Yesterday I commented on how Bill Kristol from his NYT bully pulpit was attempting to define the Republican Party malaise in his own terms, stating his belief that the conservative agenda has to be “refreshed” and “regenerated.” The narrowing of the terms of the debate is deliberate and it avoids any critique of the policies embraced by Kristol among others, most particularly the fearmongering that brought about ruinous foreign and security policies that have led Washington to initiate disastrous wars in the Middle East and Asia.
Today was the more compassionate and subtle David Brooks’ turn, with his NYT op-ed “Darkness at Dusk.” Brooks also seeks to define the debate in terms that invite speculation on conservative ideology but which do not really permit any consideration of the Bush administration policies themselves. He identifies “traditionalists” and “reformers” in the conservative movement. He calls himself a moderate reformer and basically attributes to Republicans like himself a willingness to address issues like inequality, economic anxiety, and global warming. He also wants to court Hispanic, independent, and younger voters, though he doesn not explain how. The reformer agenda is, per Brooks, best articulated by David Frum’s book “Comeback.” Brooks doesn’t mention preventive war, nation building, globalism, illegal immigration, or government deficits, though he does deride the Republican Party obsession with small government. It is difficult to discern what Brooks sees as a uniquely conservative quality to his vision as he basically is describing Republican reformers as Democrats-lite, which is perhaps not too surprising.
Brooks dismisses the traditionalists, whom he identifies with Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh, as reactionaries who want to return to core conservative values of small government, low taxes, and restricted immigration. He sees them as rallying behind Sarah Palin and dismissive of the “sensibilities of the educated class and the entire East and West coasts,” a group which clearly includes Brooks himself. He describes traditionalists as obsessed with discredited core ideas, even somewhat pleased with the poor election results because the Republican Party has now been purged of its moderates.
Brooks’s simplification, like that of Kristol, ignores actual policy issues that he has supported and that proved to be disastrous. He also does not recognize the existence of the many conservatives who read The American Conservative and the millions of primarily young voters who supported Ron Paul. The traditional conservative values that Brooks derides have a plus side that he clearly does not understand. They are core beliefs rooted in constitutionalism, respect for fundamental liberties, belief in the sanctity of life, and the desire to resist arbitrary government intrusion. The values are not Medieval in nature and are completely compatible with a realistic and modern approach to the world and its problems. The Bush Administration, for which Brooks was a prominent and intellectually acceptable cheerleader was the aberration, not conservatism. If Brooks really wants to come clean, he should sit back and admit that most of what he has advocated in the past seven years has been misguided, to say the least. Advocating a reformed conservatism that he is more comfortable with without addressing the downside of the truly dreadful policies that he has been supporting smacks of hypocrisy.