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Democrats Foolishly Pine for a New New Deal (Washington Examiner) October 18, 2019

Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds.
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If you are a Republican running for political office, it’s a safe bet that you seek to identify with conservatives’ last great president, Ronald Reagan. Increasingly, the Democrats’ alternative is not so much a person, since he has faded from memory, but a program: Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal of the 1930s. With their poor understanding of American history, young people fail to realize that what they really want is a new New Deal, and what candidates such as Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders are prepared to offer them is best understood as a further expansion of the original New Deal.

In a speech on socialism and the economy in June, Bernie Sanders said, “Today … we must take up the unfinished business of the New Deal and carry it to completion.” New front-runner Elizabeth Warren also admires the New Deal, and opinion writer Noah Smith called her “the closest thing modern American politics has to a successor to FDR.” When Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez introduced her sweeping new environmental proposals, she labeled them a “Green New Deal.”

But what does it mean to identify with the New Deal today, 87 years after Roosevelt launched it? In short, it means more government guarantees of economic security, or, as I call it, government that is big, expensive, and federal.

Roosevelt was actually a precursor of the Rahm Emanuel school of public policy. You remember Emanuel’s famous proclamation as President Barack Obama’s chief of staff that you never want to let a serious crisis go to waste because it is an opportunity to do things you could not do before. Without question, Roosevelt confronted a major crisis, the Great Depression, but he used it to implement a sweeping New Deal that permanently changed what the federal government does and how it does it. Not only did he implement the first large economic security program, Social Security, but he also built out the modern presidency and administrative state that continues to balloon in size and power. The New Deal was America’s French Revolution, changing everything.

At the heart of the New Deal was Roosevelt’s belief that the federal government should go into the business of guaranteeing people economic security. He foreshadowed this emphasis in his first inaugural speech when he asserted, “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” The true breadth of Roosevelt’s agenda, however, awaited in his 1944 State of the Union message when he introduced “a second bill of rights,” which was a sweeping list of economic guarantees Americans should expect. Among these were the right to a useful and remunerative job, a decent home, an education, adequate medical care, and protection from the fear of old age, sickness, accident, or unemployment.

From the cradle to the grave, it is pretty much all there, thanks to your Uncles Sam and Franklin.

After Roosevelt enacted Social Security, other presidents found opportunities to move the economic security ball down the field. Lyndon Johnson added Medicare and Medicaid. Barack Obama provided guarantees of healthcare. Even Republican George W. Bush added prescription drug benefits for seniors. Since these protections are virtually all for seniors, however, young people now want their share: free college, assistance with student debt and expensive housing, and, while we are at it, why not a guaranteed annual income? This is the new New Deal: economic security by the government for everyone.

Expanding the New Deal is actually the heart of the Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren agendas. We can have all of this, they say. We can double down on the New Deal, or, as Bernie Sanders says, “carry it to completion.” The question, of course, is the same question candidate Tulsi Gabbard posed to Elizabeth Warren in the most recent debate: Where do we send the invoice for all of this? Perhaps someone should also ask whether government guaranteeing and taking over everything from healthcare to college costs and a guaranteed minimum income is even the sort of country we want.

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 read the column at the Washington Examiner:


Hoover Digest: Essay and Interview on “How Public Policy Became War” October 15, 2019

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The lead essay in the latest issue of Hoover Digest is from Gordon Lloyd’s and my new book, “How Public Policy Became War”


The issue also contains the transcript of an interview Peter Robinson did with me on Uncommon Knowledge about the book:


Beware A ‘War’ On Climate Change (National Radio Commentary, Salem/Townhall) October 3, 2019

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Politicians have learned that, if they don’t know how to solve a problem, they declare a war on it.

So: now we live under countless domestic policy wars—the war on poverty, war on crime, war on drugs, war on terror, war on energy consumption and the like. These wars spend money, increase federal executive power, but solve very little.

Now comes a dangerous cry to declare a war on climate change. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez calls climate change “our World War Two” and Senator Sanders, who proposes an even bigger Green New Deal, agrees. Scholars claim it is already a war that we are losing and ask the president to declare an emergency.

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.” Beware a new policy war on climate change.



Who’s in Charge of the California Housing Crisis? (Washington Examiner) September 23, 2019

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In the past week, both President Trump and Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson visited California to examine its housing crisis. Meanwhile, the state legislature passed a statewide rent control bill and officials in Sacramento are bullying cities to change their zoning laws. A veritable tug of war has emerged between state and local governments, with Washington eager to weigh in. Not only is there a housing crisis, but also a crisis of authority: Who is in charge here?

Though there is a debate over both the causes and solutions, there is little argument that the urban areas of California and elsewhere in the nation face a housing problem. In California, it is largely a result of economic growth because a booming job market, especially in high-tech areas, has attracted more workers than can be housed. The San Francisco Bay Area has added 676,000 jobs and only 176,000 housing units in the last eight years. Estimates suggest that the state needs to add as many as 3.5 million new homes, which Gov. Gavin Newsom promised to see built by 2025. In his first months in office, however, new housing starts have gone down and not up.

Another portrait of the crisis is painted by rampant homelessness in California cities, which is what President Trump came to see. While 12% of the nation’s population lives in California, it has 22% of the homeless population. A study released by the White House this month, “The State of Homelessness in America,” found that four of the five cities with the highest rate of unsheltered homelessness are located in California.

So yes, California, we have a problem. But who is in charge of fixing it?

Although traditionally land-use laws such as zoning and rent control are very much under the authority of local governments, Newsom wants to take charge from the top and impose solutions from Sacramento. Now cities are being ordered to construct specific numbers of new housing units or else the governor has threatened to withhold their gas tax revenues. On the “island” of Coronado, off downtown San Diego for example, the city has been targeted to build 1,001 new housing units but it sits on only 2.2 square miles of heavily built land. The mayor of Coronado rightly objects to these top-down and one-size-fits-all mandates from Sacramento.

The state has already issued warning to cities such as Encinitas, San Bruno, and Cupertino about their housing policies, and a lawsuit against the city of Huntington Beach is in the works. Of course, many California cities caught up in these new state mandates are not even in the neighborhoods of the technology job boom that has created the problem in the first place. They have to be wondering why a lack of planning by major tech firms and the cities that host and tax them has suddenly created a crisis for their land-use planning. As a Brookings Institution study reported this summer, “Many homeowners are opposed to new multifamily development in their communities,” explaining that there are not only lifestyle preferences at stake, but also economic, traffic, and other impacts.

In one sense, we have the California dream of single-family suburban living against the new California nightmare of homelessness and a housing crisis. But in another sense we have a crisis of governance: Who’s in charge here? I would say beware federal and state officials who subscribe to the Rahm Emanuel (former chief of staff for President Obama) philosophy of governance: Never let a good crisis go to waste, it’s a chance to do things you couldn’t do before.

California cities are right to be suspicious when Newsom comes to them saying, “I’m from Sacramento and I’m here to help you fix your housing crisis.” His one-size-fits-all ideas of state rent control and state mandates for higher zoning densities and unrealistic targets for new housing starts will not only fail to solve the larger problem, but create many more.

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:


“How Not to Teach American History” (Defining Ideas) (with Gordon Lloyd) September 18, 2019

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Given the myriad crises our country now confronts, who would have guessed that among them would be how we teach American history?  Nevertheless, as a new school year begins, the content, presentation and teaching of US history are in the news almost daily.  Should statues honoring civil war figures—at least those from the losing side—or former slaveholders be retained?  Do we need to change the names of streets or buildings if they bear the names of historical figures that do not satisfy present moral or political sensibilities?  Should history texts be rewritten to diminish their emphasis on our flawed heroes while increasing the teaching of racial, ethnic and gender minorities?  In short, should we be about the business of erasing, rewriting, apologizing for, protecting against, knocking down or covering up our history as many have proposed? 

The recent controversy over historic murals at George Washington High School in San Francisco presents a microcosm of the problems.  A 1936 painting depicting the life of George Washington shows two features that some found troublesome:  White settlers standing over the body of a Native American and slaves working at Washington’s estate.  Some students, faculty and parents said the mural was racist and offensive.  Others said no, it tells the truth about that era and should be seen.  Still others said, regardless of the historical questions, it is a work of art and should remain.  Washington High graduate, actor Danny Glover, said, “Art has to make us feel uncomfortable.  That’s what art does.”

Initially the school board decided to do away with the mural but after a hue and cry from many—including minority groups and artists—it reversed course and, by a one-vote margin, concluded it would cover them up at a cost of over $600,000.  The sense was that showing the art would traumatize students and others in the community, but that destroying it permanently went too far.    At the root of the debate is whether such depictions are appropriate for learning from our history or, alternatively, whether history must be presented in a way that does not offend.

What happens in the schools constitutes the ground war in the battle over American history, but elites are busily engaged in an air war.  The New York Times joined the battle this month by introducing The 1619 Project, “a major initiative…to reframe the country’s history, understanding 1619 as our true founding.”  The beginning of slavery in 1619 explains everything, including the brutality of American capitalism, says the Times, and it will “publish essays demonstrating that nearly everything that has made America exceptional grew out of slavery.”  Meanwhile, across the country in California, the state school board has proposed a draft ethnic studies curriculum that seeks not just to celebrate the historic contributions of minorities, but to “critique empire and its relationship to white supremacy, racism, patriarchy, cisheteropatriarchy, capitalism, ableism, anthropocentrism and other forms of power and oppression at the intersection of our society.”  That is hardly the way to open a conversation about the historic contribution of ethnic groups.

The bombs are dropping and the guns are firing in the war over America’s history.

Can We Make Sense of This Moment?

Why should the teaching of American history have become so controversial at this moment?  Surely one factor is a shift in how we think about students themselves.  For many years, now, the term “helicopter parents” has described a heightened involvement by adults to keep careful watch over their kids, fearful that in this complex age, their child will be left behind.  A new term, “lawnmower parents,” seems to characterize the current age even better, since these adults now seek to mow down any and every obstacle that might stand in a child’s path.  Children are thought of as “snowflakes” who might melt if exposed to too much heat, including the fires of controversy or even criticism.  Taking down murals and rewriting stories of an uncomfortable history becomes part of the strategy of coddling and protecting sensitive kids rather than letting them confront the difficulties of history and make sense of them for themselves, developing judgment and resilience for life.

Another important factor is the movement, begun several decades ago, to demythologize American history.  Howard Zinn led this charge with his People’s History of the United States (1980), a textbook that reveals the selfish motives and cruel actions of America’s traditional heroes, while retelling America’s narrative from the perspective of their victims.  By Zinn’s account, Columbus came to murder natives and steal gold, while the Founders developed a constitutional republic that would protect their slaves and property.  The counter-narratives continues into modern times, when World War II was about “advancing the imperial interests of the United States,” and the last fifty years were “a capitalistic encouragement of enormous fortunes alongside desperate poverty, a nationalistic acceptance of war and preparations for war.”

In the early going, The People’s History, was assigned by teachers as a supplement or counterpoint to traditional history textbooks.  However, today it has sold over two million copies and has become, as Professor Sam Wineburg of Stanford University has said, “mainstream” and, in many circles, “the dominant narrative.”  One way to read the battle over American history, then, is a conflict between the traditional heroic view and Zinn’s account of resistance.  But it is no longer enough for Zinn’s story to be presented as a counterpoint to the traditional view, allowing students to make their own choices, but Zinn’s disciples now feel the need to eliminate the heroic view and favorable understanding of American history altogether.  We live in a moment when many feel a need to throw out the baby of America’s accomplishments with the bathwater of colonialism.  Zinn’s work presents not merely a counterpoint but a new orthodoxy.

In seeking to understand the current history wars, we might go so far as to say that they have become politics by other means.  American history has been afflicted by presentism, examining our past with 21st century sensibilities and standards.  If colonials owned slaves, for example, our present standards must cause us to reject them, even erase their names from our history.  If a leader was on the wrong side of the Civil War, we may no longer honor them, despite any other accomplishments.  Professor Wineburg calls this “reading the present into the past.”  Since we now find politics in every part of the curriculum—even in biology and art—we should not be surprised to find it in history class.  Indeed, publishers sell very different history textbooks in conservative Texas than they do in liberal California.

Toward Better Teaching of History and Civics

As a starting point, all sides should be able to agree that we have been teaching history and civics poorly.  In the most recent report of the National Educational Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP, or “America’s report card”), only 18% of 8th graders tested as “proficient” or better in American history while a mere 23% were “proficient” or better in government and civics.  Only 1-2% tested as “advanced” in these subjects.   The Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation reported last year that only 36% of Americans could pass the US Citizenship Test, including questions about the ratification and provisions of the US Constitution, the participants in World War II and other history basics.  An Annenberg Public Policy Center Study in 2017 reported that 75% of students did not know the three branches of government and 37% could not name one right in the First Amendment.

History and civics have been crowded out of the curriculum in many places by the heavy emphasis on STEM (science, math, engineering and technology).   Further, with few colleges requiring courses in American history and civics, and with schools of education teaching pedagogy and not content, many history teachers enter the classroom with very little understanding or enthusiasm about the subject.  Perhaps worst of all are the textbooks that are boring at best and biased at their worst.  They reduce exciting moments in American history to a few dry paragraphs and, in the case of Howard Zinn, they present a diatribe against the American ideal.

As a starting point, we should recognize that the purpose of teaching American history in K-12 education should be different from its treatment in a college course.  Quite simply, younger students need to learn the basics about our history and leave the interpretation for college courses.  College is the time for reading multiple approaches to historical narratives and sorting out a proper interpretation, but the lower grades should be about laying a proper base of understanding.  Professor Sam Wineburg of Stanford University underscores that younger students “do not get the interpretive game [and] are just learning that claims must be judged not for their alignment with current issues of social justice but for the data they present and their ability to account for the unruly fibers of evidence that jut out from any interpretive frame.”  We do students a disservice when the adults carry out their political battles over history on the playing field of high school history classes.

A number of curriculum experts advocate the more promising approach of teaching students using primary documents, not just textbooks.  The Ashbrook Center in Ohio has trained and retrained thousands of teachers to use primary documents—not just the Constitution and Declaration, but speeches, letters, and other documents of the time—to recreate events and debates in our history.  This engages students more actively than the passive reading of a textbook and invites them to understand history from the perspective of the participants, not just through the political lens of the 21st century.  Teachers report both greater excitement and understanding from the use of primary documents as well as the prospect that students can draw their own conclusions.  Several other curriculum efforts such as the DBQ Project and programs at Berkeley, Stanford and Brown University similarly put primary documents at the center of history teaching.

There is even a new and improved textbook, finally, in American history:  Wilfred M. McClay’s Land of Hope:  An Invitation to the Great American Story (Encounter Books, 2019).  McClay succeeds in delivering an inspiring narrative of American history, without rewriting, whitewashing, avoiding or politicizing.  Author Gordon S. Wood understood the value of such a narrative during, as he put it, “a time of severe partisanship that has infected many accounts of our nation’s past.”  History, in McClay’s hands, is a compelling and hopeful narrative, not a collection of disputed facts and intrusive opinions.

Dare we further propose that another important objective in teaching American history should be to help students not only understand but also love their country and be prepared to serve as well-informed citizens?  The Founders understood that a free republic would only work if an informed citizenry supported it and education was high on their agenda.  More recently, President Ronald Reagan, in his farewell message, warned of the need to return the teaching of civics and history to develop “an informed patriotism.”  Sociologist James Loewe, author of Lies My Teacher Told Me, reminds us that, “We aren’t just learning about the past to satisfy our curiosity—we are  learning about the past to do our jobs as Americans.”  Professor Sam Wineburg agrees:  “It is not popular to talk about in an era of identity politics, but history teaching in school has a civic purpose, not only a disciplinary purpose.”


We live in a time when we seem to engage in every possible approach to history except to learn from it.  We seek to erase it, cover it over, topple it down, rewrite it, apologize for it, skip it—but not to put it out there to learn from it.  The evidence suggests students are doing very little learning of history as it is but, with all the bad ways we are presenting history, we should not be surprised.  It is time we return to an understanding that history and civics are essential underpinnings for good citizenship, and that teaching them includes, most assuredly, the basics but also an appreciation of one’s country and a willingness to be prepared to serve it.

Davenport is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution.  Lloyd is a senior fellow at the Ashbrook Center and Dockson Professor Emeritus at the Pepperdine School of Public Policy. 

To read the essay at Defining Ideas:


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

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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

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Image - How Public Policy Became War

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.

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