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What’s at Stake in the 2018 Elections (National radio commentary, Salem/Townhall) October 26, 2018

Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds.
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https://omny.fm/shows/townhall-review-conservative-commentary-on-todays/david-davenport-whats-at-stake-in-the-2018-electio/embed?style=artwork

 
435 House and 33 Senate seats.  36 governorships.  6,665 state offices and tens of thousands of local ones.  And you ask what’s at stake in the 2018 elections?

There’s more: important ballot measures like the gas tax in California, carbon emissions in Washington, Medicaid expansion and voting rights.

Beyond the direct effects of your vote lie other questions.  If we split the House and Senate, will anything be passed in the next two years?  Even though Donald Trump is not on the ballot, this election will largely be a referendum on his performance.

It’s embarrassing but, according to the Pew Research Center, voter turnout in the U.S. is only 26th out of 32 democratic countries.

Isn’t there enough at stake for you to vote?  Believe me, this is not a year to be disengaged.  Turn out and do your part.

http://www.townhallreview.com

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Trump: A Presidency Perpetually In Search of a “Better Deal” (Washington Examiner) October 25, 2018

Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds, Politics.
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President Franklin Roosevelt had his “New Deal” and Harry Truman his “Fair Deal,” both of which were anchored in philosophical ideas about American domestic and economic policy. As we near the end of two years of Trump’s presidency, it seems fair to characterize his non-philosophical approach to governing as a continuous search for a “better deal.”

What underlies President Trump’s policy toward one of America’s most dangerous enemies abroad, Iran, for example? It continues to be based on his campaign observation that the nuclear agreement struck with Iran was “a disastrous deal.” His approach does not derive from any international grand strategy or understanding of the role Iran plays in the world. It is simply a bad deal, and we need to get out of it, presumably to work toward some unspecified better deal.

An even more obvious application of Trump’s “better deal” philosophy has been his approach to tariffs. Republicans have long argued for free trade and no tariffs, so Trump was off the script when he began blowing up trade agreements—first the TPP and then NAFTA—and imposing tariffs on friends and enemies alike. But as this has played out, it turns out that he is not so much interested in tariffs as he is in using tariffs to negotiate better deals, one nation or region at a time: Mexico, Canada, the European Union and soon others. Of course, the negotiating may stop at the Chinese border, and isolating China economically may be the end game for his tariff negotiations.

To negotiate better deals, of course, one must first undo existing deals, and that is where Trump the disruptor is unlike any president we have seen. He proclaimed the Paris climate change pact “an agreement that disadvantages the United States to the benefit of other countries” and poof, we were gone in a flash. The Iran nuclear deal, involving seven countries over two years of negotiations, was declared by Trump a “horrible, one-sided deal that should never, ever have been made” as he led America out the door. In one of his first actions as president, he pulled out of the Trans Pacific Partnership and famously declared NAFTA “the worst trade deal” ever entered into by the U.S. He told our allies “NATO is as bad as NAFTA,” leaving them to wonder whether we would even withdraw from that defense pact. Trump’s recent declaration that he wanted to pull out of the INF nuclear deal with Russia seems to be following this same disruptor path.

Does a president have the constitutional power to withdraw from international agreements? The Constitution gives the president the power to enter into treaties with the consent of two-thirds of the Senate, but it is silent on the question of where the power resides to withdraw from treaties. When Congress approves trade agreements, it has never explicitly given the president power to undo them. On one hand, Congress clearly has the power to “regulate commerce,” but Congress has been yielding its powers to the president on a whole list of things, including its war powers, for decades. It would be an interesting constitutional question, but with the presidency in the ascendancy and Congress in decline, such a difficult question might not even be raised.

Then remains the ultimate question: Can Trump not only undo bad deals but also make “better deals?” That is the question by which Trump’s foreign policy may ultimately be judged. Bilateral negotiations on tariffs may be easier to accomplish, though the new United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement is not being hailed as an unqualified success. But any new deals involving NATO or Iran or Russia on matters of national defense and nuclear weapons are far more complex and require a patient, long-term diplomatic approach that the Trump administration has not yet demonstrated.

So far, the author of The Art of the Deal is largely in search of a series of “better deals” for America. It seems clear that Trump is willing and able to undo deals, but less clear whether he can bring about better ones.

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

Time’s Up: Brett Kavanaugh Chaos is Why the Supreme Court Needs Term Limits (Washington Examiner) October 3, 2018

Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds, Politics.
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The Founders of our republic would be shocked because, according to Federalist No. 78, they saw the judiciary as “beyond comparison the weakest of the three departments” of the federal government. Having the power of neither the sword nor the purse, the role of the courts was to be minimal. By now, however, the Supreme Court makes the most important social decisions, and many of the biggest economic ones, of our day. With gridlock in Congress, you can nevertheless count on the high court to decide hard questions, and most of the difficult ones make it there.

It is fair to say the Founders would also have been surprised that a lifetime appointment might some day mean 30-40 years on the court. Justice Anthony Kennedy recently retired after 30 years on the court, and Justices Clarence Thomas at 27 years, Ruth Bader Ginsburg at 25, and Stephen Breyer at 24 are close behind. Most acknowledge that William O. Douglas, who served the longest of any Supreme Court justice (37 years), was not entirely capable late in his term.

In the last 100 years, the average tenure of a justice was 17 years, and it will doubtless be twice that in the near future. As people live longer and retire later, it is partly the natural course of things, but as contentious and important as the selections are politically, presidents choose younger justices (Neil Gorsuch was 49, Brett Kavanaugh 53) who can serve longer and extend their political legacy. Justices generally do not retire unless their party of choice is in the White House to appoint a favorable replacement.

I am not a fan of term limits, generally. I believe they limit the right of the people to vote for whom they wish. But the people are not voting for Supreme Court justices. Further, in my view, there are not sufficient checks on the power of the Supreme Court so term limits, or even age limits, make more sense. There are several interesting proposals out there to do this. Staggered terms of 18 years, after which a judge could return to another court within the federal judiciary, is one of the better ideas. In effect, a president would be choosing a new Supreme Court justice every two years, greatly reducing the political pressure and all-out warfare we see today. Justices would not be serving 30-40 years, often well past their prime.

 

The high stakes and contentious Supreme Court appointment process we now have is clearly dysfunctional. One silver lining from the dark Kavanaugh appointment cloud should be serious attention to term limits for Supreme Court justices.

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:  https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/opinion/times-up-brett-kavanaugh-chaos-is-why-the-supreme-court-needs-term-limits

Kids Don’t Know Enough About Civics–But This Could Save Them (Washington Examiner) September 22, 2018

Posted by daviddavenport in Education, Op/Eds.
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An important life was cut short this week in Ashland, Ohio, when 44-year-old Roger Beckett passed away. As executive director of the Ashbrook Center, Roger’s noble goal was nothing less than saving the republic by strengthening America’s anemic approach to civic education. The tool he chose to do this was both surprising and powerful: training and retraining teachers of history and civics to teach using primary documents.

Roger had followed the normal course to prepare himself to be a teacher, completing a master’s degree in one of our nation’s notable schools of education. But he finished the program dispirited and discouraged about teacher preparation. He felt he had been taught the wrong things — techniques of teaching, but not the subject matter he was to impart. Did you know that high school teachers of history or civics (or math or science for that matter) may have studied very little of those topics themselves? That was lesson one for Roger’s campaign to reinvent civic education: Teachers need to know and be excited about their subject.

Roger was also disheartened by the boring and biased textbooks used to teach American history. Textbooks manage to take spirited debates about turning points in our history and turn them into a few paragraphs of dry summary material. Some textbooks (such as the widely used People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn) are so skewed politically as to lose all objectivity and undercut students’ appreciation for their country. As one of the Ashbrook Center’s teachers, Gordon Lloyd, has said, “It’s hard to love an ugly founding,” which is what textbooks such as Zinn’s portray. Augmenting or even replacing these textbooks with more exciting and straightforward historical material became plank two in Roger’s civic education platform.

By the time we realized there was a civic education problem, Roger and his colleagues were hard at work. They began training hundreds of teachers on the campus of Ashland University in Ohio to teach using primary documents, and then thousands of teachers around the country in weekend seminars called “Rediscovering America.” Teachers read documents of the period they are studying. Not only traditional documents such as the Constitution, but also speeches, debates, and articles written by participants in the history, and the documents bring to life important issues of that time. Participants are then encouraged to draw their own conclusions, not that of some textbook author or editor, about history. Then, teachers are prepared to take that approach to teaching back to their own students, multiplying the effect of the training many times over.

Think how much more interesting history would be if students understood and entered into the debates of the time. It reminds me of books I used to devour as a kid myself, the We Were There series, taking a child like me into the life and times of historic events. Imagine how relevant it could be to debate the causes and solutions to the Great Depression in times of modern economic difficulty, to finally understand how valuable it could be in our time of political polarization, as we topple statues and erase names from history without truly knowing their life and times, to enter into the study of American history without our 21st century glasses.

We live in a day when only 23 percent of our students test at the level of basic proficiency in American history and only 18 percent in government. A mere 1-2 percent reach the advanced level on tests. Students cannot name one of their home state senators, and many believe Judy Sheindlin (Judge Judy) is on the Supreme Court. Polls show young people increasingly discouraged about and disengaged from our democracy.

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

To view the column at the Washington Examiner:

https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/opinion/kids-dont-know-enough-about-civics-but-this-could-save-them

Should the Voting Age be Lowered? (Junior Scholastic and Upfront) September 20, 2018

Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds, Politics.
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I participated in a point-counterpoint on whether to lower the voting age for Junior Scholastic magazine and also for Upfront, a New York Times publication for high school students.   A link to the latter is below:

https://upfront.scholastic.com/issues/2018-19/090318/should-the-voting-age-be-lowered.html#1110L

 

John Bolton is Right to Call Out the International Criminal Court’s Political Agenda (Washington Examiner) September 11, 2018

Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds.
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National security adviser John Bolton stirred the international waters this week by calling out the International Criminal Court for what it is and has always been — a political institution with an agenda, clothed in the finery of judicial robes. The court was formed by a relatively small group of like-minded nations working with NGOs and nonprofits seeking to establish an international body that could counter the military power of the United States. In this 20 thanniversary year of the court’s founding, as the Prosecutor seeks to investigate U.S. military and intelligence officials for war crimes in Afghanistan, Bolton warned in the clearest terms that America will oppose the court at every turn.

A court created to fulfill the purpose of the ICC should have turned out differently. Noting the pattern of creating regional courts when judicial resources were overtaxed by war crimes and crimes against humanity — such as in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia — the idea was to create a permanent court that would be up and running at all times, able to deter such atrocities in the first place. However, late in the negotiations, these progressive “like-minded” states and their NGO partners pulled several surprises, proposing a court that would be radically different. Instead of referrals from the U.N. Security Council, for example, they wanted an independent prosecutor, a kind of Robert Mueller or Ken Starr with global reach. Rather than limit the court’s authority to citizens of nations that signed the treaty, it would seek unprecedented jurisdiction over crimes that occurred on the territory of member states.

Proponents of the ICC did not seek a broad consensus, as is normally the basis of international treaties, but instead “a court worth having,” in their view. They settled for a requirement that only 60 of the 190-plus nations of the world sign the treaty for the court with such sweeping jurisdiction to be established. Seventy countries, with roughly two-thirds of the world’s population, have not joined, including major powers such as China, India, Russia, and the United States. Countries that have been targeted for investigations in Africa (and more recently, the Philippines) simply withdraw, and other countries where war crimes have been serious problems, such as Iraq and Syria, do not join in the first place. This is hardly the way to build a credible international judicial body.

The U.S. was deeply involved in negotiations to establish the court until they politicized. In the end, the U.S. voted “no” on the treaty in Rome in 1998. Bill Clinton signed the treaty in his final month as president, knowing the Senate, as required by the Constitution, would never ratify it. George W. Bush then communicated that the U.S. would not ratify the treaty and was not bound by it. The Bush administration also negotiated bilateral treaties with many nations in which they promised not to submit American service members to the ICC.

Being the world’s policeman is not only difficult, but it also now potentially subjects American service members and intelligence officials to criminal prosecution, which is exactly what many proponents of the court wanted all along. Since Afghanistan is a member, war crimes or crimes against humanity committed on its territory may be prosecuted by the court. To this, Bolton channeled his inner Winston Churchill and said we will fight them at passport control entering our country, we will fight their funding in our financial system, we will fight them when foreign aid budgets are considered, and we will fight them in the United Nations. We will never surrender.

The ICC has spent $1.5 billion in its 20-year history and has obtained a paltry eight convictions. It does only two things well: (1) Convict the occasional African warlord, and (2) rattle the political cages of Israel and the United States. Bolton and the Trump administration have rightly rattled back.

To view the column at the Washington Examiner:
https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/opinion/john-bolton-is-right-to-call-out-the-international-criminal-courts-political-agenda

Don’t Hold Your Breath Waiting for the Socialist Sweep in 2018 (Washington Examiner) August 31, 2018

Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds, Policy Articles & Papers.
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It’s election season, and madness is in the air. Besides the usual questions in a midterm election — who will carry the House and Senate, and how many seats will the incumbent president lose — the word socialism, rarely heard in American politics, is out in the open. A few candidates are actually running for office under the socialism banner. But what does that mean for the 2018 elections and beyond?

For starters, we can say with confidence that there will be no socialist sweep into office in 2018. All the hype is really about a mere handful of candidates, most notably Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez running for Congress in New York and Cynthia Nixon who is running so far behind in the race for governor of New York that we would not pay attention but for her earlier role in “Sex and the City.” There are also candidates for the state house in Pennsylvania. This hardly portends an electoral boom for socialism, but the fact that they are running at all is news.

The more interesting question is whether these candidates running as Democratic Socialists is the early stage of something bigger and longer-term. Is this socialism’s Barry Goldwater moment? In 1964, Goldwater suffered one of the biggest losses in presidential election history, but most credit him with laying the groundwork for Ronald Reagan’s later success running as a conservative. Just as Goldwater proclaimed that “extremism in the pursuit of liberty is no vice,” will these socialists help establish that socialism is no longer a form of extremism in its pursuit of equality?

Alas, this does not seem like a Barry Goldwater moment either for socialists. Prior to Goldwater’s run for president, conservatives had methodically taken over Republican Party positions at the state and local levels around the country. Goldwater himself authored books (most notably Conscience of a Conservative) outlining what he and the conservative movement stood for. Boots on the ground and ideas in the air were sustainable beyond Goldwater’s own electoral defeat and, indeed, they became the base on which Reagan would run and win the presidency 16 years later.

Socialists have no such infrastructure in 2018, only a handful of local and regional candidates wearing the label. The Democratic Socialists of America is the heart of their organization, such as it is. It has grown dramatically in recent times, but at 37,000, it is no bigger than a small town. Just as President Trump took over the Republican Party unexpectedly in 2016, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., a self-proclaimed Democratic Socialist, came surprisingly close to gaining the Democratic Party nomination that same year. Importantly, however, he did not grow a major base or infrastructure, so a socialist takeover of the party seems a long way off, if ever.

More important, the neosocialists have no agreed-upon philosophy or message. The millennials who speak favorably about socialism seem mostly interested in free government assistance: free tuition, help retiring student loans and buying houses. Even in Denmark, often spoken of as a the heartland of modern socialism, its prime minister pointed out in 2016 that it was not a socialist country but rather “a market economy” with “an expanded welfare state.” None of the candidates seems to be advocating the traditional understanding of socialism where government or the public owns the means of production and distribution.

Otherwise, one might say that all the buzz about socialism in the 2018 elections is much ado about very little.

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

Back to School Needs Back to Civic Education (National radio commentary, Salem/Townhall) August 15, 2018

Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds, Radio Commentaries.
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https://omny.fm/shows/townhall-review-conservative-commentary-on-todays/david-davenport-back-to-school-needs-back-to-civic/embed?style=artwork

 
As America’s students go back to school this month, America’s schools need to go back to civic education.  Our schools are awash in political concerns—from guns to immigration to bathrooms even—but it’s not clear that students have a good understanding of politics, history and civics.

 

In the last round of national testing, a pitiful 18% were found proficient in history, 23% in government.  And these are the future leaders of our republic.

 

With the emphasis on math and science, and pervasive political correctness, schools are not teaching basic civics.  Both instructional time and testing of government and history are down.

 

A few states are beginning to act, adding civic education course requirements and testing.  But more must be done.  Preparing students to become good citizens and voters is more important than ever.  And that requires a major commitment to civic education.

http://www.townhallreview.com

California is Using Lawsuits to Impose its Blue State Values on the Rest of the Country (Washington Examiner) August 7, 2018

Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds, Politics.
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It’s not fake news that California is joining 19 other states to sue the Trump administration over auto emission standards. But it’s not surprising news either, since this is now the 39th lawsuit California has brought against the federal government during Donald Trump’s 1.5-year presidency. Viewed through that larger lens, this is less about federalism, states’ rights, or even auto emissions, and more about California’s ongoing effort to impose its blue-state ideals on the rest of the country.

The Clean Air Act of 1967 was a federal initiative to take over environmental policy, reinforced by big-government Republican Richard Nixon’s establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency in 1970. Thereafter, the federal government, not the states, would be in charge of auto emission standards, though the federal government could still grant waivers to states under particular circumstances. California has had such a waiver for 48 years, though the EPA now wishes to remove that waiver and enforce the lower federal standards across the board. California argues it has special needs for higher standards and, as a matter of states’ rights, it should be able to enforce those.

The truth of the matter is that California only believes in state auto emissions if they are stricter than those of the federal government. If Texas, for example, wished to have lower standards than the feds, California would not be joining that lawsuit. No, for California, states’ rights only travel in one direction— toward more regulation, not less. Since California is such a large market for everything, including automobiles, its standards have nationwide impact. In fact, 20 states now follow California’s auto emission standards. If you make cars, you either follow California or federal standards, no one else’s. So this is not a case of states’ rights, broadly speaking. This is California vs. Washington, Gov. Jerry Brown vs. Trump, blue state vs. red state, pure and simple.

We saw California’s bully federalism earlier when it imposed a ban on the use of state money for travel to eight other states that, in California’s wisdom, do not provide sufficient legal protection for gay and transgender rights. Student athletes in California’s universities and colleges, for example, may not have the educational experience of seeing how things are done elsewhere, because California believes things are not done correctly there. As the sixth largest economy in the world, with the largest state budget, California has economic power to throw around and it seeks to leverage other states into seeing things its way.

Federalism has traditionally been a shield, protecting states from an overreaching federal government. But California’s blue-state bully federalism is more like a sword, trying to prod others into following its world view. States are required to give “full faith and credit” to the public acts, records, and court declarations of other states, according to Article IV of the Constitution. If not violating the letter of that law, California certainly disrespects and dishonors its spirit.

People will argue the auto emissions controversy both ways, but the larger story deserves attention as well. When a state sues the federal government 39 times in 19 months, something bigger is going on. In this case, California is trying to impose its own blue-state policies on immigration, civil rights, environmental standards, healthcare and more on the rest of the country wherever it can. That effort should be seen for what it is— a blue-state political power play, not a high-minded defense of federalism and states’ rights.

 

To read the column at the Washington Examiner:

https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/opinion/california-is-using-lawsuits-to-impose-blue-state-values-on-the-rest-of-the-country

Foolhardy Presidents Keep Declaring ‘War’ On Problems They Can’t Solve (Washington Examiner) July 24, 2018

Posted by daviddavenport in Newspaper Columns/Essays, Op/Eds.
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Perhaps you did not get the memo from the president’s Council of Economic Advisers earlier this month: The War on Poverty is over, and we won. To be more precise, the CEA report said, “Based on historical standards of material wellbeing and the terms of engagement, our War on Poverty is largely over and a success.” Consequently, increased work requirements for those receiving aid would now be appropriate, according to the council.

This report seemed almost as funny as President Ronald Reagan’s line in a 1988 speech: “Some years ago, the Federal Government declared a war on poverty, and poverty won.” Declaring war on domestic policy problems has become a bad habit of American presidents and, by now, we should have learned several lessons about them. First, they do not solve the problems they set out to address; meanwhile, they actually reduce our ability to find root causes and alternative solutions; they increase executive power at the expense of Congress; and they never end.

Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty was the first of these domestic policy wars. Looking for a signature policy to help define his presidency and the “Great Society,” Johnson gathered his advisers at his ranch in December 1963. He told them he would find federal money for anti-poverty programs and asked them to design a policy. Not much was known then (or arguably now) about how to eliminate poverty, so the advisers came back with some small test programs. Never one to go small, Johnson instead went big and declared a “War on Poverty” in his State of the Union message in January 1964. It was, as these domestic policy wars all are, long on rhetoric and short on policy.

Other presidents have followed the LBJ domestic war template. Johnson later declared a war on crime, though Nixon accelerated it and become known for it. Nixon declared a war on drugs. Jimmy Carter declared what he called “the moral equivalent of war” on energy consumption. George W. Bush declared a war on terrorism. These wars are declared on intractable problems and, in many cases, conditions rather than real enemies, so they are never won — poverty, drugs, crime, and terror are all still with us, and the wars continue.

In each case, presidents declared these wars without a strong sense of the policies that would be needed to win them. In the case of poverty, we have never even known how to define the problem. That, by the way, is how the Council of Economic Advisers could declare victory — it used a consumption-based formula rather than the standard income definition of poverty. The latter has always been flawed because it counts only annual earned income, not assets or government aid. So we are not sure how to define the problem, how to fight it, or what it would look like to win it. Believe me, anti-poverty programs are not over.

Further, domestic policy wars limit the search for policy solutions. We do not have time to search out root causes and debate policy options — we are, after all, at war. Nevertheless, the war calls for us to find enemies and spend money rooting them out. We appoint drug czars, we arm local police with military weaponry, and we diminish civil liberties — all in the name of war.

As he expanded so much of the modern presidency, Franklin Roosevelt really started all this in attacking the Great Depression. He said in his first inaugural that the American people want “action, action now,” and he began a presidential agenda of “bold experimentation.” He said that, if necessary, he would ask Congress for war powers. In this way, presidents have continued to grow their power over domestic problems that should be the purview of Congress, or in some cases, state and local governments.

No, the war on poverty is not over. However, presidentially declared wars on domestic policy problems should end.

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:

https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/opinion/foolhardy-presidents-keep-declaring-war-on-problems-they-cant-solve