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Make Congress Great Again! (Podcast with Armstrong & Getty) (20 min.) June 11, 2019

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The Deceptive Popular Vote Bill Gains Momentum (National radio commentary, Salem/Townhall) June 4, 2019

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David Davenport: The Deceptive Popular Vote Bill Gains Momentum

Democrats, angry about losing the presidency twice in the Electoral College since 2000, are quietly taking action. The National Popular Vote Bill passed in three more states—Colorado, Delaware and New Mexico—this Spring and recently passed state senates in two more.

I call it the Constitutional End-Run Voting Bill because it would eliminate the Electoral College without passing a proper constitutional amendment. States agree to cast their electoral votes not for the winner in their state but for the winner of the national popular vote. Think of it: Your state votes for Candidate A, but your vote goes to Candidate B. Talk about your vote not counting.

The Constitution says votes are counted in state capitals and then electors make the final choice. Beware of trick plays that undermine both the Constitution and the states.


Localism Still Has a Heartbeat, Even in California (Washington Examiner) May 25, 2019

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In a move with national implications, California lawmakers recently stopped Senate Bill 50, which would override local zoning laws to require much higher density in housing. There in the Sacramento wreckage is a microcosm of the political themes and policy playbooks of our time: crisis, emergency, climate change, NIMBY (not in my backyard), the demise of local government, the rise of tech companies at the expense of livable cities — you name it.

Let me deconstruct the scene for you.

California’s housing stock is not keeping up with demand. Experts say the state needs to be building 180,000 units a year, but, for a decade, it has averaged only 80,000 new units. Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, says California needs a nearly five-fold increase in home building to keep up, and he intends to lead the charge.

Senate Bill 50 would have increased housing density by requiring cities to permit apartment complexes near rail stations and job centers and to allow two to four homes to be built on lots presently zoned for one. Suburbanites saw their California dreams disappearing along with their front yard lawns and backyard barbecues. Although Democrats hold the governorship and both houses of the legislature, enough Democrats represented those suburban districts to fight the bill off for a year.

Unusual as it is for a liberal Democratic policy to die on a suburban hill of local control, there are several important policy stories here. One is the guise of crisis and emergency that seems to be driving our politics and policy everywhere. There was no time to deliberate or compromise; this was a crisis and we needed action now. Everything in Washington is wars and emergencies: We fight a war on poverty, a war on crime, a war on drugs, a war on terror; meanwhile we live under 31 states of national emergency. Some California legislators actually said we need to take more time with this, look for something less extreme, and find a political compromise. Good for them.

This battle was also full of the politics of shaming and blaming. Proponents of the bill exposed suburbanites for their selfishness in not wanting housing solutions in their backyard. Meanwhile, these same proponents had their own selfish interests with the bill supported by labor, business, the California Chamber of Commerce, and others who wanted to build more houses and make more money. It’s just that their interests happened to coincide with the crisis of the moment, so they sought to be the good guys and shame the selfish bad guys who liked their local communities as they are. Indeed, the most serious housing shortages in California have been caused by business, namely technology companies that attract workers, paying little or no attention to their housing needs. I am sure homeowners wondered why a lack of planning on the part of technology executives became their crisis.

Finally, this was a battle about federalism, the idea that we do not need the states or federal government to take over everything at the expense of local government. If you think about it, if cities cannot decide their own zoning and property development laws, what is left for them? Why not just have the state take over everything? This, of course, is what Washington, D.C., has been doing for decades, taking over state matters such as education and welfare right down to the speed limits on our highways. Finally, California municipalities rose up and said, “Enough!”

The late Tip O’Neill, former speaker of the House, liked to say, “All politics is local.” Unfortunately, that is less and less true in America. But in stopping Senate Bill 50 for now, lawmakers in Sacramento have shown us that deliberation, compromise, and localism still have a heartbeat, even in California.

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:


Area 45 Podcast: How Public Policy Became War May 24, 2019

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In case you haven’t noticed there’s a war on . . . terror, drugs, poverty, you name it. David Davenport, a Hoover Institution research fellow specializing in constitutional federalism and American politics and law, and co-author of the newly released How Public Policy Became War, discusses how the over-use of the word war has contributed to America’s policy and cultural divides.

War is the New Normal in Washington (San Francisco Chronicle, Sunday Insight) May 19, 2019

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I have some bad news for Joe Biden: Donald Trump is not, as Biden said recently, an “aberration” from the bipartisan policymaking he remembers nostalgically in Washington. Biden’s “Republican friends,” and even many of his fellow Democrats, are not waiting eagerly for the kind of collegial dealmaking he says he will bring to Washington. Rather both politics and policy have shifted dramatically from a model of deliberation to one in which war is the new normal.

In this past week alone, Washington is talking about a trade war, a war with Congress, an abortion war and even a military war with Iran.

The shift didn’t happen overnight. President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal in 1933 was America’s French Revolution, changing everything including how public policy is made. Roosevelt was an early case study for Rahm Emanuel’s now famous line that “you never want a serious crisis to go to waste — it’s an opportunity to do things that you could not do before.” Claiming “the American people want action, and action now,” Roosevelt used the crisis of the Great Depression to drive Congress into passing his bills with little debate, issued a record number of executive orders and created a plethora of new federal agencies that is now the enormous federal administrative state. Following the Depression and World War II, there was no return to normal, and the modern, powerful, action-oriented presidency became a permanent fixture in Washington.

Modern presidents built on Roosevelt’s legacy by explicitly declaring war on intractable domestic problems with Lyndon Johnson’s war on poverty, the Johnson-declared but Richard Nixon-accelerated war on crime, Nixon’s war on drugs, Jimmy Carter’s “moral equivalent of war” on energy consumption, George W. Bush’s war on terror, and any number of lesser wars. After studying these domestic policy wars carefully, one can draw five conclusions:

(1) They do not solve the problem at hand.

(2) They create roadblocks to better policy solutions.

(3) They increase executive power at the expense of Congress.

(4) They are negative and destructive.

(5) They never end. All these domestic policy wars are still active.

Wars and their close cousin the national emergency — we currently live under 31 of those — have revolutionized how policy is made and carried out, and not for the better.

Take the war on poverty, for example. Lyndon Johnson wanted to do something about poverty and called his advisers together to draw up plans shortly before his first State of the Union message in 1964. Little was known about anti-poverty policy so his team proposed a series of small pilot programs. Never one to go small, Johnson instead declared “here and now unconditional war on poverty,” which was short on policy and long on rhetoric. Decades later, with poverty still high, Ronald Reagan would quip that we declared war on poverty “and poverty won.” Although the President’s Council of Economic Advisers attempted to declare victory in this war last year, that was based on redefining poverty and very few bought it.

Sacramento is not immune to the executive power grabs of war. Gov. Gavin Newsom has declared war on the death penalty, unilaterally imposing a moratorium on executions while saying he would “like to shut down the system of death.” Apparently he was not interested in consulting the Legislature and was willing to override California voters who have rejected anti-death penalty measures twice in the past eight years. Why deliberate when you can just win?

Trade wars, wars on the Constitution, culture wars and more. Enough already. While we probably cannot eliminate the war metaphor in public policy, there are several things we can do. We need to make Congress great again, encouraging it to exercise its war powers, its spending power, its ability to check the president. As important, we need to make Congress deliberative and bipartisan again, rather than merely taking a series of party-line votes. Power can be restored to committees and committee chairs to actually hold hearings, take testimony and seriously consider amendments, making bipartisan support for bills more likely. And “we the people” bear some responsibility too, needing to strengthen our anemic civic education programs and increase engagement in our democracy.

I saw a bumper sticker on the I-405 freeway in Southern California that reminded me of this moment: “There is no hope, but I may be wrong.” We trust America can slowly move away from war in public policy back toward deliberation.

David Davenport is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution and co-author, with Gordon Lloyd, of “How Public Policy Became War” (Hoover Institution Press, 2019). To comment, submit your letter to the editor at SFChronicle.com/letters.

Politics as War (A Law & Liberty podcast on the new book, How Public Policy Became War) May 16, 2019

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David Davenport, coauthor with Gordon Lloyd of How Public Policy Became War, discusses how we lost “the cool, deliberate sense of the community” in making public policy and instead turned to the metaphor of war as the basis for political action.

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David Davenport

David Davenport, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution and columnist for Forbes.com, was the president of Pepperdine University from 1985 to 2000.

About the Author

‘War Metaphor’ Warps US Policymaking (Hoover Institution Interview on New Book) May 10, 2019

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Davenport: ‘War Metaphor’ Warps US Policymaking

Friday, May 10, 2019
Hoover Institution, Stanford University

America’s political leaders no longer deliberate over the best policy solutions, but instead seek victory in political battles and wars, all at a great cost to the nation, says Hoover scholar David Davenport.

In a new book, How Public Policy Became War, Davenport and co-author Gordon Lloyd advocate a re-examination of politically destructive approaches to American governance, suggesting a return to the much more deliberative vision of the Founding Fathers. Hoover Press published the book on May 7.

Davenport is a Hoover research fellow specializing in international law and treaties, constitutional federalism, and American politics and law, and the former president of Pepperdine University (1985–2000). Lloyd is a professor of public policy at the School of Public Policy at Pepperdine University.

The Hoover Institution recently interviewed Davenport about the book:

What are the main findings or themes in your book?

Davenport: The Founders thought that the primary approach to policy-making would be deliberation, searching for what they called “the cool, deliberate sense of the community” over time, seeking the consent of the governed.  This is a far cry from how policy is made today.   Presidents now make policy unilaterally, not deliberatively, using executive orders, domestic policy wars, national emergencies and the like.  The US Senate, once called the greatest deliberative body in the world, hardly deliberates.  The war metaphor has captured policy-making in Washington and we are all worse off because of it.

What do you mean by “how public policy became war?”  

Davenport: In the book, we trace a series of steps that led to the present state of war in public policy.  First, Franklin Roosevelt used the crisis of the Great Depression to shift power to the federal government, and specifically, to the president and the administrative state.  Unfortunately, these emergency powers never went away and the powerful modern presidency was born and lives on.  Subsequent presidents figured out that they could exert further control over policy by declaring war on domestic problems—wars on poverty, crime, drugs, energy consumption and terror.  We also live under 30 states of national emergency declared by presidents.  Political leaders no longer deliberate over the best policy solutions, but instead seek merely to “win” a series of political battles and wars.

What did the Founders emphasize in their design of the US government? 

Davenport: The founders thought the people were really in charge and that government should be based on the consent of the governed.  Instead of a direct democracy, they created a federal republic with all kinds of filters:  representation, checks and balances, separations of powers and the like to facilitate deliberation.  The Founders would hardly recognize how Washington works today.

What lessons can we learn from the last half century of New Deal-driven government?  

Davenport: The New Deal was effectively America’s French Revolution.  It changed everything about how government works.  Issues that were once debated through congressional committees and amendment processes are now driven by the president.   A completely new administrative state of federal agencies was created to govern.  The government became about what Franklin Roosevelt called “action, and action now,” rather than deliberation and consent.

Should government reflect the priorities of each generation?  

Davenport: Yes, Thomas Jefferson acknowledged that the earth belongs to the living.  James Madison warned against “a blind veneration for antiquity.”  The point is not to go back to the founding and do everything the way they did, but to use the processes they set in motion—voting, checks and balances, separations of power, filters, constitutional amendments—to keep the government in touch with “we the people” in each generation.

What is the importance of “deliberation” and has it been lost in today’s government?  

Davenport: The Founders both modeled and taught a government of, by and for deliberation.  They deliberated both indoors—in Philadelphia and in ratifying conventions in all the states—and out of doors, through the Federalist Papers and other essays and speeches.  They debated and compromised their way to an extraordinary form of government.  The opening line of Federalist Number One calls on the people to “deliberate on a new constitution.”  The habits of deliberation—moderation, compromise, care, caution, seeking consent—are all weakened today.  And the structures and filters that helped support them are all in need of repair and strengthening.

Explain how Plato’s “divided line” in The Republic applies to today’s American Republic.  

Davenport: Plato’s “divided line” separated the philosophers who lived in the world of ideals from the rest of us who live among lesser things.  Like all analogies, this one is imperfectly applied to political life today, but we use it to focus on the filters at the line between the people and their leaders that should be facilitating deliberation, not war.  Specifically, we believe the role of the press, of political parties, of civic associations and of federalism could help at the line between the people and their political leaders.  We also propose improvements above the line, primarily strengthening Congress and making it more deliberative, and with the people below the line, especially in the need for greater civic education and engagement.

Any other issues you’d like to address?  

Davenport: Metaphors do matter and the war metaphor in politics has done great harm.  We need to better manage the war metaphor and work toward better ways of understanding and carrying out a deliberative democracy.

Davenport has coauthored two other Hoover Press books with Gordon Lloyd: Rugged Individualism: Dead or Alive? (2017), and The New Deal and Modern American Conservatism: A Defining Rivalry (2013). 

California Chips Away at Individual Freedom (National radio commentary, Salem/Townhall) May 8, 2019

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California has decided sodas are the new tobacco, with five bills introduced in the legislature to limit sales. If they pass, you won’t be able to buy sodas larger than 16 ounces, you won’t find them in check-out lines, and there will be extra fees.

New York introduced a bill banning large sodas and it was blocked by a judge. While it was in effect the data showed people actually bought more sodas. And there are very different interpretations of the effects of a soda tax.

But the real issue is individual freedom. Isn’t drinking a soda your decision, not the government’s? If they are dangerous to health, isn’t education the answer, not regulation?

The nanny state keeps regulating us more and more at the cost of individual freedom. What’s next: banning meat and dairy products in school lunches? Oops, that bill has been introduced in California also.


“The Rise of the War Metaphor in Public Policy” (Defining Ideas) May 8, 2019

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Defining Ideas ran an excerpt of Gordon Lloyd’s and my new book, How War Became Public Policy.

The essay may be read here:


How Joe Biden Helped Public Policy Become War (Washington Examiner) May 7, 2019

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When I share with people that Gordon Lloyd and I have published a new book, How Public Policy Became War, they invariably nod and comment on the timeliness of the topic. Of course, they are thinking of the partisan war-like environment in Washington in which very little is done, and that is part of the story. As former Vice President Joe Biden is learning in his presidential campaign, however, the root of the problem is longer and deeper than today’s hyper-partisanship.

When you have been in politics as long as Biden has, you develop a track record that is subject to attack, especially as times and politically correct opinions change. It turns out that Biden was a strong supporter of two domestic policy wars, the war on drugs and the war on crime, that are now unpopular with Democrats. In the 1980s and 1990s, Biden was known as tough on crime and said that President George H.W. Bush’s war on drugs did not go far enough. As chairman of the powerful Senate Judiciary Committee, Biden led the charge in setting longer prison terms for drug offenders and building more prisons. Some say he invented the term “drug czar” to describe the general who would oversee that war.

As Lloyd and I trace in our book, modern presidents have developed a bad habit of declaring wars on serious domestic policy problems they do not know how to solve. After President Franklin D. Roosevelt laid the foundation, with his revolutionary New Deal mobilizing the country for an unsuccessful fight against the Great Depression, President Lyndon B. Johnson formally declared “war on poverty” in 1965, another policy failure after 50-plus years. This was followed by wars on crime and drugs, along with President Jimmy Carter’s “moral equivalent of war” on energy consumption, the decades-long war on terror, and several lesser wars.

All these domestic policy wars were fraught with several problems:

  1. They do not solve the problem at hand.
  2. They create roadblocks to better policy solutions.
  3. They increase executive power at the expense of Congress.
  4. Their imagery is negative and destructive.
  5. They never end.

When paired with their close cousin the national emergency, and we live under 31 of those today, the entire process of making and implementing public policy is changed, and not for the better.

Biden’s leadership in the war on crime is an example of these policy failures. The war on crime was problematic from the beginning because we were not sure who the “enemy” was or what tactics made sense. Were we going after the supply or the demand? We did not know.

Politicians, as they are wont to do, felt a need to “do something,” even though their law enforcement approach is not a matter of federal, as opposed to state or local, government. The drug problem has not been solved and, in the meantime, the number of drug offenders from drug offenses grew 10-fold between 1980 and 2015 and the U.S. now has the largest prison population in the world. Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and Richard Nixon, presidents who led these efforts, are gone. Biden, who led from the Senate, is left holding this damaged bag of policy goods.

As Barack Obama’s chief of staff Rahm Emanuel famously said: “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste,” and presidents have been declaring wars and crises in order to consolidate greater federal power at the expense of states, and more executive power at the expense of Congress. President Trump’s national emergency to build his border wall, over the explicit objection of Congress, is a current example of government by war and emergency and not by deliberation, as the founders intended.

I liked the bumper sticker I saw on a California freeway: “There is no hope but I may be wrong.” In the final chapter of our book, we propose ways to better manage the war metaphor, including making Congress not only great but also more deliberative again, and strengthening the filters between the government and the people. It is high time we do so before everything becomes a war or emergency led solely by the commander in chief.

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: