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No, We Shouldn’t Lower the Voting Age to 16 (Forbes.com) May 25, 2016

Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds, Politics.
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Ever on the bleeding edge of change, San Francisco is placing a measure on the November ballot to allow 16-year olds to vote. Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi can barely contain her enthusiasm, “because when kids are in school, they’re so interested, they’re so engaged.” Tell that to the teachers whose students, according to surveys, don’t know who their U.S. senator is or how to amend the Constitution. Pelosi’s real enthusiasm is more partisan, of course, since young people are frequently liberal until they start paying taxes and really have to deal with the government, which does not happen at 16.

I’m sorry but if having 16-year olds in the voting booth is the answer to some civic problem we have, I guess I don’t know what the question is. People point to pitiful voter turnout, but is simply adding more eligible voters the answer to civic malaise? One organization that supports this nationally, FairVote, says it will have a “trickle-up effect,” getting parents more engaged. I suppose when my teenagers wanted to support Ralph Nader for president, it mildly engaged my ridicule instincts.

The last time the voting age was changed nationally was in 1971, with the adoption of the 26th Amendment to the Constitution. With 18-year olds fighting in Vietnam, it seemed wrong to say they couldn’t vote for their national leaders until they were 21. In other words, there was some serious and logical reason to make the change, which doesn’t seem evident here. In fact, other legal age thresholds have been going up, not down. The drinking age is 21, and the age when kids may drive a car without any conditions has now increased to 17 or 18 by most state laws, not 16. In other words, the law has moved toward greater maturity before responsibility, not less.

If it is a question of maturity, researchers generally agree that the brain is still developing until the mid-20s, with moral reasoning and abstract thought coming later in the cycle than previously thought. Perhaps it should also be a question of having a real stake in the process—such as serving in the military (age 18, or 17 with parental consent) or writing a check to the government to pay your taxes.  Or, how about requiring younger voters to pass the citizenship test as an incentive and qualifier, tying civic engagement with civic education?

In fairness, there is not exactly a stampede in favor of lowering the voting age, though it is taking place. Two cities in Maryland—Tacoma Park (population 10,000) and Hyattsville (population 18,000)—have lowered the voting age to 16 for municipal elections only. In the primaries, 22 states allow 17-year olds to vote if they will turn 18 prior to the general election in the fall. I suppose this makes some sense, allowing the same voters to narrow the field who will ultimately choose the winner.

Lowering the voting age is tricky under the law. The federal law allows it, since the wording of the 26th Amendment provides that citizens over 18 may not be denied the right to vote based on age. Arguably the Constitution could again be amended to change the age to 16, though the bar for such amendments is high, requiring two-thirds of both houses of Congress and three-fourths of the state legislatures to approve. The real locus for change, however, would be in state legislatures, since the states basically control elections under the Constitution. Efforts by cities such as San Francisco and the two cities in Maryland can only affect their own municipal elections, which are likely to be of limited interest to teenagers, just as they tend to be for other voters.

I think Major League Baseball replay reviews have a good standard for changing things like the question of voting age. Unless the review shows “indisputable video evidence” that the play on the field was called incorrectly, the call stands. OK, maybe we don’t need “indisputable” evidence, but how about some evidence that we need or even want 16-year olds voting? It’s just not there.

To view the column at Forbes.com:


Constitutional Kudos to Paul Ryan (Forbes.com) May 11, 2016

Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds, Politics.
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The same bravado and voter frustration that brought Donald Trump to the top of the Republican presidential heap has now turned on House Speaker Paul Ryan.  When Ryan said recently that he was not yet ready to endorse Trump, former Alaska governor and vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin said she would work to defeat Ryan in his primary race for reelection to the Congress.  Trump spokesperson Katrina Pierson has said Ryan should give up his speakership if he can’t endorse Trump.  In other words, one of the best and brightest leaders Republicans have in Congress is history if he stands in the way of, or even delays jumping on, the Trump bandwagon.

Hold on a minute, people.  The fact that Donald Trump has won 10.7 million votes out of an electorate of 130 million and will presumably be the Republican nominee later this summer doesn’t mean every other Republican leader shuts down his brain and falls mindlessly in line.   Not only is that a recipe for disaster for the Republican Party, but it’s also completely out of line with the constitutional approach to governance the Founders so carefully constructed.

For starters the Trumpeteers should be reminded that the Founders were highly suspicious of the dangers of pure majoritarian rule, or too much democracy.  Here are a few nuggets of their wisdom:

  • “We are a Republic. Real Liberty is never found in despotism or in the extremes of Democracy.”  Alexander Hamilton.
  • “Democracy will soon degenerate into an anarchy; such an anarchy that every man will do what is right in his own eyes and no man’s life or property or reputation or liberty will be secure…” John Adams
  • “Democracy is nothing more than mob rule, where fifty-one percent of the people may take away the rights of the other forty-nine percent.” Thomas Jefferson
  • My personal favorite, sometimes attributed to Benjamin Franklin but authorship apparently unknown: “Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for dinner.”

Very deliberately, then, the Founders established something other than a pure democracy ruled by majoritarian votes.  It was to be, as Benjamin Franklin famously put it, “a republic, if you can keep it.”  The goal of the Founders was not to follow the people’s passions of the moment, but rather to seek, as James Madison described it in Federalist 37, 51 and 63, the “deliberate sense of the community” over time, as expressed through the several institutions the Founders and the Constitution established.  In fact, one could argue that Trumpism is precisely the kind of heated passion and anger of the moment the Founders would have wanted to resist, or at least slow down.

Loyalty to a political party’s standard bearer is not unimportant to party leaders and appropriately so.  It makes sense, then, that if Paul Ryan cannot reconcile himself to Donald Trump as the party’s presidential nominee, he should step aside as chair of the party’s convention and Ryan has offered to do just that.  But to forfeit his leadership in the House of Representatives, or his seat in Congress, over the heated rhetoric of Sarah Palin and the loud-sounding Trumpeteers would be to allow the 10 million voter Trump majority to have way more than their proper say.

The leaders of Congress should be about policy more than politics, and this is precisely the turf on which Donald Trump has been uncertain.  His policy positions have not been well developed during the primaries, reduced most often to sounds bites like building a wall paid for by Mexico, or putting tariffs on Chinese trade since they are eating our lunch.  And recently he has even begun to shift some of his previous positions on the minimum wage and income taxes.

Frankly it would behoove Mr. Trump and his Trumpeteers to take a little time to find the cool, deliberate sense of the community on policy matters and Mr. Ryan could be a great ally in accomplishing that.

To view the column at Forbes.com:  http://www.forbes.com/sites/daviddavenport/2016/05/11/trump-v-ryan-passion-and-frustration-or-the-deliberate-sense-of-the-community/#584e1419344c

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)


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