David Brooks isn’t making any sense:
The quickest way around all this is to use elite Simpson-Bowles-type commissions to push populist reforms.
The process of change would be unapologetically elitist. Gather small groups of the great and the good together to hammer out bipartisan reforms — on immigration, entitlement reform, a social mobility agenda, etc. — and then rally establishment opinion to browbeat the plans through. But the substance would be anything but elitist.
If the arrangement Brooks describes seems to be contradictory and confused, that’s because it is. This is just another version of his old preoccupation with promoting “energetic” government coupled with his insistence on the need for more deference to strong leadership. He thinks that the U.S. needs to become more competitive by adopting a system of soft authoritarianism. In this system, the public will have the least say in the most consequential decisions. He doesn’t reconcile this with giving more responsibility to those with “local knowledge” because he can’t. In the system he imagines, people with local knowledge would be systematically overruled and shut out of the legislative process. Somehow I doubt that this is going to catch on.
We already have quite enough of this from elites. Political leaders and pundits from both parties already browbeat the public and try to force through unpopular legislation on some or all of these issues, but their goals aren’t Jeffersonian by any meaningful definition and the substance of these bills is definitely not populist. And why would it be? Brooks is generally hostile to the Jeffersonian tradition, and he views populists with scorn. Even if most Americans trusted “small groups of the great and the good” to oversee this process (we don’t), no one belonging to these groups would have any interest in populist policies. Loathing populism in all it forms is usually one of the qualifications for being included in such “small groups.” Of course, that’s the whole point.
Many Americans already think that the political class ignores them and believe that it tries to cram an undesirable agenda down their throats. Brooks’ idea is to make sure that this happens on a regular basis. Brooks doesn’t explain how making the federal government even less responsive and accountable than it is now will improve or strengthen local government. It’s just supposed to happen. If Brooks’ idea were ever put into practice, it would likely to generate even stronger resentment of the entire political system, and it would produce a backlash against the concentration of power at the federal level.