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Capitalism is a Dead End Narrative for Conservatives (Washington Examiner) September 12, 2019

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Here’s a Jeopardy! answer for you to consider: The federal debt, free trade, a consistent national security policy, and young voters. The question: What are things conservatism has lost?

But the biggest conservative calamity of all, and one that creates real jeopardy at the polls, is the loss of its narrative. Conservatives, whose message was once individual liberty and limited government, are instead now branded by the narrower and less popular narrative of capitalism and free markets. It turns out that path is a dead end, especially among younger voters.

As Patrick Dineen pointed out in his book Why Liberalism Failed, the two great operating systems of our time are now the state (big government) and the market (capitalism). To many, including most young people, these are both opaque systems operated by distant forces beyond their understanding and influence. Both are undesirable but, of the two, government at least allows some kind of voice or representation of the people, so to young people it seems fairer than the harsh markets that produce winners and losers.

Indeed, the perceived harshness of capitalism and the market is the underlying cause of the recent rise of the once-despised term “socialism” in the American vocabulary. As presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg explained, “I think the reason we’re having this argument over socialism and capitalism is that capitalism has let a lot of people down.” Young people, who lived through the recession of 2008 and its aftermath, carry huge student debt, experience wage stagnation and lower-paying jobs, and are resigned to less financial success and security than their parents.

Unfortunately, for Republicans and conservatives, they are associated with free markets and capitalism, whereas liberals and Democrats are for big government. A 2017 Pew survey found that 57% of Americans 18-29 years old want a “bigger government with more services,” compared with only 38-40% of those ages 50 and up. Young people say they are interested in “socialism” but, if you probe a little more deeply, what they really want is free stuff: free college education, reduction of student debt, help with the high cost of housing, and the like, and this is precisely the direction most of the Democratic presidential candidates are heading.

Conservatives and Republicans have only begun to realize that their singular pursuit of capitalism and free markets is heading over the cliff and appear to be at a loss on what to do about it. Conservative commentator Tucker Carlson shocked his Fox News audience on Jan. 2 with a tiradeagainst capitalism that could well have been articulated by Sen. Bernie Sanders. David Brooks, the New York Timesconservative columnist, worries that economic competitors have been too focused on their own short-term gains and have lost their moral compass. Now there is a debate on reforming corporate practice to take account of more goals than just shareholder value. It will doubtless take a while to see if conservatives are able to reform capitalism to the satisfaction of young people, or whether their efforts will be seen as just putting lipstick on a pig.

The larger point, however, is that there is a larger point to conservatism than just capitalism and free markets, and it is here that conservatives need to take their stand. Conservatives have traditionally believed that freedom is indivisible and extends to political, religious, social, personal freedoms, right along with economic freedom. They are the champions of the opening line of the Declaration of Independence claiming that America is about “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” They are the defenders of the Constitution that set up systems by which individual liberty is to be guaranteed, especially from threats by big government.

Young people, who still love their individualism, resent being told they must wear helmets and pads through life, don’t like to be told they can’t buy a 16-ounce soda or an e-cigarette, or that their private health insurance is now illegal under Obamacare. They can still be reached by a message of individual liberty and limited government. That is where conservatives must begin their narrative, not with today’s bogeymen of capitalism and free markets.

David Davenport is a contributor to the Washington Examiner‘s Beltway Confidential blog. He is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution. He is the co-author, with Gordon Lloyd, of How Public Policy Became War, published May 7.


To view the column at the Washington Examiner:




The Death Penalty: Who Decides? (National radio commentary, Salem/Townhall) August 29, 2019

Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds.
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Liberals have used the courts for decades to carry out their agenda of social change. From Roe vs. Wade’s constitutional right to abortion to the more recent protection of same-sex marriage, courts have become an engine of social change.

The death penalty seems to be the next target for social change, either through the courts or by governors. When the U.S. Department of Justice recently announced it would resume carrying out the federal death penalty, presidential candidate Kamala Harris attacked it as “immoral and deeply flawed” while Joe Biden reversed yet one more long-held position and said it was wrong.

Meanwhile in California, even though voters twice upheld the death penalty, Governor Gavin Newsom has suspended it.

Questions like the death penalty should be decided by the people and their elected representatives, not by elite courts and lone ranger governors who think they know better.


To listen to the audio:

David Davenport: The Death Penalty: Who Decides?

Resist the Drumbeat of World War III: The War on Climate Change (Washington Examiner) August 29, 2019

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Do you hear the drumbeat of war? No, I don’t mean the threat of nuclear war with Iran or North Korea, or even the trade war with China. I’m talking about the drumbeat of liberal politicians and climate scientists who want us to go to war on climate change.

It’s not as if we aren’t fighting enough of these wars on domestic policy problems already. We still live in a war on poverty, declared by President Lyndon Johnson in 1964, as well as a war on crime, a war on drugs, Jimmy Carter’s “moral equivalent of war” on energy consumption, the war on terror, and a few less formal wars such as those on cancer, obesity and the like.

The truth is that whenever we find a big domestic policy problem we don’t know how to solve, we simply declare war on it. Then several things happen, most of them bad.

First, we never solve the problem at hand — in fact, we rarely even make real gains against it. We have more of everything we are warring against than when we started. One reason is that, when we declare a war, we don’t really understand the problem or how to solve it — that’s why we turn, in desperation, to the war metaphor. Once we declare war, we no longer study it and consider policy alternatives since, after all, we’re at war. We’re too busy appointing czars, passing regulations, and spending money.

Second, and this is no coincidence, we end up turning a good many policies that used to belong to state or local government over to Washington, while also transferring power from one end of Pennsylvania Avenue (Congress) to the other (the president and his executive agencies). In fact, starting with President Franklin Roosevelt, who took advantage of the Great Depression crisis to transform government into his New Deal with its ever-expanding administrative state, presidents have learned that mobilizing the country for war against this or that enemy is the way to consolidate power and leave a legacy.

So here we go again. When Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez introduced her everything-and-the-kitchen sink Green New Deal in February, she described it as “our World War Two,” demanding the same kind of war-like mobilization of the country. If you read her bill introducing it, however, it is long on such rhetoric but, like the rest of these wars, short on actual policy plans. Not to be over-matched (this will be a war, after all), presidential candidate Bernie Sanders recently introduced his even bigger Green New Deal, one that would not only emulate the mobilization of World War II but which he claims would solve the class war as well.

Scholars and climate scientists are even more explicit about attacking climate change with an all-out war. Bill McKibben, a scholar at Middlebury College, has written that “the enemy,” climate change, is carrying out “a devastating offensive,” as “enemy forces have seized huge swaths of territory.” He concludes, “World War III is well and truly underway. And we are losing.” Climate scientist Michael Mann agrees, “We do need a world-war type mobilization,” while economist Joseph Stiglitz says, “The climate emergency is our third world war.”

All of this is code for “we don’t really know what needs to be done, but it needs to be big, expensive and federal.” In fact, McKibben proposes, and Sanders agrees, that we need the president to start immediately by declaring a national emergency, which triggers all kinds of special presidential powers. Few realize that we already live under 31 such national emergencies now, the oldest declared by Jimmy Carter in 1979. Emergencies may come and go but emergency declarations remain.

I recently heard a talk by economist John Cogan who argued persuasively that even a problem seemingly as big and unsolvable as the Social Security and Medicare crisis could actually be stemmed by a series of small and medium targeted steps. If our real concern was addressing climate change, this would be the right approach. But if the aim, as it appears, is to use climate change to solve class wars, reinvent the economy, restructure environmental policy, and grow federal power, then there’s nothing like declaring one more federal policy war.

To read the column at the Washington Examiner:




How Public Policy Became War (Speech/Podcast, Commonwealth Club of SF) August 14, 2019

Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds.
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How Public Policy Became War

FDR’s New Deal is widely recognized as a turning point in American history, but David Davenport and Gordon Lloyd go even further, calling it “America’s French Revolution.” Refashioning American government and public policy in ways that have grown to epic proportions today, Roosevelt’s decisions reset the balance of power away from Congress and the states toward a strong executive branch. They also shifted the federal government away from the founders’ vision of deliberation and moderation toward war and action.

Having learned that a sense of crisis is helpful in moving forward a domestic agenda, post New Deal presidents have seized on the language of war to extend their power dramatically. They have declared war on everything from poverty and drugs to crime and terror. Exploring the consequences of these ill-defined (and never-ending) wars, Davenport calls for a reexamination of this destructive approach to governance and a return to more deliberative and moderate methods.

California Shows Us How Not To Teach History (Washington Examiner) August 6, 2019

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Former President Jimmy Carter famously said, “Whatever starts in California unfortunately has an inclination to spread.” If that’s true, then beware the California Board of Education’s newly drafted “Model Ethnic Studies Curriculum” and hope that it is not coming soon to a school near you.

Assembly Bill 2016, signed by former Gov. Jerry Brown, required the state board to adopt a model ethnic studies curriculum and, boy (oops, can’t say that, especially since I’m a “cisgender” male) is it doing so. It has posted a draft for comment and it sets a new standard for over-the-top jargon and political correctness.

Before coming to its direct attacks on capitalism and imperialism, the draft celebrates its own high purpose by defining ethnic studies as the “xdisciplinary [I don’t think that’s a typo, but I’m not sure], loving, and critical praxis of holistic humanity as racial justice.” At least we know what we’re about here. Then, standing against all that sunshine and light are the boogeypersons of “power structures and forms of oppression.

Now students and teachers will not need to reach their own conclusions about good and evil in this narrative: They’re told right up front.

In order to do this, we are invited to enter an Alice in Wonderland world and simply redefine the terms we don’t like. So the draft favors a new spelling of “history” as “herstory” and “women” should be “womxn.” There is no longer an achievement gap in education; rather it is an opportunity gap, or, better yet, an educational debt that has not yet been properly paid but thanks to the experts in Sacramento it supposedly will be now.

Now, with a new vocabulary, we can get down to the real business at hand. Importantly, an ethnic studies program should “critique empire and its relationship to white supremacy, racism, patriarchy, cisheteropatriarchy, capitalism, ableism, anthropocentrism and other forms of power and oppression at the intersections of our society.” Once we have enabled students to do this, we can help them “build new possibilities for post-imperial life.” After all, “ethnic studies empowers students to love themselves and their communities.” By the way, any white teacher better “begin the process of ‘constructively situating’ oneself in relation to ethnic studies.”

As you can see, the problems with how we teach American history have only begun. We have already been doing it poorly, with the most recent national test results showing only 18% of eighth graders “proficient” or better in the subject. STEM (science, math, engineering and technology) has become the rage in education, while we have lost our minds as far as history goes.

But U.S. history is not only taught poorly, it has become a political football to be kicked around, not a subject to be learned. Academics and politicians want to rewrite our history, apologize for it, erase it, take it down, or cover it over—anything but what we should be doing, which is learning from it. Yes, throughout our history, mistakes were made, many very serious ones. But in a classroom, those are learning opportunities. Essentially, the kind of people who draft something like this Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum are doing their own generational therapy, not figuring out how today’s and tomorrow’s students can best learn.

Let presidential candidates take their shots at capitalism if they wish. Let professors write their scholarly articles about oppression and social movements. But let students learn our history, unslanted, warts and all, and let them draw their own conclusions. Children will pay a high price for “lawnmower” parents and official do-gooders who want to mow down every possible obstacle, barrier, or source of discomfort in a child’s path so much that they never learn how to deal with difficulties. Moreover, society will pay an even higher price for a generation that has been taught to view their own country as a land of imperialists and oppressors.

David Davenport is a contributor to the Washington Examiner’s Beltway Confidential blog. He is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution. He is the co-author with Gordon Lloyd, of How Public Policy Became War, published May 7.

To view the column at the Washington Examiner:


Localism is Alive, Even in California (National radio commentary, Salem/Townhall) July 30, 2019

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In a move with national implications, the California legislature halted a bill to force local governments to increase housing density. Think multiple homes on single lots and apartment buildings near transit centers.

It was a battle between Governor Gavin Newsom and Democrats on one side addressing a housing crisis, and California residents who had bought into their California dream communities on the other. Above all, it was a question of local control.

Liberals said there was no time to debate or compromise, this was a crisis. Everything in government is now wars and emergencies: Wars on poverty, crime, drugs, terror and 31 states of national emergency. We need action now.

Finally, a few Democrats who represented suburban districts said let’s take more time with this, seek something less extreme, find a compromise.

Good for them. Localism is still alive, even in California.

To hear the audio:  http://www.townhallreview.com

The Death Penalty: Who Decides? (Washington Examiner) July 26, 2019

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Beginning in 1973 with Roe v. Wade, establishing a woman’s constitutional right to choose an abortion, liberals have led a continual march for social change, primarily using the courts. Perhaps the largest social change since Roe was the Supreme Court’s recognition of the right to gay marriage in 2015, but there have been many other liberal victories along the way.

Next up on the liberal social agenda appears to be the abolition of the death penalty. With the announcement from the Department of Justice that it would resume carrying out the death penalty for federal death row inmates, not done since 2003, the response was dire and immediate. Ruth Friedman, director of the Federal Capital Habeas Project, called the death penalty “arbitrary, racially-biased, and rife with poor lawyering and junk science.” Sen. Kamala Harris called capital punishment “immoral and deeply flawed,” while former Vice President Joe Biden reversed yet another of his earlier positions, now opposing the federal death penalty.

Polls show that the public still supports the death penalty, but liberal elites are nevertheless leading the charge against it. In California, Gov. Gavin Newsom has unilaterally placed a moratorium on carrying out the death penalty, even though he said as a candidate that he would accept the will of the people who had voted twice in recent years to retain it.

So much for carrying out the will of the people or one’s own campaign promises.

One fundamental question that needs to be addressed is who decides social questions such as abortion, gay marriage, and the death penalty? Unless the Constitution mandates otherwise, these are decisions for the people to make through their elected representatives. Instead of the people, elitists on our courts have decided to become the engines of social change to create rights of abortion and gay marriage, while executive power in the case of Newsom overrides the people’s voice on the death penalty. Rather than Congress and state legislatures holding thoughtful debates, listening to the people, holding hearings, and amending legislation, courts and governors simply impose their own “superior” judgment.

The problem with unilateral action by elite courts and executive orders is that they are likely to trigger a political backlash. We never really had a national debate about abortion and so now, 46 years after Roe v. Wade, a battle rages on as states continually challenge the federal judicial ruling. States were moving on the question of gay marriage until the U.S. Supreme Court stopped the debate and simply declared it done. It was a win for liberals in the short run, but that has surely contributed to the divisive politics that have plagued us now for decades. One could argue that President Trump’s election was part of the political backlash, and his effort to stock the courts with conservative justices is an attempt to rebalance or tip the scales back the other way.

So the death penalty is the next agenda item for liberal social change and, once again, who decides? It should not be governors such as Newsom making unilateral decisions, especially in the face of a vote of their own people. Since the death penalty has operated for centuries and has not been deemed unconstitutional as “cruel and unusual punishment” banned by the Eight Amendment, judges should not decide it.

No, in our democratic republic, the people and their elected representatives should be debating and deciding the great social issues of the day. Moreover, there will need to be sufficient patience on the part of advocates for change to allow that debate to occur. Otherwise, this divisive careening back and forth between unilateral decisions by the elites followed by political resistance and backlash from the people will continue.

In our democratic republic, winning isn’t everything; it’s also important who decides and how.

To read the column at the Washington Examiner:


The Elephant in the Policy Room (National radio commentary, Salem/Townhall) July 12, 2019

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You would never know this listening to presidential candidates but Social Security, in crisis mode for a while, will begin paying out more than it takes in next year. The reserve fund will be depleted in 16 years, meaning seniors would face 20 percent cuts in their payments.

Roughly half of Americans rely on Social Security for most of their retirement income. And with baby boomers retiring and living longer, the numbers will only get worse.

While Democrats talk about welfare and socialism, and Republicans love their tax cuts, we still need to pay for the entitlements we already have such as Social Security and Medicare.

Fixing this will take several things Washington hardly does anymore: exercise fiscal discipline, debate and deliberate, and come to some kind of bipartisan agreement.

