The Spectacle Blog

David Davenport Doesn’t Get Levin

By on 8.29.13 | 6:21PM

Just because Mark Levin’s book The Liberty Amendments: Restoring the American Republic has been a smash success doesn’t mean every reviewer should agree with him.

But one would hope at a minimum that the reviewer both understands the book – really understands it – and that the criticism reflects an understanding both of what’s actually in the book and why what’s in the book was written in the first place.

This can’t be said of the review (found here) over in Forbes that has been written by David Davenport, a one-time president of Pepperdine University and a current fellow at the Hoover Institution.

Davenport writes that Levin makes:

…a strong conservative case on what’s wrong with America—overspending, over-regulation, too much federal power in every branch—and a much weaker argument on how a series of constitutional amendments could fix it.

Really? Perhaps Mr. Davenport and I read two different books with the exact same title by the same author.

Davenport says that he doesn’t get “conservative reformers," and compares Levin’s proposals to “the grandiose activism of a utopian progressive.” Then he declares:

It certainly isn’t the conservatism of William F. Buckley, who famously said, "A conservative is someone who stands athwart history yelling, ‘Stop.’"

Wow. I confess to being stunned that a fellow at the Hoover Institution, not to mention an ex-president of Pepperdine, would not understand the serious scholarship that Levin provides in this book. Levin hardly aspires to be a “constitutional czar” as Davenport suggests. Rather he strives to reacquaint Americans with the serious history of the reasoning behind the Constitution.

Davenport talks, for example, of his doubts that the idea of congressional term limits is “especially conservative,” seemingly not understanding the Framers’ strong belief in the idea of rotation in office. That you came, you served some time, then you went home to your community. Davenport’s argument here is not with Levin but the Framers. This, of course, was common practice at the time, not to mention why Washington made a point of leaving after two terms as president – to set the presidential example.

Article V, after all, is not Mark Levin’s handiwork, but that of James Madison. Does Davenport really believe Madison, or other Framers like George Mason, Edmund Randolph, and James Wilson, were “utopian progressives”?

What Levin understands, and this is critical, is that to write this book, it was extremely important to become well-versed in not just the literal document of the Constitution and the famous Federalist Papers. There also has to be a thorough knowledge of the debates in the 13 ratifying state conventions and all of the debates that swirled around not just the writing process in Philadelphia but in the rest of the country as it then existed. Which is to say, the Framers made a considerable point of anticipating exactly the problem America faces today: an out of control government run by a culture of masterminds who sit in Washington and deliberately – say again: deliberately – ignore both the intent of the Constitution as well as its actual wording.

Using the tools specifically provided by the Framers in the Constitution itself in Article V – and provided in anticipation of exactly this kind of moment – is the absolute opposite of “utopian progressivism.” In fact, what Bill Buckley was saying was nothing more than a colloquial rendition of Article V. Article V is the Framers’ way of telling their descendants how to “stand athwart history yelling, ‘Stop!’”

Davenport says: “As a conservative I tend to think more of our problems in public policy are caused by flawed people than flawed systems.”

But unfortunately for Davenport, the Framers disagreed. Hence Article V.

Over at The American Thinker, Rob Natelson, a retired law professor at the University of Montana and one of nation’s leading constitutional scholars notes that:

“The Founders provided, in Article V of the Constitution, for a "convention for proposing amendments." They did this to enable the people, acting through their state legislatures, to rein in an abusive or runaway federal government. In other words, the Founders created the convention for precisely the kind of situation we face now. ...

In any political procedure, there are always uncertainties, but in this case they are far fewer than predicted by anti-convention alarmists. And they must be balanced against a certainty: Unless we use the procedure the Founders gave us to rein in a "runaway" Congress, then Congress will surely continue to run away.”

Davenport also suggests that Levin’s proposals are somehow not a “terribly realistic prospect.” One can only respond that, as with economics, politics is not static. The very fact of the stunning success of Levin’s book indicates the genuine irony that the more programs like ObamaCare take hold, the more practical Levin’s proposals become. Millions of Americans are simply fed up with all of the statist smothering, with one of the early consequences of the IRS scandal being the revival of the Tea Party the IRS sought to strangle, as the Wall Street Journal noted just this week.

Alas, one can only say with some amazement for a one-time university president and Hoover fellow that the Davenport Forbes review is so short and un-thorough that it doesn’t even rise to the level of slapdash.

Too bad.

But the Liberty Amendments is out there now, whether various academics approve or not. And the reception has been overwhelmingly favorable.

The demands for action over the Liberty Amendments are growing by the day.

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