Saturday, August 10, 2013

David Brooks, Neo-Cons, and Moderate Pragmatic Government

Would you rather live in Los Angeles or Mogadishu? And, is that the difference between the Democratic and Republican parties' visions? Is that the divide between President Barack Obama and Senator Rand Paul? OK, clearly these are false dichotomies and a gross exaggeration between the conservative and liberal visions for the United States of America. Yet, a viewing of Fox News and MSNBC often makes the choices seem that stark.

David Brooks - the liberals' favorite conservative - makes it a little easier to understand in his latest NYT column, calling for "The Neo-Con Revival." Brooks argues the neo-conservative movement represented the best thinking from the height of conservative politics, the Reagan Era of the 1980s. Certainly, there is much dissent in the GOP these days, not only about the leftward leanings of the Obama White House, but also the watered down RINOs of their own party who seek to win elections by appealing to where most Americans live - the center.

No one articulated this vision better than classic neo-con Irving Kristol who reminds us:

The kind of conservatism that Irving Kristol embodied was cheerful and at peace with modern America. The political heroes for this kind of conservatism, Kristol wrote, “tend to be T.R., F.D.R. and Ronald Reagan. Such Republican and conservative worthies as Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover, Dwight Eisenhower and Barry Goldwater are politely overlooked.”  These conservatives, Kristol continued, reject the idea that the United States is on the road to serfdom. They “do not feel that kind of alarm or anxiety about the growth of the state in the past century, seeing it as natural, indeed inevitable. ... People have always preferred strong government to weak government, though they certainly have no liking for anything that smacks of intrusive government.” Kristol and others argued that the G.O.P. floundered because it never accepted the welfare state. “The idea of a welfare state is in itself perfectly consistent with conservative political philosophy,” he argued. In a capitalist society, people need government aid. “They need such assistance; they demand it; they will get it. The only interesting political question is: How will they get it.”

David Brooks' leanings - which he articulates as classic Burkean conservatism - follows this vein of pragmatic controlled government. It's the same reasonable vision that George Will - before he got old and cranky - promoted in his books like Statecraft as Soul Craft.  And it represented the best in society and government as understood by people like Russell Kirk and Benjamin Disraeli. Alas, the past thirty years of conservative talk-radio/television and the rise of conservative extremism found in the Tea Party have obfuscated any real talk of "governing, not government." That's the problem of people like Rand Paul and his promotion of an Ayn Rand-ian vision of the future.

Practical know Ayn Rand's "novels" for the naive and indulgent libertarian idealism that they represent. They laugh at the "Who is John Galt" bumper stickers, understanding how truly crackpot the story of Galt is. As if industrialists would literally walk away from the pursuit of more. By contrast they understand the average person's acceptance and even desire for stability provided by a moderate safety net. And American's don't panic at "nudges" of paternalism that represent good government, not tyranny. Brooks also reminds us that everyone could use a little structure and guidance. And they often look to the government to provide that.

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