Party line vote—the new normal in Washington—will not do the trick

Social Security needs a fix.

For the audio:  http://www.townhallreview.com

There May Not Be a Right to Civic Education, But There’s Certainly a Crisis (Washington Examiner) July 10, 2019

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When something has been exaggerated or overdone, people often say “Don’t make a federal case out of it!” But students and parents in Rhode Island have done precisely that, taking the state and several of its officials to federal court over the failure of their schools to provide an adequate civic education. We are not taught how “to function properly as civic participants,” including voting, serving on juries and the like, say the students.

Rhode Island’s answer to the lawsuit, a motion to dismiss the case, makes its own interesting claims. There is no constitutional right to an education, even a civic education, Rhode Island has said. Besides, the defendants argue, this is not a matter for a federal court to rule on since education is a function of the states which have complete oversight over how they educate (or, in this case, do not educate) their people.

A very interesting and important constitutional throwdown, indeed, one that the students’ lawyer hopes to take all the way to the Supreme Court if necessary.

Notably, no one seems to be arguing that civic education in Rhode Island is adequate. Indeed, one could easily argue that the nation as a whole suffers from a civic education crisis. The latest results available show that only 18% of eighth-graders test as “proficient” or better in U.S. history, and a mere 23% in civics or government. Only 1-2% passed the test with a designation of “advanced” in those fields. A recent study by the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation concluded that only 36% of Americans could pass the civics test that is part of the citizenship process. A 2017 Annenberg study noted that 75% of Americans do not know the three branches of government, and only a little more than a third could name one right guaranteed by the First Amendment of the Constitution.

So yes, Rhode Island, we have a problem.

The more difficult question is whether a federal lawsuit is an appropriate response. In a day when nearly everything seems to be a federal matter, it may be surprising to learn that the Constitution says nothing about a duty to educate. Until the No Child Left Behind Law in 2002, it was widely understood that education was a state and local matter and, when the Every Student Succeeds Act became law in 2015, responsibility swung increasingly back toward state and local control.

The lawsuit claims that several clauses of the Constitution, however, imply a right to a civic education by preparing students to be citizens. There is strong reliance on a 1973 Supreme Court case, San Antonio Independent School District v. Rodriguez, in which the court mentioned, but did not rely upon, the idea that citizens need “some quantum of education” to exercise their right to vote. It is essentially this narrow passage through which the plaintiffs’ lawyers seek to drive the Mack truck of a federal right to civic education.

It would have been a more promising case had it been brought in a state court, calling Rhode Island to account for failing to set proper standards, offer classes, and conduct testing in civic education. Even then, courts tend to defer to education officials to decide what constitutes a proper education and the lawsuit might have been turned back.

The lawyers, however, from Columbia Law School had a bigger project in mind: to create a federal right to a civic education and they shopped for just the right state and the best plaintiffs to bring it. Sometimes, a lawsuit is as much about making a statement as seeking a revolutionary outcome. Moreover, if the case actually goes to trial and is appealed, win or lose, the Supreme Court may say something that builds toward, if not establishes, a right to civic education.

Making civic education a federal case may at least build the larger public case about a crisis that must be addressed.

David Davenport is a contributor to the Washington Examiner’s Beltway Confidential blog. He is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution. He is the co-author, with Gordon Lloyd, of How Public Policy Became War, published May 7.

The Democrats’ Dilemma: Persuasion or Turnout (National radio commentary, Salem/Townhall) July 6, 2019

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Richard Nixon, who ran 5 times for president or vice president, said he ran to the right to win the Republican nomination, but then back toward the center in the general election.

In 2004, George W. Bush and Karl Rove reinvented presidential campaigns. Discovering that undecided independent voters had shrunk from 20-plus percent to single digits, they concentrated on turning out their own base of voters and it worked. Later campaigns have followed this sometimes ugly, but effective strategy.

Now the Democrats face a dilemma.  Their early energy was all from far left Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris.

But not so fast, as late entry Joe Biden is more moderate, though he is being pushed left on issues such as abortion and climate change.

Persuading the middle better suits Biden, but Democrats may demand a hard left turn.