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Democrats Finally Discover Federalism (Washington Examiner) April 19, 2018

Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds, Politics.
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After decades of neglect, a federalism bandwagon is rolling across the country, carrying not only conservatives who have long believed in states’ rights, but also gathering up progressives who are out of power in Washington and have rediscovered the appeal of localism. In fact, many of today’s big political battles are, at their base, a federalism tug of war pitting the federal government against state and local governments.

Take immigration, for example. As the Trump administration has tightened up immigration enforcement at the federal level, a number of states, counties, and cities have decided not to share citizenship information with the feds, with some declaring themselves sanctuary areas for immigrants. President Trump pushed back, signing an executive order pulling most federal grants from states and cities that will not divulge information about citizenship as required by federal law. Last month Attorney General Jeff Sessions turned up the heat by suing deep-blue California over its sanctuary laws. An interesting federalism nuance now sees certain conservative California counties and cities joining the federal suit against the state’s liberal sanctuary laws. A federalism fight is on.

Federalism may have found a truce on another key issue: legalized marijuana. Federal law continues to make the use of marijuana illegal, whereas 30 states and the District of Columbia have legalized its use in some way. The Obama-era solution to the conflict was to ease up on federal enforcement in states that legalized marijuana, but Sessions announced early on that the federal government would resume enforcement everywhere. When Sen. Cory Gardner, a Republican from marijuana-friendly Colorado, began blocking Trump’s judicial nominees, the president called and said the feds would back off enforcement in Colorado if Gardner would approve his nominees. Gardner reported this federalism victory, saying, “President Trump has assured me he would support a federalism-based legislative solution to fix this states’ issue once and for all.” For now, a federalism truce is found.

The federalism tug of war has encompassed a number of issues in Trump’s first year. California famously announced its own climate change and environmental policies when Trump pulled out of the Paris accords. State attorneys general challenged Trump’s travel ban. States are now suing over the tax reform limitation on the deductibility of state and local taxes, based on the theory that it violates the equal protection rights of more expensive blue state residents. In fact, by the end of Trump’s first year, Democratic states had brought 35 lawsuits against his administration, compared with 46 lawsuits by Republican states in President Barack Obama’s 8-year term. The federalism tug of war is spreading.

With federalism busting out all over, where might this lead? Republicans have long championed the 10th Amendment (power not delegated to the federal government is reserved to states and individuals) and states’ rights. In the era of gridlocked government and President Trump in Washington, Democrats have discovered “progressive federalism,” especially located in cities, which tend to be governed more by their party than states where Republican governors predominate. Is it possible that federalism might actually unite liberals and conservatives in a drive for greater localism? Perhaps, but it seems even more likely that federalism may simply become the latest tool in the political battle.

Just as President Richard Nixon reportedly said of economic policy, “We’re all Keynesians now,” it seems we are all becoming federalists now. After decades of power moving to Washington, it would be healthy and refreshing to see the pendulum swing back toward state and local governments. But it would be even more promising if federalism became a way of making policy more deliberative and less contentious. It remains to be seen whether this new federalism might accomplish that.

David Davenport is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution.

To read the column at the Washington Examiner:

https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/opinion/democrats-finally-discover-federalism

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‘It sucks.’ The Senate, the World’s Greatest Deliberative Body, No Longer Deliberates” (Washington Examiner) April 2, 2018

Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds, Politics.
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Former President James Buchanan called the Senate “the greatest deliberative body in the world,” a moniker that has stuck for 150 years. But as he left Washington for the Senate’s two-week Easter recess, Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., reflecting on his inability to get a vote on even one legislative amendment in his first 15 months on the job, said something quite different: “I think it sucks.”

In that “emperor has no clothes” moment, Kennedy exposed a key reality in Washington: The greatest deliberative body in the world no longer deliberates.

Kennedy’s proposed amendments are not the only ones failing to receive Senate votes these days. The Senate has voted on only six nonbudgetary amendments so far in 2018, an average of two per month. All right, so they have been busy trying to approve spending bills to keep the government open (itself an embarrassing and contentious process) and approving President Trump’s nominees, which has moved at a snail’s pace. However, according to a Politico report, the Senate has only taken 25 roll call votes on binding amendments in this two-year Congress, compared with 154 at this point in the last one.

When he took over as majority leader of the Senate in 2015, Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., vowed to do much better. After Republicans won a Senate majority in the elections of November 2014, McConnell promised “a more free-wheeling approach to problem solving” than the prior leader, Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., had allowed. McConnell spoke of restoring the Senate’s “traditional role as a place where good ideas are generated, debated, and voted upon.” In particular, McConnell committed to “an open amendment process — ensuring senators on both sides a chance to weigh in on legislation.”

Oops.

Instead, what we have is little debate and even less voting in the Senate. Bills are crafted behind closed doors, held until they have the requisite 51 (or 60) votes, and then rushed to the floor for a quick vote, sometimes with handwritten notes still in the margins. If there is deliberation, it is only by members of the party in power, not in open committee hearings or debates on the Senate floor. Important pieces of legislation, from Obamacare to tax reform, are passed on straight party-line votes, with no support from the other party. Indeed, as one study has shown, party unity voting has grown from around 60 percent in the 1970s to closer to 90 percent today.

Kennedy is not the first to call out the Senate’s lack of bipartisan deliberation. When Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., famously flew back to Washington from his cancer treatments to cast a decisive repeal vote on Obamacare, he disappointed his fellow Republicans by voting “no.” But his comments afterward made an even stronger statement. McCain decried the Senate process of drafting proposed legislation “behind closed doors … then springing it on skeptical members, trying to convince them it’s better than nothing, asking us to swallow our doubts and force it past a unified opposition.” McCain urged the Senate to “return to the correct way of legislating,” sending bills to committee, holding hearings, and ultimately crafting laws that could be passed with bipartisan support.

There is a growing sentiment that the Senate needs to return to “regular order,” to the kind of process McCain described, but it will not be easy. Legislating in Washington has become about winning, not finding the best policy solutions. Votes are taken to best position legislators for re-election, not to enact the best bills. At a time when America has an impulsive president, it seems especially important that the Senate play its full deliberative role.

David Davenport is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution.

To read the piece at the Washington Examiner:

https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/opinion/it-sucks-the-senate-the-worlds-greatest-deliberative-body-no-longer-deliberates

Will the International Criminal Court Prosecute Americans Over Afghanistan? (Forbes.com) March 26, 2018

Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds.
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As if Donald Trump does not face enough lawsuits and legal wrangling, there are signs that the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague may consider prosecuting Americans over alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity during the war in Afghanistan.  With the recent appointment of John Bolton, long an opponent of the ICC, as the president’s national security adviser, this could become an interesting international legal battle, indeed.

The prosecutor of the Court, Fatou Bensouda, has formally requested authority from a three-judge panel to investigate alleged crimes committed by all parties—the Taliban, ISIS, Afghan security forces, warlords, the US-led coalition and others—in the lengthy war in Afghanistan.  Indeed, the Court has received over a million allegations of abuses and atrocities from the war and it seems highly likely that an investigation will be approved, perhaps soon.

If so, this will be the first time that Americans—presumably soldiers, perhaps CIA operatives—would face the real possibility of prosecution before the ICC.  Even though the US is not a member of the Court, the ICC claims to have jurisdiction over crimes committed on the territory of a member nation such as Afghanistan.  Adding to the drama, the prosecutor also seeks permission to investigate related crimes in Poland, Romania and Lithuania, which would raise questions of detention and torture in the interrogation of prisoners there.

How would the US likely respond to such an investigation or to the possibility of actual charges against Americans?  To cooperate with an investigation might be interpreted as acknowledging that the Court has jurisdiction over Americans, something the Trump administration would be unlikely to do.  In fact, the American Service-Members Protection Act of 2002—sometimes referred to as The Hague Invasion Act—actually prohibits the US from cooperating with the ICC.  Beyond that, however, there is also an important jurisdictional question since Afghanistan signed a bilateral Status of Forces Agreement with the US in which it agreed not to turn over American soldiers to the ICC.  The US could argue that this agreement precludes action against US soldiers before the Court.

