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Power to the States (National radio commentary, Salem/Townhall) January 31, 2018

Posted by daviddavenport in Radio Commentaries.
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One encouraging development is that power is leaving Washington, DC and heading to the states. Policy wonks call it devolution, I call it progress.

After 15 years of federalizing K-12 education, for example, Washington turned its back on No Child Left Behind and passed a bill returning power over schools to the states.  There’s no need for Washington to act, as Education Secretary Betsy DeVos says, as a national school board.

There’s discussion in Congress that the states should not only manage the trees, plants and flowers in their territory, but wildlife as well, including endangered species.

Welfare reform may be the next big issue and any solution is likely to create a larger role for states. Only the marijuana laws are moving the other way, toward Washington.

It’s heartening that Washington may finally be reading the Tenth Amendment—that all powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution belong to the states or the people.  Not everything needs to be a federal case.

I’m David Davenport.
https://omny.fm/shows/townhall-review-conservative-commentary-on-todays/david-davenport-power-to-the-states/embed?style=artwork

http://www.townhallreview.com

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What Kind of Country Wants Media Stars for President? (National radio commentary, Salem/Townhall) January 29, 2018

Posted by daviddavenport in Radio Commentaries.
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Social media blew up when it appeared that Oprah Winfrey might run for president.  Think of it:  two billionaire media stars who had never held political office running for president. Only in America.

But the deeper question is why voters are turning in this direction?  Besides their obvious frustration with politicians, voters seem more interested in making statements than actually governing. We don’t know what policies Oprah might follow and, even after a year, Trump’s policy approach is still taking shape.  But they do make a statement.

A related problem is that the presidency is becoming all bully pulpit and no real leadership, all hat and no cattle as they say in Texas.  We want superheroes and action, not mature deliberation.  What passes for action in Washington these days is party-line votes and executive orders, not working through complex issues.

Citizens have duties, too, and we shouldn’t vote just to express frustration, but to guide the policy and governance of the nation.

https://omny.fm/shows/townhall-review-conservative-commentary-on-todays/david-davenport-what-kind-of-country-wants-media-s/embed?style=artwork

http://www.townhallreview.com

Congress and the Lost Art of Compromise (Forbes.com) January 24, 2018

Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds, Politics.
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It is not difficult to identify “lost arts”—things we used to do but do not do any longer—in Washington, DC:  civility, bipartisanship, courage, just to name a few.  But one lost art underlies the others and has led to the inability of Congress to carry out its most basic responsibilities–pass a budget or keep the government open.  The most fundamental lost art of all is the lost art of compromise.

It is ironic that at the same time Congress was conferring its highest civilian honor on former Senator Bob Dole, a principled conservative who nevertheless practiced the art of compromise, we were preparing to shut down the federal government again (the 5th time since 1990) because we do not know how to compromise.  Even the author of “The Art of the Deal,” Donald Trump, apparently does not do deals any more.

But first let’s go back—to the dictionary and American history—before we come back to today.  Compromise includes the root “com” which means together and “promise.”  The idea is that we learn to make promises based upon agreement, or coming together.   Starting at the Constitutional Convention in the summer of 1787, our entire government is based on compromise.  We had the Connecticut compromise, for example, which was based on the novel idea that the government could be partly federal and partly state-based.  James Madison, recognized as the author of the Constitution, introduced several ideas that he could not get through the Convention, but which he compromised into something else.

Otto van Bismarck famously said, “Politics is the art of the possible.”  And so compromise seeks the “best possible” solution.  Not a perfect union but, as the preamble to the Constitution states, “a more perfect union.”  It is sometimes said that the enemy of the good is the best, but that is not our problem with compromise today.  No, we are unable to find the “best possible” solution because members of Congress have become almost entirely focused on positioning themselves and their party for the next election.  That has become the enemy of compromise.

So the Democrats would shut down the entire federal government over the Republicans’ failure to properly address DACA and dreamer immigrants.  And Trump would see the government shut down because he is not getting funding for his wall.  And so it goes—politicians stand firm on one relatively small principle, which they believe will get them reelected, and let the whole of the federal government be held hostage to that.  Senators who wanted to find a way out of the impasse had to gather in one tiny office because the whole apparatus of the Senate was lined up against the very idea of compromise.

Like most arts, it will not be easy to find compromise again.  At the most fundamental level, both voters and politicians alike will have to recover a commitment to governing, not just making statements.  Any so-called debate these days could be reduced to one-word positions:  The “Wall,” says Trump; yes but “DACA’ say Democrats.  But who is saying, “keep the government open,” “settle some issues,” “solve some problems?”  Just a few senators hidden away in an office.  We have to stop making statements and digging in on single issues and be committed to running a proper government.

Then we need leaders who will say, as President Ronald Reagan said to House Speaker Tip O’Neill of the other political party:  “I will take half a loaf today but, I will come back for the other half tomorrow.”  Everyone wants the whole loaf or nothing—if I can’t get my way, shut it down.  It seems like something leaders should have learned in kindergarten—you don’t get everything you want.  Yes, a very short-term compromise was finally struck, but it should have been long-term and done by leaders or in committees, not by a small group of self-selected senators crammed into a private office.

I, for one, plan to stop voting for candidates who are more committed to their reelection, their party, and their one-word litmus tests than they are to making the government work.  Does anyone care to join me?

To view the column at Forbes.com:

https://www.forbes.com/sites/daviddavenport/2018/01/24/congress-and-the-lost-art-of-compromise/#782422f9d597

Previewing Trump’s State of the Union Speech (National radio commentary, Salem/Townhall) January 22, 2018

Posted by daviddavenport in Radio Commentaries.
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A president’s first state of the union message is an important occasion. But in our era of political theater, there is some danger that this year the sideshow will overshadow the main attraction.

Several Democratic members of Congress say they will boycott the event.  One Congresswoman is encouraging females who do attend to dress in black.

Despite the political challenges, “it’s the economy, stupid.”  If Trump makes this primarily an economic address, he can succeed.  Think about it:  unemployment is down, jobs are up and the stock market is on fire. His big piece of legislation, the tax bill, is projected to lead to even more economic growth. The president has problems elsewhere, but so far so good on the economy and that should be his message.

The Constitution does not actually require this kind of televised state of the union address, though tradition does.  It’s always possible that a nontraditional president like Trump might surprise us and do something completely different.

https://omny.fm/shows/townhall-review-conservative-commentary-on-todays/david-davenport-previewing-trump-s-first-state-of/embed?style=artwork

http://www.townhallreview.com

A Cancer Growing on Congress (National radio commentary, Salem/Townhall) January 10, 2018

Posted by daviddavenport in Radio Commentaries.
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There is a cancer growing on Congress.  It is the curse of party-line voting.  The biggest legislation of the Trump administration is the tax bill, passed with only Republican votes.  And the biggest of the Obama administration:  Obamacare, again passed on a party-line vote with only Democrats.

Party-line voting has grown dramatically in the last 40 years.  In the 1970s, party unity voting was around 60 percent but today it is 90 percent.  Sadly it has become the new normal.

Such partisanship is cancerous because it cuts out all the people and ideas of one political party. And it leads to rushed votes, without the expected give and take and amendments of a quality legislative process. It also leads to weak laws because what can be passed by one party’s vote can be undone later by the other party’s vote.

This is no way to run a government.  I vote for more collaboration and less hyper-partisanship in 2018.

https://omny.fm/shows/townhall-review-conservative-commentary-on-todays/david-davenport-a-cancer-growing-on-congress/embed?style=artwork

What Kind of Country Wants Oprah vs. The Donald for President? (Forbes.com) January 9, 2018

Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds, Politics.
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As social media blows up over the possibility of Oprah Winfrey running for president in 2020, the words of 1950s presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson come to mind:  “In America anyone can be president.  That’s one of the risks you take.”

Anyone indeed.  Now we face the specter of a billionaire businessman and media star who had never held or run for political office against a billionaire businesswoman and media star who has never held or run for political office.  And people are excited about this.  Of course Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson has said he’s interested in running also, so we cannot be certain how this might sort out.

The serious question this poses is what kind of country we have become that such a presidential field seems desirable to voters.  For one thing, we are becoming a country that uses politics and elective office to make statements more than actually govern.  We have no idea what kind of policies Oprah stands for and, even after a year of Trump’s presidency, his policy approach is at best scattered.  Apparently people prefer to “say something” with their vote rather than “do something” about policy and governing.  We have long seen this in California where we adopt ballot propositions that make a statement—such as Proposition 13 about high property taxes—but are deeply flawed as a tool of governing.

A related problem is that we are making the presidency into all bully pulpit and no real leadership, all hat and no cattle as they say in Texas.  When President Theodore Roosevelt spoke of the president having a bully pulpit, he meant a platform from which leadership could be projected and work could get done.  Now, with Trump’s Twitter account and Oprah’s television shows, we want all platform and no agenda.  We want to elect the candidate with the biggest megaphone, not with the most extensive political experience or ideas.  We are becoming, as theologian Elton Trueblood put it, “a cut-flower civilization” with no real roots or beliefs.  We want media stars who speak in sound bites and solve problems in one-hour TV episodes:  “Look, up in the sky, it’s a bird, it’s a plane, no it’s Superman!”  Indeed, Norman Mailer described media-friendly John F. Kennedy’s appeal in an article titled, “Superman Comes to the Supermarket.”  But at least Kennedy had some real political experience and ideas.  Surely we have learned by now that a great speech, like Oprah’s at the Golden Globes, does not make a great president.

I would add that we seem to be a country that is more interested in instant gratification from our leaders than actual deliberation.  The greatest deliberative body in the world, the US Senate, doesn’t really deliberate anymore.  Bills are introduced by one party and they are only brought to a vote when that party has enough votes to pass it.  Much of what passes for action in Washington now is by way of executive orders or agency regulations, not deliberation.  As Franklin Roosevelt said in his first inaugural address as president during the Great Depression, “The American people want action, and action now.”  Well that’s what presidents and Congress are still offering us—partisan action, not bipartisan deliberation.

We must remember that citizens have duties in the electoral process as well as the candidates.  We read that the great populist wave in America is frustrated that the politicians and elites don’t get it.  Well, the citizens need to get it also.  They need to get that elections and governing are about more than just expressing frustration and making statements.  They are about deciding the policy direction the country will follow.  We need to see the pendulum swing from elite-bashing to serious and mature judgments about the kind of candidates, experience and bipartisanship that would actually make America work again.

Maybe author Cormac McCarthy was right that this is “no country for old men.”  But the old ideas from the founders about how government works are not all bad.  They have endured longer than any other government in history in large part because they are good ideas that actually work.  Maybe we should try them.

 

To view the column at Forbes.com:

https://www.forbes.com/sites/daviddavenport/2018/01/09/what-kind-of-country-wants-oprah-versus-the-donald-for-president/#941a33b70777

The Tax Bill Needs Follow-On Spending Cuts (National radio commentary, Salem/Townhall) January 5, 2018

Posted by daviddavenport in Radio Commentaries.
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Although a tax cut may have been a nice Christmas gift, it needs some follow-on spending cuts to work.  At best, Republicans have eaten their dessert first, waiting to eat their spending cut vegetables later; at worst, they will have increased the federal deficit by another trillion dollars or more.

 

By most estimates, even stimulating economic growth will not fully pay for the tax cut.  Republicans will now have to undertake the politically courageous step of cutting federal spending.

 

It will be difficult to make spending cuts without touching Medicare or Social Security, which President Trump has said are off limits. Meanwhile there is pressure to undo the sequester, automatic cuts on spending no one liked, but which have at least kept spending growth down.

Ideally, Republicans would have disciplined themselves to do tax and spending cuts at the same time. Tax cuts may come and go, but the federal debt remains forever, it seems. And—without spending cuts—it grows.
https://omny.fm/shows/townhall-review-conservative-commentary-on-todays/david-davenport-the-tax-bill-needs-follow-on-spend/embed?style=artwork

Jerry Brown’s Blue Christmas (national radio commentary, Salem/Townhall) December 28, 2017

Posted by daviddavenport in Radio Commentaries.
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California governor Jerry Brown has been everywhere, preaching the gospel of blue-state California. California wildfires are the curse of climate change, he told 60 Minutes, while he whisks off to yet another climate conference in Paris, warning that the world is on the road to hell. He says the new federal tax cuts are a “monstrosity,” while he raises taxes at home.

Brown has turned California into a blue-state model of governance, but all is not calm or bright. Even with higher taxes and Silicon Valley growth, the state budget has a deficit and its pension deficit has grown dramatically.

Meanwhile jobs continue to flee the state in the face of high labor costs, high taxes and over-regulation. California has the highest poverty rate in the nation. The cost of housing is sky-high and the roads are old and gridlocked.

Much has been made of Governor Sam Brownback’s failing red-state experiment in Kansas, but Jerry Brown’s blue state Christmas left lumps of coal in many stockings.

Jerry Brown is Dreaming of a Blue Christmas (Forbes.com) December 20, 2017

Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds.
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While traditionalists dream of a white, snowy Christmas, California governor Jerry Brown dreams of a blue one:  a blue state, with a blue governor, aggressively pursuing blue-state policies.   While much has been made of Governor Sam Brownback’s failing effort to turn Kansas into a model red state, Jerry Brown seems to be riding high.

There he is on CBS’s iconic “60 Minutes” program, explaining how California’s wildfires are the curse of climate change and Trump’s failure to acknowledge climate science and act on it.  Meanwhile he’s whisking off to yet another Paris climate conference, preaching that the world is “on the road to hell.”  The federal government’s tax cuts are a “monstrosity” according to Brown’s gospel of blue governance.

But in Jerry Brown’s blue California, all is not calm, all is not bright this Christmas.  For example, even though California spends far more on welfare than any other state—in fact, at $103 billion a year, more than #2 New York and #3 Texas combined—it has the highest poverty rate of any state.  In fact, there may be some cause and effect here, since California attracts more illegal immigrants than any other state at a high cost, estimated at over $20 billion.  Besides generous welfare programs, blue California now provides driver’s licenses and financial aid at the University of California to undocumented immigrants.

An article of faith in blue states is high tax rates to fund services and address income inequality and, once again, California leads the way with the highest state income tax rate in the nation (13.3%).  But wait, there’s more.   The top 1% of income earners in California pay 50% of all state income taxes.  And much of the state’s tax base is funded by the highly volatile profits of Silicon Valley.  This is hardly a formula for long-term balance or fairness.

With high taxes, a burdensome regulatory environment, and its astronomical cost of housing, businesses and workers continue to leave California for other states, especially Texas.  A demographic report by Joel Kotkin and Wendell Cox shows that more people are leaving California than entering, and especially those in the middle class who work in major business centers such as Los Angeles and San Francisco.  More trouble in blue nirvana.

These underlying fiscal trends have created dangers for the state’s finances in ways that are rarely disclosed.  While Governor Brown touts a “California comeback,” the state is already facing a budget deficit after a few years of balanced budgets.  Beyond the operating budget, other financial alarms are sounding.  More and more money is spent in “special budgets” that have grown dramatically in recent decades.  Pensions for state and local government workers are woefully underfunded, creating an unfunded liability of at least $280 billion, with one estimate as high as $1 trillion.   California’s highways and other infrastructure are decaying with little or no money for improvement (but apparently enough money for Brown’s blue state dream of high speed rail).  Parts of the once golden state look like a third world nation.

California has run off the rails in part because it has become a one-party state with the only real policy debates between the Governor, who wants to spend more, and the legislature that wants to spend more still.  The legislature has been under Democratic control since 1970 (with the exception of 1995-96 in the Assembly), in recent years with a super-majority.  The color wheel in Sacramento runs from blue to bluer.

But in the end, do people really want their leaders creating either ruby red (Kansas) or true blue (California) models of governance?  I think not.  Most people just want their government to work, and essential services to be provided at a reasonable cost.  Both Kansas and California are failing that essential test.

To view the column at Forbes.com:

https://www.forbes.com/sites/daviddavenport/2017/12/20/jerry-brown-is-dreaming-of-a-blue-christmas/#55d8e972653f

A Growing Cancer on Congress: The Curse of Party-Line Voting (Forbes.com) December 13, 2017

Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds, Politics.
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Just as White House Counsel John Dean famously proclaimed the Watergate cover-up of the 1970s a “cancer on the presidency,” there is now a growing cancer on Congress.  The rapid and pervasive rise of party-line voting is a cancer that is eating at the effectiveness of both the House of Representatives and the Senate.  As a consequence, what was once the world’s most deliberative body, the US Senate, hardly deliberates at all, and what little is accomplished in Washington is done through party-line votes and executive orders, with devastating consequences.

The recent tax reform bill is Exhibit A, with zero Democrats voting for it in either the House or the Senate.  One Republican in the Senate and 13 in the House broke ranks to vote against it, largely out of a concern over its predicted increase in the federal debt.  With only one party at the table working on the bill, its provisions were developed last minute, with handwritten edits presented on the floor.  Deliberation, if it happened at all, was limited to one side of the aisle and a very narrow range of choices were considered in a short time frame.

Unfortunately party-line voting has become the new normal.  As recently as the early 1970s, party unity voting was around 60% but today it is closer to 90% in both the House and Senate.  If you think about the major legislative accomplishments of recent presidents, beginning with George W. Bush, you can see the problem.  Campaigning for the presidency by touting his work across the aisle as governor of Texas, Bush found that more difficult in Washington.  In his first year as president, Congress passed his No Child Left Behind education bill with strong bipartisan support, 384-45 in the House and 91-8 in the Senate.  But his next major legislation, prescription drugs for seniors, was hotly debated and the vote came largely on party lines, at least in the House, with only 8 Democrats supporting it and 8 Republicans against.

Part of Barack Obama’s “hope and change” message as a candidate included making Washington work in a bipartisan way, but that got little traction.  The Affordable Care Act, perhaps the most important piece of domestic legislation in 50 years, was passed on a straight party-line vote of Democrats.  Bipartisanship completely fell apart when Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Republicans’ “single most important thing” was making sure Obama was a one-term president, and Obama announced that he had “a pen and a phone” and would just take executive action to get things done.

Now we are shocked when Senator John McCain flies back to the Capitol from cancer treatments to announce he would not vote to repeal and replace Obamacare without a bipartisan conversation involving both parties to find the best solution.  An opinion piece in the conservative Washington Times called him “a traitor to the conservative cause.”  Apparently party discipline is more important than finding the right solution to the complex set of health care issues.

One unfortunate consequence of all this party-line voting and executive action is that policy swings back and forth or is held in the balance.  Obamacare is passed on a party-line vote and nearly repealed on one.  The same is true for Dodd-Frank.  Obama’s executive orders are simply overturned by his successor Donald Trump.  Is this any way to run a government?

One underlying problem is that the two major parties are now better sorted than before.  Whereas both the Republican and Democratic parties had some liberals, moderates and conservatives in an earlier day, now Republicans are predictably conservative and Democrats are liberal.  But another problem is that all politicians seem to care about in Washington is how a vote will best position them and their party for the next election, rather than what will make for a great piece of legislation.  Congress has devolved to marketing and winning, not deliberation and great policy.

Only when a few statesmen and the American voters stand up against party-line voting will anything change.

To view the column at Forbes.com:

https://www.forbes.com/sites/daviddavenport/2017/12/13/a-growing-cancer-on-congress-the-curse-of-party-line-voting/#5ff0b67f6139