WHEN I started this blog a mere 326 months ago I was a dewy-eyed 51-year-old who imagined that America could just laugh off what she couldn't ignore--though what she can, and does, ignore is considerable--the way She'd always done. Sure, sure, we had our problems: George W. Bush, terrorism, George W. Bush, figuring out how to pin 9/11 and the anthrax attacks on Saddam Hussein, George W. Bush. But this is the country that laughed off Hitler (and routinely ignores the role of the Red Army in his defeat)! We'd managed to laugh off chattel slavery longer than any other "civilized" nation on earth! We invent solutions to problems we never knew existed! We're the Can Do country, so long as Doing doesn't require Thinking Things Through first.
Lately though, well, making fun of America has just lost its savor, somehow. It's like when you're a kid and Uncle Delmar's hacking cough is a source of generation-gapish amusement, but you get a little older and him trying to sneak one last Marlboro under his oxygen tent is more pitiful than anything else.
Back then, David Brooks endorsing Mitch Daniels for their party's Presidential nomination would have literally doubled me over with mirth. But when it actually happened it was more pathos than bathos, somehow. It's one thing to laugh at a couple of depantsed white geeks, however evil their real intent; it's another to notice they've given a sizable portion of the population genital warts.
Then yesterday comes this news: absent the Republican Thinker he preferred, and--more importantly--absent a groundswell of Teabagger fervor or Moneyboy enthusiasm, David Brooks would like to take his ball and just go home where 2012 is concerned. Though he can't, of course, because the Times pays him, and, besides, Mom makes him come right home and practice the trombone. First chairs are made, not born. And you don't expect him to just come out and say that the Republican field is a horrifying puddle of YouTube risibility, do you?
I’ll be writing a lot about the presidential election over the next 16 months, but at the outset I would just like to remark that I’m opining on this whole campaign under protest. I’m registering a protest because for someone of my Hamiltonian/National Greatness perspective, the two parties contesting this election are unusually pathetic. Their programs are unusually unimaginative. Their policies are unusually incommensurate to the problem at hand.
Those policies also--unless it's some other David Brooks I've been following up to now--roughly approximate A) the Milton Friedman Meets, and Imagines He Subsumes, Jerry Falwell Republicanism that Brooks has been championing for thirty years now, and B) the tepid Liberal Party capitulation to the Cosmic inevitability of Reaganism Brooks has been urging more of for the same period.
How many times have we gone through this with Brooks? He goes from the guy in 2001 doing the Happy/ Suck that Liberals! Dance over our Victory in Afghanistan, to the solemn, clear-eyed military history expert who takes a VIP tour in 2009, and discovers the scope of the problem, once Bush is safely out of office. He's the enthusiastic war flogger who decides--with the whole project in the crapper--that he needs to "rethink" Iraq, then basically keeps his mouth shut about it. He champions incontinent tax cutting, then jumps on the Republican Elitist How Th' Hell Did George W. Bush Run Up Those Deficits? He Was Just Too Liberal! Express. He found Barack Obama an inspirational speaker when it looked like Hillary would get the nomination, and an empty demagogue after. In the depths of the Republican Despair of 2008-2008.99 he was aghast at the Teabaggers; within a couple months they were waving and nodding when they passed in the hall. At least he was.
Through none of this--none--has Brooks ever acknowledged having been on the wrong side of any of it. Ever. The closest he came was that "okay, perhaps Iraq didn't go exactly as I'd hoped" routine in December of 2005, by which point this was roughly akin to noticing that the Lusitania was overdue. Apparently "pundit" is synonymous with "spieler of Conventional Wisdom", and "moderate Republican" with "guy who denies any and all responsibility for his own apodictic political pronouncements". Hamilton! National Greatness! That's not a philosophical position, it's the secret password for the Perpetual Do-Over Club.
It cannot come as any surprise that Brooks touts the same "solutions" that got us into our current economic mess as our One Way out of it.
The election is happening during a downturn in the economic cycle, but the core issue is the accumulation of deeper structural problems that this recession has exposed — unsustainable levels of debt, an inability to generate middle-class incomes, a dysfunctional political system, the steady growth of special-interest sinecures and the gradual loss of national vitality.
In other words, a referendum on the Reagan administration. Better late than never, I suppose. But who're we gonna get to play the opposition?
The number of business start-ups per capita has been falling steadily for the past three decades. Workers’ share of national income has been declining since 1983. Male wages have been stagnant for about 40 years. The American working class — those without a college degree — is being decimated, economically and socially. In 1960, for example, 83 percent of those in the working class were married. Now only 48 percent are.
In fairness, Dave, we have a lot more of the gays than we usta.
You just can't ever budge these guys too far from the idea that the masses need to be kept securely under the Church's watchful eye, can you? Even as they sell 'em porn. Meanwhile…"since 1983", "three decades", "about 40 years". Do the fucking math. Perhaps the first step in solving this national crisis is for the people who created it to admit it.
Voters are certainly aware of the scope of the challenges before them. Their pessimism and anxiety does not just reflect the ebb and flow of the business cycle, but is deeper and more pervasive. Trust in institutions is at historic lows. Large majorities think the country is on the wrong track, and have for years. Large pluralities believe their children will have fewer opportunities than they do.
Too bad it took 'em thirty-five years to wise up.
Voters are in the market for new movements and new combinations, yet the two parties have grown more rigid.
Well, that's interesting. Because I could swear that the only difference between the hidebound Republican party of 1981 and the hidebound Republican party of today is that the former had a Living Saint as its titular head, and so could cut a few backroom deals--and raise taxes a dozen times--to keep its ass out of a sling. Seems to me like the problems the Republican party faces now--they're of their own making, Dave--stem from thirty years of failure of its Divinely-inspired solutions, which failures have been met, in each and every instance, by a conviction that doing what it was doing except A LITTLE LOUDER was just the ticket. So that now you can't mention tax reform, you can't mention real Defense cuts, you can't mention putting the culture war on simmer. That's the rigidity of the man recently placed in handcuffs. As for Democratic rigidity, well, I suppose we could reclassify jellyfish as vertebrates, if that makes your column work.
The Republican growth agenda — tax cuts and nothing else — is stupefyingly boring, fiscally irresponsible and politically impossible. Gigantic tax cuts — if they were affordable — might boost overall growth, but they would do nothing to address the structural problems that are causing a working-class crisis.
"Stupefyingly boring", "fiscally irresponsible" and "politically impossible". One of those things does not belong, somehow. Let's see…oh, yeah, it's "fiscally irresponsible", which in fact describes what used to be known as "reality". The other two are campaign consultant speak. Incontinent tax cutting was supposed to be the thing that vitalized the working-class. Instead it's done the exact opposite. For thirty fucking years. Or roughly as long as you've been touting it as a solution, Mr. Brooks.
Republican politicians don’t design policies to meet specific needs, or even to help their own working-class voters. They use policies as signaling devices — as ways to reassure the base that they are 100 percent orthodox and rigidly loyal.
Yeah. Just not rigidly loyal to the working class.
Republicans have taken a pragmatic policy proposal from 1980 and sanctified it as their core purity test for 2012.
You can maintain the fiction that it started out as pragmatism, Dave, if it makes you feel any better, but "canard" is probably more accurate. And since jobs creation in the Reagan administration was the worst of any post-war President to that point--worse than Carter or Ford, despite the economy finally improving--it seems to've been the precise spot where Pragmatism decided to take a thirty-year nap. Y'know, you keep insisting your support for pro-business policies is based on efficaciousness, not metaphysical certainty or congenital venality, but they never do any good, except for the businesses involved. Sooner or later someone's gonna stop believing you.
As for the Democrats, they offer practically nothing. They acknowledge huge problems like wage stagnation and then offer... light rail! Solar panels! It was telling that the Democrats offered no budget this year, even though they are supposedly running the country. That’s because they too are trapped in a bygone era.
This from a guy whose party faithful parade around like dress extras in The Ben Franklin Story.
The President offered a budget. He, unfortunately, qualifies as a Democrat. The House Democrats did not, meaning they missed whatever PR opportunity doing so would have provided the Republicans. The Senate doesn't initiate revenue bills. Otherwise, yes. There are too many prehistoric toads in the Democrats' coal bin, and the sooner they quit trying to solve our trifling energy and healthcare problems and get serious, the better.
If there were a Hamiltonian Party, it would be offering a multifaceted reinvigoration agenda. It would grab growth ideas from all spots on the political spectrum and blend them together. Its program would be based on the essential political logic: If you want to get anything passed, you have to offer an intertwined package that smashes the Big Government vs. Small Government orthodoxies and gives everybody something they want.
Namely, Small Government.
This reinvigoration package would have four baskets. There would be an entitlement reform package designed to redistribute money from health care and the elderly toward innovation and the young.
The "Let 'Em Eat…Well, They Won't Be Eating Anything For Long" campaign.
There would be a targeted working-class basket: early childhood education, technical education, community colleges, an infrastructure bank, asset distribution to help people start businesses, a new wave industrial policy if need be — anything that might give the working class a leg up.
Sounds more like the Bush Grandchildren Cash In On Government Education Programs basket to me.
Y'know, the key to the working-class crisis isn't Future Opportunity; it's Jobs. It isn't Education. It's Jobs. And the key to jobs is making it prohibitively expensive for US companies to ship them overseas, putting US manufacturers on an equal footing internationally, and stopping the flow of lobbying baksheesh. All of which won't happen because of…you're right. We do need a new political party.
There would be a political corruption basket. The Tea Parties are right about the unholy alliance between business and government that is polluting the country. It’s time to drain the swamp by simplifying the tax code and streamlining the regulations businesses use to squash their smaller competitors.
Fer cryin' out loud. Right about the culture of corruption, dead wrong about the solution. And "streamlining the regulations businesses use to squash smaller competitors"? Are you sure Milton Friedman didn't slip you a hit or two of Orange Sunshine, back in the day?
There would also be a pro-business basket: lower corporate rates, a sane visa policy for skilled immigrants, a sane patent and permitting system, more money for research.
Oh, thank god. For a minute there I was afraid there wasn't going to be anything pro-business here.
The Hamiltonian agenda would be pro-market, in its place, and pro-government, in its place. In 2012, on the other hand, we’re going to see another clash of the same old categories. I’ll be covering it, but I protest.
Or you could just slip back into Canada.