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Young People Lurching Left (National radio commentary, Salem/Townhall) February 27, 2019

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With four cities permitting 16-year old voting and several states considering it, what we have not known is how they might vote. Thanks to a study by the Pew Foundation, now we do and it’s troubling.

In short, younger people agree with their older millennial brothers and sisters, only more so, and they disagree with their boomer parents and silent generation grandparents. 70 percent of 13-21 year olds think government should be doing more, compared with an average 44% of boomers.

Only 30 percent support Trump, compared to an average 48 percent of older groups. They are the most pessimistic about the future of the country. We already know they are much more accepting of socialism.

This feels like more than the old pattern where young people start out more liberal but grow conservative over time. It sounds an alarm for more civic education and making a better case for capitalism.



“The Green New Deal and the Politics of Pessimism” (Washington Examiner) February 25, 2019

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I read House Resolution 109 introducing the Green New Deal so you won’t have to. I already knew that it was an effort to reinvent the economy, while also keeping sea levels from rising, eliminating unemployment, and guaranteeing healthcare for all. This new utopia was supposed to be available to us for a mere $90 billion.

What I was surprised to learn by reading the fine print, however, is that the Green New Deal is built on the politics of pessimism. Every bill starts with a “whereas” section, diagnosing the problem, before it gets to the “therefore” about how big government will solve it. This whereas section reads like a good old-fashioned doom and gloom sermon. America is now in the midst of “a 4-decade trend of wage stagnation,” the resolution tells us, with “a large racial wealth divide” and “systemic injustices,” while sea levels are rising, wildfire droughts are spreading and we tremble before Armageddon.

I suppose this gloom and doom is supposed to make us feel like we are in another Great Depression, like the one in the 1930s that made the case for the old New Deal. But, as my Depression-era mother often reminded me, we live in a time nothing like that one. When President Franklin Roosevelt was inaugurated in 1933, approximately one-fourth of the American workforce was seeking jobs. National income had been reduced by half. Thousands of banks had closed with 25 states declaring bank holidays.

Today, by contrast, unemployment is 4 percent, which the Congressional Budget Office maintains is about the rate of structural unemployment you will always have since you cannot match skills and jobs perfectly. Our gross national product has been at all-time highs. The last time I checked, banks are still open. America has problems, sure, but this is nothing compared to what brought on the real New Deal and it is silly to claim otherwise.

The gamble Democrats are taking is that somehow people are ready to buy this kind of pessimism about their country. But, as is often the case in politics, it does not seem that they have read the minutes of the last meeting. Does anyone remember President Jimmy Carter and his era of limits? Or his famous “malaise” speech of July 15, 1979? To read House Resolution 109, it sounds much more like Carter than Roosevelt.

What you might recall is that after only one term in office, the doom and gloom Carter rhetoric and presidency were replaced by the ultimate political optimist, President Ronald Reagan. He gave Americans a positive vision of the country and what was still left to be accomplished. His 1984 re-election ad “Morning in America” is still considered one of the most powerful political messages ever produced. Reagan saw America as a “city on a hill,” not a country in decline. Which leader’s vision do you want: a country reaching its limits, or a city on a hill leading the world? Even President Trump, who managed to tap into a populist concern about the direction of the country, nevertheless packaged it into that more optimistic baseball cap slogan: Make America Great Again.

Before House Resolution 109 finishes up at 14 pages, it gets to the “therefores,” what big government will do to fix America. Here the verbs become all important: The government will be “directing,” “ensuring,” and “guaranteeing.” This does begin to sound more like Roosevelt and the progressive preference for government planning. The bill will, as it concludes, be “providing all people of the United States with high quality health care, affordable, safe and adequate housing; economic security; and clean water, clean air, healthy and affordable food, and access to nature.”

Finally, Democrats get to language we expect from them: Big government guaranteeing the good life. But first, they ask America to embrace the doom and gloom of the present moment which, both in Congress and in the coming election, will be a difficult sell.

David Davenport is a contributor to the Washington Examiner’s Beltway Confidential blog. He is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution.

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Doom and Gloom of the Green New Deal (National radio commentary, Salem/Townhall) February 22, 2019

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It’s amazing that more than 70 House members and a dozen senators have already signed onto the Green New Deal. I say amazing for two reasons:

(1) It is full of doom and gloom, and
(2) will cost a staggering $90 billion and counting.

The original New Deal of the 1930s was a response to the tragedy of a worldwide Great Depression. With a strong economy and low unemployment, it is difficult to paint that kind of bleak picture today, but the recent House Resolution introducing the Green New Deal surely tries, describing economic stagnation for four decades; racial, economic and gender divisions; and a planet doomed by global warming. It sounds a lot like Jimmy Carter’s old era of limits and we know how well that worked.

Democrats are lurching to the left in what feels like a desperate, but actually alienating, effort to win votes.


How 16-Year Olds Would Vote, If They Could (Washington Examiner) February 10, 2019

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Like popcorn in hot oil, the question of 16-year-olds voting has started popping up around the country. Four cities already allow it in local elections: three in Maryland and, ever on the bleeding edge of change, Berkeley, Calif. More important are the states considering it, since this would allow 16- and 17-year-olds to vote for president. It looked like the District of Columbia might approve 16-year-old voting, but the matter has been tabled there. Legislators are considering it in states as diverse as Kentucky, Nebraska, and Michigan, and students were in the Massachusetts capital last week looking for bill sponsors. Rep. Grace Meng, D-N.Y., has put forward a constitutional amendment to change the national voting age from 18 to 16 — though, with the high approval threshold required, you can bet against that one.

The oil causing this issue to pop seems lukewarm at best — it has arisen out of last year’s student protests over gun violence on campuses. Some believe student protests prove teenagers care about politics, or at least one issue, and this has fueled a national movement. It seems like a bad idea to me, but what we have not known until recently is how these younger voters might vote if they could.

The Pew Foundation recently completed a study on the political views of younger teens — ages 13-21 — and, in short, their beliefs are a lot like their older millennial brothers and sisters and not very much like their boomer parents and Silent Generation grandparents. For example, only 30 percent of these younger Generation Zers approve of President Trump’s job performance, compared with 43 percent for boomers and 54 percent for the silents. More striking, perhaps, 70 percent of them believe the government should do more, not less, compared with 49 percent and 39 percent of boomers and silents respectively. They believe blacks are treated unfairly and that gender designations should be handled very differently. Of all age groups, they are the most pessimistic about the direction of the country.

Before you conclude that millennials and Gen Zers will combine to be an influential new voting bloc, however, consider the likelihood that they will not actually turn out to vote. In the 2016 election, for example, only about half of eligible younger voters went to the polls compared with approximately two-thirds of older voters. Proponents of 16-year-old voting argue that, unlike the young adults who move a lot and fail to register, 16- and 17-year-olds are still at home and would be more likely to vote. Teenage stability and civic duty is a tough sell, however, especially with only 23 percent of students scoring as “proficient” or higher on the National Assessment of Educational Progress government tests.

A further problem with teenage voting is that younger voters tend to care about a handful of issues relevant to them, rather than the full ballot of representatives, judges, and the like. As Lizzy Stephan, executive director of New Era Colorado that has worked with young people, noted: “Issues have to be front and center” for teens, specifically “issues impacting their lives whether that’s student debt reform, police brutality, wages.” That’s why the jump from students protesting guns on campus, to giving them the vote, seems like such a stretch.

Some of the arguments for 16-year-olds voting are downright silly, especially the notion that more civic engagement will improve civic education. Sen. Harriette Chandler, D-Mass., said, “We signed a bill last year that provides civic education. This is just a continuation of that.” While we’re at it, let’s let more people perform surgery so they can learn to be doctors. Reminding us that no argument is too silly for an academic, professor David Runciman, head of the Department of Politics and History at Cambridge, says we should let kids vote at age six. Other arguments are very political, with Democrats far more interested in letting these more liberal Gen Zers vote than Republicans.

In the teen years, let’s keep the horse of civic education ahead of the cart of civic engagement and voting. There will be plenty of time and opportunity for that later.

David Davenport is a contributor to the Washington Examiner’s Beltway Confidential blog. He is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution.

The Limits of a Disruptive Presidency Exposed (Washington Examiner) January 28, 2019

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As we mark the halfway point of President Trump’s term, we might ask ourselves how a disrupter presidency has been working for the country — or for him. That term seems to be the one that best characterizes his presidency: First disrupting the Republican Party and presidential campaigns, then presidential style and communication, government policy, foreign alliances, and then the partial closure of the federal government itself.

Disruption is primarily a Silicon Valley term, describing how an innovator or entrepreneur starts a new business that disrupts and changes an entire industry. The originator of the term, professor Clayton Christensen of Harvard Business School, called it a process by which a company offers cheaper products to new customers, forcing the existing providers to respond and a whole line of business to change. Uber is Exhibit A, offering its cheaper rides in private cars and disrupting the entire taxi and transportation industries. Amazon is another example, replacing bookstores and shopping malls with a different kind of retail shopping.

There is a case that the federal government greatly needs disrupting. President Ronald Reagan spoke of government as the problem and sought to push power and money back to the states and to individuals, but the federal juggernaut largely rolled on. President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore tried reinventing government, but little changed. Many voters found Trump’s promise to “drain the swamp” in Washington as a way to undertake fundamental change that was long overdue.

But leading the federal government as disrupter-in-chief turns out to be both difficult and limited in its long-term effect. For starters, there is really no way to carry out a Silicon Valley-style disruption by creating an alternative to how the federal government operates. There is no Uber or Amazon that we can develop in a skunkworks and spring on our nation’s capital. Consequently, Trump has been left to disrupt as more of a wrecking ball than as an innovator.

Trump mostly disrupts by saying “no” — no to the Paris Climate Accords, to NAFTA, to former President Barack Obama’s environmental regulations, to the continuing operation of the federal government. He wanted to say “no” to Obamacare, too, but that required more than a presidential pronouncement or executive order and he was not able to build the legislative coalition to accomplish it. So far, his only major legislative policy initiative has been tax reform, and the jury is out on that one, with tax revenues down so far in a growing economy.

Saying “no” to the status quo in Washington is not entirely wrongheaded. As former Sen. Bob Dole, R-Kan., said when he was referred to as Senator Gridlock, “There are a lot of bad ideas in Washington, and somebody needs to stop them.” But a true disrupter wants to change the way things are done, and that requires new ideas to replace the old. We know that Trump can say “no,” but what will he say “yes” to? Moreover, if he develops more of a policy agenda for the remainder of his term, will he be able to get it through the Congress or instead be limited to what he can do on his own? With a divided government and uneasy relationships with congressional leaders in his own party, how could President Trump rally major legislative accomplishments to complete the disrupter cycle?

One would have to predict more unilateral action by President Trump in the next two years — more speeches, tweets, executive orders, and unilateral actions. But little longer-term innovation of a new Washington will follow the disruption. As we have learned from Trump’s reversal of many of Obama’s executive orders, unilateral presidential action is short-term and easily undone.

Former British Prime Minister Harold Wilson wisely said that a week is a long time in politics, so looking out two years is risky business. Still, it is difficult to see from here how a disrupter presidency based on saying “no” to business as usual could begin a real, and needed, transformation of Washington.

Two years in, we see more clearly the limits of a disrupter presidency.

David Davenport is a contributor to the Washington Examiner’s Beltway Confidential blog. He is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution.

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The Green New Deal Looks Red to Me (National radio commentary, Salem/Townhall) January 25, 2019

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Perhaps you’ve heard about the Green New Deal?  It’s freshman Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s revolutionary scheme to reinvent the entire American economy.  She calls it “the Great Society, the moonshot, the civil rights movement of our generation.”

But look a little deeper and you’ll see different colors:  the blue of progressivism and mostly the red of government spending and debt.  The proposal calls for a breathtaking $90 billion in green initiatives.

Even mainstream Democrats are hesitant about this sweeping effort to reinvent the economy and eliminate income inequality.  But media darling Ocasio-Cortez will make it front and center.

The first New Deal turns out not to have solved the Great Depression as we once thought.  We hardly need a new one. Is it green? Yes. Is it utopian?  Yes.

But mostly it’s the same old liberal blue of government spending and the red of more debt.


Actual Emergencies Come and Go, But Emergency Declarations Endure (Washington Examiner) January 8, 2019

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As President Trump considers whether to declare a national state of emergency to build his border wall, few Americans realize they have lived under nearly 30 states of national emergency for most of their lives. Emergencies come and go, but emergency declarations remain. The oldest national emergency still on the books was declared by President Jimmy Carter during the Iran crisis 40 years ago. There are presently national “emergencies” covering everything from vessels in Cuba to democratic processes in Zimbabwe, from exports to cyberwarfare and narcotics trafficking.

National emergencies have long been a tool used by presidents to grow executive power and enable presidential action at the expense of congressional deliberation. In the 1970s, when Congress was concerned about executive power in the wake of Watergate and the Vietnam War, the National Emergencies Act was passed and signed by President Gerald Ford in 1976. However, the law did not limit presidential emergencies as intended. Beginning with President Bill Clinton, who invoked 17 national emergencies, government by national emergency has only grown.

Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson foresaw the likelihood of national emergencies becoming a favored tool of the executive branch when the court reviewed President Harry Truman’s emergency declaration taking over steel factories. Jackson wrote, in the 1952 Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. vs. Sawyer, that the “Founders knew what emergencies were, knew the pressures they engender for authoritative action, knew, too, how they afford a ready pretext for usurpation.” Jackson added, “We may also suspect that they suspected that emergency powers would tend to kindle emergencies.”

