jump to navigation

We Must Learn From History, Not Cancel It (Washington Examiner) April 9, 2021

Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds.
comments closed

Championship basketball coach Roy Williams of the University of North Carolina recently announced his retirement, saying he was “no longer the right man for the job.” People speculated on what he meant because he won a national championship only four years ago, but ESPN commentator and former coach Seth Greenberg doubtless got it right when he said it was the “business of college basketball” that drove him out. Greenberg said Williams got into the game not to make money but because he loved the game and wanted to mentor young men in basketball and life. Now, that is no longer the primary job of a college coach where millions of dollars are at stake.

This is a parable of life today in which everything is political.

You can’t have the baseball All-Star Game in Atlanta because Georgia passed a controversial voting rights bill. The game has been moved to Colorado, but has the MLB read its voting-rights policies? What state is pure enough in the politics of the day to host anything without a protest?

The goal of vaccinating as many people as quickly as possible against COVID-19 is now being reconsidered because of equity politics. School reopenings, United Airlines pilot training, and the teaching of American history are all now political questions. The writer Thomas Mann was right when he said, “Everything is politics.”

It is even more difficult today because everything is not just politics, but hyperpartisan politics. In this kind of world, people are saints or sinners; there is no in-between. There are no grays or complexities to work through. You are right or wrong; you win or lose. If we don’t like something you say or do, we simply cancel you.

It will be difficult to pull back from this moment, with all its fire and fury, but an important place to start is with our young people and their educational system. Young people must be taught to see the complexities and difficulties in history. We must see the mistakes in order to learn from them. If we topple every statue of a sinner and cancel everyone we disagree with, what will be left to learn? We are left then with only indoctrination, not learning.

An important place to start in educating young people is to cancel “presentism.” Presentism is the notion that we should look at everything, including history, through the lens of our present time and values. If leaders believed or practiced something that was widely done in their time, but violates our present sensibilities, they must be canceled. If they owned slaves in a time of slavery, we can no longer respect or even learn from them, presentism tells us. History is not to be learned from but to be judged and judged by today’s standards.

Instead, those who would study history need to travel back in time only after first checking their 21st-century glasses at TSA before they depart. They need to read history in the context and values of their time in order to understand the real debates. The Ashbrook Center in Ohio does a marvelous job at this, training and retraining teachers to teach history using primary documents. Students are challenged to read debates and speeches of the day to understand what was really going on. Besides resisting presentism, this kind of study engages students far more than boring textbooks and prompts them to learn more.

We must learn from history, not cancel it. Only when we understand the grays and complexities of life, both then and now, will we be able to improve it.

To read the column at the Washington Examiner:


Biden’s Crisis Response Lays the Groundwork for a Liberal Push (Washington Examiner) March 17, 2021

Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds.
comments closed

President Biden is apparently a graduate of the Rahm Emanuel school of public policy. As former President Barack Obama’s chief of staff, Emanuel famously said, “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste. … It is an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.” With his flurry of executive actions and the passage of the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, Biden has shown he learned that lesson well as his immediate COVID-19 relief plans lay the groundwork for a longer-term liberal push.

Actually, President Franklin Roosevelt was an early adapter of the Emanuel crisis model. Roosevelt used the emergency of the Great Depression in the 1930s to revolutionize the size and role of the federal government and of the presidency in particular. If you think excessive use of executive orders is a recent response to partisan gridlock, think again. Roosevelt holds the record for most executive orders signed by a president at 3,721. He created countless new “alphabet soup” federal agencies and had the federal government take over farming, regulate private markets, create social security, provide direct welfare payments, and create make-work government jobs.

Roosevelt’s New Deal was not just about providing emergency relief. It was about changing the role of government in ways that persist today.

A closer look at Biden’s early COVID-19 emergency efforts foreshadows a similar story, a new New Deal in the making. For example, we are only now discovering that the relief bill includes $60 billion in new taxes, as well as other tax law changes. These taxes apply to corporations and the wealthy primarily, giving Democrats an early start toward the liberal goal of greater income equality. Biden is now planning even larger tax increases, the first in nearly 30 years, again focused mainly on the wealthy.

Biden has also used the COVID-19 relief bill to restore and increase traditional welfare policies that had been turned back in recent years. The bill includes increased unemployment benefits, healthcare subsidies and expansions, and notably a major expansion of the one-year child tax credit. Democrats have already said they would like to make the child tax credit permanent, which would significantly increase the total cost of the bill. It is always easier to continue an existing policy than to start a new one, so this is a classic Washington toehold expansion.

Of course, few people, even members of Congress, read 5,000-page bills such as this one. As House Speaker Nancy Pelosi famously said of the lengthy Obamacare bill, we had to pass it in order to know what is in it. However, one would do well at least to listen to the strong signals being given by liberals who are pleased with the bill. White House press spokesperson Jen Psaki called it “the most progressive bill in American history.” The 93-member Congressional Progressive Caucus described it as “a truly progressive and bold package.” Read their lips: It’s not just about short-term relief.

Even though the national debt chugs along toward a stunning $30 trillion, COVID-19 relief also removes the normal hand-wringing about increasing the debt. We are in a crisis, after all, so we can’t worry about the debt now. But will we worry about it when the next liberal bill comes along? We’re already told that it’s time for a big infrastructure bill. With COVID-19 relief breaking through debt ceilings, a large infrastructure bill will be far easier to pass.

Through COVID-19 relief, infrastructure spending, raising taxes on businesses and the wealthy, and restoring major welfare programs, Biden will be well on his way to a liberal administration following in the footsteps of Roosevelt and President Lyndon Johnson. Like the New Deal following the Great Depression, we will remember COVID-19 not only for its devastating effects on our health and economy, but also for the transformation of government it ushered in.

To read the column at the Washington Examiner:


Do We Need More or a Different Kind of Civic Education? (Washington Examiner) March 4, 2021

Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds.
comments closed

Civic education in America could use help from almost any quarter.

That bears note because, with major funding from the federal government and deep engagement by 300 scholars, practitioners, and other experts, a new civic education road map was released this week. “Educating for American Democracy” seeks to help states, school districts, and schools “build a new foundation” for civic education by guiding the development of new civic education curriculum across the land.

The most recent National Assessment of Educational Progress test scores tell us that only 24% of eighth graders are proficient or better in civics, with a pitiful 15% proficient in U.S. history. Only one-third could pass the basic citizenship test given to immigrants. But is a new curricular road map what we most need to right the ship?

Moreover, are academics the best ones to design the map? A road map could be anything from a one-page foldout to a 300-page book. Likewise, there are significant disagreements about civic education. Some, myself included, believe civic education is itself in reasonably good health but needs much greater emphasis and priority. Others believe that approach is old-fashioned, that we need to move away from civic knowledge to civic action as a way to engage and teach the young.

There are also those who think almost everything about the history and civics we teach is wrong. The founding of our country must be changed, they say, from 1776 to the coming of slaves and to the formation of the colonies in 1619. Ethnic studies, including condemnations of capitalism, should be the order of the day. Statues, murals, and names of flawed historical figures should be removed in this new Left version of civic education.

In order to be effective, then, a road map has to be something one could reasonably expect to follow. Unfortunately, this new road map is more like the several-hundred-pager than it is a one-page foldout. It incorporates seven themes, followed by five design challenges, and includes countless key concepts, questions, and recommendations. Your average teacher or state legislator is more likely to be overwhelmed than guided. Scholars have their own agendas when they design a road map. Not content just to do more civic education, they seek to improve democracy using civic education as a tool. Our democracy is in “grave danger,” the report says, plagued by inequities, civic dysfunction, polarization, and even violence. It calls on us to “build a new foundation.”

We misdiagnose the problem. It’s not that we don’t know what works; it’s that we aren’t doing enough of it.

Consider that we spend only 5 cents per student per year on civic education and $54 on science, technology, engineering, and math education. Fewer than 10 states require as much as a year of civic education in high school, and some do not require any. Civics has all but been pushed out of elementary and middle school curricula altogether.

Here’s a thought: Rather than doing something completely different, we need to do more civics education, period.

David Davenport is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution and a senior fellow at the Ashbrook Center. He is the author of a recent report: “Commonsense Solutions To Our Civics Crisis.”

To read the column at the Washington Examiner:


Recalling a Governor Shouldn’t Be This Easy (Washington Examiner) February 27, 2021

Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds.
comments closed

As if leading the largest state in the union through the pandemic and guiding the world’s fifth-largest economy through troubled waters weren’t enough, California Gov. Gavin Newsom faces a distracting and expensive recall campaign.

Although Newsom has less than two years remaining in his term, it only requires signatures from 12% of those who voted in the last election, in this case 1.5 million out of more than 22 million registered voters, to put the recall question on a special ballot. Whether you like the job the governor is doing or not (and voters are split: 46% saying they approve, 48% disapprove according to a recent poll), do we need yet another election?

The answer is no. Recalls should be extraordinary remedies, not merely do-overs of the last election for those who cannot wait for the next one. But if you have enough money to gather signatures, you can probably force a recall election. In California, that means just a small handful of billionaires and other Silicon Valley moguls. The Republican Party (like all politicians these days, more interested in winning than in good governance) has also chipped in. With over 1.1 million signatures so far, and a deadline of March 17, the odds are good that there will be a special election this fall.

California is 1 of 20 states that allow a governor to be recalled. History teaches us, however, that Gov. Hiram Johnson and the Progressives who enacted the recall provision were concerned about checking powerful special interests, especially the railroads, that might corrupt the political process. Presumably, a recall was to be used when the representative system became corrupt and tyrannical, not simply disagreeable.

Beyond Newsom’s decision to dine at the swanky French Laundry restaurant during a lockdown, there is no allegation of misconduct against him. People have simply become frustrated by the lockdowns and vaccine rollouts.

The costs, however, are real. Quite literally.

Besides the money to collect signatures, estimates suggest that the special election will cost $80 million to $100 million. There’s also the political distraction concern. California faces huge problems, but this will be a major distraction for months. Then, there is the second question on the ballot. After asking whether Newsom should be recalled, the ballot asks, if he is recalled, who should replace him? The last time California went through this drill, a veritable circus of 135 people, including a pornographic actress, made it to the ballot.

The familiar lesson: There is little constituency left for good governance. Prudence and moderation, words that filled the Federalist Papers, are never heard in politics these days. Now the mantra comes from the late Al Davis, owner of the Raiders football team: “Just win, baby.” If we have another shot at damaging a member of the opposite party and perhaps removing him from office, then we will take it, regardless of the cause or the consequences.

Voters, how about exercising a little judgment and moderation? Parties, how about developing a little patience and waiting for the next election? Political leaders, how about raising the bar for extraordinary tools such as recall, requiring as many as 25% of voters to call for it?

To read the column at the Washington Examiner:


The International Criminal Court Plays Politics In Palestine (Washington Times) February 17, 2021

Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds.
comments closed

The International Criminal Court will celebrate its 20th birthday next year. It was touted at its founding as a permanent judicial solution to mass cases of injustice such as the genocide in Rwanda and war crimes in the Balkans in the 1990s. This aspect of the new court’s work has certainly been disappointing as it approaches 20 years and $2 billion of expenses with a handful of convictions of African warlords to show for it.

Beyond its legal agenda, from its inception the ICC has had a political one as well. The political designs of the ICC took a big step forward recently when it decided it had jurisdiction over alleged war crimes in Gaza and the West Bank, potentially bringing Israeli soldiers before the court. This controversial decision flies in the face of international law, but drives right up the middle of the political agenda of the court to bring military powers such as Israel and the United States under its jurisdiction.

In response, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rightly called out the court as a “political body and not a judicial institution.” U.S. State Department representative Ned Price correctly pointed out that Palestine is not a sovereign state and therefore it was not qualified to call for an ICC investigation. Not everyone agrees, of course. Human Rights Watch called the decision “pivotal,” as it finally offers victims of serious crimes some legal recourse. It’s pivotal alright, but pivots in the wrong direction.

When the court was formed, the plan had been for cases to be taken up when they involved state parties to the treaty creating the court. This is one of the limitations of international law, requiring agreement from sovereign nations to be acted upon. There was also a way for cases to be referred to the court by the U.N. Security Council.

But late in the negotiations, a group of small and medium-sized nations joined with aggressive human rights groups to take the court in a much more expansive direction. In the end, cases could be brought for crimes on the territory of nations that were members of the court, regardless of the nationality of those committing them. And an independent prosecutor would have the power to bring cases.   

These aggressive changes to the structure of the court caused the U.S., an early proponent of the court, to drop out and even today, some 70 nations have not joined the court, including the U.S., Israel and other world powers. This must not surprise the founders of the court because they intentionally pursued an aggressive and independent direction, saying they wanted “a court worth having.” A court worth having meant one that could come after the U.S., Israel and other nations that had significant military deployments.   

The court has rattled its sword over alleged American war crimes in Afghanistan, but it has not taken the bold step of bringing cases against Americans there. Israel, however, sometimes finds itself a proxy for the U.S., a younger brother easier to pick on. The recent 2-1 decision of a three-judge panel of the ICC does just that, advising the prosecutor of the court that the ICC does have jurisdiction over alleged war crimes in Gaza and the West Bank, so now the fuller political agenda of the ICC is in play.

There is more politics here, too, namely the politics of the Middle East peace process. Palestine has long angled to be accepted as a state, but its statehood has been wrapped up in the larger peace negotiations. As a consequence, Palestine has tried to join any number of international organizations to bolster its case, signing on to the treaty of the ICC in 2015. That, too, was objectionable, since only states may join the court.

To paraphrase Carl von Clausewitz, the International Criminal Court’s larger agenda is politics by other means. Its decision to allow cases against Israelis, whose nation is intentionally not a member of the court, violates international law and is politics by other means. It must be opposed.     

To read the column at the Washington Times:


Banning the Teaching of the 1619 Project is the Wrong Solution to a Real Problem (Washington Examiner) February 15, 2021

Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds.
comments closed

Sir Francis Bacon (1561-1626) may have referred to the ancient practice of bloodletting when he famously said, “Sometimes the remedy is worse than the disease.”

We need not go that far here, but new laws proposed in five states to ban the teaching of the 1619 Project are the wrong solution to a very real problem. The New York Times introduced the 1619 Project in 2019, on the 400th anniversary of the arrival of slaves in the American colonies. Its goals were not modest. The project seeks to “reframe the country’s history by placing the consequences of slavery … at the very center of our national narrative.” The project sought to redefine the founding of America to 1619, with its economic system of slavery, rather than in 1776 with the Declaration of Independence or the 1787 signing of the Constitution.

The project has had a surprising impact on the teaching of history. The Pulitzer Center, which has collaborated with the project to offer lesson plans to teachers, reports that more than 4,000 teachers from all 50 states are teaching their materials. It is reminiscent of Howard Zinn’s infamous textbook, A People’s History of the United States, which was introduced in 1980 as an alternative telling of the American story, one that emphasized the sins and errors of the founders and leaders, and has become a widely used, even mainstream, text.

The political nature of the 1619 Project was recognized immediately, with President Donald Trump appointing a “1776 Commission” to reassert the primacy of the Declaration in America’s founding. Sen. Tom Cotton introduced the “Saving American History Act” to remove federal monies used to teach 1619 materials and ideas. Cotton called the 1619 Project a “racially divisive, revisionist account of history that denies the noble principles of freedom and equality on which our nation was founded.” Now five states, Arkansas, Iowa, Mississippi, Missouri, and South Dakota, have seen bills introduced to block state funding also.

The problems with the 1619 Project and these proposed state laws are legion, but let’s start by acknowledging that we do a terrible job of teaching civics and history in schools.

In the most recent “Nation’s Report Card” testing, only 24% of eighth-graders tested “proficient” or better in U.S. history, a mere 15% in civics and government. So, before states put energy into the politics of history, they need to prioritize teaching the basics of history and civics. Standardized testing in reading, science, technology, engineering, and math education have all but pushed civics out of the curriculum. As I outlined in a recent report, states need to mandate the teaching of history and civics, not only in high school but in the elementary and middle school as well. The federal government should be embarrassed that it spends $54 per student annually on STEM education and only 5 cents on civics!

A further problem with politicizing the teaching of history is that we basically have adults working out their politics on the backs of children. As professor Sam Wineburg of Stanford University has observed, kids don’t get the interpretive game. We hardly need to subsidize more “presentism” (seeing history through 21st-century glasses) in education. People should also bristle at state governments censoring particular books or ideas. Education is still the responsibility of local government, and such matters should be worked out there. Let states address the larger questions of curriculum and funding without engaging in dueling bills over the particulars.

What we need is what Ronald Reagan called “an informed patriotism.” Neither the 1619 Project nor state bills banning it will get us there.

To read the column at the Washington Examiner:


Elites Battle Over History While Students Fail Basic Civics (Washington Examiner) January 21, 2021

Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds.
comments closed

It’s bad enough that civic education is in the tank. In the most recent national testing, only 24% of 8th graders were “proficient” or better in U.S. history, while a pitiful 15% were proficient in government and civics. Only one-third of Americans can pass the basic citizenship test. Funding for civic education is a pittance, as the federal government spends five cents per student per year on it, while investing $54 per student on STEM (science, technology, education and math) education.

But don’t worry, supposedly the experts have our backs. Their answer is to launch a series of wars over the content of history and civics to be sure that what little students might learn or retain is politically correct.

Nationally, the New York Times weighed in during 2019 with its 1619 Project, aimed at changing the understanding of our founding from the Declaration of Independence (1776) or the signing of the Constitution (1787) to the arrival of the first slaves in 1619. Nevermind that there was no country then being founded because the project sought, above all, to redefine the essence of America as its unjust and discriminatory economic system, not its proclamations of freedom and equality or the primacy of laws.

This week, then, the political football was returned by then-President Donald Trump’s 1776 Commission, which released “The 1776 Report.” This was a product of a hurry-up offense, to be sure, because the commission, composed of conservative academics and activists, was appointed a month ago, whereas most projects of this nature take months or years to complete. Perhaps further time was not really needed to, as the commission put it, “restore” the events of 1776 and the Declaration of Independence as America’s true founding.

The sad truth is that instead of debating how to improve civic education, experts are turning it into a political football. The writer Thomas Mann was evidently describing our day when he said, “Everything is politics.” So what we have increasingly in the teaching of U.S. history and civics is adults fighting their political wars on the battlefield of their children’s education — children who, by the way, need Civics 101, not The Politics of Civics.

The California Legislature is doing its part to improve civic education, debating over the terms of teaching ethnic history. California educators are on their third draft to try to create an ethnic studies curriculum that, instead of celebrating and teaching ethnic heritage, seems to prefer attacking white nationalism, colonialism, and the like. The attempt to incorporate critical ethnic studies has had even proponents of ethnic studies divided and unable to agree on a proper curriculum.

Or consider the California schoolteacher who required third graders to deconstruct their racial profile and identify their “power and privilege” ranking. The teacher, in math no less (everything is politics), explained that they live in a “dominant culture” made up of “white, middle class, cisgender, educated, able-bodied, Christian, English speakers,” all of which is a problem in critical race theory. The parents were aghast, and the battle lines were drawn. This was not high school or college, mind you, but third grade.

The point is that battles over political correctness are not what students need in order to improve their civic education. Our lack of national civic knowledge speaks clearly of the need to learn the basics first. As Professor Sam Wineburg of Stanford University has said, younger students “do not get the interpretive game [and] are just learning that claims must be judged not for alignment with current issues of social justice but for the data they present.” It is in college where students are best prepared to read multiple accounts from different perspectives and make comparisons and judgments.

Cancel culture, covering up art, taking down statues, redefining the founding, critical race theory — these are all efforts by highly political adults to rewrite the script of history. Fine, let academics publish their articles and have their debates. Just not on the backs of young students who desperately need to learn the basics.

To read the column at the Washington Examiner:


The Seeds of Civic Ignorance and Disrespect Reap a Harvest of Misunderstanding and Violence (Washington Examiner) January 13, 2021

Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds.
comments closed

The United States suffers from a pandemic of civic ignorance and a deep deficit of civic respect. Only one in three Americans can pass the civics portion of the U.S. citizenship test. A mere 24% of eighth-graders test “proficient” or better in civics and government, while a pitifully low 15% are proficient in U.S. history.

The recent assault on our nation’s capital and the subsequent response should be a wake-up call to the profound consequences of civic ignorance and disrespect.

The assault itself, an act of deep disrespect never seen before, was based on the deeply flawed premise that Congress or the vice president could and should change the outcome of the 2020 presidential electoral vote. The fact is that the meeting in Washington on Jan. 6 was not a session of the so-called Electoral College. In fact, what we call the Electoral College does not exist as a formal body or hold meetings, and it is not even mentioned in the Constitution.

Instead, the civic facts are that our presidential election is really 51 separate elections run by the states and the District of Columbia under the Constitution. These elections choose electors in each state who, in turn, vote for their candidate. Those results are then sent to Congress, and it meets, as it did on Jan. 6, to receive the votes and certify the outcome.

What an act of civic disrespect, then, when protesters scaled the walls of the Capitol and barged into chambers and offices to protest electoral votes that are not even under the control of Congress. If people want to violate the law and risk arrest to make a statement, it behooves them to at least understand whose work they are protesting.

Now the people want Congress to “do something” about removing President Trump from office before his term ends next week, and the first idea brought forward is to use the 25th Amendment. Neither the people nor even members of Congress seem to understand that the amendment is focused on presidential “disability,” not disagreement or lack of trust. The three times it has been invoked involved medical procedures that “disabled” a president, as intended.

If not the 25th Amendment, people want impeachment, apparently without understanding that it is a two-step, lengthy process that would run well beyond the remainder of Trump’s term. Yes, the House can “impeach” by taking a simple vote, but a full trial in the Senate will take weeks, after awaiting the end of the current Senate recess next week. Impeachment is about removing people from office for high crimes and misdemeanors, not just making a political statement after the fact.

This unfortunate chapter in our current history is riddled with civic ignorance and misunderstanding, from citizens and leaders alike. It would be nice if we could send members of Congress to a civics or constitutional law class before they serve. In fact, a colleague has told me he will introduce a ballot proposition in his state to require that political candidates pass a civics test before they qualify to run for office. His intentions are good, but I doubt his measure will be enacted.

What we can do is redouble our efforts toward better civic education in our schools so young people will develop a better understanding of how our republic works before they are in charge of running it. We need a full year of civic education to be required in every state (only nine states require that now). We need to resume teaching civics in elementary and middle schools, from which it has largely disappeared. We need to spend more than 5 cents per student per year on civic education when we are spending $54 per student annually on STEM education.

Yes, our present circumstance is a problem of hyperpartisanship and division. Yet have allowed this to occur because of the failure of civic education. We desperately need to develop, as President Ronald Reagan said in his farewell address, “an informed patriotism” among our people.

To read the column at the Washington Examiner:


The Best Path Forward Is Bipartisan Statesmanship, Not The 25th Amendment Or Impeachment (Washington Examiner) January 8, 2021

Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds.
comments closed

Americans are bandwagon people, jumping quickly from one opinion to another. Once we jump, we want to fire up the engines and go full speed ahead.

Now, in the wake of the Capitol insurrection, many want to impeach the president right now, or use the 25th Amendment of the Constitution to remove him from office less than two weeks before his scheduled departure.

The fact is that our Founders designed an ocean liner government, not a speedboat. The government is intentionally designed not to take sudden turns or execute instant changes of course. The republic was constructed with all manner of filters, checks and balances, and separations of power, requiring time and deliberation to change course. Our Founders urged that we follow “the cool, deliberate sense of the community” over time, not the passions and factions of the moment.

Impeaching a president requires not just a vote of the House to impeach but a subsequent trial in the Senate. The most recent impeachment trial, of President Trump himself, took approximately three weeks to complete. At five weeks, former President Bill Clinton’s impeachment trial was even longer.

The notion that a president would be impeached, prepare, and stand for a full trial in less than two weeks (with both chambers on recess and out of town, no less) is simply not realistic. Our system was not built for that kind of speed. It was built for deliberation.

Use of the 25th Amendment is also problematic. It is really designed for a president who is disabled, not one we no longer trust. All three times it has been used involved medical procedures for former Presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush.

Like impeachment, it is also a complicated process that will take time, requiring first a declaration by the vice president, supported by the majority of the Cabinet, that the president is “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.” Does not liking or trusting how he is discharging them render him “unable?” I doubt it.

Then, the president could dispute the declaration, causing Congress to reconvene and decide the matter (requiring a two-thirds majority vote to find him “disabled”) within 21 days. By then, of course, Biden will be president.

Removing the president promptly, then, is highly unlikely through the push of a constitutional button. But there is another alternative, one that the Founders also contemplated: We will need statesmen and leaders to help guide us through the next two weeks.

We will need Vice President Mike Pence, who stood up and told the president he could not change the electoral vote, and who apparently also called for the National Guard to help quell the riots, to step up. It will mandate that members of Congress worry less about how they look to Trump’s political constituencies and care more about how they lead the republic. It will call for more from Republican Sens. Mitt Romney and Ben Sasse, and less from the intemperate Sens. Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz.

In our time, we think any problem should be fixed immediately, like that truck I saw hauling sod down the freeway with its sign reading, “Instant grassification.” But a democratic republic is a slow, careful, deliberative, sometimes messy business. However, it does respond to the voice of the people, more often through leadership than through structural processes.

We will be healthier in the long run if we survive the next two weeks through greater bipartisanship and leadership rather than through more Senate trials or divisive impeachment and 25th Amendment votes. Let the rational voices stirred by the mob this week, and the steadier leadership we have seen from some of our leaders, see us through.

It’s not only the best way. Given the limited time for the alternatives, it is the only way we will make it.

To read the column at the Washington Examiner:


Wanted: The Third Coming Of Modern Conservatism (Washington Examiner) December 16, 2020

Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds.
comments closed

If “conservatism” is a political noun, it is always in the company of varied adjectives. There are national security conservatives, fiscal conservatives, neoconservatives, social conservatives, reform conservatives, and on we could go. George W. Bush, apparently thinking it was not enough to be just a conservative, campaigned as a “compassionate conservative.” John McCain was a “maverick conservative.”

Yes, one of conservatism’s problems is that it is not a single ideology, able to stand on its own and collect supporters. Rather, it is more in the nature of a tent (sometimes a big tent, other times smaller) with a variety of conservatives jostling for primacy. Especially difficult to reconcile are the liberty conservatives, who believe individual freedom is the bedrock of the conservative philosophy, and the virtue conservatives, who are committed to getting people to do not what they want, but what they ought. Libertarians would be prime examples of the former, with the religious right standing for the latter.

Twice in its history, modern American conservatives have managed to come together and have a real impact. The first was in the 1950s and 1960s when a new publication, National Review, edited by William F. Buckley, managed to speak for most conservatives, fueling conservatism’s rise as a political movement. National Review editor Frank Meyer called it “fusion” conservatism, actively seeking to bring the several strands together. All this was greatly aided by the threat of communism, against which conservatives were eager to unite.

The second coming of modern American conservatism arose in the 1980s with Ronald Reagan’s presidency. Reagan, the great communicator and eternal optimist, managed not only to join the various branches of conservatism but also make it appealing to a majority of the country. For the first time, conservatism was not just a viable philosophy and political movement, but a tent big enough and with sufficient comforts to be a home for a majority of the country. Reagan’s optimism about America and its freedoms, and his attacks on big government, came to be accepted by working men and women and by the silent majority.

Since Reagan, it has been a bit of a drought for modern American conservatism. When George H.W. Bush spoke of a “kinder, gentler” conservatism, and George W. Bush of “compassionate conservatism,” those seemed to many conservatives to be hedging their principles, not unifying the movement. President Trump’s disruptive style has not only challenged norms of politics broadly, but also the principles of conservatism. National security conservatives and neoconservatives are nervous as troops leave important outposts in the war on terror. Fiscal conservatives are uncomfortable with abandoning free trade in favor of aggressive tariffs and the dramatic rise of the national debt.

It is time, then, for the third coming, a new rising, of modern American conservatism. But it won’t be easy. The monolithic communist threat that once brought conservatives together has been replaced by a myriad of international challenges. Moreover, there is no obvious Reagan on the horizon, ready to ride into the picture to galvanize his forces.

So, where might conservatives turn? They must again become a movement of ideas, not merely one of disruption. It was a conservative, Richard Weaver, who penned the book Ideas Have Consequences in 1948, and this must again become the conservative mantra. They need to return to notions of free trade and lowering the federal debt. Instead of anti-communism, conservatives should seek to sharpen America’s understanding of the dangers presented by China and articulate a strong response.

They actually have a few political advantages to work from. For one thing, President Joe Biden will seek to build out the welfare state and the federal role in people’s lives, and that gives conservatives a natural focal point to push back against. Conservative control of the Supreme Court will provide some leadership on key issues, especially freedom of religion and social matters.

Basically, conservatives and Republicans need to turn away from governing by disruption to governing by leadership and ideas. That would be a welcome change in our politics and might lead them back to the more unified and mainstream place they held in earlier times.

To read the column at the Washington Examiner: