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Two Philosophies of Government (Townhall.com) September 17, 2012

Posted by daviddavenport in Radio Commentaries.
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Campaign 2012 presents a rare opportunity in politics: a clear choice between two strikingly different philosophies of government.

Obama and Biden are the big government ticket. Their campaign appeal is more stimulus and government projects to rescue the economy. Obama’s famous “you didn’t build that” business speech argued that success in private enterprise is based on government spending. He said the public sector is suffering, but the private sector is doing fine.

By contrast, Romney-Ryan embrace limited government.  As Ryan says, our rights come from nature and God, not government. They believe in equality of opportunity, not equality of outcomes. They promise to reduce tax rates and government spending and to close the massive federal deficit.

For once, voters have a real voice and a real choice to make on Election Day.

To listen to the audio please click on the link:  http://townhall.com/talkradio/dailycommentary/647992

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Republican Convention Sharpens the Choice (Townhall.com) August 31, 2012

Posted by daviddavenport in Radio Commentaries.
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The Republican National Convention sharpened the choice between President Obama, who now owns the underperforming economy, and Governor Romney who, Republicans say, knows how to fix it. 

If voters associate Obama with the sluggish economy and high unemployment, advantage Romney.  If Obama can redirect the campaign to likeability and social issues, his strengths come to the fore.

In many ways, this is like the election of 1932, Roosevelt versus Hoover.  But in 2012 it is the liberal democrat who owns the bad economy, and the conservative Republican who has a new approach.

I’m reminded of Herbert Hoover’s words from 1932:  “This campaign is more than a contest between two men. It is more than a contest between two parties. It is a contest between two philosophies of government.”

… So true for the election of 2012.

Please click on the link to listen to the audio:  http://townhall.com/talkradio/dailycommentary/647770

Paul Ryan Applies a Reality Check to Government, Confusing Pundits (Forbes.com) August 28, 2012

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Pundits aren’t sure what to do with a candidate like Paul Ryan, who has a clear political philosophy and a published set of policies for America’s future. If you think about it, it’s been awhile. Barack Obama has essentially campaigned on his personal narrative with broad promises of “hope” and “change.” John McCain’s appeal was his career as a maverick and a straight-talker. Even Mitt Romney is running more on his resume than his plans.

But Ryan is different. He’s actually read books of political philosophy and has published his own plans for governing: “A Roadmap for America’s Future, Version 2.0.” Of course the attacks on his plans come easily, one ad suggesting his approach to Medicare is like pushing your grandmother’s wheelchair off a cliff, a commercial at least one television station in Ryan’s home state of Wisconsin declined to air. But it’s easier to mock Ryan’s economic policies than to counter them with alternatives that will keep Medicare and other government entitlements afloat, much less in the black.

More interesting are the attacks on his philosophy and values with verbal punches that are so obtuse they fail to connect with most Americans. He’s a disciple of Ayn Rand, alleges New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, which would prompt most Americans, in imitation of Rand’s Atlas, to shrug. No, says Robert Reich, Professor at U.C. Berkeley and former Secretary of Labor in the Clinton Administration, it’s worse than that: Ryan is a social Darwinist. And you thought Darwinism passed from presidential campaign rhetoric with William Jennings Bryan at the turn of the last century.

What liberal intellectuals like Krugman and Reich are unable to grasp is that, outside their ivory towers, there are Americans who still believe in limited government. And it is apparently lost on them that a belief in limited government need not be tied to the mid-20th century objectivist philosophy of Ayn Rand or the product of a selfish, dog-eat-dog social Darwinism. Limited government, as Paul Ryan believes, is the fruit of the American Revolution and the counterpoint to the social and economic engineering of the European-style administrative state.

And so Mr. Ryan has made this election about two very different roads America might travel. These two roads start in different places since, as Ryan himself says at every campaign stop, our rights as Americans come from “nature and God, not government.” And their social objectives are quite different, with Ryan and Romney advocating equality of opportunity and Obama-Biden equality of outcome. And in between those widely divergent starting and ending points, one road travels with greater freedom and less government interference, with the other highway heavily regulated by a larger and more intrusive administrative state.

