Tuesday, September 25, 2012

All dichotomies are false, including this one....

I like David Brooks, he is often thoughtful and insightful.   But in a column this morning in the NYT he makes a point that I think is wrong.   He argues that conservatism has traditionally been divided between the economic conservatives (who worry about intrusions into economic liberty) and the heirs of Edmund Burke who are less concerned with economic liberties and more concerned with creating an "harmonious ecosystem."   According to Brooks, those conservatives understood the principle of subsidiarity(devolving power down to the closest level to be effective).  Brooks argues that economic conservatives have taken control of the conservative movement.

It is an interesting comment, but I believe it is fundamentally wrong.  Interestingly, were it ever true, it might have been more true during the presidency of George W. Bush.

Here are a couple of thoughts on why I think Brooks is mistaken.   First, the structural conservatives (or whatever name they are given) are in clear evidence.  For example, one of the prime conservative books of 2012 was Charles Murray's Coming Apart which argues that social policy has helped to destroy a good part of what was once the middle class.    Second, Brooks argues that to understand the structural conservatives one needs to go back to Russell Kirk's Ten Conservative Principles.  That is always a good place to start but it is not clear that Brooks actually went back to those principles.  Two of the most important are #7 - conservatives are persuaded that freedom and property are closely linked and #8 - conservatives uphold voluntary community quite as they oppose involuntary collectivism.   If you look at the criticisms of the current administration's policies in health care and a number of other areas - they harken back to both principles.   Third, when one thinks about the key elements of the Ryan plan they deal with both the economic principles and the structural ideas present in Kirk's Ten Principles.   Brooks argues that George W. Bush tried to embody both sides with "compassionate conservatism" but I think that is wrong.   Bush's notions of the role of the state from ideas like the Medicare prescription plan to the signature enactment of the domestic side ("No Child Left Behind") had an exuberant notion of the role of centralized government - clearly violating principle #8.

There is one other side that the column does not address.  Even if the loss of structural conservative thought were true, and it is not, the other side has also lost key elements of what was once the democrat coalition.  Think a bit about Scoop Jackson, who supported a strong national defense and who is not represented in the current democratic coalition.  And then think a bit about Sandra Fluke, the idiot Georgetown law student who believes it is the responsibility of the federal government to fund almost anything that her heart desires.

What is concerning about Brooks' column is his vision which seems to be driven by a view from the Washington establishment.   Where GOP candidates have been successful, they have avoided being run by the dictat of DC.   If Romney wants to win this election, he will follow that trend or he will become the Bob Dole of 2012.

No comments: