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California Prop. 18–Should Seventeen Year Olds Be Allowed To Vote? (Eureka) October 27, 2020

Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds.
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California’s Proposition 18 on this year’s ballot is like those television commercials that may be clever but where, in the end, you fail to see the point or even remember the product being advertised. It would amend the California constitution to allow seventeen-year-olds who would turn eighteen by the time of the next general election to vote in primaries or special elections.

The key question is: Why?

The last time we changed the voting age nationally came with the Twenty-Sixth Amendment to the US Constitution back in 1971. With the Vietnam War in full swing, the case was that it was unfair to send eighteen-year-olds into the military to die in war and not give them a say in choosing their leaders. It passed unanimously in the US Senate, along with an overwhelming majority in the House, and was ratified by the states in record time (just one hundred days). It was obviously an idea whose time had come.

It is difficult to find a similarly compelling case for allowing sixteen- and seventeen-year-olds to vote, as some have proposed. The movement to change the voting age again gained traction when students protested campus shootings in 2018. The discovery of political interest and energy in high schools triggered a national movement to lower the voting age around the country.

States and Cities, Not National

Passing a constitutional amendment requires clearing a high bar: a two-thirds vote of each house of Congress and three-fourths of state legislatures to ratify. In these days of hyperpartisanship, that bar seems nearly impossible to reach, so proponents of lowering the voting age have instead focused their attention on state and municipal action. Under Article I, Section 4 of the US Constitution, we have fifty-one separate state elections (including the District of Columbia), with each state setting its own standards and local governments generally running their own elections. It is a slow process—but short of an unlikely constitutional amendment or judicial mandate, separate initiatives in states and municipalities are the only way to lower the voting age.

A small handful of municipalities have taken the lead in allowing sixteen- and seventeen-year-olds to vote in their local elections. Four cities in Maryland allow sixteen-year-olds to vote in local elections and Berkeley, California, permits sixteen-year-olds to vote in school board elections only. Of course, local issues are not usually of greatest interest to voters, so the stakes and results in these early experiments are low. One study in Maryland shows some higher percentages of turnout among younger cohorts but still very little effect overall. San Francisco has the matter on its 2020 election ballot, potentially making it the first major city to move to a lower voting age requirement. (Proposition F, if approved, would amend the San Francisco city charter to grant sixteen- and seventeen-year-olds who are US citizens and residents of San Francisco the right to vote in municipal and school board elections.)

Although there are campaigns to lower the voting age at the state level, states have largely taken smaller, incremental steps. Several states—at the moment, eighteen—have allowed seventeen-year-olds to vote in primary elections if they will turn eighteen by the time of the general election. On the more aggressive side, legislation has been introduced in a few states to allow all sixteen- and seventeen-year-olds to vote, but no such measure has yet been adopted. A less aggressive alternative, in place in a number of states, would allow high school students to begin a voter preregistration process as part of their civics education, but it would not become effective until they turn eighteen.

California’s Proposal for Seventeen-Year-Olds to Vote in Primary Elections

California’s Proposition 18, then, would allow seventeen-year-olds to vote in primary and special elections if they would turn eighteen by the time of the general election. Although this may seem like a modest proposal, a recent study from the respected Public Policy Institute of California shows that it could have significant political effects.

According to the PPIC study, some two hundred thousand potential voters could have become eligible if such a policy had been in place in the elections of 2016 and 2018. Even though younger voters do not historically turn out to vote in large numbers, primary elections often turn on relatively small margins, the study points out. Consequently, PPIC estimates that a total of thirty-three races may have been affected by such an amendment. That’s a change worthy of further study.

The case for making this change is that voters in the general election (having turned eighteen) should have an opportunity to help shape the choices in the primary elections. Further, as proponents announce in the ballot argument in favor of the proposition, California is “behind the curve,” with so many other states allowing this. In the end, the case for all the youth-voting proposals is that we want to boost youth participation in our democracy.

Younger cohorts (age eighteen to twenty-nine) are notoriously bad about turning out to vote, so it’s difficult to see how adding one more even younger tranche of voters helps the turnout problem. The argument proponents have made elsewhere is that one problem with youths voting is that they may be in college or starting a new job, moving around with no fixed residence. Starting the voting habit while still living at home will help, they say.

Against this unproven case for turnout is an array of questions about whether seventeen-year-olds are really good candidates to vote. The fact of the matter is that many important privileges in our society have moved toward increasing the age of responsibility, not diminishing it, in part because we are learning that the brain is continuing to develop important reasoning functions in the late teens and even twenties. The drinking age has gone up nearly everywhere, along with the age for driving without some kind of supervision and accompaniment. Serving in the military (without parental consent) or on a jury is limited to those eighteen and older, as is obtaining a credit card on your own. It is difficult to see why voting should be taken less seriously than those responsibilities.

Further, the current state of civics education in the schools suggests that voting at sixteen and seventeen is too early. With civics education all but gone from elementary and middle school curriculum, about all that is left is a single one-semester course in high school. Shouldn’t students at least take and digest that course before being turned loose to join the electorate? Recent NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress) scores show that only 24 percent of American eighth grade students (the only grade tested) are “proficient” or above in US history and a pitiful 15 percent in government and civics. High school should be a time for learning the responsibilities of citizenship and voting, not being thrown into the fray. We ought not to put the cart of civic engagement before the horse of civics education.

Finally, as opponents of the measure note on the ballot argument, is it really proper for young people, who pay little or no taxes, to be voting on bond and taxation measures that overwhelmingly apply to others?

Again, civic opportunities should be tied to responsibilities in a way that just does not happen at age sixteen or seventeen. Beyond that, this measure, like others of its kind, carries political consequences as well. With young people generally more liberal in their outlook, Democrats are enthused about such measures, but not Republicans. Indeed, one could make a case that this is one more election “reform” that is designed, as such reforms often are, to deliver political outcomes.

Unlike the case for eighteen-year-olds to vote in an earlier day, the case to go even lower to sixteen or seventeen is much weaker. A far better approach, if we want to increase voting interest among the young, is to allow them to begin the voter registration process in school, but not have it take effect until they turn eighteen. That would address the only part of the case that makes any sense without altering longstanding and proper connections between age and civic responsibility.

To view the article at Eureka:


Commonsense Solutions to our Civics Crisis (Hatch Center Policy Review) October 26, 2020

Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds.
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Evidence of a growing civics crisis surrounds us–a pandemic of civic disengagement and a deepening recession in civic education. In what has become a vicious cycle, young people are not learning about their country–its history and how it works–and they grow up disengaged and distrustful.

To read the entire Davenport white paper on the civics crisis:


The Supreme Court’s Nine Could Be Saved By A Stitch In Time (Washington Examiner) October 21, 2020

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Senators this week proposed a simple new constitutional amendment: “The Supreme Court of the United States shall be composed of nine justices.” The same amendment was introduced in the House of Representatives last month. This is a good idea that, unfortunately, looks to be a hard sell.

Even though the Constitution does not specify the size of the Supreme Court, it has been nine members since 1869. Prior to that, Congress changed it six times, ranging from five to 10 members. As the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg put it, “Nine seems to be a good number.”

As if Supreme Court appointments were not sufficiently controversial and political already, some have suggested that Democrats should “pack the court” by adding new liberal justices if Joe Biden and Kamala Harris win the election. Of course, this will only further politicize the court because the next Republican president will be tempted to add new seats for conservatives. Just as we live in a yo-yo world of one president signing executive orders and the next president canceling them, we will live with an ever-expanding and more highly politicized Supreme Court.

President Franklin Roosevelt tried the court-packing trick in 1937, without success. Frustrated that the Supreme Court was blocking important New Deal legislation as unconstitutional, Roosevelt proposed to grow the court from nine to 15, allowing him to appoint six new justices who better reflected his views. The idea was widely criticized, and the Senate voted it down 70-20. Still, even the attempt seemed to have an effect as the Supreme Court’s rulings began to swing in Roosevelt’s direction.

Let’s face it, growing the court would not be done to improve its performance but rather to change its politics. Yet, both Biden and Harris have declined to say whether they would attempt to pack the court if they won. The best we have is Biden’s statement that he “is not a fan,” but he and Harris both refuse to answer the question directly when asked. That is not a good sign.

So yes, a constitutional amendment makes sense, but it will be difficult to pass. Like any constitutional amendment, it will require a two-thirds vote of both the House and the Senate, a high bar these days, and then ratification by three-fourths of the state legislatures. Doubtless, that’s why we have not amended the Constitution in nearly 30 years.

The real problem is that the Supreme Court has become too powerful, with most of the social questions and many of the political questions now settled there. Rather than Congress stepping up to its responsibilities, it ends up deferring tough decisions to the courts. The Founders would be surprised, having said in Federalist No. 78 that the judiciary would be “beyond comparison the weakest of the three departments” of the federal government.

The Founders would also be surprised that a lifetime appointment on the Supreme Court could now mean 30-40 years. Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who passed away recently, had served 27 years. Justice Clarence Thomas is coming up on his 29th anniversary on the court. It is widely acknowledged that William O. Douglas, who served 37 years, was not entirely capable late in his term. This means that each appointment takes on huge political weight, producing confirmation battles described as “Armageddon.”

Instead of court-packing, which is a purely political solution, how about addressing the real problems? First, let’s develop term limits for Supreme Court justices of 18 years, allowing each four-year president to appoint two. Then we should challenge Congress to step up to its responsibilities, passing laws that deal with the tough issues rather than deferring them to federal agencies and the courts. Those reforms could make a real difference.

Meanwhile, let’s get behind the constitutional amendment to limit the Supreme Court to nine members. It’s a stitch in time that could truly save nine.

To read the column at the Washington Examiner:


Webinar on Civic Education October 29 (Hatch Center) October 19, 2020

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Register here: https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_NmIVp9IBTnqx8u9_86o0kQ

The Decline of the Senate: From ‘Advice and Consent’ to ‘Just Win, Baby!’ (Washington Examiner) September 22, 2020

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The coming battle over a new Supreme Court nominee is only the latest chapter in the ongoing decline of the Senate. Once described by President James Buchanan as “the greatest deliberative body in the world,” the Senate now barely deliberates. Formerly a place of special powers, high decorum, accepted rules and processes, its members have instead given in to the temptation to win at any cost.

I am not the first to notice this decline. Orrin Hatch, who retired in 2018 after 42 years in the Senate, said in his closing remarks that the Senate “is in crisis.” “Regular order,” he continued, “is a relic of the past, and compromise—once the guiding credo of this great institution—is now synonymous with surrender.” When Sen. John McCain flew back from his cancer treatments to cast a decisive vote on Obamacare, he surprised everyone by declining to vote to repeal the law because the Senate had not followed its own processes. He decried the Senate’s inclination to draft legislation “behind closed doors…then spring it upon skeptical members.” He urged the Senate to “return to the correct way of legislating.”

Now Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has decided that his refusal to bring a Democrat’s Supreme Court nominee before the Senate 9 months before an election is not a precedent he needs to follow when the Senate and White House are controlled by the same party and the president wants to submit a nominee five weeks before the election.

The only surprise is that politicians even try putting forth arguments on why this is appropriate, when everyone knows the only thing that matters now is winning. The mantra of the Senate, “Advice and Consent” from the Constitution, has given way to the credo of the late Al Davis, owner of the Raiders professional football team: “Just win, baby.”

One source of the Senate’s weakness is its inclination to simply follow the president, rather than operate as an independent branch of government. As James Madison wrote in Federalist No. 51, the various branches of government were intended to “[keep] each other in their proper places.” Each department, including the Senate, needs to have “a will of its own,” Madison said, in order to play its proper constitutional role. But all that has gone out the window these days when the president’s own party controls the Senate. As President Trump himself recently put it, “When you have the Senate, when you have the votes, you can sort of do what you want.” And he is.

A related problem is the rise of party-line voting in Congress. Whereas the Senate was intended to represent the states, and both chambers of Congress are supposed to represent their own constituents, now senators represent the views of their political party leaders instead. According to one study, party unity voting has increased from around 60% in the 1970s to nearly 90% today. Obamacare was passed by a strict party-line vote, and Trump passed his signature tax reform bill by a party-line vote of only Republicans. Does anyone doubt that the vote on Trump’s Supreme Court nominee will follow similar lines?

People are not happy with Congress, and this will not help. A Gallup poll last month showed that 21% of the country approve of how Congress is doing its job with 75% disapproving. An Economist/YouGov poll this month is even lower with only 13% approval. As Gordon Lloyd and I argued in our recent book, How Public Policy Became War, the public is frustrated that everything in policy is now a war to win rather than a set of problems to be solved or compromises to be made.

In the end, a few changes in Senate processes and rules could help. Ultimately, it will require more leaders such as Senators Hatch or McCain, or in this case Senators Collins or Murkowski, to resist the pressure of political leadership to win at all costs and demand that the Senate live up to its distinguished history and its proper constitutional role.

To read the column at the Washington Examiner:


Individualism Fosters Virtue In Ways That Government Cannot (Washington Examiner) September 15, 2020

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While COVID-19 attacks our immune systems and our economy, it also gives rise to attacks on American individualism. If the pandemic is spreading here, many argue, rugged individualism is at fault. It keeps people from wearing masks, prevents them from helping each other, and is downright dangerous.

Typical is a recent opinion piece by Leah Sears, former chief justice of the Georgia Supreme Court, claiming that rugged individualism “is what’s killing us now.” The problem is that this understanding of rugged individualism is deeply flawed, making a political cartoon out of a fundamental and longstanding philosophy.

The term “rugged individualism” was coined by Herbert Hoover during his 1928 presidential campaign — not, as many have suggested, in response to the Great Depression the following year. Hoover had returned from carrying out food relief in Europe following World War I, struck by the several “-isms” that were taking over that continent: socialism, fascism, and communism.

By contrast, he said, we have the system of rugged individualism coupled with equality of opportunity, which we need to preserve. Importantly, rugged individualism is not a synonym for selfishness. The individual is the starting point from which one is free to join churches, community groups, and all kinds of associations that collaborate. Individuals form governments, not vice versa.

Even the hardy pioneers living on the frontier, often held up as the classic image of rugged individualism, cooperated with each other, traveling together in wagon trains for safety and helping one another build houses, schools, and towns. As the French journalist Alexis de Tocqueville observed in his classic book Democracy in America, Americans were more given to associations than any people on Earth.

Now, from an unlikely place, has come a vivid description of modern-day rugged individualism and its continuing place in American culture. The Los Angeles Times recently shared the story of Juan “Spanky” Ramirez and his fellow lowriders cruising Whittier Boulevard in East Los Angeles. Crime, graffiti, and trash had begun to appear along the boulevard during the pandemic, so Ramirez and company decided to do something about it.https://ebec5994e18940b8e7bf59e7bf863203.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html

The lowriders called for a voluntary boycott of the boulevard — no cruising for a month. There was nothing mandatory about it, just a call to do what they thought was right voluntarily. As Ramirez put it, “We don’t need law enforcement to tell us when something’s wrong. Whatever happens on Whittier Boulevard, it’s our history.” Let’s do what’s best for the community, Ramirez said, adding, “If we do it together willingly, then everything works out a lot better.”

Would anyone dare say this kind of rugged individualism was selfish? No, this was community action at its finest. Was it an effort to undermine the government? Hardly, as the police were delighted to have leadership from the community. Instead of waiting for government to solve a problem, a few leaders of the community stepped up to address it themselves. It is precisely the kind of individual initiative and action that, joining with others, can solve problems more effectively than law enforcement or government can do.

Years ago, Harvard political scientist Harvey Mansfield described moving into a new campus building where, along with lights and drapes that functioned on their own, the toilets also flushed automatically. At first, those things seemed like nice conveniences, but then, Mansfield asked, are we better off developing technologies and laws that control us rather than developing our own virtue? Is it better to have toilets that flush on their own or to live in a community where we develop an ethic of flushing our own toilets?

Rugged individualism acknowledges a proper role for government and technology, but then, it leaves ample room for individual decisions and voluntary action. Where would we be in the pandemic crisis if we did not have individual scientists and companies racing to find a vaccine and a cure? How about all those restaurants that, without a government mandate, started serving take-out and delivery options, or the architects and seamstresses who converted their businesses to make essential protective gear and masks?

There is a proper role for government, of course. However, even in a crisis, we must leave room for rugged individualism to do its good work and allow us to build communities of virtue, like the lowriders in East Los Angeles.

To read the column at the Washington Examiner:


Some 16 and 17 Year Olds Might Get Voting Rights in the 2020 Election (Washington Examiner) September 15, 2020

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Almost lost in election stories about voting by mail, possible election fraud, and drama surrounding the Electoral College is a small, but important, series of initiatives to allow 16- and 17-year-olds the right to vote. The question, in one form or another, is on the ballot in California and Colorado, as well as in some municipalities. It is all part of a nationwide effort to lower the voting age, but without a constitutional amendment as was done during the Vietnam War in 1971, allowing 18-year-olds to vote.

Who cares, one might ask? Young people, for one. In fact, the movement was started by teenagers protesting guns on high school campuses in 2018, in turn generating the political energy for lowering the voting age, giving them a say. Another group that cares are people concerned about low voter turnout, feeling that could be improved by starting voting earlier in life. Politics, of course, is always part of election reform, and Democrats, who have stronger support among the more liberal young, like letting younger teenagers vote, while Republicans do not.

To understand this movement, you have to start by understanding our constitutional election system. We do not have one nationwide election, even for president, but rather 51 state elections (including the District of Columbia) as established by Article I, Section 4 of the Constitution. Then, cities and counties largely oversee their own elections for local offices. Short of a federal constitutional amendment, which is extremely difficult to enact these days, any change in voting age would be carried out at the state or local level, which is precisely what is underway.

The California ballot initiative, Proposition 18, would allow 17-year-olds to vote in the primary election if they turn 18 by the general election. Although this seems like a limited change, the Public Policy Institute of California recently estimated that in the 2016 and 2018 elections, it would have empowered 200,000 new primary voters, which could have affected the makeup of 33 general election races. Such laws already exist in 10 states and the District of Columbia. Not surprisingly, the California Democratic Party has endorsed the ballot proposition.

Interestingly, the Colorado ballot offers voters a chance to turn away from its law allowing 17-year-olds to vote in the primary. Amendment 76 would effectively strike down a law passed in 2019 allowing 17-year-olds to vote in primaries, saying that 18 is the minimum voting age there. The 2019 law passed without any Republican support, and the question now goes to the people. The cities of San Francisco and Oakland also have ballot propositions for younger voters, and other municipalities around the country allow younger voters in local races.

It’s difficult to find a compelling reason to reduce the voting age. In fact, many laws about the drinking age or the age for driving without supervision have moved in the opposite direction in recent years, in part recognizing that the brain is still developing reasoning capabilities at those ages. Young people below 18 cannot serve on juries, serve in the military without parental permission, or qualify for their own credit card. It’s not as though there is a fairness question on the table as there was in 1971: Should young people have to go to war yet be unable to vote for national leadership?

The only objective argument for allowing 16- and 17-year-olds to vote is that it might increase voter turnout to start the voting habit earlier. This has yet to be proven, and consistently younger voters do not turn out in high percentages. In 2016, for example, only half of eligible younger voters actually voted, compared with two-thirds of older cohorts. A much better proposal is to allow students to preregister to vote in high school but wait until age 18 for the registration to take effect.

If 16- and 17-year-olds voting is the answer, it’s difficult to see what the question is. Without more objective evidence supporting it, it looks a lot like other so-called reforms that are really intended to help one political party over another.

To read the column at the Washington Examiner:


Republicans Are Fighting The Wrong Political War (Washington Examiner) August 25, 2020

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Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a Harvard professor who served under presidents of both political parties, observed in the early 1980s that “Republicans are the party of ideas.” That’s now ancient history. Conducting a national party convention with no platform while nominating a sitting president with no announced agenda for a second term, the Republican Party is going to wing this one on the back of President Trump. Whatever he thinks or tweets on a given day is now what they stand for.

For his part, Trump has apparently decided that his best chance to win is to enlist the nation in a war. Unfortunately, it is not a war against what people perceive to be their biggest enemies: a pandemic, racial injustice, or an economic recession.

No, Trump has decided to fight a new version of an old war: He is trying to enlist people to join him in fighting the old culture wars. Although a faithful minority will follow him, most people are weary of the culture war, or in an era of Black Lives Matter, they are mostly, by varying degrees, on the same side — notably not the side Trump is on.

Trump’s speeches and tweets make his culture-war message quite clear. The code word this time is “suburbs,” and Trump says he is protecting them from the low-income housing that Democrats want to build there. “Crime” is another signal Trump uses, noting he will also protect the suburbs from crime — that is, demonstrations, protests, violence. He has warned “suburban housewives of America” that Joe Biden “will destroy your neighborhood and your American dream.” It’s identity politics at its finest — or its worst.

Now that Biden and Kamala Harris are his opponents, Trump has opened culture-war attacks on them specifically. Biden, an active Catholic, comes under Trump’s attack as “against God.” He wants to take away your guns, Trump told Ohioans, adding that Biden wanted to “hurt the Bible, hurt God.” In Willie Horton style, Trump fanned the flames of immigration against one of Harris’s decisions as a prosecutor. These are not policies or ideas. They are not even values or ideals. They are code-word bullets fired in the culture war.

The problem is that this culture war is so last decade. Polls suggest that, if anything, people generally support recent racial protests and the Black Lives Matter movement, which is a large part of what Trump is attacking. According to a Gallup poll, most people say the protest movement has changed their views about racism, and they support efforts toward greater equality.

Republicans are letting Trump be Trump, and he seems determined to try to win by mobilizing his base with a culture-war campaign. What few seem to remember, however, is that Trump also won independent voters in 2016 by a slight majority, but he trails with them this time. With Biden leading by 9 percentage points overall, Biden has shown leads in the 20-percentage-point range among independents, who now are actually a larger voting group than Democrats or Republicans.

Republicans may need to cut their losses and focus on holding the Senate so that Democrats do not control everything in Washington. Oh, and one more thing: They need to return to being the party of ideas. Once the personality cult of Trump has left the building, it will be a long, hard road back, but the future must be one of policies and ideas, not one of personalities and culture wars.

But do not lose heart, culture warriors. Your time will return. After Biden and Harris institute a Green New Deal, topple the remaining statues, rewrite the history textbooks, and advance low-income housing in your suburbs, it will again be your time. Not, however, in 2020. No, we have more immediate wars to fight now.


To read the column at the Washington Examiner:


Trump is No Nixon, Reagan, Goldwater or Wallace (Washington Examiner) August 7, 2020

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The hype of a presidential campaign — on steroids this year with a pandemic and an economic crisis — means a silly season is upon us. Among the silliness are claims that President Trump is similar to some other Republican president, such as Richard Nixon or Ronald Reagan, or a controversial losing candidate from the past, namely Barry Goldwater or George Wallace.

