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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.




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.


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:


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.

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:


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:


Potomac Fever Seizes Republican Leaders Over Federal Spending And Debt (Forbes.com) November 29, 2017

Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds, Politics.
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A funny thing happened to Republicans on their way to controlling both houses of Congress and the White House:  They can’t remember what they believe in, especially about federal spending and debt.  Perhaps it’s a case of early onset Alzheimer’s, unable to recall what got you there or what your core principles are, but more likely it’s a bad case of Potomac Fever as power and politics overtake principle.

Historically Republicans have been the party of fiscal discipline, at least rhetorically.   But now Washington, DC has become about marketing and positioning yourself and your party for the next election, not deliberating over the best policies for the country.  So, in the age of Trump, the self-proclaimed “king of debt” in his business career, Republicans no longer worry about the federal debt.  As Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said recently on “Face the Nation,” government spending is “not an issue we’re focused on right now.”

Reports suggest it’s time to be focused on it since the proposed new tax plan is projected to produce around $1.5 trillion of new debt over the next decade, even taking economic growth into account.  To paraphrase a quotation attributed to the late Senator Everett Dirksen (R-IL): a trillion here, a trillion there, and pretty soon you’re talking real money.  But even the very conservative Freedom Caucus in the House of Representatives seems unconcerned.  One of its members, Congressman Scott Perry (R-PA) said, “Somehow, apparently, you can’t do tax reform and save money at the same time,” concluding he’d rather achieve one of those than neither.

Let me propose, however, that there is still a powerful case for reducing federal spending and the national debt.  For starters there remains a strong moral case for limiting debt.  Admittedly we’re not in the 1920s when President Calvin Coolidge called “carelessness” in the “expenditure of public money” a “condition characteristic of undeveloped people, or of a decadent generation.”  But there is an inherent unfairness and lack of discipline in the Baby Boomer generation transferring trillions of dollars of debt to its children and grandchildren to pay for their own entitlements.  Sadly we have come to view government deficits as just another tool of economic policy, detached from any moral underpinnings.   But as former President Herbert Hoover reminded us:  “Blessed are the young for they shall inherit the national debt.”

The economic case for growing the debt is predictive, with experts on both sides.  A group of noted economists sent a letter to Treasury Secretary Mnuchin this week saying that the corporate tax cuts should lead to significant economic growth.  On the other hand, a survey of 42 economists by the University Of Chicago Booth School Of Business was more pessimistic, with most responding that they were uncertain or that it was unlikely that the proposed tax cuts would lead to significant growth.  The problem is that other forces are in play:  will there be spending reductions, will entitlement reform be undertaken, will the economy be otherwise robust?  Even Ronald Reagan, who championed supply side economics and tax cuts, produced disappointing growth in the federal debt, explained in part because a Democratic Congress would not cut spending.

There is even a national security case for shrinking the national debt, with China and other nations holding huge inventories of US debt instruments.  As former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Mike Mullen, pointed out:  “The single biggest threat to our national security is our debt.”

But in the end, it appears that the political case will carry the day.  It is far easier to vote to cut taxes and put money back into voters’ pockets than it is to insist on the sort of spending cuts that should accompany tax relief.  Even the chair of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, Representative Mark Meadows (R-NC) acknowledges that the “need to put up some major legislative victories…certainly factors into how flexible…a number of us are going to be.”  Flexibility to win victories in the face of principle is a classic symptom of Potomac Fever.

To view the column at Forbes.com:


Free Speech on the Decline (National radio commentary, Salem/Townhall) November 28, 2017

Posted by daviddavenport in Radio Commentaries.
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One reason to be concerned about the future of America is the reduced commitment of its young people to freedom, starting with free speech.

A recent survey from the Brookings Institution indicates that 44 percent of millennials do not believe hate speech is protected by the Constitution. Moreover, 51 percent believe it is appropriate to shout down a controversial speaker, with 19 percent saying it is ok to use violence for that purpose. Mistakenly, 62 percent say the First Amendment requires one controversial speaker to be balanced by another speaker.

Today’s college students are coddled by helicopter parents and seek safe spaces on campus, not freedom. And, with little or no civic education, students do not understand the First Amendment.

Founder Benjamin Franklin said that “whoever would overthrow the liberty of a nation must begin by subduing the freedom of speech.” Wake up, America, the message from our campuses is that free speech is on the decline and, ultimately, so is freedom itself.


We’re Number 45 (National radio commentary, Salem/Townhall) November 15, 2017

Posted by daviddavenport in Radio Commentaries.
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For nearly 50 years now, Freedom House has published its annual survey of the freest countries in the world. This year’s report contains some troubling news.

First, with an increase in authoritarian regimes and populism, overall freedom in the world declined in the past year.

Second, the United States, after dropping a point in freedom last year, lost another point this year. Where would you rank the U.S. among the freest countries? Number one or two, certainly in the top 10? No, the U.S. is now tied for 45th.

Though we are still rated as “free,” the U.S. is heading in the wrong direction. Burdened by over-regulation, with attacks on our political system from within and without, American democracy is seen as troubled.

Abraham Lincoln wisely said, “America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.” When it comes to freedom, we should never be content to say, “we’re number 45.”