The appointment of John Bolton as national security adviser adds a real wild card to this deck.  Bolton has long been a critic of the ICC, calling his delivery, as US Ambassador to the U.N., of a letter “unsigning” the ICC treaty the “happiest moment” of his career.  In a Wall Street Journal opinion piece in the fall, Bolton said accepting the ICC’s jurisdiction “would be toxic to democratic sovereignty” and proposed that, as Winston Churchill said about Bolshevism, “America should welcome the opportunity…to strangle the ICC in its cradle.”

In other words, this could become the moment when America, which said “no” to joining the Court, says an even louder “no” to cooperating with the ICC in any way.  Since it is not a state party to the Court, the US would have no legal obligation to comply with an investigation.  The US could ask the U.N. Security Council to stop the investigation for a year (renewable annually), but that does not seem like the Trump-Bolton style.  “America first” suggests they will “just say no,” and, in effect, dare the ICC, which has no police force, to do something about it.

When Bolton speaks of “the opportunity…to strangle the ICC in its cradle,” he no doubt points to the possibility of refusing to cooperate and thereby further undermine the already shaky credibility and strength of the Court.  In its 15-year history, the Court has spent well over $1 billion and has only four criminal convictions to show for its work.  Until recently, virtually all of its cases were in Africa, which has strained the Court’s political base.  In fact, part of the reason for the Afghanistan case may well be to demonstrate action outside the African continent.

We may face a significant showdown between an international court and Donald Trump’s “America first” doctrine and his hawkish new national security adviser.  Stay tuned.

 

To view the column at Forbes.com:

https://www.forbes.com/sites/daviddavenport/2018/03/26/will-the-international-criminal-court-prosecute-americans-over-afghanistan/#101cbd0a10a5

Area 45: Baby Boomers, Millennials, Generation Z And The Power Of The Vote (Podcast, Area 45) March 25, 2018

Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds.
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By the 2020 election, America’s “millennial” class will replace Baby Boomers as the nation’s largest age-bloc of voters. David Davenport, a Hoover Institution research fellow specializing in constitution federalism and Americans politics and law, discusses what it will take to get a cynical under-35 crowd to the polls and, in the aftermath of the Parkland shooting, whether the even younger “Generation Z” will emerge as a political force.

To listen:

https://hoover.org/research/area-45-baby-boomers-millennials-generation-z-and-power-vote

Something There Is That Doesn’t Love A Tariff Wall (Forbes.com) March 8, 2018

Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds, Politics.
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Donald Trump is enamored of walls.  First he wants to build a physical wall on the border between the U.S. and Mexico.  Now he wants to erect tariff walls, imposing a 25% tax on steel and 10% on aluminum coming into the country from abroad in order to protect higher priced American products and jobs.

But as Robert Frost wrote in his poem Mending Wall:  “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall.”  Frost added this further word of caution:  “Before I built a wall I’d ask to know what I was walling in or walling out, and to whom I was likely to give offence.”  These are important questions that President Trump would do well to consider.

Trump’s philosophy seems to be that globalization is the problem and building walls is the solution.  If globalization has robbed Americans of jobs—and his strong showing in key rust belt and industrial states helped elect Trump—then we will prevent products from coming into America at a lesser cost and competing with American manufacturing.  His answer to Frost’s first question is that cheap products are what we want to keep out.  But to whom will he give offense?  Key allies and world powers that manufacture these products, but also American consumers who like to buy them and save money.  Building walls can be complicated.

History is not on the side of walls.  In one of the great speeches of the 20th century, President Ronald Reagan stood near the Berlin Wall, a key part of the Iron Curtain surrounding communist Eastern Europe, and famously said, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.”  Gorbachev did and the result was the beginning of the end of the Cold War and the reign of communism.  Other walls around the world, including the Great Wall of China or Hadrian’s Wall in England, are relics of history.  They no longer function to keep people in or out.

Nor has history judged economic walls kindly.  In fact, you would think Republicans might remember their own troubled history building trade walls during the Great Depression.  Senator Reed Smoot and Congressman Willis C. Hawley decided that adopting protectionist trade policies—placing tariffs on over 20,000 imported goods—would help protect the vulnerable American economy, and President Herbert Hoover agreed.  The net result:  other nations retaliated, more banks closed, and both the U.S. and global economies suffered further losses, exacerbating the Great Depression.

Today the global economy is highly interdependent, making trade walls even less likely to succeed.  People used to say that when the U.S. sneezes, the world economy catches a cold, but now with the hyperspeed of technology and communication, an economic event almost anywhere may trigger waves around the globe.  Already China and the European Union have said they will respond in kind to any trade war Mr. Trump chooses to launch.  The days of building an economic wall around any country are long past.

Not only are history and economics not on the side of Trump’s protectionist tariffs, but the U.S. Constitution is not either.  Article I of the Constitution gives Congress the “Power to lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises,” which includes the power to establish tariffs.  In this case, President Trump is relying on a highly suspect delegation to the president from a 1962 Cold War law in cases of “national security.”  Clearly, President Trump’s assertion of this power is over something less than national security, as he wheels and deals with countries over tariffs and trade agreements.  This is yet one more case of the president overreaching through executive orders and powers to assert his will over Congress, several of whose leaders (even from his own party) have spoken out against the tariffs.

From time to time over its history, the U.S. has shown tendencies toward isolationism and Trump’s tariff wall is one more example of this.  As a commercial republic in a complex world economy, however, such tariffs no longer make sense, if they ever did.

 

To read the column at Forbes.com:

https://www.forbes.com/sites/daviddavenport/2018/03/08/something-there-is-that-doesnt-love-a-tariff-wall/#78872e3dc684

 

Five Reasons Why You Should Worry About The Federal Debt (Forbes.com) February 28, 2018

Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds, Politics.
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Let’s face it:  For most of us, the federal debt is somewhere between a snoozer and an abstraction.  There are plenty more tangible and immediate problems to worry about.  Even if we did get stirred up about it, what can we do?  Isn’t the problem at one end or the other of Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, DC—in Congress or the White House or both?

Rather than seeking to alarm you about how large the national debt is growing—which is an easy case to make—let me instead propose five reasons why you should be worried about the national debt, and why you should insist that our political leaders do something about it or face the worst catastrophe they can imagine—failing to be reelected.

First, your Social Security and Medicare entitlements are at risk if the federal debt continues to grow.  People argue that increased defense spending is to blame for the rise in the national debt, or the recent tax cut.  While both of those are factors, Hoover Institution economist John Cogan, author of a new book about federal entitlements (The High Cost of Good Intentions), notes that essentially all the rise in the federal debt since World War 2 can be laid at the feet of entitlement programs.  Entitlement spending, Cogan argues, has risen from 4% of GDP to 14% and now accounts for nearly two-thirds of all federal spending.  Since it will be almost impossible to cut federal spending and the national debt without touching expensive entitlements, your entitlements—especially if you are younger than the Baby Boomers—are very much at risk.

Second, an economic reckoning will come from the explosive growth in federal spending and debt.  No one really knows how much federal debt is too much.  Unfortunately some kind of major economic correction will be the signal that we have gone too far.  Other countries will quit buying our debt, or will discount it heavily.  The stock and bond markets will lose confidence in our reckless fiscal policy and send prices plunging.  We are creating our own bed of instability when the government spends a lot more than it takes in (nearly $1 trillion this year), and one day the bed will begin to collapse.

Third, spending today and putting it on the tab of the next generation is immoral.   Baby Boomers have already made a huge generational transfer of the costs of college, weighing their children down with decades of student debt.  Now we are also asking them to pay for our Social Security and Medicare benefits, along with the cost of our collapsing infrastructure and our national defense.  Presidents Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover of the 1920s understood that public debt was a moral question, but today it’s just a tool of economic policy.  It’s a way to open the faucet and try to get more bounce in the economy.  But the tab goes forward to our children in a way that is simply wrong.

Fourth, the growing debt increases the risk to our national defense.  Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats recently scolded senators in a hearing, sharing his concern that our federal spending “is threatening our ability to properly defend our nation, both in the short term and especially in the long term.”  Our present situation, Coats said, is “unsustainable” and represents a threat to both economic and national security.

Fifth, you should be concerned because the politicians are not.  Donald Trump promised to balance the federal budget in his campaign, and “relatively soon,” but he just keeps proposing more spending and tax cuts.  The Republicans haven’t met a defense budget they couldn’t increase and the Democrats insist on comparable increases in domestic spending.  Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin gave us the understatement of the year when he said government spending is “not an issue we’re focused on right now.”

