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The New York Times’s Endorsements are Ridiculously Out of Touch (Washington Examiner) January 21, 2020

Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds.
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When I saw the New York Times recently ran an editorial endorsing a presidential candidate 10 months before the election and prior to any primary or convention, I could only think of the classic song Mr. Big Stuff.

In a world in which the elites are in retreat, how could a newspaper editorial board be so out of touch to think that anyone should care about their endorsement of a candidate?

I’m serious. I can think of few things less interesting to learn from a newspaper than the candidate they endorse for president and, certainly, before the main business of the campaign has even taken place. It’s like telling me what to think before I’ve had a chance to reach my own conclusion or giving me a lecture when what I needed was a list of important issues and the information to consider them. It’s telling me the answer before I’ve even had a chance to understand the question. It’s entirely the wrong approach, and, certainly, it comes at the wrong time.

In fact, one reason newspapers have been in decline, in my view, is their failure to adapt to a new role in the 21st century.

In my days as a college professor, if you had asked students what I do, I am quite certain they would have said that I “prepare and deliver lectures.” Yet, lecturing was the one thing I hardly ever did, because I had come to understand that it was not an effective learning tool. Students have far better and more interesting ways to get information than sitting in uncomfortable chairs in a classroom, listening to a person talk at them. The point of classroom teaching, I finally figured out, was to engage students and get them to think, not to tell them what to think.

Isn’t it high time for newspaper editorial boards to figure this out?

We are not sitting at their feet, waiting for them to tell us what to think or how to vote. Instead of giving answers, how about spending more time helping illuminate the hard questions? Rather than giving us a couple of opinion pages of elite answers, how about involving some thoughtful, ordinary people to reflect on their opinions, not merely through the occasional letters to the editor published days later?

Of course, this year’s endorsement was especially ridiculous because it was not an endorsement at all. Rather than choose a candidate, the New York Times endorsed two candidates: Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar. Their argument for this was that Democrats face a hard decision this year between what they called “radical” versus “realist” points of view. While true, it hardly lets the newspaper off the hook from proposing a path through that difficult thicket rather than merely throwing up its editorial hands. Their endorsement of Klobuchar as the centrist ignored what polls have suggested are more interesting choices to voters, namely Joe Biden and Pete Buttigieg.

In an era of polarization, where politics now pits one side’s tirade against another, what we need is a way to find dialogue, not more diatribe. Especially 10 months prior to the election, we need to be figuring out the right questions, not jumping to someone’s version of the answers. It is time for newspapers to get out of the endorsement business and instead commit itself more fully to the information and dialogue business.

To read the column at the Washington Examiner:


What Comes After Trump, Disruptor in Chief? (Washington Examiner) January 9, 2020

Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds.
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There is one view of President Trump on which you can find widespread agreement: He is the disruptor in chief. He disrupted the Republican Party to win the nomination, and, since his election, he has disrupted the conventional wisdom about everything from tariffs and free trade to international organizations and what he calls “endless wars.” Whereas liberals and conservatives each had standard positions on these issues from which policy debates proceeded, Trump has disrupted the back and forth by implementing policies outside that box.

Disruption creates new opportunities, and conservatives, in particular, should be taking advantage of this chance to rethink their positions on basic policy issues. Whenever the Trump presidency ends, conservatives need to be prepared to restate and even redefine what conservatism means, an opportunity that rarely comes along.

For example, are Republicans still the party of free trade, or are tariffs now the new normal? Long supporters of free markets and free trade, Republicans have watched Trump impose tariffs on a number of goods (solar panels, washing machines, steel, aluminum) and launch a trade war with China through extensive tariffs on the imports of their goods. It is unclear whether Trump sees these as temporary disruptive measures leading to renegotiations or whether regular tariffs will replace free trade. But conservatives should be debating this, irrespective of Trump.

Will they advocate a return to free trade post-Trump or something different? Inquiring minds want to know.

Conservatives have traditionally stood for a strong national defense. Sept. 11, along with the rise of neoconservatism, set the stage for military interventions and nation-building around the world, especially in the Middle East. On the other hand, Trump has cooled on what he used to call “my generals” and has openly questioned America’s involvement in “endless wars.” To the prospect of Turkey invading Syria, Trump responded dismissively by saying, “it’s not our border.” It has been a good long while since America had a grand strategy in foreign policy, and certainly Trump offers nothing of the kind.

What will national security conservatives support about our military presence and interventions in the world? It’s a question that sorely needs to be answered.

The national debt was always a concern of conservatives, quick to point out the growth of the deficit under Barack Obama and other Democratic presidents. Trump, however, has a different view: He feels he can outrun the deficit, that economic growth can produce more tax revenue, so he is willing to undertake tax cuts or spend on infrastructure in the hope of generating more growth. So far, his strategy does not seem highly successful. Although he promised in the campaign that he would eliminate the deficit in eight years, instead he has presided over a nearly 50% increase.

Will Republicans return to some kind of principled resistance to the growing national debt, or will they give in to the tide of greater and greater deficit spending? Voters deserve a response to this.

The point, by now, should be clear: The Trump disruptor presidency has changed the playing field of the policy debate. Issues that were thought to be settled and positions that were once unquestioned are now up for grabs. If you believe, as I do, that ideas have consequences, then conservatives must be debating those policies now. It is time for thoughtful academics, for think tanks, and for our political leaders to go beyond the disruptions of today and think seriously about a policy future that is now ripe for reconsideration. Let the debates begin.

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:


In 2019, There’s Still No Room At The Inn For Christmas (Washington Examiner) December 25, 2019

Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds.
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In the Biblical story, the first Christmas occurred in a stable because there was no room at the inn for Joseph and Mary. Sadly, in many quarters, there is still no room at the inn for Christ and Christmas as elites seek to cleanse the public square of anything religious.

This year, legislators in Wisconsin debated whether theirs was a Christmas tree or must now be a holiday tree. (Are there other December holidays symbolized by a tree?) Meanwhile, a West Virginia mayor sought, ultimately without success, to remove a long-standing Christmas parade in favor of a “winter parade.” A student in California was told that Joy to the World might be too religious for her piano assignment, and perhaps she should try Jingle Bells instead. Finally, this year Starbucks threw up its corporate hands and settled for “Merry Coffee” on its holiday cups. Ho Ho Ho!

One of these battles in the larger war captured a key issue that deserves our attention. Local officials in Rehoboth, Delaware, ordered a nativity scene that had been on the town square since the 1930s to be removed in the name of being more inclusive. “We didn’t want to be exclusive,” the mayor explained.

I would have thought that being inclusive was mathematically a matter of addition, not subtraction. Wouldn’t making room at the inn, or in the public square, for additional holiday expressions besides Christmas be “inclusive?” But apparently, in the strange world of liberal politics and secular elites, we have to exclude to be inclusive.

This same misguided notion has appeared in the raging debate over income inequality. Thomas Piketty and others who have led the inequality debate argue that it’s no longer enough to help those on the bottom economically move up, but it is necessary to bring down those at the top. It is neither right nor fair for the wealthiest individuals to hold such a disproportionate amount of money, they say, so we need a wealth tax, not just an income tax, on the super-rich. The goal, then, is no longer to help some rise up the ladder of economic success but to bring others down.

The upside-down, Alice-in-Wonderland notion that fairness requires not only including some, but also excluding or limiting the rights of others, is certainly not called for by the Constitution. The First Amendment says only that there shall be no “establishment” of religion, but courts have long ruled that nativity scenes, Hanukkah menorahs, and other religious symbols may be displayed on public property as long as they do not actively promote a religion. The First Amendment is all about freedom of religion, not freedom from religion. Christmas is still a federal holiday in the United States.

The people, as opposed to political elites, do not demand it either. A 2017 Pew Research Center study shows that nine in ten people say they celebrate Christmas. More recently, a Florida university poll showed that 72% still prefer “merry Christmas” over “happy holidays” or “season’s greetings.” Several books, including Why Americans Hate Politics by E.J. Dionne and Culture War: The Myth of a Polarized America by Morris Fiorina, rightly point out that it is really the politicians and elites who foster our culture wars, not ordinary people.

We would do well to remember the view of the founders of our country that a free society requires virtuous people, who, in turn, depend upon religion. John Adams said it well: “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious People. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

We should make room for religion at the inn in our holiday celebrations, not attack and exclude it. Inclusion by exclusion has no place in America.

To read the column at the Washington Examiner:


Finding Room at the Inn for Christ (National radio commentary, Salem/Townhall) December 18, 2019

Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds.
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You may recall that when Mary gave birth to Jesus, there was no room at the inn. Sadly, we are still fighting today over whether there is room for Christ in the public square.

Wisconsin legislators debate whether their tree is a Christmas tree or must now be a holiday tree. A student in California was told “Joy to the World” might be too religious for her piano assignment and to try “Jingle Bells” instead. A West Virginia mayor sought to rename a longstanding Christmas parade a “winter parade.”

There is no constitutional reason to cleanse the public square of Christ and Christmas. The inn should be open to all faiths, but that includes Christianity also. It is ironic that some feel the need to exclude Christmas in the name of being more inclusive.

And so, even in the public square, have yourself a Merry little Christmas.

I’m David Davenport.

To listen to the audio:

David Davenport: Finding Room At the Inn For Christ

The Do-Nothing Congress Prefers Theatrics Over Doing Its Job (Washington Examiner) December 6, 2019

Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds.
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Stop everything, Game of Thrones is on. That phrase from households turning to the most popular television show of the year now applies to Congress as well.

Stop the legislative wheels from turning, no room for sideshows now, time to gather round for the latest political theater: the Trump Impeachment Show.

Not that Congress was doing much anyway. So far, in 2019, Congress has enacted only 70 laws, at least 10 of which were purely ceremonial. A typical two-year Congress, even in these leaner times, would enact 300-500 new laws so, 11 months in, this 116th Congress could easily go down in the record books as the least productive in 40 or 50 years. Throw in an impeachment trial in the Senate and an election next year, and we could have a record-setting do-nothing Congress.

Apparently, the public has noticed. A Gallup poll shows the approval rating for Congress at a meager 24%, with 72% disapproval. Either unaware of or unconcerned by the lack of public support, Democrats in the House have nevertheless proposed a $4,500 annual pay increase for members of Congress. While workers and businesses are doing more with less, Congress wants more for doing less.

Why has Congress become so unproductive?

For starters, a Congress that used to be led by powerful committee heads reviewing substantive legislation is essentially now driven by party leaders. The key legislative decisions are made by the majority and minority party leaders such as Nancy Pelosi in the House and Mitch McConnell in the Senate, not by the heads of once-powerful committees such as the budget or finance or appropriations committees. These political leaders often hold bills, sometimes in secret if possible, until they are certain they have the necessary votes in their party to pass them before springing them on the full legislature.

This leads to the next big problem: Congress no longer moves along bipartisan lines to enact legislation but instead relies increasingly on party-line votes. The most important legislation of the Obama years, the Affordable Care Act, was passed on a purely party-line vote of Democrats, and the most significant legislation so far of the Trump administration, tax reform, was passed strictly by Republicans. You have to go back to the first term of George W. Bush to find a major piece of legislation, No Child Left Behind, with support from both parties. Overall, party unity voting has increased from about 60% in the 1970s to nearly 90% today.

Even before the impeachment hearings, Congress had become political theater. Members no longer deliberate and reach a compromise on important legislation, as had been done from the founding of the republic, but instead settle into their fixed party trenches, making speeches and taking only the votes that would help them win the next election. Public policy is no longer about finding the consent of the people or solving big problems.

Instead, the goal seems to have been borrowed from the late Al Davis, owner of the Oakland Raiders: “Just win, baby.”

Now with the impeachment hearings, it has truly become a Game of Thrones, directed and produced by party leaders. There is no genuine investigation. Even the witnesses are mere props, used by the directors to make points everyone already knows as dramatically as possible. In all likelihood, we know the outcome as well. With widespread agreement on what Trump has done, it boils down to the debatable question of whether this constitutes an impeachable offense. The Democratic House will say yes, because that is their worldview and benefits their cause, and the Republican Senate trial will conclude no for the same reasons.

Game over, then, with important issues such as immigration, gun control, drug prices, and wasting infrastructure, all awaiting action. At the very least, Congress should catch up with the rest of America and learn to multitask.

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.

Beware the Regulator (National radio commentary, Salem/Townhall) November 26, 2019

Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds.
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Many see Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren as two peas in the liberal Democratic pod but they are actually quite different. Bernie Sanders is a revolutionary who wants to change what he calls the rigged American system. He comes from a European political tradition, socialism, and seeks to turn the economic order upside down.

Elizabeth Warren, on the other hand, is a regulator. If the system is rigged, she has the plans to regulate it, not revolutionize it. She made her political splash creating of a new consumer regulatory bureau and she teaches the laws of bankruptcy. She is in the American progressive tradition of trust-busting and regulating business.

There is nothing subtle about Bernie. How will he pay for Medicare for All? By taxing the rich, he openly says. She says, I have a plan for it.

In the end, the regulator may be more effective at getting elected and more dangerous than the revolutionary.

To listen to the audio:

David Davenport: Beware The Regulator

Impeachment is an Extraordinary Remedy, National radio commentary (Salem/Townhall) November 20, 2019

Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds.
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In the first 175 years of the nation, the House of Representatives impeached only one president, Andrew Johnson. Now in the last 57 years, it’s impeached two, Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton, and it may be ready to impeach a third.

Why the rise in impeachments? Because we forget that impeachment is extraordinary. The normal way to remove a president is by the people through elections. The extraordinary way is impeachment, with its Constitutional requirement of “high crimes and misdemeanors.” Lacking political patience, we threaten to make the extraordinary now ordinary.

Politics is an ugly business. Quid pro quos in foreign policy? They doubtless happen more than we think and, if we don’t like them, we have a chance to cast our vote in one year. But a case of high crimes and misdemeanors demanding an extraordinary remedy?

I think not.


Who’s Afraid of the Federal Debt? (Washington Examiner) November 19, 2019

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Congratulations, Washington, you have set another record. The Treasury Department announced recently that the federal deficit rose an astounding 26% during the last fiscal year, bringing the total one-year deficit to nearly $1 trillion. The cumulative federal debt is now more than $22 trillion, greater than our total gross domestic product for the year. Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell has declared the debt situation “unsustainable.” In his 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump said he would eliminate the deficit in 8 years. Instead, he has presided over a nearly 50% increase.

Like other presidential candidates, he probably failed to realize there would be math on the test.

It occurs to me that we should now pose the question raised by the Three Little Pigs in their classic 1933 Disney cartoon: “Who’s afraid of the big bad wolf?” Like some in Washington, pig No. 1, unafraid of the wolf, “built his house on hay and played around all day.” Pig No. 2, seeing no real danger from the wolf, “built his house with twigs and danced with lady pigs.” Only pig No. 3, who toiled mightily to build with bricks, saw his house survive all the huffing and puffing when the wolf blew into town.

Who, then, is afraid of the big bad budget deficit? Not President Trump, who has decided to build his house on the promise of economic growth. Trump’s economic strategy has been growth at all costs, which he has pursued with tax cuts, high tariffs, and jawboning the Federal Reserve to cut interest rates. Apparently, he thinks he can outrun the big bad wolf. However, despite a rising economy, government red ink has grown faster than the economy. Tax revenue has fallen more than $400 billion short of projections from the Congressional Budget Office, and government spending is up at twice the rate of increased tax revenues. Already losing the race, the likelihood of more modest economic growth will doom this strategy.

Likewise, Democrats running for the presidency are ignoring the budget deficit, proposing to build their campaign house on even higher federal spending. “Green New Deals,” “Medicare for all,” and free college tuition are the building materials of Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and others — all projected to add tens of trillions of dollars of new federal spending. Although the Democrats talk of increasing taxes on the wealthy to help pay for some of this, new federal spending is not tied directly to new sources of revenue and, as we have learned the hard way, it is always easier to get Washington to pass a spending bill than a tax increase.

Finally, Congress has allowed the federal budget house to be built of flimsy materials. Although the Constitution delegates to Congress the spending power, in practice, the president and his Office of Management and Budget take the lead. Not only does Congress not operate as a check on spending, it usually increases it.

The last budget agreement between the president and Congress is typical: The president wanted and received more money for the military, and, in exchange, Congress sought and was granted greater spending for its domestic priorities.

There is no check on the budget; it only ratchets one way: up.

This leaves only you and me to be afraid of the federal debt. Like the 2008 housing crisis, it is a bubble waiting to burst. No one knows how much debt is too much, and it just takes some of the nations that own our debt to lose confidence and stop buying it or call it. At $1.2 trillion, China owns more of our debt than any other nation. The debt also risks future entitlements such as Medicare and Social Security, which have created most of the massive increase. Moreover, the debt creates an immoral transfer from today’s lack of discipline to future generations. As former President Herbert Hoover put it: “Blessed are the young for they shall inherit the national debt.”

You and I should be afraid of the federal debt, and through the ballot box we must make Washington afraid, also.

To view the column at the Washington Examiner:


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.

Impeachment Hangs on Whether Trump’s Actions Were Illegal or Merely Ugly (Washington Examiner) November 8, 2019

Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds.
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In the first 175 years of the Republic, the House of Representatives impeached only one president, Andrew Johnson. Now, in the last 57 years, we have impeached two presidents, Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton, and are on the verge of impeaching a third. It’s worth considering the modern rise in impeachments: Are presidents really that much worse, or is something larger afoot?

We normally evaluate a president’s performance through elections. We are continuously shown opinion polls about what people think of President Trump and impeachment, but impeachment is not a popularity contest. The people’s view properly comes to the fore a year from now in the 2020 election.

Let’s keep these two accountability measures straight: Elections are for the people to express a judgment and preference, but impeachment is a constitutional question for the two branches of Congress to decide.

Compared to the normal recourse for presidential failures through an election, impeachment is an extraordinary measure. It is based on a high standard spelled out in the Constitution: “High crimes and misdemeanors.” And, at least for 175 years, it was used incredibly sparingly.

So what has changed?

Well, for one thing, everything a president says and does may now appear in a public record. A phone call with a foreign leader would have been private in an earlier time, but not today. That does not justify anything a president says and does, but politics is an ugly business, including global politics.

A quid pro quo in foreign policy? Hardly shocking. I’m sure it happens all the time. We may not like it, might even want to vote against it, but does it really rise to the high bar of an extraordinary remedy for “high crimes and misdemeanors?”

Or, to take a different angle, today everything is seen as extraordinary and we demand immediate action. Lacking political patience, we jump to extraordinary remedies because we can.

The textbook case of rushing to extraordinary remedies came in California 16 years ago when, having just elected Gov. Gray Davis to a new term, his opponents turned around, got enough ballot signatures, and put him on the ballot to be recalled.

Why? Because they could. The joke was that if you put “none of the above” on a ballot, that would win, so it was easier to get a negative vote through a recall than to beat him head-to-head. So we can’t wait a year to judge Trump in the election?

Finally, what has changed is that our politics and policymaking have become political theater and war. We no longer debate and deliberate over the best policies, rather we use executive orders and party-line votes to impose the will of the party in power. We declare “war” on policy problems and enact national emergencies. The Senate, historically called the world’s greatest deliberative body, hardly deliberates at all anymore.

Now, votes in Washington are not about finding the best policy or even doing the right thing. They are political theater, the point of which is to please and energize your base, raise more money, win elections, and stay in power.

You could tell that Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi was not eager to pick this impeachment fight a year before the election, but her base more or less demanded it, just as Trump is stirring up his base for the coming political war. This impeachment battle, sadly, is more about the politics of war than about meeting a constitutional standard or doing the right thing.

Willie Brown, the former speaker of the California Assembly and former mayor of San Francisco, is still an insightful political observer. A few years ago, when federal prosecutors wanted to go after former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich for involving politics in the replacement of former President Barack Obama in the Senate, Brown warned that politics was a crazy business (I would say ugly) and that there always has been plenty of “this for that talk,” but that doesn’t make it illegal.

That is pretty much where we are today. Politics has once again revealed itself to be ugly, and many people don’t like it. However, that does not make it illegal or a reason to choose an extraordinary remedy rather than allowing the people to decide in the next election.

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:


Sanders vs. Warren: The Revolutionary vs. The Regulator (Washington Examiner) October 25, 2019

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Many see Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren as two peas in the liberal Democratic pod. Battling to consolidate their overlapping constituencies, they might be called left (Warren) and lefter (Sanders). But a deeper look at an earlier time in history, specifically the Progressive Era and the New Deal, reveals real and important differences in the left back then that are at play in the Sanders vs. Warren battle today.

In short, the early Progressives, such as President Theodore Roosevelt, were focused on government regulation of the economy and business which, at the time, was a bold new idea. Teddy Roosevelt was known as a “trust-buster” through his antitrust prosecutions and regulatory reforms. His “Square Deal” sought to regulate industries in such a way as to increase fairness to the public while also respecting business. At heart, he was a reformer.

By contrast, Teddy Roosevelt’s fifth cousin, President Franklin Roosevelt, was more interested in an economic revolution. His “New Deal” sought to turn economic policy upside down, focusing on the “forgotten man” who was losing out to the “financial titans” and “economic royalists.” In his 1936 speech accepting the nomination for a second term, he said he was not interested in regulating the power of big business but ending it. In his 1944 State of the Union message, he set out a “second bill of rights” to provide economic security for people. The New Deal was America’s French Revolution, changing everything.

Today, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders support many of the same policies, but there is an important difference: One is a reformer while the other preaches revolution. Likewise, one is a descendant of an essentially American political movement, progressivism, while the other professes loyalty to a brand of European politics, socialism. It is a bigger difference than first appears.

In the 2016 presidential campaign, Bernie Sanders was a prophet crying in the wilderness with a new and even extreme message. By the 2020 campaign, however, most of his positions have been embraced by others on the Democratic debate stage. “Medicare for All,” free college, and an increased minimum wage are all standard Democratic fare by now, so the prophet has become mainstream. He can try to take credit for being first (“I wrote the damn bill”) but that energizes only his enthusiasts.

What continues to distinguish Sanders from other Democrats is his constant preaching of the need for “a political revolution.” This system, he argues, is “rigged” and needs to be overturned. He recently gained the support of another revolutionary, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, strengthening his movement.

Although new front-runner Elizabeth Warren shares many of Sanders’ policy positions, she comes at them from the more cautious and nuanced stance of a regulator and a reformer, not a revolutionary. She made her mark in the Obama years by championing the establishment of a new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and was appointed assistant to the president to get it up and running. A centerpiece of her campaign is heavier regulation of Wall Street and banks that she argues will level the playing field for everyone. Her own area of expertise as a Harvard law professor has been the complex system of bankruptcy laws.

A key difference between the revolutionary Sanders and the reformer Warren came to light in the most recent presidential debate. Sanders openly said that he would pay for Medicare for All with a special tax on “extreme wealth.” Apparently, Elizabeth Warren did not know there would be math on this exam because, when asked how she would pay for it, she could only admit later that she would have to develop a plan for that.

Bernie goes for the jugular — taxes on the wealthy — and we can predict that Warren will find a more nuanced approach.

Revolutionaries rarely win political campaigns but, in a sense, Bernie Sanders has already won. His policies are now in the more cautious hands of a regulator and reformer, Elizabeth Warren.