Combining Ryan’s philosophy and plans at a more detailed level clarifies both a good deal. So, for example, Ryan does not advocate the elimination of Medicare or other aspects of the welfare state. Instead, he looks at the charts and, in a way no economist is able to deny, sees the reality that the present course leads to bankruptcy of those programs, and perhaps of the federal government itself. His prescription is to find cost-savings that will make a social safety net sustainable, not to destroy it. In fact, one could well argue that the best way to destroy Medicare would be to continue blissfully on its collision course with bankruptcy. He advocates savings, for example, not by lowering the benefits, but by giving people money to make their own choices, again reinforcing his philosophy.

This is not Ayn Rand objectivism, or harsh social Darwinism. This is applying a reality check to government programs run amok. In that sense, ironically this election is like Roosevelt and Hoover in 1932, except this time it is a liberal president defending the unsustainable status quo, and a conservative challenger saying we need a new approach to the role of government and the economy. With Paul Ryan’s clear philosophy and programs, that’s what this election has become: a set of choices about the proper role of government. The words of Herbert Hoover from 1932 echo clearly today: “This campaign is more than a contest between two men. It is more than a contest between two parties. It is a contest between two philosophies of government.”

Please click on the link to view the article on Forbes.com:  http://www.forbes.com/sites/daviddavenport/2012/08/28/paul-ryan-applies-a-reality-check-to-government-confusing-pundits/

With The Paul Ryan Pick, Big Government Becomes the Big Issue (Forbes.com) August 20, 2012

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When Bill Clinton’s political consultant, James Carville, posted the big issue for the 1992 presidential campaign on a sign at headquarters—“The Economy Stupid”—he turned out to be foreshadowing the 2012 campaign as well. But with Mitt Romney’s selection of Paul Ryan as his vice presidential running mate, that slogan takes a subtle turn. The 2012 campaign is still about the economy, but the variation on that theme is now more specifically the role of government in the economy.

NORFOLK, VA - AUGUST 11:  Republican president...Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R) and U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) wave as Ryan is announced as his vice presidential running mate in front of the USS Wisconsin August 11, 2012 in Norfolk, Virginia. (Image credit: Getty Images via @daylife)

Paul Ryan, as Chair of the House Budget Committee and the guy with serious and specific ideas, brings to the fore the big question for Campaign 2012: Do Americans want the Romney-Ryan less government formula of tax cuts for economic growth, along with spending and entitlement cuts and debt reduction? Or do they prefer the Obama-Biden approach of letting tax cuts expire, and promoting more government spending and infrastructure programs to spur economic growth?

With Paul Ryan’s selection, Campaign 2012 has become less about the current recession, instead featuring more prominently the classic conservative-liberal debate of the past 50 years: big government versus market-based approaches to economic stability and growth. In his first appearance as a vice presidential candidate, Ryan quickly emphasized that “we have the largest deficits and the biggest federal government since World War II.” At every campaign stop, he reminds voters that our rights as Americans “come from nature and God, not government.”

By contrast, President Obama is still in love with big government, intent on growing its infrastructure and programs. His constant campaign refrain is more stimulus money to build more railways and fix more roads. In fact, his famous Roanoke, Virginia, “you didn’t build that” business yourself passage came in the context of reminding the audience that what had made America great were all the government investments in roads and bridges, space programs and the Internet. On another occasion, he took it a step further and said that it is the public sector that is suffering, that “the private sector is doing fine.” So even though public opinion polls show most voters disapprove the 2009 stimulus, and that Washington wastes money at an alarming rate, Obama is staying with his big government theme.

But what is the big government debate really about? How do you measure or define big government? And will electing Romney or Obama make any real difference in the size or performance of government? The big government debate is actually a multifaceted set of issues, some of which have very little to do with size and are more concerned with the role of government. But this election is one of few that could make a real difference about that.

For example, bigger government could be a question of revenue, where Romney-Ryan would continue the current tax cuts and Obama-Biden would eliminate them for those in higher tax brackets. So, by that measurement, there is a real difference, with the Republicans leaving more money in the private sector and the Democrats collecting more taxes. Or it could be measured on the expense side. But, in reality, the classic measurement of government spending—federal outlays as a percent of gross domestic product—don’t change dramatically over time. Despite Reagan’s calls for smaller government, federal spending rose slightly during his term (though his supporters blame a Democratic congress), then dipped a bit under Clinton. Ryan is correct, however, that under Obama the federal government now spends at an all-time high of around 25% of GDP, compared with a more typical 18-22% over the last 35 years. Often saying you want to cut spending is government-speak for merely slowing the rate of increase.

But an altogether different way of understanding big government might be its role in the major issues of the day. Clearly the signature legislation of the Obama presidency was health care reform, which greatly expands the federal role in a field—health and welfare—that has always been considered the province of states. Similarly in K-12 education, the federal role has increased significantly in both the George W. Bush and Obama administrations, even though that too has historically been a state and local matter. Of late, Obama has increased his use of executive orders, further expanding both federal and presidential power. So this would be another way of understanding big government, as an entity taking over more and more of Americans’ lives.

As Peter Berkowitz, senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, points out, when conservatives talk about smaller government, it really makes more sense for them to argue for “limited government” instead. The question of big or small government does include the question of size, but it is really more about what role the federal government plays overall. Viewed in that way, there clearly is a difference between Obama-Biden and Romney-Ryan. Obama sees a large federal role in stimulating and supporting Americans toward economic growth, whereas Romney, and especially Ryan, believe that the only meaningful job growth and economic stimulus will happen in the private sector.

With the addition of Paul Ryan to the Republican ticket, Americans will now have a much clearer choice at the ballot box this fall. And Bill Clinton’s famous words from his 1996 State of the Union message—“the era of big government is over”—become a focal point of the fall campaign.

To view the article on the Forbes website please click on the link:  http://www.forbes.com/sites/daviddavenport/2012/08/20/with-the-paul-ryan-pick-big-government-becomes-the-big-issue/

Why Mitt Romney Sits Uneasy On A Conservative Saddle (Forbes.com) July 11, 2012

Posted by daviddavenport in Newspaper Columns/Essays.
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Richard Nixon, who ran for President or Vice President five times, liked to say that he had to run to the right in order to win the Republican nomination, but then to the center to win the general election. The last week or so reminds us that if Mitt Romney has been running to the right in campaign 2012, he isn’t there yet. His latest misstep—denying that Obamacare was a tax before deciding it was—has been hammered by conservatives from William Kristol of The Weekly Standard to Rupert Murdoch and the editorial team of the Wall Street Journal as one more proof that Romney is not a conservative, or is unable to run an effective campaign, or both.

I think I can explain why Mitt Romney sits uneasy on a conservative saddle—he is, at heart, a businessman, not a conservative. People often assume that business leaders are by nature political conservatives, but that is not so. Business leaders are inherently pragmatic, seeking to move their business interests forward as priority one. Sometimes that coincides with free markets and conservatism, but not always.

No less an authority than Milton Friedman explained the phenomenon this way: “Every businessman wants freedom for somebody else, but he wants special privilege for himself.” As Friedman elaborated, business people may well believe in free markets in theory, but in practice if their particular business would benefit from, say, a government tax break or a subsidy, they will be on the next flight to Washington to try to get it. That is their job, to do what it takes, within some bounds, to grow their businesses and to win the market.

You see evidence of this in Mitt Romney, whose career in business has made him a pragmatist, not an ideologue. When he seeks to explain the key difference between the healthcare plan he supported as Governor of Massachusetts and Obamacare, he says that sort of plan that was appropriate for his state, but not for the whole nation. Other than the principle of federalism, that is not a statement of philosophy but one of pragmatism, making things work as a governor of a liberal state. When he stumbled over whether Obamacare was a tax, he resolved it pragmatically, not philosophically: if the Supreme Court says it’s a tax, then it must be.

His thinking like a businessman is also a weakness of his current campaign platform. Take the economy, for example, where academic economist John Taylor writes short books offering a handful of first principles to drive economic recovery and reform. By contrast the pragmatic Romney has served up a 59-point plan. You don’t inspire people, or offer them principled messages, with a 59-point laundry list. You tell them what you really believe in, and what that will motivate you to do.

Evangelical Christians have become a key voting bloc for Republicans, constituting over 50% of Republican primary voters this year, and comprising over 25% of the population in fall swing states such as Virginia, North Carolina, Florida, Michigan, and Ohio. Yet they are one more conservative group whose language Romney does not speak. When he gave the commencement address at Jerry Farwell’s Liberty University in the spring, there was great anticipation that he was finally beginning to reach out to this group. But, again, look at his message: my faith informs my values; my family is a top priority for me. This is nice general election talk, since most voters prefer a candidate who is not too religious, but it doesn’t reach Christian evangelicals, who want to hear that his faith leads him to strong positions on certain social issues such as abortion or same-sex marriage.

Romney is not likely to change his basic nature but there are some things he could do. He should start with a speechwriter and some policy advisors who understand the first principles of modern American conservatism to help him find that voice. His vice presidential selection, someone like Paul Ryan for example, must be a champion of conservative policy. In the end, of course, conservatives have nowhere to go but to support Romney. But in a close election, which the polls indicate this will be, voter energy and turnout will be absolutely crucial.

Ironically, Romney’s pragmatism may better suit him to ride toward the center than to the right, a gift that is especially needed to reach the critical independent voters in the fall. But if he doesn’t come out of the Republican convention with his right flank sealed, and with his conservative policies and message more clearly honed, he will not have the passionate support base on which to build a winning coalition.

Here is the link to the article:  http://www.forbes.com/sites/daviddavenport/2012/07/11/why-mitt-romney-sits-uneasy-on-a-conservative-saddle/

Mitt’s Credentials (Townhall.com) April 12, 2012

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As Mitt Romney consolidates his hold on the Republican nomination, a number of folks are puzzled that conservatives have not fully embraced him. But there has long been a tension in the Republican party between the more pragmatic, business leaders and the more philosophical conservatives.

Business leaders are out to make things work, to create an environment for success.  Philosophical conservatives want to see their principles heard and embraced. 

As Romney says, his pragmatic approach addresses issue number 1 in the campaign: the economy—and it will connect well with centrist voters in the fall.  But to cap his successful run for the nomination, he should also make clear the deep principles in which he believes.    

And he can nominate a strong philosophical conservative for vice president, all of which positions him to be a very serious contender in the fall.

To listen to the audio please click on the link:  http://townhall.com/talkradio/dailycommentary/637674

Independent voters will choose the next president (Townhall.com) February 29, 2012

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Independent voters elected President Obama in 2008, and they will decide his reelection in 2012.  But a great deal has changed in 4 years.

A recent poll shows Obama’s support among independents is down to 31 percent, from the 52 percent he carried in ’08.  And a study shows that in 8 key battleground states, registration among independents is growing by 3-4 percent, so they will be important deciders. 

Nearly half of independents say they haven’t made up their minds about Mitt Romney. But if the Republican race and its negative attack ads go on much longer, and then Obama spends heavily defining Romney, it will be tough.

Many independents are disgusted with both parties, so they’re difficult to predict. But in a year of negative campaigning, the effort to reach them will be both ugly and enormously important.

To listen to the audio please click on the link:

Vote of Confidence (Hoover Digest, 2011 No. 4) October 12, 2011

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Another presidential season, another attempted end run around the Electoral College. Let’s be careful. Even now, it has its uses.

While candidates are busy raising money and positioning themselves for the first primaries, one early maneuver in the 2012 presidential campaign is taking place in state legislatures: consideration of the National Popular Vote Bill. California recently became the eighth state to enact this legislation, which would form an interstate compact requiring member states to cast their electoral votes for the winner of the national popular vote, effectively eliminating the Electoral College without the transparency and burden of amending the U.S. Constitution.

But those who are frustrated by the Electoral College—especially Democrats who feel Al Gore unfairly lost the presidency in 2000—overlook the real benefits it provides, as well as its importance to our federalist system. State legislatures should count the cost very carefully before overthrowing the Electoral College in favor of a national popular vote.

For starters, a single national popular vote would alter the way presidential campaigns are conducted. Under the Constitution, there are really fifty-one separate state elections (plus the District of Columbia), and candidates compete aggressively in any state where they might win electoral votes. In the last week or two of a presidential campaign, candidates are likely to cross the country, seeking to win electoral votes in ten to fifteen key battleground states. This keeps the campaign alive in virtually every geographic region and in contested states both large and small. Candidates are forced to address regional issues and local voters as they seek to win the necessary electoral margin.

By contrast, a campaign that is based solely on the national popular vote would be conducted very differently. Candidates would concentrate their efforts in large metropolitan areas, where voters are highly concentrated, and the premium on impersonal media campaigning, whether through older media such as television or new media such as Facebook and Twitter, would greatly increase. Can one really argue that spending more money to capture digital media followers, and conducting more televised events in New York or Los Angeles, creates a better campaign for voters?

The problem of recounts, alone, should give a state legislator pause about voting for the National Popular Vote Bill. Votes must be counted and reported at some stage, and doing so at the state level means the extent of any recount is thereby limited. In 2000, for example, the Florida recount was difficult and lengthy, but nevertheless contained to one state. Imagine the likelihood, then, of a nationwide recount if state electoral votes were essentially irrelevant, as they would be under the National Popular Vote legislation. A national recount would certainly take many months to complete, creating uncertainty about identifying and seating a new president on a timely basis. Given the litigious nature of recent elections, such a prospect is hardly remote.

A national popular vote would demand a national recount. Imagine how long and uncertain that could be.

Ironically, one of the arguments in favor of the National Popular Vote Bill is that it would make every vote count and, in that sense, be fairer than the present system. But in the end, the new approach essentially trades one kind of fairness for another. Imagine, for example, a Virginia voter who is a Democrat and her state is carried by the candidate of her party. But if the Republican candidate wins the national popular vote, the elector in her state will actually cast “her” vote in favor of the Republican. What is fair, or even representative, about that? Such are the vagaries of tinkering with the two-hundred-year-old electoral system.

In a larger sense, this end run around the Electoral College would also kick down an important pillar of our system of federalism. The U.S. Constitution does not establish a pure democracy, but rather a federal republic. The genius of a republic is that while not every element is purely democratic, several checks and balances, as well as intentional balances of power, work together to make certain that the “cool deliberate sense of the community” is carried out, as it says in Federalist No. 63. Roles are assigned to both the people and the states. For example, the U.S. House of Representatives is based upon population and is referred to as “the people’s House,” but the U.S. Senate is based upon state representation. Similarly, in electing a president, there is a role for the people (the popular vote) and a role for states (the electoral vote). These checks and balances of constitutional federalism should not be easily bargained away by means of an interstate compact.

Even if your candidate carries your state, your electors might have to cast all their votes for the other side. Is that fair?

Indeed, those who feel the present system of voting is unfair have two constitutionally proper remedies, both of which are superior to the end run of the National Popular Vote Bill. First, they can amend the Constitution and eliminate the electoral system in a straightforward and transparent way. Of course, this would require an affirmative vote of two-thirds of each house of Congress and approval by three-fourths of the state legislatures, an intentionally difficult bar to reach.

A second, more readily available alternative is to encourage states to move away from their winner-takes-all method of allocating electoral votes. Under the Constitution, states are free to decide how to allocate their electoral votes, according to their popular vote. All but two states allow the winner of their popular vote to receive all the state’s electoral votes; the remaining two, Maine and Nebraska, allocate electoral votes according to the winner of the popular vote in each congressional district. This would address a primary concern of some who seek reform by making presidential elections more competitive in states where one party dominates electoral politics. For example, in California, a state rich in electoral votes but dominated by one party, allocating electoral votes by congressional district would create competition in many regions of the state and attract candidates to come more frequently and campaign. If electoral reform is needed, this would be preferable from almost any point of view.

The National Popular Vote Bill is gaining some bipartisan momentum by concentrating on the superficial fairness of a popular vote and by ignoring the practical advantages of the Electoral College and the deep and longstanding values of the federalist system. When states having enough electoral votes to win an election (270) have signed, the compact goes into effect. The bill raises sufficient constitutional questions that it will doubtless be challenged if and when it becomes effective. In the meantime, one can only hope that enough state governors and legislators will see through the superficial appeal of the bill and, as Benjamin Franklin urged, keep the republic.

To link to the article in the Hoover Digest, 2011 No. 4 please click here:  http://www.hoover.org/publications/hoover-digest/article/95536

Presidential Campaigns: From Modern to Postmodern (Crystal Cruise, August 2011) August 26, 2011

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To view the full presentation, please click here: Presidential Campaigns from Modern to Postmodern

Sarah Palin: A True Conservative (Townhall.com) October 10, 2008

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It’s been a difficult couple of decades for true conservatives. Since  

Courtesy of Townhall.com

Ronald Reagan, there has been George Bush 41’s “kinder, gentler” conservatism, George Bush 43’s “compassionate conservatism” and now John McCain’s maverick conservatism.

One reason that Sarah Palin has reenergized the Republican base is that they now have a true conservative to rally around.  In Alaska she has opposed tax increases, vetoed $286 million in state spending projects, and said it was time for the state to “grow up” and not be so dependent on the federal government.
Accompanied by her small-town roots and her conservative social and family values, Palin’s record on smaller government and reduced spending gives conservatives something to celebrate now and build on for the future.
To listen to the audio: http://townhall.com/TalkRadio/Show.aspx?RadioShowID=11&ContentGuid=e1ebf87b-6fc6-423f-ac86-e889b90ac59b