If you think you’re too young to worry about the federal debt, you’re precisely the one who should be worried.  As President Herbert Hoover wisely said, “Blessed are the young for they shall inherit the national debt.”

To view the column at Forbes.com:

https://www.forbes.com/sites/daviddavenport/2018/02/28/five-reasons-why-you-should-worry-about-the-federal-debt/#46f48b224932

“The Lost Art of Political Compromise” (National radio commentary, Salem/Townhall) February 26, 2018

Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds.
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Among many lost arts in Washington the most problematic is the lost art of compromise.

 The dictionary says compromise includes the root word “com” or together with the word promise:  We make promises by coming together.  America learned this early, with the Constitutional Convention full of compromises.

But now members of Congress vote not to find the best solution for the country but the best platform for their next election.   Democrats threatened to shut the entire government over dreamer immigrants, while Trump was willing to see a shutdown over his wall.  And so it goes, politicians standing firm on one issue or another which they believe will get them reelected, and the whole of the federal government is held hostage.

We need more politicians like Ronald Reagan, who told House Speaker Tip O’Neill, “I will take half a loaf today, but I will come back for the other half tomorrow.”

https://omny.fm/shows/townhall-review-conservative-commentary-on-todays/david-davenport-the-lost-art-of-political-compromi/embed?style=artwork

http://www.townhallreview.com

Millennials Could Change the Political Landscape–If they Vote, SF Chronicle February 23, 2018

Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds, Politics.
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In 2016, a political tsunami crashed on our shores with the outburst of populism and the election of Donald Trump. Now, less than two years later, we should prepare for two more big waves of change: the rise of Millennial voters and the passing from the scene of a generation of political leaders. Together they could produce a major transformation of our political landscape.

What we do know is that the political views of Millennials are very different from those of their Boomer parents. A Pew survey found that older voters are growing more conservative as younger voters become more liberal. According to a World Values Survey, for example, only 30 percent of voters born after 1980 believe it is absolutely essential to live in a democratic country, while 72 percent of Americans born before World War II find it essential. Millennials are broadly insecure and concerned about the future, with a recent poll by the Institute of Politics at Harvard’s Kennedy School showing 67 percent are fearful about America’s future, while 54 percent believe America is on the wrong track.

What we don’t know is whether Millennials are prepared to step up, vote and play an active role in political life. Voter turnout in the 2016 election is a cautionary tale: only half of eligible younger voters voted, compared with about two-thirds of older voters. Millennials are strongly negative about President Trump’s job performance, along with that of Congress, the Republican Party and, to some extent, the Democratic Party as well. An NBC News/Gen Forward poll showed that 71 percent of Millennials feel the political parties do such a bad job that they favor the creation of a third party. Herein lies the concern: Are Millennials so disillusioned about politics that they will not actively engage? “Will they continue to value community service over politics as they do now?”

With this generation’s deep concerns about their own job prospects, student debt, unaffordable housing and expensive health care, their liberalism aims in those directions. While society’s safety nets have been largely constructed with the aged in mind, Millennials will be interested in exploring greater stability for young people and families with children who, as Jacob Hacker, director of the Yale Institute for Social and Policy Studies, points out, “face the greatest risks.” Ironically, this leads them to resonate with two politicians in their 70s: Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.

In some yet uncertain ways, Millennials may also want to rethink government itself. Technology is their natural domain, and they will want government to be far more responsive. It seems likely that they will ultimately want to see government do more with less, as has been the case with businesses and nonprofits. Professor Dave Andersen, a political scientist at Iowa State University, sums it up this way: “The repeal and replacement of government writ large, I think, is a Millennial value right now.” My own students over the years have even wondered why we have state governments, seeing them increasingly as an unnecessary layer of middle management between the local and federal governments.

I recall a 97-year old man being interviewed, with the questioner reminding him he had seen a lot of change. “Yes,” he answered, “and I was opposed to every one of them.” Change is difficult, but it is likely to be the order of the day as our political landscape opens up to new voters and leaders.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To view the column at Forbes.com:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

To view the column at Forbes.com:

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