There are two major political parties in America, but there are at least three major political tendencies. The first is orthodox liberalism, a belief in using government to maximize equality. The second is free-market conservatism, the belief in limiting government to maximize freedom.
JEEZ Louise, will somebody give this guy a grant, already? Or a sinecure at a nice leafy private school where he can find a ready-made audience between the ages of 18 and 18-3/4 to impress with this shit?
But there is a third tendency, which floats between. It is for using limited but energetic government to enhance social mobility.
This tendency began with Alexander Hamilton, who created a vibrant national economy so more people could rise and succeed. It matured with Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War Republicans, who created the Land Grant College Act and the Homestead Act to give people the tools to pursue their ambitions. It continued with Theodore Roosevelt, who busted the trusts to give more Americans a square deal.Or, to put it yet a third way, Full of It.
Members of this tradition have one foot in the conservatism of Edmund Burke. They understand how little we know or can know and how much we should rely on tradition, prudence and habit. They have an awareness of sin, of the importance of traditional virtues and stable institutions. They understand that we are not free-floating individuals but are embedded in thick social organisms.
But members of this tradition also have a foot in the landscape of America, and share its optimism and its Lincolnian faith in personal transformation. Hamilton didn’t seek wealth for its own sake, but as a way to enhance the country’s greatness and serve the unique cause America represents in the world.
Members of this tradition are Americanized Burkeans, or to put it another way, progressive conservatives.
At this juncture we may well stop and remind ourselves that Brooks has worn his Milton Friedmania "conversion" to "conservatism" on his sleeve for so long it can be read in outline, like the ghost of a lost back pocket on an old pair of jeans. We might, while we're at it, comb the Brooks' oeuvre for further examples of what, to put it yet another way, might be described as The Wholly Illusory Noblesse Oblige Faction of Movement "Conservatism", last seen insisting on George W. Bush's "compassion", if you can remember that far back. But to save time, let's just estimate that it dates to, approximately, the moment it became clear that the second major financial market scandal-slash-meltdown perpetrated by the second two-term "conservative" administration in a row had wiped out John McCain's chances already slim chances. Say, last month.
I mean, it's not that I don't recall the (now dim echoes of) Reaganaut "rising tide lifts all boats" routine. It's just that I also remember no one on Brooks' side feeling obligated to check the water level periodically. Maybe I'm wrong; god knows my digestion is too delicate for a steady diet of the man, but while the middle class sank into the lower over the past thirty years--as a result of his party's, and his ideology's, actions--I don't recall Brooks evincing concern over anything but its lawn care styles and chain restaurant offerings, and he apparently didn't care enough about either of those to actually get close enough to look. It seemed to be enough for these people that they were theoretically in favor of social mobility, which allowed them to stand by and watch as their devotion to Limited Government beat the shit out of their belief in Energetic Activity Supporting Economic Fairness. As long as Republicans were winning elections, dedication to social mobility was encompassed by the insistence that in the event any American who owned his own garage managed to concoct the next Hewlett-Packard he would not be overly bothered by a tax on capital gains.
I gotta say I chewed this thing over for two or three hours last night as it spooled in the background: to write about David Brooks invoking Edmund Burke yet again, or just give up reading him altogether and hope he goes away in the opening months of an Obama administration? Of the latter, the man's a hopeless liar, same as the rest of his ilk, same way it was before he was momentarily blinded on his way to Damascus. But then this business of simply apssuming an intellectual sheen via the dropping of names of dead guys no one's read in a century makes him overdue for the traditional, reliable, and prudent application of Tar and Feathers. If the appeals to Burke are about as convincing as the Reaganauts' Adam Smith neckwear used to be, the appropriation of Hamilton, whose dedication to a strong national government was anathema as recently as four weeks ago, and who formerly was admired, to the extent that he was, mostly because his congenital monarchism matched their own. To claim that Hamilton, who was shot to death at a time when there wasn't a single smokestack in the Americas, when a "corporation" was an entity created by a charter, whose primary purpose was the protection of the general population from its caprices, was some sort of 18th century Get Rich in Real Estate huckster is just laughable, or would be if it weren't so perfectly indicative of what these types have been reduced to.
Wait, I take that back. It 's still laughable.
Even more so, of course, is Brooks' idea that, because he's not quite as bat-shit crazy (in print) as some other members of his party, he represents the great middle way of American politics, or the ludicrous frame that one can inject some reductionist version of oneself into the election of 1800 and thereby claim one-third ownership in the foundation of American politics. As always it just sorta escapes the notice of these types that women, minorities, and even white males with insufficient land holdings need not apply; let alone anyone familiar with the principles of genetics, the kinetic theory of gasses, or the electric light. Then again, Hamilton was probably the most abolitionist of Founding Fathers, having viewed it at its worst on St. Croix, and the contribution of the Quakers before, during, and after the Revolution can hardly be minimized. Supposing we connect that with Tom Paine,with William Lloyd Garrison, with the Anti-Rent Riots, Abraham Lincoln, Susan B. Anthony, the Grange, the Labor Movement, and Martin Luther King? Looks a bit more, well, mainstream than a handful of racist plutocrats in the 1950s who decided some 19th century British Parliamentarian opposed the fluoridation of water.