Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Personal Aside: David Brooks Has His Limits



About “The New York Times’” David Brooks, the house “conservative” who succeeded Bill Safire, this can be said: Brooks is better than Safire since Safire, a mere wordsmith, had no overriding feel for public policy…pragmatic on all counts…excepting (which absolutism I share) aside from the Middle East and Israel. Brooks has…and he has been superior to his predecessor in many ways. When Brooks is good, he is very-very good. And even when he’s bad he is not awful—just mystifyingly obtuse.

Not long ago he ventured on one of his excursions into conservative philosophy. Brooks shouldn’t do this because he is not a philosophical conservative but a visceral one. He started out saying that Alexander Hamilton, Abraham Lincoln and Margaret Thatcher were not just strivers but all three helped create an “economy where people like [them] could rise and succeed.” Right. Hamilton used government to bolster the merchant class “to widen the circle of property owners.” Lincoln “championed roads, canals and banks so enterprising farm boys like himself could ascend and prosper.” He is right that Lincoln, like Hamilton, used the federal government to aid commerce—the Homestead Act and land grant colleges. Right so far as he goes; but these were pioneering efforts—at a far different and more primitive time than ours..

Thatcher “gave the British working class access to homes and property so that they would become more industrious and independent.”

Hamilton’s pioneering role linking government and the economy was indispensable at the time. If anything to build on it today is to exhibit more of the old politics. In a very real sense, he invented the old politics. It was needed to counter Jefferson’s will-of-the-wisp agrarian dreams that made no role for cities or their commerce. . A strong central government, a national bank, assumption of states’ debts and responsibilities by the federal government; trade and duties on imports to help pay the bills; patronage tied to politics (Treasury money paid out to supporters and friendly newspaper editors): these were Hamilton’s contributions and some of them not pretty. His strength was that at a time of outlandish Articles of Confederation weakness he incorporated a tough federal spirit. Dear God, in this era of federal government activism, we don’t need more of that today, do we?

Lincoln’s domestic plan was a rather outrageous extension of federal power overshadowed by his mastery in outmaneuvering the South in running the War. His domestic policy linked federal power to the railroads (whom he had served earlier as lawyer, legislator and lobbyist). The land grant colleges and Homestead Act are not exactly applicable today unless we want more of the Great Society.

About Thatcher, Brooks is wildly wrong. Her contribution was to sharply reduce the role of government and cut the suffocating role of unionism. She was an abstemious monetarist which meant that at a crucial time…even though it caused pain…she increased taxes (violating her supply-side instincts) while pushing for tighter money much like what happened under Reagan and Volcker to wring inflation out of the economy. Thus the three comparisons don’t merge as pertinent to these times.

What is glaringly incompetent political analysis is what Brooks decries.

And what he decries when he criticizes Republican candidates for president by saying that they merely “declare their fealty to general principles: free trade, lower taxes and reduced spending…But there was almost nothing that touched concretely on the lives of ambitious working class parents who are the backbone of the GOP.”

Mystifying. If reduced taxes, free trade and cuts in spending don’t help the working class nothing will. Certainly it is not another dose of big subsidies. He complains “they talked far more about cutting corporate taxes, for example, than about a child tax credit for working families.”

In contrast, he says, Hillary Clinton is stealing the Republicans’ lunch. She is offering a plan for families earning up to $60,000 a year. If they invest $1,000 toward a new 401(k) account they would get a matching $1,000 tax credit. The plan “poaches on economic values that used to be associated with the Republican party. Moreover, it undermines the populist worldview that is building on the left of her party. Instead of railing against globalization and the economic royalists, Clinton gives working people access to Wall Street and a way to profit from the global economy.” Brooks doesn’t understand that these are routine throw-away ideas which have always intrigued liberals—no vision. Hillary has no vision she can afford to enunciate without shattering her coalition.

Brooks doesn’t understand the need to support tax cuts and pared expenditures. Other times Brooks is very good. It’s only when he gets into goofy Hamiltonian, Lincolnesque and Thatcherite comparisons as arguments for more statism that he lags.

But even Homer nods, right? Your comments?


  1. Why should you be surprised? Brooks is just spouting from the typical neo-con handbook that emanates from the American Enterprise Institute, the Weekly Standard, etc. If you study these people and their policies long enough you see they come in all smiles catering to the social conservative mindset and then they rewrite it to the point that it makes you wince!

    In the end the social conservative perspective gets dumped as globalist economic policies get focused on (free trade)as well as their perennial Middle-Eastern hobbies.

    Along the way they dump the idea of limited government, the anti-abortion stance, the truth of the good that Reagan did (those wonderful early taxcuts!), etc. They cleverly rewrite it and most pundits like you, Tom, fall for it hook, line, and sinker because you think they are SOOO smart and the IN group! But then maybe you are actually seeing through Brooks!

    In the end the conservative ship has been turned into an elitist country club flying an internationalist BIG GOVERNMENT neo-conservative flag! Dumped overboard is the social conservative agenda along wtih Kate Smith singing God Bless America replaced by John Lennon's Imagine with a neo-con globalist twist.

    And then there is the neo-con love affair with "free trade". A lovely utopian idea BUT it is NEVER fair to the USA. It is driving this country into the rocks for the benefit of the Wall Street short term profit FEW! Just look at the MAMMOTH current account deficit that is crapping the value of the dollar! Just look at town after town, city after city especially here in the Mid-West that is seeing its economic guts ripped out and sent to Communist China to the slave wage workers. The middle class of these towns has to make up with spending the EQUITY OF THEIR HOMES! Remember blessed dear sweet CHINA has BIG tariffs against us! Tell, me Tom, how can you have Free Trade with these people who are NOT FREE! Tell me Tommy, big Tommy that this style of trade is good for America when such neo-con polices are ripping apart the golden Reagan coalition and turning the people in these gutted towns and states like Ohio and Michigan into DEMOCRATS!

    But then Tom, the neo-conesque Democratic Leadership Council and their sweetie Hillary is waiting with open arms!

    With friends like neo-con Brooks, Tom, WHO NEEDS ENEMIES! And lets not even get into the neo-con love affair with illegal immigration! Remember neo-con Fred Barnes and neo-con Medved's support for Bush's globalist Immigration/Amnesty Bill!!!!!!


  2. Why in hell don't you run for office and fix all these evils that you clearly see? Won't they let you out of the ass-ylum?
    What are you wearing a week from tonight? May I just suggest you just go naked and swing from the belfry of Notre Dame. Don't lose your library card.

  3. Better yet, Frank Nofsinger, go sing your low class garbage somewhere else. You demean this forum with your vile personal non-intellectual attacks. NO you can never deal the the substance and must insist on personal attacks from your white sox wearing, blue collar, beer swilling mind. You have to always crawl back into the gutter don't you Frank? Go take your garbage talk to your local tavern, because that is where you belong! The mental midgets there will enjoy your broken record.......

  4. Save your foul breath Larry Troll- Your prayers aren't worth a pinch of poo if you wallow in WRATH, one of the Seven Deadly (Cardinal) Sins- You sure as poo seem to doo-

    If I didn't find Roeser's Blog informative, interesting and often amusing, I would go elsewhere.

    Why don't you do that?

  5. TR,

    The method that Thatcher used to provide housing to the working class in the UK was to sell off public housing for next to nothing to the residents of that housing. She basically sold the Cabrini Greens of England to their inhabitants for 1 Pound and made the part of the homeowners guild that tends to make people better citizens.

    Of course we never think about doing such privatizations in the US, where we tear down Cabrini, Robert Taylor Homes etc, and then pay again for more public housing that does not work.


  6. From Tom Roeser's earliest days in talk radio I have been there. I also remember when Tom was far more a traditional conservative than a neo-con. I am not the only Chicago area traditional conservative who has noticed Tom's neo-con bent these days and I will take every opportunity to call him on it and he knows that. He remembers the old days when he was very much a staunch traditional conservative anti-abortion fighter.

    Now if you don't know the difference between neo-cons and so called paleo-cons then you have to do some homework. For the neo-con views read the Weekly Standard or the writings of Norman Podhoretz or Irving Kristol. To learn the paleo-conservative side read the writings of the late Sam Francis or Peter Brimelow or or Chronicles of the Rockford Institute or the American Conservative or the writings of traditional Catholic, Pat Buchanan. There is a big tug of war going on in the conservative movement these days. It about time you learned about it Frank.

  7. For a concise discussion of Paleo-Conservative or Traditional Conservative vs neo-conservative look up in Wikpedia:
    paleoconservative or

    Both are good discussions of the topic...