tariffs and taxes around its borders.


Despite the Disruptors, This Election Has A Predictable End (Forbes.com) April 7, 2016

Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds, Politics.
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If the 2016 presidential campaign were a movie, it would be “Year of the Disruptors.”  The outsiders and disruptors have dominated the Republican race from the beginning, but now we are essentially down to two very different disruptors:  Donald Trump and Ted Cruz.  One of the two Democratic finalists, Bernie Sanders, is yet another kind of disruptor, leaving only Hillary Clinton as a classic establishment candidate. The American voters are frustrated and would like to deliver a message through these several disruptor candidates but, in the end, they will not want a disruptor for president, so (spoiler alert) Hillary will win.

Movies love flashback scenes, so let’s go back 20 years to a seminal article by Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen coining the term “disruptive innovation.”  His definition, from a more recent article, is “a process whereby a smaller company with fewer resources is able to successfully challenge established incumbent businesses.”  The disruptors gain their toehold, Christensen argues, by focusing on “overlooked” customers often nearer the bottom of a market segment, while traditional companies compete at the top.  Eventually the traditional businesses that have dominated the market face a tough choice whether to compete on the disruptor’s turf, or stay their course, at the risk of losing the market altogether.

This is the script for Donald Trump’s campaign.  While establishment Republicans catered to big business, Washington officials, and other traditional party constituencies, a real frustration was building further down market.  For example, a recent Pew Research Center survey has found that 46% of registered voters say life in America is worse than it was 50 years ago “for people like them,” and an impressive 66% among Republicans and, drum roll please, 75% among Trump supporters.  And so with very little money, few well-developed policies, and almost no endorsements initially, the Trump persona began to connect with the frustrated Republicans down market and the disruption began.  The rest of the campaign has simply fanned the disruptor flames as traditional establishment candidates bit the dust.

Ted Cruz came to Washington as a disruptor in the U.S. Senate, a “club” with a lot of traditions and niceties that does not suffer disruptors gladly.  Cruz filibustered and shut down the government—in short he does not play nicely by club rules.  This makes Cruz a bit of a complicated character in the movie, in that he is by definition (a U.S. Senator) an insider, yet his style is that of an outsider or disruptor.  Most conservatives are some kind of disruptor—conservative godfather William F. Buckley said they “stand athwart history yelling ‘stop’”—and Cruz has conservative policy chops that Trump lacks.  The further irony, however, is that at this point in the movie, most of Cruz’s momentum comes from the non-disruptor part of the market that sees him as less undesirable than the other disruptor, Trump.

Bernie Sanders is also disrupting the Democratic race, but with less electoral success than his Republican counterparts.  Here his primary contribution is a more traditional one within a party:  a strong loser may nevertheless cause the nominee to change positions to accommodate him and his supporters.  So the disruption risk is not so much that Bernie will win, but that he will wear out Hillary, raise a lot of problems in her record, and force her to the left, all of which is happening.

When the movie reaches its climax, however, I think some of the air will go out of the disruptor balloon.   Unlike successful business disruptors such as Uber or Amazon, who can start small and take years to succeed, a presidential campaign has an end date by which candidates must close their sale.  There is plenty of drama left, to be sure.  The Republicans may have their first open or disrupted convention in decades and there is some small chance the disruptors will be stopped there on a second or later ballot.

But disrupting is not the same as governing, which is what makes politics very different from business.  In the end, I think the American people—according to Pew only 17% of whom are “content” with their federal government, 59% are “frustrated” and 22% “angry—are making a strong statement against politics as usual, but will not elect a disruptor president.


To read the column at Forbes.com:


Trump and Sanders in Agreement? The Strange Politics of Free Trade (Forbes.com) April 1, 2016

Posted by daviddavenport in Newspaper Columns/Essays, Op/Eds.
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They say politics makes strange bedfellows and what could be stranger than Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders in alignment?  Yet that appears to be the case on international trade, and more specifically trade agreements.  This harmonizing between far left Sanders and extreme right Trump is one more odd feature of campaign 2016, but it also reflects a lot of misunderstanding and misleading rhetoric about trade policy itself.

The new Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), signed by 12 Pacific Rim countries including the United States in February of this year, awaits Congressional approval.  It would be the first major trade agreement since NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) in 1994, and would bring together several important Asian economies with the U.S. on trade, countering some of the economic power of China.  As we learned with NAFTA, such trade agreements are not only economic, but political, developing closer relations and partnerships among the member countries.

Both President Obama and Hillary Clinton have a history of waffling on such agreements, attempting to have it both ways.  President Obama was against it (or at least said important parts of it should be renegotiated) before he was for it, and Clinton was for it as Secretary of State before she developed reservations in the campaign.  Since labor and unions, key party constituencies, fear a loss of jobs, Democrats have trouble supporting free trade in a campaign, yet they end up favoring and implementing such agreements in office.  Ted Cruz has also straddled this fence, speaking earlier of the benefits of free trade agreements, but then coming out later on the campaign trail against.

If waffling is the mainstream political view, Trump and Sanders at the extremes are openly opposed to free trade agreements, albeit for somewhat different reasons.  Author of The Art of the Deal, to Trump this is one more example of America being pushed around and getting a bad bargain, calling it a “horrible deal” and “insanity.”  He doubles down on his negative stance by calling for tariffs on products from countries like Mexico and China, claiming the latter is “eating our lunch.”  For Sanders, it fits into his rhetoric of bashing big banks and Wall Street, calling the TPP “a disastrous trade agreement to protect the interests of the largest multinational corporations at the expense of workers, consumers, the environment and the foundations of American democracy.”

In fact free trade agreements bring significant advantages and most of the low-wage job loss is more part of ongoing modernization and globalization than a consequence of the trade agreements themselves.  For example, now that NAFTA is a relatively mature 22 years old, it appears that it has been a net positive, but neither as great as its proponents once argued nor as bad as its opponents warned.  Trade among the three members (Canada, Mexico and the U.S.) is up 300% and they are now each other’s largest trading partners.  Economies have been modernized and integrated, more direct investment in the poorest country, Mexico, has been facilitated, and real wages are up.  Ross Perot’s “giant sucking sound” of jobs moving to Mexico was never heard—though manufacturing jobs are down, manufacturing is up and productivity, not NAFTA, is the difference.  Jobs move because of cheaper labor, not lower import costs.  And many higher-skilled jobs have been added.

Economists are quick to point out that trade deficits, which seem to concern Mr. Trump, are not a bad thing and are not necessarily because of trade itself, or trade agreements.  Most economists, both left and right, agree that the benefits of free trade heavily outweigh the problems.  Like many policy matters, it’s just a little complicated to make those arguments in the sound bite style of a political campaign.  Let’s hope Congress, however, presumably following the election, is able to study the TPP more carefully and reach a more rational outcome than is proposed by the rhetoric of Trump, Sanders and our presidential field.

To view the column at Forbes.com:





Trump: Another Blank Slate On Which Voters Project Their Views (Forbes.com) March 23, 2016

Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds, Politics.
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The conventional wisdom is that Donald Trump is breaking all the political molds this year.  But he does fit one recent and disturbing trend quite well:  On issues, he is essentially a blank screen on which people are projecting their own views and preferences.

Barack Obama was the pioneer of this trail in 2008.  As he wrote in his autobiography, The Audacity of Hope, “I serve as a blank screen on which people of vastly different political stripes project their own views.”  Part of Obama’s blank screen was that he was a relative newcomer to national politics, serving in only his first term as a U.S. Senator.  He was no Hillary Clinton, with a long record of speeches, votes and position papers on major issues.  And, let’s face it, his primary campaign theme—“hope and change”—was hardly the stuff of detailed policy briefings.  Obama was seen more as a fresh, new figure who might bring people together in a post-racial society.

Hiding behind an opaque screen has also become the path to success for Supreme Court nominations.  Ever since legal expert Robert Bork was defeated over his clearly developed views from years of court opinions, articles and speeches, the premium has been on nominating young candidates with very little record to attack.  Elena Kagan was the classic example of this, a young law school dean who had never been a judge and had argued only 6 court cases in her career, she had no substantive record to examine or attack.

Now comes Donald Trump, a kind of Wizard of Oz figure hiding behind his throne-room screen of marketing campaigns and reality television.  If Obama and Cruz had thin national political records as first-term senators, Trump has none.  From behind the screen come very few thoughtful position papers but, instead, one-liners.  He is fine with affirmative action for now.  Gay marriage is a reality.  Common core is a disaster.  Climate change is a hoax.  Cut the EPA, what they do is a disgrace.  Like Obama’s broad “hope and change” theme, Trump has his vague let’s “make America great again.”

With little from Trump to go on, important constituencies must therefore be projecting their own views onto his candidacy.  Take evangelical Christians, one very important Republican constituency.  Why would they be supporting Donald Trump?  He said he is a member of Marble Collegiate Church in Manhattan, but the congregation quickly released a statement saying he was not an active member.  He claimed the Bible was his favorite book, though he was unable or unwilling to name his favorite passage.  He’s been married three times, uses crude and insulting language and is historically pro-choice.  In short, there’s nothing in Trump’s actual record to appeal to evangelicals, yet he has won one-third of evangelical voters, more than Southern Baptist Ted Cruz.  That takes a lot of projecting by evangelicals onto the Trump screen.

The economy is another area where voters project something that does not entirely make sense.  A recent Fortune-Morning Consult poll said Trump would be the best presidential candidate for the stock market (27% versus 6%-7% for the other Republican candidates).  But the reality is that Trump’s relatively few stated positions on economic policy do not obviously lead to growth.  He is actively promoting trade wars, denigrating NAFTA and the TPP.  The Economist Intelligence Unit rated a Trump presidency the sixth largest threat to the global economy.  So again, some serious projecting is going on for voters to make him into an economic savior.

So far, Trump’s campaign is policy-lite, way less calories than your normal campaign but also less filling.  It appears that voters are not interested in holding him accountable for this, instead projecting onto him with a kind of Rorschach test whatever they want to see.  And so the great marketing campaign—let’s face it, this is not really much of a political campaign—for brand Trump rolls on.  It can only be stopped now in Cleveland on a second ballot vote, or later.  Stay tuned!

To see the column at Forbes.com


America’s Drift Toward ‘Socialism’ Is Generational, But Also Educational (Forbes.com) February 26, 2016

Posted by daviddavenport in Education, Op/Eds, Politics.
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As a surprising number of Americans “feel the Bern” for a self-described “democratic socialist” candidate for president, even more shocking polls show Americans drifting toward socialism itself.  In a YouGov survey last month, 42% of Democrats said they had a favorable view of socialism.  In November, a New York Times/CBS News poll concluded that 56% of Democratic primary voters and 69% of Bernie Sanders supporters viewed socialism favorably, and in a January Bloomberg/Des Moines Register Iowa poll, 43% of likely Democratic caucus-goers used the word “socialist” to describe themselves.

What’s going on here?  How can we reach a point, virtually overnight, when a term that was recently considered anti-American is now embraced by members of one of America’s two major political parties?

For starters, this shift is heavily generational, created largely by young people jumping on the Bernie Sanders bandwagon.   The same YouGov survey found those under 30 were the only age group that rated socialism ahead of capitalism, 43%-32%.  In fact with every other age group preferring capitalism, one would rightly conclude that it’s those millennials once again turning things inside out.  That does not make me feel any better about it, but it at least helps identify and isolate the trend.

But of even deeper concern is the fact that those increasingly favoring socialism do not even know what that means.   The November NYT/CBS poll found that only 16% of those under 30 could accurately define socialism, compared with 30% for respondents over 30.  Even more to the point, when a Reason-Rupe survey in 2014, which again confirmed young people’s support for socialism at 58% for those ages 18-24, turned around and asked whether they favored government running businesses, the clear answer was “no.”  When asked whether they want government or private markets leading the economy, they chose markets 2 to 1 (64% versus 32%).

I don’t know which is more discouraging: that young people are becoming comfortable with socialism, or that they have no idea what it is.  Any definition of socialism involves government ownership of the means of production and distribution.  It’s most assuredly not private ownership of business or a market economy.  So for starters, young people have embraced some kind soft collectivism and mislabeled it as socialism.  That’s bad enough.

But part of the problem is that Bernie Sanders himself does not seem to know what socialism is, or worse, he does know and is intentionally misleading and exploiting young people.  Sanders is careful to use the term “democratic socialism” but socialism is still the noun and democratic the adjective, socialism is the economic system and democracy is the political scheme.  So just looking at the terms, Sanders wants the people to choose—rather than leaders to impose—a system in which government collectively owns the means of production and distribution.

But Sanders apparently doesn’t really mean that either.  He says, I don’t mean Cuba or Venezuela, I mean Denmark.  But amid all the talk in the Democratic primaries about Denmark, its own prime minister, Lars Lokke Rasmussen, felt compelled to say that his country is not a planned socialist economy but rather a market economy with “an expanded welfare state.”  When Bernie is asked to be specific about his goal, he says he is speaking of Social Security and Medicare, apparently not a planned economy.  He invokes Franklin Roosevelt, not Karl Marx.

In the end, Sanders is not, by definition, a socialist.  He is just using the label to differentiate himself from Hillary Clinton and other Democrats whom he perceives to be too close to the market excesses of capitalism and Wall Street.  And young people are not really socialist either—they’re just soft in the head and don’t know what they are saying.  The threat is that we are raising a generation of young people who are so unaware of history, civics and political systems that they can be stirred up and manipulated by politicians throwing around inaccurate labels.

To read the column at Forbes.com:


A Dangerous Malware on Campus (National Radio Commentary, Salem/Townhall) February 25, 2016

Posted by daviddavenport in Education, Op/Eds, Radio Commentaries.
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This is David Davenport of the Hoover Institution for Townhall.com.

 It looks like another crazy semester on American college campuses.  One president has already resigned in the face of protests.  Oregon’s largest college has announced a “whiteness history month” which some have called “white shaming.”

 The most dangerous protests are those that seek to erase history.  Princeton is considering protestor demands to remove Woodrow Wilson’s name from one of its schools; Harvard Law School has a committee studying whether to delete its founding benefactor’s crest from their seal.  Yale has removed portraits of Vice President John Calhoun and may rename Calhoun College.

 All of this is a kind of malware that radical students are planting on campus.  Once in the system, it seeks to erase the memory and history of anyone who, in their judgment, did not live by today’s superior moral standards.  Their sin was living under the moral standards of their own time.  Institutional founders, along with American founders, are now unmasked as villains, and not heroes.

 Students should be learning from history, not judging it.

 I’m David Davenport.

(Suggested Air Date: 2-24-2016)

The Scalia Replacement Battle Calls For Putting The Constitution First (Forbes.com) February 17, 2016

Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds, Politics.
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Are former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and I the only conservatives in America who believe President Obama should nominate a replacement for Justice Scalia and that the Senate is obligated to take an up or down vote?  If so, it must be because we place constitutional faithfulness ahead of political conservatism and we find the constitutional obligations to be relatively clear.

Article Two, Section 2 of the Constitution provides that the president “shall nominate and by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, shall appoint…judges of the Supreme Court.”  If this question came up after a new president was elected in November and before taking office in January, sure you would delay the process.  But a new president will not take office for 11 months, so does the Constitution contemplate the Senate just refusing to advise and consent for a year?  I don’t think so.

I’ve read the arguments of conservatives, and they are mostly political, not legal or constitutional.  The Democrats would do the same thing to us, they say.  The balance of the court is too close, and the consequences too important, to allow President Obama’s nominee to go forward.  Well and good, but none of that really affects the Senate’s constitutional obligation.

To the extent that actual constitutional arguments are put forward, they are tenuous at best.  One argument is that the Constitution doesn’t actually mandate that the Senate act.  The Constitution is a relatively brief document at 4543 words (compare Obamacare at 381,517 words) and, while it is true that it doesn’t mandate every right and responsibility listed, the founders probably assumed good faith and responsible citizenship from our leaders.  Ted Cruz’s glib comment on “Meet the Press” was no more persuasive, saying that under our responsibility to advise and consent, we are “advising” the president not to go forward.

These arguments are of flimsy construction and have been fabricated to support a political conclusion.  They do not pass what one of my law professors called “the layman ‘huh’ test.”  As we students dutifully noted yet one more legal test in our notes, the professor clarified that this one meant if a layman looked at a legal argument and said “huh?” it probably did not pass muster.  So far, only informal online polls are available, but the laymen are saying “huh” to the Republican delay arguments and favor President Obama moving forward with the appointment.

Of course this is only the most recent clash in the war between politics and constitutional process in the appointment of Supreme Court justices.  Beginning with the Senate’s rejection of President Reagan’s nomination of Judge Robert Bork in 1987, politics have been at the center of the process.  One unfortunate consequence is that the premium now is on nominating young candidates with a thin public record, rather than seasoned judges or political leaders, so that they can survive the approval process.  One recent example was President Obama’s nomination of Elena Kagan, a young law school administrator with no judicial experience who had argued only six court cases.  We can and should do better.

Aside from greater political courage, in woefully short supply these days, the only solution I have seen that makes sense comes from two law professors at Northwestern, Steven Calabresi and James Lindgren.  They argue for term limits for Supreme Court justices who, under their approach, would serve staggered 18-year terms, providing for a new appointment every two years.  Pointing out that judges are living longer and remaining in office much longer now, the political pressure on such appointments builds tremendously.  They also point out that no other democracy provides lifetime appointments for judges of their highest constitutional court, and only Rhode Island, among the 50 states, does so.

I rarely think structural reform is a better path than statesmanship and good judgment.  But our present Supreme Court appointment process badly needs fixing.

To view the column at Forbes.com:


The Civic Education Crisis (National radio commentary, Salem/Townhall) February 12, 2016

Posted by daviddavenport in Education, Radio Commentaries.
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“Hamilton” is the hottest show on Broadway but its star character, Alexander Hamilton, barely gets a hearing in today’s student classrooms.

Civic education is the crisis you don’t hear about.  In the last testing, only 18 percent of 8th graders were “proficient” or better in history and only 23 percent in civics or government.  A poll last year showed that 77 percent of millennials could not name one of their U.S. senators.  A 2012 survey concluded that only one-third of Americans could pass the civics portion of the U.S. citizenship test while the immigrant pass rate is 97 percent.

Other crises are getting all the attention and money.  And teachers themselves do not know history—a report in January said that 82 percent of colleges do not require even one course in civics or history.

As Carly Fiorina, the only presidential candidate talking about this put it:  “We are no longer educating our citizens.”  We must do better.


To listen to the commentary at Townhall.com:

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