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The Future of Conservatism, with Gordon Lloyd (Defining Ideas) October 31, 2013

Posted by daviddavenport in Newspaper Columns/Essays.
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Editor’s note: The essay below is an excerpt from the new book The New Deal and Modern American Conservatism: A Defining Rivalry (Hoover Press).

Following the 2012 reelection of Barack Obama, many proclaimed the death of modern American conservatism. The Titanic is sinking, said one commentator; the conservative arguments put forth in the campaign will soon be relics in a museum, wrote another. Demography is destiny, many said, and conservatism is the realm of old white men whose day is gone. This is the day of the young, of immigrants, of people of color, of women, who vote progressive, not conservative. A standard refrain was that conservatism needs to change both its methods and its message if it ever hopes to be successful again. In short, many called for an extreme makeover for modern American conservatism.

Illustration by Barbara Kelley

Others see in history a swinging pendulum, understanding that what is not in favor today may well rule the day tomorrow. In particular, election results often swing wildly from side to side, with one party racking up major victories in a presidential election, only to lose ground to the other side in the midterm elections a mere two years later. This is just what happened with Obama’s win in 2008, followed by the formation of the Tea Party and record losses for Democrats in 2010. As former British Prime Minister Harold Wilson put it, “A week in politics is a long time.”

As the co-authors of this book, long-time colleagues and friends, we confess that each of us had a different take on the consequences of the 2012 election and the future prospects for conservatism. One of us believes that a new majority of more liberal voters—younger people, ethnic minorities, wealthy elites, those receiving significant income from the government—are on the ascendancy. For him, this is a No Country for Old Men moment. He feels like the sheriff in that movie (or book) who now sees extreme irresponsibility among voters and in government. He despairs of his ability to make any real difference about it. He feels it’s time to leave California, in his view the exemplar of irresponsible governance, and retire to the most livable red state he can find.

Our other coauthor sees no reason to turn away from his Mr. Smith Goes to Washington life and career. In his case, he went to the academy in California, rather than to government in Washington, D.C., but he retains his optimism about making a difference in the lives of graduate students and high school teachers, teaching the beauty of the American Founding and its constitutional republic. He sees no need for an extreme makeover of modern American conservatism, nor to leave his beautiful California beach community for life in some cold, rugged red state. The American people are center-right, he says, and though they may get carried away in this or that election, given the right candidates and moment, they will return to their more conservative roots.

Conservatism: Of Politics, Policy, and Principle

For starters, we need to understand that conservatism operates at different levels in varied ways. In a sense, politics is only the shallow topsoil of the public arena. Polling demonstrates that voters are blown about by conventional wisdom, the latest speech or poll, or even a candidate’s hairstyle. Elections do, as they say, have consequences, and the short-term future (two to four years) may be decided there, but generally nothing long-lasting is decided in a single election. In addition, we must understand that a political philosophy, such as conservatism, doesn’t really stand for election. Individual candidates run for office, and political parties do battle in elections. But ideas and philosophies are, or at least should be, much deeper than that. Republicans are not consistently -conservative—in fact, as noted in chapter 3, large growth in government has often occurred under Republican presidents. And Democrats are not always liberal. So it would seem naïve, at best, to assume that the long-term fate of a political philosophy such as modern American conservatism would be settled on a single election day in November 2012.

As a consequence, conservatism is not likely to be resurrected, or even significantly strengthened, by tinkering at the political level. When people say Mitt Romney was not a great candidate, or did not run a strong campaign, that may have little to do with conservatism, per se. For one thing, there is a view strongly held by many that Romney himself was not truly a conservative candidate. Both his record as governor of Massachusetts and his evolving stands on a number of issues made him seem more like a pragmatic businessman than a political conservative.

Further, the fact that Obama won the election does not mean that this was a highly ideological campaign in which political philosophies were the decisive factor. Some argue that the 2012 election was very close until Romney’s private remarks to donors about 47 percent of Americans being dependent became public and Obama looked presidential in his response to Hurricane Sandy. The point is that campaigns and elections should not be ignored, but they more often turn on the state of the economy, or incumbency, or the attractiveness of the candidate, or the effectiveness of the campaign, and are not necessarily good barometers of how a particular political ideology sits with the American public. Still, as candidates and parties try to solve their political problems, it is important to see whether conservative principles are helped or hurt in the process.

At a deeper level is the realm of policy, where particular approaches to issues and problems are developed and where ideologies such as conservatism are very much in play. Unfortunately, the political landscape at the moment seems to be choking out thoughtful policy development, not only from a conservative point of view but more broadly. The Democrats don’t really have a coherent set of policies now, other than to raise taxes on the rich and try to “stimulate” (a politically correct word for “spend”) our way toward economic recovery. But they do appear to be more in touch with voters’ concerns, even if they do not have policy solutions for them.

The Republicans essentially do not want to raise taxes on anyone at any time, and say they want to tame government spending, though a lot of the increased spending happened on their watch in the first place. Romney started his fall presidential campaign with a fifty-nine-point plan for the economy, which sounds more like what a consultant would deliver to a paying client than what a candidate should offer as a coherent set of policies. Finally he got it down to five points. Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan was the closest candidate we’ve had to a policy wonk since Bill Clinton, having published a detailed plan on the budget and economy. But conservatives could very much use a candidate, or a set of leaders, who could advance clear, coherent, conservative approaches to the policy issues of the day, including immigration, gun control, the budget, and so forth.

At the deepest level are the principles that animate a particular philosophy, such as conservatism. Here is where conservatives have a lot of work to do. One problem is that conservatism is, in many ways, more of a reactionary philosophy than a proactive one. As William F. Buckley famously said, “A conservative is someone who stands athwart history yelling, Stop.” Since its primary purpose is to conserve liberty, and also the traditions and institutions that help protect individual liberty, the message of conservatism is often in reaction against government efforts that would harm liberty. So its principles come off as reactionary and negative—no taxes, turn back the clock on abortion, and so forth. Another challenge is that some conservatives, such as social conservatives, have a different set of principles than classic or fiscal conservatives. So finding a common set of principles for conservatives, one that seems to suit the times, is a challenge that has to be confronted with regularity. In order to work that out in these times, it seems important for conservatives to address a series of difficult questions.

Does Liberty Still Resonate?

For Edmund Burke, the father of modern conservatism, the essence of conservatism was individual liberty. The Founders, in the words of the Declaration of Independence, sought “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Herbert Hoover, who was resisting the vast government expansion and intrusion of Roosevelt’s New Deal, entitled his volume of writings The Challenge to Liberty. So for 150 years, from the Founding to the New Deal, liberty resonated in America. Why do immigrants still want to come to the United States today? For the opportunities that liberty provides.

But does individual liberty still resonate today as a principle worth fighting and voting for? Do younger people, who have grown up knowing only big government, appreciate a philosophy that sees government as a potential threat to liberty? Has individual liberty become merely an abstraction that no longer speaks powerfully to the American people? There are three basic liberties we have historically held dear: economic, religious, and political. But do people really see the threats to them today?

It is no longer enough to merely repeat the conservative principles. It has become necessary to animate, illustrate, and remake the case. When a decorator said I could only use certain kinds of handles in my shower, by law, that helped illustrate that I live in a much more highly regulated state than I would like. In New York City, Mayor Bloomberg wants to regulate the size of soft drinks. When your monthly paycheck dropped dramatically in January of 2013, that was a vivid reminder that taxes were going up. When you work well into April, and in some states even into early May, simply to pay your taxes, that’s a powerful reminder of how much government you have, and how much you are paying for it. This is a threat to economic freedom, to the fruits of one’s labor, but that message is not getting through.

Young people, in particular, do not readily see the twin problems of too much government and too little individual freedom. A Pew Research Center survey reported in November 2012 that voters under age thirty are the only age group in which a majority said government should do more to fix problems. Of course, young voters will soon enough be older voters, and will experience higher taxes and more restrictions. But this is a reminder that the case for limited government and for individual freedom must be remade in every generation. These young voters need to see the attraction of churches and nonprofits and other intermediary civic associations that conservatives love more dearly than just deferring problems to the government. So even at the core of conservative principles—individual freedom—there is much work to be done to sharpen the focus and communicate the message in clearer and more compelling terms. Individual liberty, to many, has become merely an abstraction.

Is it Time to Give Up on Tradition, Virtue, and Social Values?

Younger voters are raising the question whether conservatism needs to give up on its effort to, as they see it, tell people how to live. Of course the libertarian branch of conservatism has long embraced the notion that individual freedom should include the freedom to live as you want, without interference from government. Still other conservatives might not characterize themselves as libertarian, but would say they are fiscal conservatives but social moderates (or even liberals), again willing to abide a variety of individual decisions about lifestyle. Social and Christian conservatives have become an active and important voting bloc since the 1970s, attempting to define conservatism to include positions on abortion, gay marriage, stem cell research, and so forth. These positions, it is argued, especially turn off younger voters, who identify more with liberals (or, if they knew more about them, libertarians) on these social issues. Herbert Hoover’s great-granddaughter, Margaret Hoover, published a book in 2011 making this case: American Individualism: How a New Generation of Conservatives Can Save the Republican Party.

But one of the dilemmas of conservatism is that it has long embraced both individual freedom and the traditions and values that uphold it. Edmund Burke embraced a “manly, moral, regulated liberty,” understanding that tradition actually strengthened freedom. The Founders understood that, as Benjamin Franklin put it, “only a virtuous people are capable of freedom.” So long before the emergence of social conservatives or the Christian right, there was an understanding that liberty, or doing as you wish, required the restraining influences of virtue and tradition, or doing as you ought or has long been done. Conservatives, then, need to be cautious about throwing out the baby of virtue and tradition with the bathwater of social and religious conservatism.

Peter Berkowitz, in his recent book Constitutional Conservatism, attempts to bring into one tent the two primary branches of conservatism: libertarianism and social conservatism. A key part of his approach is that he would require social conservatives to accept that the sexual revolution is here to stay and to quit fighting that battle on the political stage. But if your religious understanding is that God forbids abortion or contraception, it seems like a bridge too far to say you must give up a fight against having government, or your tax money, support and advance those practices.

It does seem important, however, for conservatives to find a way not to insist that government support certain specific religious or social beliefs, without giving up entirely on the broader virtues and traditions that support a free society. Perhaps the focus could be more on some of the public virtues such as honesty and moderation that truly allow a free society to function. Or, more practically, perhaps social conservatives need to be challenged to temper their views with traditional conservative notions of federalism, which calls on government to act only when individual action is insufficient, then insisting that the lower levels of government act when federal action is not truly needed.

So, then, social conservatives might be discouraged from pressing their views at the federal level in favor of the Defense of Marriage Act, for example, recognizing that marriage should really be a matter of state policy. Social conservatives would then have to accept a variety of social policies in the states. Similarly, conservatives, who preach against judicial activism, should accept the self-discipline not to turn every question into a federal lawsuit. This is a kind of moderation that might allow conservatives to be faithful to their core principles, yet reach a broader public. As difficult as these steps may be, it seems far preferable for conservatives to attempt to work through the difficult dilemmas of values in a free society rather than throw tradition and virtue out of their politics altogether.

Is the Constitution a Gathering Place or a Stumbling Block?

As noted in chapter 2, there is a view, especially in the academy, that the Constitution is an old, anachronistic document that is not relevant to the issues of our day. Some would go further and argue that, having been drafted by landowning men who would not abolish slavery, the Constitution was flawed from the beginning. Those are more extreme views, but even people in the middle wonder about seemingly abstract notions of federalism such as the Electoral College or limitations imposed on Congress by the tenth and fourteenth amendments. If we have a major national issue such as health care, why can’t the federal government step in and act? Why would it be constrained by a 225-year-old document?

But the Constitution must be a central part of the conservative case going forward. It is primarily through the Constitution that we find balances of power, checks and balances, and limits on the power of government. These are the very tools that would enable conservatives to continue to wage the battle that is central for them: the campaign for limited government. In fact, it would behoove conservatives to be ever more active in civic education efforts, since constitutional principles have become another of those abstractions that many citizens fail to appreciate. Tellingly, when we coauthored a newspaper quiz for Constitution Day a few years ago, a friend called to say he had failed the test, but his girlfriend, an immigrant, had passed with flying colors. Why? Because she had taken the required dose of civic education needed for citizenship. The problem with the Constitution is not what it says; it’s that people don’t know what it says and fail to appreciate its meaning and value.

Another way in which the Constitution can be a way forward for conservatives is its value in uniting the disparate elements of the movement. There are fiscal conservatives, social conservatives, Christian conservatives, and libertarians, just to name a few branches of the conservative tree. But one trunk that could sustain all the branches would be strong allegiance to the Constitution. The First Amendment’s free exercise of religion empowers Christian conservatives. The Tenth Amendment’s reservation of power to states and the individual is the anthem of conservatives who want limited government. The taxing power, the interstate commerce test, balances of power, checks and balances, they’re all there in the Constitution. Defending, explaining, and teaching the Constitution should be right near the top of the conservative agenda going forward.

Is There Reason for Optimism about the Future of Conservatism?

We know there are reasons for despair about the future of conservatism in America. After Ronald Reagan, by acclamation the last great conservative president, passed the office to his vice president, George H. W. Bush, the more conservative candidate for president has lost four of six elections. Chief Justice Roberts’s surprising decision affirming the constitutionality of health care reform, followed by Romney’s loss in 2012, pretty well cements the addition of health care to the permanent and expensive roster of government entitlements, the most historic such development in nearly fifty years. The several branches of conservatism are difficult to hold together, and its appeal to a younger and more ethnically diverse electorate seems less than compelling.

Still, there are reasons for optimism about the future of American conservatism. In a symposium in its January 2013 edition, Commentary shared the perspectives of fifty-three leading American thinkers and writers on “What is the Future of Conservatism in the Wake of the 2012 Election?” Some thoughtful responses affirm both a reason for optimism as well as some concrete steps that might be taken toward a hopeful future for conservatism. For example, Larry Arnn, president of Hillsdale College, states that conservatism “must repudiate absolutely this system of limitless government. . . . It must proclaim without ceasing the good of freedom and the danger to it.” We agree. And that was certainly Hoover’s view in the 1930s, one that captures the enduring core of modern American conservatism.

Michael Barone, resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, points out that the economic difficulties may draw a line in the liberal sand that will allow conservatives to gain some traction. As he says, “The dire fiscal plight of the federal government and the unsustainable trajectory of entitlement programs give them more leverage than they would have from their House majority alone.” AEI President Arthur C. Brooks lays out a challenge: conservatives must patiently and persistently change the conventional wisdom that holds that the free enterprise system is fundamentally unfair and that the entitlement state is morally acceptable and economically sustainable. This is an important reminder that conservatives have a lot of work to do, not on the surface level of politics so much as in the deeper trenches of values.

One set of views holds that the present road of progressivism will ultimately reach a dead end, offering conservatives an opportunity to step forward with an alternative course. As James Piereson, head of the William E. Simon Foundation, says, conservatives are well prepared to “step into the breach when liberals run the system aground,” as Reagan and former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher did. “The day is fast approaching,” Piereson continues, when conservatives will be called upon to play that role again. “The postwar order is unraveling, America’s economic engine has stalled, but the baby boomers are retiring, and the world still needs US leadership.” Political scientist James Ceaser, at the University of Virginia, told a conference in December 2012 that there will be a day of reckoning—a result of taxes, a slow economy, fear of losing benefits, weakness or error in foreign policy—when conservatives will again need to step forward.

It appears that President Obama intends to press a more strident progressive agenda in his second term than he did in his first, which may open new opportunities for conservatives. As President George W. Bush discovered when he used his reelection to seek major changes to Social Security, it is easy to overplay the mandate of a close election. And President Obama may well be on track to do just that. Obama’s second inaugural address called for a kind of collectivism that he believes would make America a fairer and more democratic nation. He wants more taxes on the wealthy and an array of new programs that he said in his 2013 State of the Union message would not add a single dime to the federal budget, a claim that strains credulity. By this theory, progressivism will again self–destruct, and conservatives need only stay the course and await their moment.

In sum, we agree with Jennifer Rubin, who writes the “Right Turn” blog for the Washington Post, when she said, “If modern conservatism, in its essence, is the defense of freedom and security by limited government and the cultivation of a virtuous populace through intermediary institutions (family, church and synagogue, and civic organizations), then its currency is strong.”

Still Relevant After All These Years

Conservatives would do well to ask themselves several historical questions. First, why, after 225 years, are the Founders still relevant? The answer would seem to be the power of first principles, the Founders’ ideals of individual liberty and limited government, which should still be important to conservatives. But intriguingly, why, after eighty years, should the New Deal still be relevant? Is it because, in a time of crisis and fear, Franklin Roosevelt won several elections and took advantage of the opportunity to reinvent American domestic and constitutional policy? And that we still live under that same basic framework of his high-tax, high-regulation, high-welfare, high-entitlement state today?

What then is the relevance of conservatism today? Is it just to be ready when progressivism falters, as it did when Jimmy Carter gave way to Ronald Reagan? Is it merely to set up a loyal opposition, to limit the excesses of progressivism, to “stand athwart history yelling, Stop,” as William F. Buckley suggested? In this sense, it is possible to see the appeal of progressivism, which has a more optimistic view of the nature of man and the possibility of steady, scientific progress.

Conservatives, by contrast, understand that human beings need restraint, which often comes off as a more pessimistic face. Progressives are good at finding stories of individual suffering and turning those into campaigns for changes to public policy. If someone isn’t doing well financially, it must be the fault of the system. Failure to achieve equality must be a market failure and so, progressives say, clearly we need more government regulation. We must do something! Conservatives would trust individuals and churches and civic associations to do something effective about these cases of individual suffering rather than developing government programs to address them.

We identify with the conservative Willmoore Kendall, a practical Oklahoman who believed Americans carried their -tradition, their moral sense, indeed their conservatism, “in their hips.” Their vote may be captured by some charismatic progressive—a Roosevelt, an Obama—but at the end of the day, we are still a center-right people, in our hips. We may vote to tax the wealthy and give the rest of us an easier ride, but we also want forces to counteract that impulse, lest we get carried away and ruin the economy or, worse, the republic. We may want freedom, but we also want restraint, lest we run the ship of state aground. This, we argue, is the role of modern American conservatism. It speaks from our hips. It is the restraint, the brakes, the counterbalance when the intellectuals and politicians and progressives get carried away. Conservatism allows what the Founders called the cool and deliberate sense of the community to win out over time, rather than seeing the country carried away by the politics or factions of the moment.

In that sense, modern American conservatism is just what we’ve been saying needs to be preserved. It is the Constitution with its checks and balances, its balances of power, its restraints on government. It is our traditions and values and virtues that make it possible to live responsibly within a free republic. It is our instinct to limit government lest it run over us. It is the set of boundaries in which the game can be played.

And so conservatism is a voice, an influence, a set of ideas that must be healthy and vital in order for the republic to stay on track. Modern American conservatism started with Herbert Hoover, a prophetic voice in the progressive wilderness of the New Deal, calling Americans back from excessive government, the regulated life, the temptation toward the totalitarianisms of Europe offered by the New Deal. And it became a movement in the 1950s, led by Russell Kirk, Friedrich von Hayek, William F. Buckley, Milton Friedman, and others. It produced a presidential candidate, Barry Goldwater, in the midst of the progressive excesses of Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society. It delivered its first president, Ronald Reagan, when Jimmy Carter could not command the ship of state effectively. It produced a “Contract with America” that limited the span of Bill Clinton’s reach, even prompting him to say that the era of big government was over. Its voice was heard clearly on the Supreme Court through Chief Justice William Rehnquist, Antonin Scalia, and others. When Barack Obama won his first term, it spawned a Tea Party and won the midterm elections.

And now it prepares itself for the next chapter. If it is wise, it allows others to worry about electoral strategies and politics and it digs deeper into policy and principle. Perhaps, after eight years of progressive policies, the pendulum swings back toward conservatism. Or maybe the progressives overstep their mandate and things turn more quickly to conservatives. It could be that with several conservatives serving as governors, our states will once again become powerful laboratories and produce the policies that will lead to a resurgence of conservatism.

Perhaps it will require a decade for conservatives to work at the deepest levels on conventional wisdom and turn things back toward limited government, balanced budgets, moral and traditional restraint, and, most of all, individual liberty. Ultimately it will require a candidate who embodies the principles of conservatism and can communicate them in compelling ways to the American electorate. This is both the legacy and the future of modern American conservatism.

Gordon Lloyd is a professor of public policy at Pepperdine University.

Link to Defining Ideas:  http://www.hoover.org/publications/defining-ideas/article/160571


The Republicans’ Core Obamacare Message Is Lost In The Shutdown Noise (Forbes.com) October 3, 2013

Posted by daviddavenport in Newspaper Columns/Essays, Op/Eds.
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I take no joy in saying this:  conservative leaders in the House and Senate have let down their movement by abandoning conservative means in order to pursue conservative ends. Because their actions—shutting down the government—speak so loudly, people cannot hear their core message about Obamacare.  And their movement is harmed in both the short and long term because they show conservatives to be yet one more political group that cares more about winning than how they go about it, or what the consequences of their methods may be.

One of the founders of modern American conservatism, Russell Kirk, said that conservatives are about convention and continuity, guided by prudence.  As Hoover Institution fellow Peter Berkowitz reminds us in his recent book Constitutional Conservatism, moderation has long been a hallmark of political conservatism.  Conservatives believe in constitutional process, with its checks and balances and balances of political power.  They follow the rules until they can properly change them.

So what’s wrong with the picture Senator Ted Cruz and his conservative allies are painting today? They are not following any kind of conservative playbook in their headlong desire to limit or defund Obamacare.  After every constitutional process was exhausted, they had lost when the bill was passed, lost when it was appealed to the Supreme Court, lost when they made the 2012 election a referendum about it, and they’ve lost over 40 times when the House has passed bills to repeal Obamacare only to see them die in the Senate.

So what a true conservative would not do is twist the constitutional process by refusing to fund the operation of the entire federal government because of a disagreement over one piece of the budget that has already had its day in court and everywhere else.  There are legitimate places to continue a battle over Obamacare: in the states where markets must be established, in federal court where terms of the bill (such as funding for abortion or birth control) are still being properly challenged, but refusing to fund the federal government in order to get yet one more challenge in Congress represents a commitment to winning at all costs, not a faithful adherence to proper conservative and constitutional processes.

Conservatives ran into means and ends problems only a decade ago, but apparently did not learn their lesson.  In the early 2000’s, when Republicans held the White House and majorities in both houses in Washington, they began to pursue a big-government conservatism which can only be considered an oxymoron.  They decided that, rather than trimming government, they would use government to achieve conservative ends. As Indiana Governor, then Congressman, Mike Pence put it at the time,  “The conservative movement today is…strong, accomplished but veering off course into the dangerous and uncharted waters of big government republicanism.”  They violated principles of economic and limited government conservatism by running up large federal deficits, and they ignored conservative principles of federalism by allowing a virtual takeover of K-12 education policy by Washington, D.C.  If that is conservatism, we might as well all be big-government liberals.

Opinion polls show the American people have a negative view of most of the players involved in this mess, but they reserve special disapproval for the Republicans who are perceived as having led the government shutdown.  Common sense folks don’t get it and they don’t like it.  One of my law professors used to say that if a rule or practice didn’t pass the “layman huh?” test, it was problematic, meaning if a layman looks at it and says “huh?” the matter needed to be reviewed.  Shutting down the government over a crusade to defund Obamacare does not pass that test, and people are both confused and frustrated about it.

President George H.W. Bush once said, “I’m conservative, but I’m not a nut about it.”  Unfortunately, their present leaders in Washington are making conservatives look more like nuts than true conservatives.

Link to Forbes.com op/ed:  http://www.forbes.com/sites/daviddavenport/2013/10/03/the-republicans-core-obamacare-message-is-lost-in-the-shutdown-noise/

Davenport’s Podcast on “The New Deal and Modern American Conservatism: A Defining Rivalry” (Hoover Press) October 2, 2013

Posted by daviddavenport in Radio Interview Podcasts.
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In a speech to Hoover Institution supporters in Los Angeles, David Davenport discusses ideas from his new book, coauthored with Gordon Lloyd:  The New Deal and Modern American Conservatism–A Defining Rivalry.  The book was released by Hoover Press on October 1. 

Here is a podcast of David’s talk (approximately 30 minutes):  https://soundcloud.com/hoover-institution/davenport-the-new-deal-and

Here is a press release about the book:  http://www.hoover.org/news/press-releases/157741

Here is a link to the book on Amazon.com:  http://www.amazon.com/The-Deal-Modern-American-Conservatism/dp/0817916849/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1380738352&sr=8-1&keywords=the+new+deal+and+modern+american+conservatism

A Nation of Laws, Not Men (Defining Ideas) September 3, 2013

Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds, Policy Articles & Papers.
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On September 4, a court in Pennsylvania will consider whether a county registrar of wills may issue marriage licenses to same sex couples in contravention of state law because he has decided that law is unconstitutional. This official has now issued over 100 such licenses and other public officials (mayors) have used them to perform same sex wedding ceremonies. The legal challenge by the Pennsylvania Department of Health, which has overall responsibility for marriage laws and licensing, is loaded with constitutional, legal, social, and marital consequences, all of which deserve careful consideration.

At the same time, the Governor and Attorney General of Pennsylvania have exchanged political blows over whether that state law banning same sex marriage should be defended in court and, if so, who has the responsibility to do that. The attorney general says Pennsylvania’s 1996 law stating that marriage is between a man and a woman is “wholly unconstitutional” and she will not defend it, even though the recent Supreme Court decision in Windsor v. United States said states were free to make their own decisions about gay marriage.

This follows on the heels of President Obama’s and Attorney General Holder’s decision to not to defend the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in the years prior to the recent determination by the U.S. Supreme Court that the law is unconstitutional. And similar questions arose in the recent California Proposition 8 case when that state’s governor and attorney general declined to defend the law because they felt it was unconstitutional, with the remarkable result, handed down by the Supreme Court, that no one had standing to defend that part of the California Constitution in court.

It looks like a virus is spreading among public officials creating delusions that any one of them may unilaterally decide a law is unconstitutional and decline to follow the law or defend it in court. Setting aside for a moment the same sex marriage context of these actions—we could be talking about environmental laws or gun control or taxes—is it really the case that a single federal, state, or county official is free to make a judgment about the constitutionality of a law and decline to execute, enforce, or defend it? Are we no longer what founder (and second president) John Adams called “a nation of laws and not of men”?

To read the rest of David’s article, please click the link below:


Now Go Deep (Hoover Digest) May 7, 2013

Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds.
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Politics is only topsoil. The enduring values of conservatism are the roots.

Months after the presidential contest, obituaries for conservatism are still appearing. The Titanic is sinking, says one commentator; the conservative arguments put forward in the 2012 election will soon be relics in a museum, writes another. Demography is destiny, many say, and conservatism is basically populated by old white men whose day is done. A standard refrain is that conservatism needs to change both its message and its methods if it hopes ever to be heard again. Time for an extreme makeover.

I have a slightly different message for conservatives: it’s time to go deeper.

Politics is only the shallow topsoil of the American political debate. It’s easily blown about by campaign ads and rhetoric, influenced by momentum and even hairstyles. Former British prime minister Harold Wilson wisely observed that “a week in politics is a long time.” Remember James Carville’s book after the 2008 election? The title boldly proclaimed 40 More Years: How the Democrats Will Rule the Next Generation. Less than two years later, Democrats suffered historic defeats in the midterm elections.

Doubtless mistakes were made, as they say, at the political level in 2012. But the real work of conservatives now is not at that superficial, topsoil level; it is in the deeper soil of policy and the taproot of values where conservatives need to toil now. Americans should be presented with a deeper and more compelling narrative about the policy choices facing the country and the problems the present path will create. It is less about an extreme makeover and more about deepening its own policy message and clarifying its own values. Otherwise, why bother to become merely a pale version of liberalism simply to broaden your appeal and win?

For example, there is a serious conversation to be had about the family, one that is not reduced merely to pro-life and pro-choice sound bites, one that doesn’t begin and end with same-sex marriage. Liberal Harvard professor Daniel Patrick Moynihan pointed out the importance of a stable family life to the health of the republic in the 1960s, and many have noted the troublesome decline of family stability and the birthrate in Europe. That conversation needs to take place in a serious way here in America. Which family values are entirely personal, and which affect the public good? This question of values is one that conservatives should appropriately raise, but in a thoughtful way.

There is a real debate to be had about the role of government. Here my Hoover Institution colleague Peter Berkowitz rightly points out that conservatives have mistakenly allowed the debate to be about big versus small government. Government is big and it isn’t likely to shrink much. The real debate is about the role of government, not merely its size. It’s about limited government, not just big government. Which health care decisions, marriage decisions, and social questions are essential for government to decide? Federalism requires that we ask whether an issue is for individuals or government to decide, and if government, which branch and which level? That, again, is a serious debate that needs more than the divisive question: “Are you in the 47 percent or the 1 percent?”

Conservatives aren’t wrong about immigration, and will make a big mistake if they succumb to resolving these hard policy questions merely on the political level so they can win Latino votes. What proper interest does a country have in deciding how many and who will be allowed to enter? What about legal, not just illegal immigration: how do we encourage the sort of immigration that will strengthen the country in important ways?

A strong national defense is not something that Americans are ready to sacrifice. Even independent voters were greatly troubled by the lack of security at our government facility in Benghazi, Libya, and that concern risked becoming a tipping point in the recent presidential campaign. How does America lead in a dangerous world? That is a question about which conservatives frankly have more answers than liberals.

When a progressive friend asked me how I felt after the election and I shared some of this, he said, “You are an unrepentant conservative.” And so I am. Conservatives will make a big mistake if they think only of going wide and shallow, seeking more votes at the topsoil level of politics. First they need to go deeper, and sharpen the core values and principles which many Americans do share, and which if sacrificed on the altar of politics would leave conservatism one more loud voice merely seeking votes.

Hoover Digest ! 2013 · No. 2
Please click on link to go to the Hoover Digest article: http://www.hoover.org/publications/hoover-digest/by-author/9832
Reprinted by permission of Forbes Media LLC © 2013. All rights reserved.

Appoint a constitutional conservative (San Francisco Chronicle) July 15, 2005

Posted by daviddavenport in Newspaper Columns/Essays, Op/Eds.
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It’s not enough anymore to describe someone’s political views as conservative. Now we must add adjectives to the term, giving us social conservatives, economic conservatives, neoconservatives and traditional conservatives, just to name a few.

When Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch, a member of the Judiciary Committee, says the president is going to appoint a conservative to the U.S. Supreme Court, what does he mean? Or when 40 percent of Americans recently told Gallup pollsters they believe the court should move in a more conservative direction (compared to 30 percent who want a more liberal court), which direction is that?

The Terri Schiavo case illustrates that one brand of conservatism is not like another and how those differences could affect a Supreme Court appointment. Social conservatives — who seek to enact a conservative social and cultural agenda through government — succeeded in getting Congress to pass and President Bush to sign an extraordinary bill creating special federal court jurisdiction over this one case. Round-the-clock vigils by Christian activists and other social conservatives urged federal courts to intervene in what many traditional conservatives considered a personal, family decision.

But then the social conservatives met a constitutional conservative on the federal bench, Judge Stanley Birch of the U.S. Court of Appeals in Atlanta. Birch rightly did not even address the ideological questions others were pressing in Schiavo vs. Schiavo, holding instead that our Constitution did not allow congressional activism to create special federal court jurisdiction in this one case. He said that the Congress and the president had acted “in a manner demonstrably at odds with our Founding Fathers’ blueprint for governance of a free people — our Constitution.” This conservative judge, appointed by President George H.W. Bush, said that ruling otherwise would violate the Constitution’s requirement of a separation of powers and would cause him to be one of those dreaded activist judges.

No crowds cheered for Judge Birch. Sadly, three’s not much more of a lobby for the champions of constitutional processes. But I submit that Birch, in his decision in the Schiavo case, demonstrated the kind of conservative President Bush should appoint: a constitutional conservative. We need judges whose primary agenda is to conserve the processes of government laid out in the Constitution, and who are willing to let the political chips fall where they may.

Standing in review of the passions and whims of the legislative and executive branches of government in a nonpartisan, nonideological way is precisely the role of the founders of our republic conceived for the judicial branch. In No. 78 of “The Federalist Papers,” Alexander Hamilton spoke of the courts as “the bulwarks of a limited constitution against legislative encroachments.” Foreshadowing the role of Judge Birch in the Schiavo case, Hamilton said the judiciary must be on guard when “a momentary inclination happens to lay hold of a majority of their constituents incompatible with the provisions of the existing constitution.”

If, as expected, President Bush appoints some kind of conservative to the court, which type will he choose? That is devilishly difficult to predict, because President Bush’s policies seem to draw from all these varieties of conservatism. His neoconservative advisers and tendencies take him into expansive foreign policies and federalized education programs that traditional conservatives oppose. His social-conservative roots and supporters seem to guide his thinking on the right to live and the role of religion in government policy. The president’s history of lower court appointments and his own statements — that he has no “litmus test” and seeks judges who will “faithfully interpret the Constitution” — suggest he is a constitutional conservative in the judicial appointment arena.

If the nominee is a constitutional conservative, his or her views on that most divisive of all topics, abortion, may not even be known. And if President Bush is serious that there is not litmus test, “don’t ask, don’t tell” might be the order of the day on such matters. Happily, a constitutional conservative judge might have any other kind of personal political views — neoconservative, social interpreting and defending constitutional processes.

Come to think of it, why not Judge Stanley Birch for the U.S. Supreme Court? You heard it here first.

This op/ed appeared on Page B-9.

The new generation gap (Scripps Howard News Service) October 8, 2002

Posted by daviddavenport in Newspaper Columns/Essays, Op/Eds.
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Berkeley, Calif., and its university campus have made their share of news over the years. Beginning with the “free speech” movement in the 1960s right up to the current ballot measure to ban politically incorrect coffee, Berkeley has defined the leading edge of liberal culture and radical politics.

But now surprising news comes from this unexpected source. A recent nationwide survey released from the Berkeley campus reports that, on a broad array of topics, the values of today’s younger people are more conservative than those of their elders. As one of the Berkeley researchers admitted, “It surprised us.”

Having been on college campuses for most of the last 35 years, I was not surprised. As that great philosopher, Yogi Berra, said, “You can do a lot of observing just by watching.” I have watched a generation of students arrive on campus, frustrated by the values of their parents, looking for something more solid to build on. Finally the folks at Berkeley have noticed also.

The nationwide survey, sponsored by the Pew Charitable Trusts and carried out by Berkeley’s Survey Research Center, was based on interviews with Americans ages 15 to 92. While 69 percent of young people ages 15-26 supported prayer in public schools, only 59 percent of older adults favored it. Barely 34 percent of older adults favored restrictions on abortion, while 44 percent of youths 15-22 backed such limitations.

Young people held more conservative views about religion. For example, 40 percent of adults favored federal aid to religious charities, but 59 percent of college-age young people supported the concept, and 67 percent of teenagers were in favor. Young people had a more favorable view of Christian fundamentalists than their seniors, 33 percent compared with 26 percent.

There were some mixed results in the survey. Young people felt that sexual content and violence on television were less serious problems than did their elders. And the younger generation was more concerned about discrimination and the environment.

It is fair to say, however, that these results describe the development of a new generation gap, one that is the reverse of the much-discussed gap of the 60’s. In that earlier day, the liberal kids were impatient with the conservative traditions of their elders. Today, however, the generation gap has flipped over, and the more conservative kids are challenging the liberal values of their baby boomer parents and grandparents. As one of the researchers concluded, “If the youth of today maintain these positions…then the American public as a whole could become more conservative on these issues.”

How can we account for such a shift? For one thing, cultural and political values do swing like a pendulum from one generation to another. Just as the 1960s witnessed a major turn from the conservative values of the post-war era, it appears that the culture is swinging back now. This is confirmed by other recent studies showing the growth of conservative churches, for example, and significant increases in teen virginity.

Another factor is that the generation young people are rebelling against was one of the most liberal in our history. Many young people today believe their baby boomer and Gen-X predecessors were not on track and they openly wish to take a different course. When I asked freshman college students a few years ago why they had a reputation as relativists who did not stand for anything, they were quick to say that it was because of their parents, and that one of the reasons they had come to college was to learn stronger values. In particular, young people believe the oder generation has done considerable damage to the family and, as the Berkeley survey confirmed, family values are of great importance to them.

Authors Neil Howe and William Strauss have made a cottage industry out of studying generations. In their most recent book, “Millennials Rising,” they describe how today’s teens are recasting the image of youth from downbeat and alienated to upbeat and engaged. They confirm that today’s young people are less vulgar and sexually charged than the culture older people are producing for them. In time, Howe and Strauss believe these “millennials” could emerge as the next great generation.

The 19th-century Frenchman, Alexis DeToqueville, pointed out that, “Among democratic nations each generation is a new people.” Perhaps middle-aged and older Americans who are often dismayed about the generation behind can take some encouragement from this latest report from Berkeley – unless, of course, the older folks are some of those liberal baby boomers!

Campus winds should also blow to the right (Scripps Howard News Service) April 14, 2002

Posted by daviddavenport in Newspaper Columns/Essays, Op/Eds.
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This spring our family joins thousands of parents and students in search of a college. Sending your teenage child away for four years is a frightening prospect, and I worry about many of the same things other dads do: money, safety, grades, friends.

But having spent 30 years on college campuses, I have developed another concern that may not be on every parent’s radar screen. I am frustrated that, in order to study at most of America’s top-ranked universities, our children must spend four key years surrounded by people and ideas that are largely at odds with my core beliefs and values.

It is ironic that one place you will not find a truly broad education, at least culturally and politically, is in America’s top colleges and universities. But almost all the philosophical winds on America’s highly regarded campuses blow in only one direction: due left, toward a liberal world view.

I experienced it as a student 30 years ago, and I see it as a parent today. I’ve heard the old saw that kids naturally become more liberal in college but may swing back to more conservative values when they start making money and paying taxes. But I wonder why a broad, liberal arts education should slant in any one direction, and why we put up with it.

Of course the primary reason the winds on campus blow to the left is that faculty, which creates most of the wind, is aimed in that direction. Studies show that faculty who consider themselves “liberal” outnumber “conservative” professors by more than 2 to 1. And in the humanities and social sciences, where the philosophical winds have the most impact, an astonishing 70 percent of faculty are liberal, compared with 15-18 percent who are conservative. Some professors are quite circumspect about keeping their political views to themselves, but many, who believe there are no respectable views left of center, leave no doubt where they stand.

As both an educator and a father, I am troubled by the one-way political and cultural street our students travel on campuses. Aside from recruiting a broader range of faculty, what can be done?

– For one think, university presidents and other administrators can provide real leadership on the matter. Things had become highly politicized at my alma mater, for example, until a new president began emphasizing one of the university’s slogans: “Let the winds of freedom blow.” As he stressed, the winds of freedom blow in many directions, and this attitude helped create more “space” for a wider range of views. Sometimes that is all that is needed.

– Faculty should watch for the line between teaching and propagandizing. Academic freedom is one of a faculty’s highest values, but it should extend to students as well. Our kids should be free to learn subjects from many points of view, not just one. One controversial matters, teachers should be careful to assign readings from differing perspectives and provide support for them in class.

– Parents should get over their obsession with sending their children to the Ivy League and top 10 universities where the culture tilts so much in one direction. Graduating from a college with a good academic reputation, but with your values adrift, is a mixed blessing at best. There are some outstanding universities where the education is not so politicized or aimed in a particular direction. When consumers begin to vote with their feet and bypass an elite university because of its philosophical slant, believe me, college boards and presidents will begin to notice.

– Finally, students themselves must play a role in finding a more balanced education. Look at reading lists before you select courses, and ask around about the professor’s reputation for bias. Take up internships and find other ways to get out of the “ivory tower” so that there are other influences on your thinking. When you have the freedom to choose a research topic, select one that will stretch your thinking in new directions. Make sure it is the set of your sail, and not the professorial gale, that determines your course.

A liberal arts education need not be only liberal. The winds of democracy blow right as well as left, and sometimes up the middle. So should the philosophical winds on our college campuses.