Sorry folks, but Trump is sui generis — his own man.

Trump says he “learned a lot from Nixon,” to which Nixon’s White House counsel John Dean says, “hooey.” Trump’s foreign policy reminds some of Reagan, while others are quick to say Trump is no Reagan. One columnist finds parallels between Trump and Wallace, while others debate whether Trump’s takeover of the Republican Party parallels that of Barry Goldwater in 1964.

To all this, I say: Pump the brakes. There is no modern presidency like Trump’s.

I start from the premise that there are two kinds of Republican presidents: prophets and pragmatists. The prophets, similar to John the Baptist of biblical times, emerge from the wilderness with fervor and a philosophy. Goldwater was such a prophet, seeing dangers in a growing federal government, with its invasions of personal liberty and states’ rights. So was Wallace, a Southern Democrat, with his singular focus on law and order, fueled by racism. Prophets rarely win popularity contests, and the country was not ready to elect either Goldwater or Wallace, though Goldwater did pave the way for Reagan, another conservative.

The list of Republican pragmatists is longer, and they enjoyed greater electoral success. Nixon talked the conservative talk of law and order, but he was also the president who walked a big government walk and gave us the Environmental Protection Agency and wage and price controls. President George W. Bush tried to split the difference between philosophy and pragmatism, calling himself a “compassionate conservative” when he campaigned for the presidency, but following Sept. 11, he grew federal spending dramatically, cut back on individual rights, and threw in a large increase in prescription drug support for seniors. A businessman, Mitt Romney was a classic pragmatist, unable to establish a conservative philosophy as a candidate, and accused rightly of flip-flopping on issues.

Reagan was the rare exception to the prophet versus pragmatist rule, embracing a little of both. He had a strong conservative philosophy, but he was able to make enough deals with Democratic House Speaker Tip O’Neill and others to keep the government moving ahead. His pragmatism was evident in his famous statement about compromising with Congress: “Half a loaf is better than none.”

A businessman who had never run for office before his presidential campaign, Trump is a kind of pragmatist, doing what he thinks makes sense in the moment. Yet, his business was essentially a family business, built on his father’s money and his own fame and branding. So the art of compromise and deliberation, or the management of a large bureaucracy, was never a part of Trump’s toolkit.

As it has turned out, Trump won his office not so much to govern, as Nixon and Reagan did, as to extend his brand and build his base. In the coronavirus crisis, he largely turned things over to the governors but continued to cajole and harass them from his platform. His only major legislative win has been tax reform, with another major promise, overturning Obamacare, out of his reach. Unlike Republican presidents before him, his key tools of leadership have been executive orders and his Twitter account.

What we wonder is how much of this change from Nixon and Reagan to Trump is Trump himself, and how much of it may be a function of the times in which we live? In an era of political hyperpartisanship, Trump has shown us that tools of mass communication are still readily available to a president when compromise has become a dirty word and actual governing seems too difficult. In that sense, these are not times that Nixon or Reagan experienced, nor is this a presidency that springs from their legacy.

To read the column at the Washington Examiner:



Is Freedom on the Decline? (National radio commentary, Salem/Townhall) August 4, 2020

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Each year Freedom House measures freedom around the world using several criteria. Unfortunately, its recent report showed the 14th consecutive year in which freedom worldwide has declined.

The world is full of more dictators and citizens possess fewer political rights and civil rights. Ethnic and religious groups are under fire. 64 nations lost ground on the freedom scale last year, with only 37 making gains.

Surprisingly, the U.S. is not the bastion of freedom you might think. Its score on the freedom scale is going in the wrong direction, from 89 two years ago to 86 this year. Nearly 50 other nations score ahead of us. Outside interference by Russia challenged our free and fair elections, while religious and minority groups battle for rights.

You can question the criteria, but whenever there is a test of freedom, we want the U.S. to score well.

To listen to the audio:

David Davenport: Is Freedom On The Decline?