If the reader of David Brooks latest essay at The New York Times is looking for intelligent,cogently argued rejoinders to his conservative opinionating, that reader need only look at the comments section posted below his column on the Times website. The comments are devastatingly direct, demonstrably critical of not just his arguments as presented in his opinion piece, but of the whole of the Conservative political/ethical project. Here are some of my thoughts:
Mr. Brooks takes as his subject of the evolution of modern Liberalism, in the sense of it’s failure to win adherents, post Reagan, to engage in argumentative foreshortening. But Mr. Brooks fails at the outset to even define what that ‘Liberalism’ might be descriptive of, except the growth of incompetent, mendacious government.( Let us, for the moment, table the issue of the concerted propaganda campaign waged by conservative think tanks and commentators, over the past forty years identifying ‘big government’ as inherently ‘evil’-the argument is always formulated in moralistic terms.) The ultimate conservative specter, a rhetorical fabric unfurled on which the reader can project her/his/their own definition, the definitional ambiguity adds a certain luster to his reputation as an intelligent political observer.
His long introduction, aided by using Mr. George Will’s borrowed argumentative frame, makes sense only in the political context of identifying President Obama as his ‘Liberal’ protagonist, this is, after all, a political opinion commentary. Obama is most assuredly a New Democrat not a Liberal. The New Democrats willfully rejected the New Deal legacy, perhaps the most potent expression of Liberalism, as excess political baggage, in a bid for power, in the wake of the political success of Reagan’s wedding of a capacious political nostalgia, Free Market romanticism and a more refined expression of the Southern Strategy. So, how to define Liberalism is a question totally absent from Mr. Brooks’ essay. The New Democrats made their peace with Capital in order to meet the demands of an electorate no longer responsive to the message of restraint of thievery masquerading as free markets, and the exorbitant monetary demands of political campaigns. These are some thoughts that may not constitute an argumentative whole, but their pertinence leads me to record them, none the less.
Here is a question that is pure speculation, but might be worth asking: If Obama loses the campaign of 2012, in tandem with a possible victory for Elizabeth Warren, will the Democratic Party reclaim the rejected legacy of the New Deal as their own? Or will they continue to be a branch of what Gore Vidal called The Property Party, and simply nominate another New Democrat in 2016? Although one might argue that Obama is two beings, one a rhetorical New Dealer, the other a political moderate conservative. All this in the watershed of the Market collapse of 2008, the Bank bailout, and the wholesale rejection of the rescue of homeowners makes the case against Obama quite strong. Except that the Republican candidates, to a man, appear dedicated to the failed Free Market Ideology or at least to some variant of that Economic Theology.