Okay, the Oval Office ages its occupant, but three months of part-time campaigning?
David Brooks, "The Voters Revolt." January 22
IN trying to figure out David Brooks' Republican campaign coverage one might be tempted to point out a certain, oh, trend-following via the Conventional Wisdom, where whomever is atop the US News and World Report newsview and worldview any given week is the subject of an 800-word meditation on the (possibly) sunny future of the GOP. Thus, before Iowa, Mitt Romney was the savvy guy who with "impressive clarity of mind" had reversed every one of his lifelong political stances to conform to the Gomer Pyle model of the Republican primary voter. (Although, having praised the sagacity of a move most of us might have considered Standard Political Operating Procedure #1, Brooks then doubted its long-term wisdom, and now salutes Mitt 2.0 for his Office Park Republican appeal.) After Iowa it was Mike "Not Scary" Huckabee who just might lead us to a new era of conservative domination; since New Hampshire the reanimation of John McCain has proven that "conservative" voters will not necessarily follow "conservative" leaders, chosing, instead, to be more like, well, David Brooks.
It's like a man changing brands of high-fiber cereal every week. There's the illusion of variety, but the same predictable result.
I know we keep pointing this out, but we are beginning to suspect some future Lord Raglan will have a field day with Brooks and his fellow Reagantots ("1. Is known to be well-born, but is mysterious about it. 2. Is 'liberal' in youth, though we are given no details. 3. Conversion to Reaganism involves seeing Higher Economic Truth, but 4. Remains a self-described 'moderate' or 'libertarian' "). Reagan worship has retained the sense of smug inevitability in these guys because a) it's still fueled by radiation left over from unused Teenaged Testosterone and b) Reagan worship was always about smug inevitability, regardless of the evidence. Reagantots didn't get their helmets cracked like the Left did in '68 or '72; they saw their man reelected in an electoral landslide, then the easy victory of his Preppy underling. This didn't engender their smugness--what is "conservatism", with or without quotation marks, if not the political arm of the congenitally smug?--but it gave them to believe they could practice it with metaphysical certainty. We're the real Americans! The election of a Demopublican like Bill Clinton, soft-drawling and dirt-poor, did not lead them to acknowledge their youthful liberalism as the far fence of our political meadow; it was an affront to the way the world was supposed to work now the Truth had been revealed.
But that was Then, and Now is a bummer:
The Reagan administration had its pragmatists and its so-called ideologues. It had James Baker as well as Ed Meese. Reagan carried moderate states like Connecticut, Wisconsin and Washington, as well as conservative ones like Wyoming and South Carolina.
But then a great tightening occurred. Conservative institutions and interest groups proliferated in Washington. The definition of who was a true conservative narrowed. It became necessary to pass certain purity tests — on immigration, abortion, taxes and Terri Schiavo.
Schiavo! A tell that would shame Herbert Ransom (the man so unable to control his expression when dealt a good hand that Franklin P. Adams proposed the club rules be amended to include "Anyone looking at Ransom's face is cheating"). What is it with these "moderate" Republicans that made Schiavo come as such a shock? If memory serves, that post-election winter was the time when Brooks announced he needed to rethink the Iraq disaster, then went silent about it for six months, then reemerged a semi-realist, leaving behind a cocoon fashioned from his cheerleader outfit, but keeping hold of the pom-poms. We might be forgiven for assuming the sudden realization that he was sharing a party with religious extremists was not just belated but convenient.
And now, in addition to being Unassailably Not Racist, Reagan is no longer an ideologue ("so-called", like Ed Meese! Ed Meese was a "so-called" ideologue the way a Tommy gun is a "so-called weapon"). After all, he appointed a political fixer, and not a raving Bircher, his Chief of Staff! Q.E.D. And again, how convenient for the Reagan idolater for whom the second crash-and-burn of the Reagan myth is just as professionally unintelligible as the first, the one that occurred while he was still President.
The fact is, this has been a bad year for the conservative establishment. Fred Thompson was supposed to embody the party line, but he has fizzled (despite being a good campaigner the past month). Rudy Giuliani proposes deep tax cuts that do not seem to excite. Mitt Romney ran as the movement candidate in Iowa and New Hampshire and grossly underperformed. Now he’s running as a nonideological business pragmatist for the exurban office parks, and his campaign has possibilities.
The lesson is not that the conservative establishment is headed for the ash heap. The lesson is that the Republican Party, even in its shrunken state, is diverse. Regular Republican voters don’t seem to mind independent thinking. There’s room for moderates as well as orthodox conservatives. Limbaugh, Grover Norquist and James Dobson have influence, but they are not arbiters of conservative doctrine.
Schiavo! None of the above has endorsed a candidate, to my knowledge, but Rush called Thompson the "only true conservative" in the race, Grover's fluffed Rudy, and Dobson planted a big wet one on Huckabee after Iowa. It sorta sounds like they're as "diverse" a crowd as Brooks imagines Republicans in general to be.
As for Fred, well, a campaign post-mortem would erroneously imply he had a pre-mortem campaign. Instead let's have a look at what Brooks was saying about him on the Newshour a scant four months ago:
[Thompson] said, and he made the point well on "The Tonight Show," that nobody is going to say, "I'm not going to vote for the guy. He entered too late." And that's probably a reason. I mean, they'll look at the guy. And he's got a great manner. The question is whether he has an ideology. [emphasis mine]
And now he exits, a short season later, taking "the party line" with him. Lord, if Fred had been energetic enough in the interim to have made the crossing from No Ideology to Embodiment of the Party Line he'd still be polling in the Twenties. Y'know, I have no problem with David Brooks being delusional. I just object to him taking up valuable real estate while doing it.