By now, with nearly 30 national emergencies in effect at all times, we can say that Jackson was right. Presidents find emergencies where they want to act unilaterally, either because Congress is too slow or it is opposed to what the president wants to do. Professor Kim Lane Scheppele rightly concludes that national emergencies are “like a toggle switch, and when the President flips it, he gets new powers.” Legal expert Patrick Thronson points out that “each emergency activates powers in over 160 provisions of statutory law, dozens of presidential orders, and numerous other federal regulations.”

National emergencies, then, have become a weapon in the presidential pursuit of greater power. Alongside their close cousin — declaring war on domestic policy problems such as poverty, crime, terror, energy consumption and drugs — it has skewed the system away from deliberation and toward unilateral executive action. The increase in the use of presidential executive orders is yet one more arsenal in this steady expansion of presidential power at the expense of Congress.

But national emergencies also remind us that executive power has grown not only because of the ambitions of presidents but also because Congress has passively complied. The National Emergencies Act calls upon Congress to vote every six months on whether a national emergency declaration should continue, and this they have failed to do. Congress also has spending and oversight powers it could exercise in national emergencies, but it rarely does.

It would be difficult to argue that something as complex as immigration has suddenly, overnight, become a national emergency requiring unilateral presidential action. It would be more accurate to say that politicians have been arguing for years about what approach to take to complex issues such as Dreamers, the families of immigrants, illegal immigrants performing valuable services, and so on. It is this failure to address a complex set of issues and reach agreement that is the problem, not a sudden change in conditions of the sort that would lead to an emergency declaration.

The national emergency question, then, is not merely about immigration. It is fundamentally about executive power and the role of Congress. If we are prepared to say one more time that Congress is not important and should not be engaged in major immigration policy then, sure, why not have one more national emergency?

David Davenport is a contributor to the Washington Examiner’s Beltway Confidential blog. He is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution.

Popular Vote Power Play (National radio commentary, Salem/Townhall) January 4, 2019

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This is David Davenport of the Hoover Institution for Townhall.com.

Democrats are frustrated that they have lost the presidency in the Electoral College twice in the 21stcentury.  But instead of amending the Constitution, they are going to courts and state legislatures.

Four lawsuits claim that votes for the losing candidate in a winner-take-all electoral vote are not counted equally as required by the 14th Amendment.  Of course all the votes are counted at the state level, as the Constitution provides, so this should be a losing argument, but these days who knows?

At the same time they seek to pass the National Popular Vote Bill in state legislatures requiring electors to cast votes for the winner, not of their state vote, but of the national popular vote.

If you want to change the Constitutional requirement of electoral voting, it should be done by a proper amendment, not an end run or a legal power play.

I’m David Davenport.


Obamacare Remains an Unsettled Law, and Will Continue to Be (Washington Examiner) December 18, 2018

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Have you noticed that some laws seem to settle the matter in question while others do not? Some expected Republican President Dwight Eisenhower to reverse Democratic President Franklin Roosevelt’s sweeping New Deal initiatives, including Social Security, but he did not. President Richard Nixon accepted his predecessor President Lyndon Johnson’s vast expansion of the welfare state with Medicare and his war on poverty.

But Obamacare? Not so much. Even though the bill came into law in 2010, Congress has held more than 70 votes to repeal it in whole or significant part, and dozens of court cases have continued to challenge it, including the recent decision by a federal judge in Texas to declare it unconstitutional as revised.

Simply passing a law and seeing it signed by the president was obviously not enough to settle Obamacare. Similarly, though the Supreme Court declared abortion legal in 1973, it has continued to be challenged in both state legislatures and courts. Meanwhile, major legislation such as the adoption of Social Security or Medicare have become settled law. What, then, contributes to an issue being settled or not settled in public policy?

One large factor that has left Obamacare unsettled is that it was enacted with no Republican support. Whereas Social Security, Medicare, and even civil rights were all adopted with bipartisan support, Obamacare was passed on a purely party line vote of Democrats. As the car mechanic in an old repair commercial used to say, “You can pay me now, or you can pay me later.” Applied here, the choice faced by presidents and legislatures is taking the time and making the compromises necessary for bipartisan support, or forcing something through on a party-line vote. The latter approach leaves the legislation with weak overall support, and an invitation for a later Congress or president to challenge or change it.

We now live in a time when Congress is sufficiently divided and weak, and little actual deliberation or action occurs there. Presidents are tempted to use executive orders or party-line votes to get things done. Courts now decide many of the important social questions of our day, such as abortion and same-sex marriage. Again, those weaker forms of action that do not build a strong, bipartisan constituency often do not settle the matter, and the war continues. The key to a strong policy is the consent of the people, and that comes through bipartisan support in the legislature, not in unilateral action by one president, nine judges, or a single political party.

The leads to a second reason why Obamacare is unsettled: We live in a time of political warfare in which everything is subject to attack. Rather than compromise, political leaders are willing to see the government shut down to get their way. Major bills are held by party leaders in secret and then sprung on the Senate for quick passage. The Senate review of Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination reached a point of no-holds-barred open warfare. One can only hope that public policy as war has not become the new normal in our nation’s capital.

Yet a third reason why Obamacare is still unsettled is that it relied on the states for execution, without involving the states in the process. It imposes significant new Medicaid costs on the states, and engages them deeply in carrying out the law. Consequently, states have been major players in bringing legal challenges to Obamacare. At the same time, the individual mandate was a sweeping change that invited further challenges. Remaking the nation’s entire healthcare system in this way made it virtually certain that the field would be unsettled for years, perhaps longer.

Sweeping change demands lengthy deliberation and strong, bipartisan support. If you want to cut short the political deliberative process (relying instead on a court decision, an executive order, or a party-line vote) you may win the battle, but the war continues, with similar tactics used against the new law.

Obamacare is not settled and may not be for a good, long while.

David Davenport is a contributor to the Washington Examiner’s Beltway Confidential blog. He is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution.

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Democrats are Making the Same Mistake Politicians Have Made for Decades (Washington Examiner) December 13, 2018

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It’s such a classic mistake that it’s difficult to understand why politicians keep making it. They win an election and proceed to overplay their so-called mandate, setting themselves up for failure and positioning their opponents for a rebound. Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush both did it, and now Democrats are taking their turn after winning a majority in the House of Representatives (while Republicans still hold the Senate and the White House).

First came Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., borrowing a term from President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and calling for a revolutionary “first hundred days” for the Congress. All he wants is “Medicare for all,” free college tuition, relief for student debt, a $15 minimum wage and, like the late-night television commercials, wait there’s more. Not to be outdone, the new socialist congresswoman, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., wants no less than a “Green New Deal,” proposing a “national industrial, economic mobilization plan for the transition of the U.S. economy.” She also wants “Medicare for all” and the $15 minimum wage and, while we’re at it, let’s abolish Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Meanwhile in my home state of California, Democrats introduced bills on day one of the post-election legislative session seeking universal early childhood education, Medi-Cal for illegal immigrants, a free second year of community college, and all manner of other proposals to spend the state’s $15 billion surplus — and quickly, lest it go away in a new recession. The only question is whether Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, will follow his predecessor Jerry Brown as the adult in the room, keeping a damper on new spending.

History has not been kind to newly elected officials pursuing dramatic policy changes. Clinton thought he had a mandate in 1993 and went after major healthcare reform, only to be sent home empty-handed. In 2004, George W. Bush famously said he had earned “political capital” in his victory and “now I intend to spend it.” His pet project was Social Security reform, including privatized accounts, and after several months of declining poll numbers and congressional resistance, he backed down.

Political scientists have pointed out the folly of these so-called mandates, starting with Robert A. Dahl’s article, “Myth of the Presidential Mandate” in 1990. The myth is that a vote for the president means the people want whatever policies the president seeks, and that Congress should play along. Alas, life in Washington does not work that way. As political scientists David Brady and Craig Volden point out in their book Revolving Gridlock (2006), the real test of a major reform is whether the median senator (#50 on the conservative-liberal scale) and the median member of Congress (#218) would support the reform. If not, “attempts at dramatic change … will fail,” they conclude.

By that test, all of this pie-in-the-sky legislation will surely fail. Only President Roosevelt has carried out dramatic policy change in the last 100 years, and that was in the wake of the Great Depression. Perhaps politicians like Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez think the Great Recession will be enough to fuel a new New Deal, but that song will not play in Washington, especially in this polarized federal government. The only real case for the bold Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez proposals is to use their ideas rhetorically in an effort to reposition the Democratic Party. They might succeed in that battle, but it will likely cause the party to lose the war in the next election.

So, Democrats, knock yourselves out. Order up new legislation with those eyes too big for your stomachs. Proceed, as they say in football, to outkick your coverage. Make haste toward that bridge too far. Overreach your limited electoral mandate. Try to out-Roosevelt Franklin Roosevelt and create your own green or new New Deal.

It will prove again what politicians should have learned by now — there is no electoral mandate for major policy change.

David Davenport is a contributor to the Washington Examiner’s Beltway Confidential blog. He is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution.

To read the column at the Washington Examiner: