What stands out about Brooks’ lamentation is the fact that it seems to be far too little, far too late because the problems that Brooks complains of go back far further than a mere five years. Where were they during the 90s when conservatives were pursuing bizarre conspiracy theories against the President and his wife? Where were they when the Bush Administration used a terrorist attack as an excuse to pass a PATRIOT Act that was little more than a wish list of law enforcement tools that had been requested for years, most of which have barely even been used in the pursuit of terror suspects over the past ten years? Where were they when discriminatory laws against gays and lesbians were used as a springboard to election victory in 2004? Heck, where were they when a supposedly conservative Administration increased government spending and power at a rate unseen since the Johnson Administration?
Mataconis is mixing up things that he finds objectionable about the GOP over the last twenty years with the fight between “the protesters and the professionals” Brooks identifies as the latest episode in his moderate martyrology. Take the last item from Mataconis’ list as an example. The massive increases of government spending and power in the Bush era were things that Brooks and other Republican proponents of activist domestic government cheered on and defended. Brooks doesn’t see that as a failure of party leadership in the past–that is what he thinks Republican leaders ought to be doing now. The same goes for the PATRIOT Act and other security state measures. Those are the sorts of things that Brooks thinks represent the professionals’ interest in governance.
As far as Brooks is concerned, opposition to Bush-era domestic and security policies on constitutional, small-government conservative, or libertarian grounds is proof that the “protesters” (i.e., conservatives and libertarians) are simply uninterested in governing because they refuse to endorse the bad policies that he and other “big-government conservatives” favored. Brooks and those who shared many of his assumptions about the role of government prevailed in intra-party debates for most of the 2000s. It proved to be a policy and political disaster, and now he is annoyed that Republican voters are belatedly reacting against this.
Where were the party’s leaders when these things were happening in the Bush era? They were helping to push bad pieces of legislation through Congress, and then they were selling them to their constituents as vote-buying measures that would cement Republican majorities. This was how Santorum proved he was a “team player” during the last decade. Meanwhile party leaders blindly followed the administration and supported its disastrous war in Iraq, which did more than any other single Bush-era policy to damage the party’s political fortunes (to say nothing of the damage it did to U.S. interests and fiscal health). The Republican Party just went through the better part of a decade in which the President from their party and their Congressional leadership presided over a number of major policy failures and blunders, and most of these were measures connected with so-called “compassionate conservatism” and the “freedom agenda,” but Brooks writes as if none of that occurred. More to the point, he writes as if he didn’t support most of the major failed policies of the Bush era. There is a lot to be said about the modern GOP’s ideological maladies, but Brooks is mostly avoiding the main problems of the last decade and he has less credibility than almost anyone else to make the argument.