David Brooks says he was a liberal Democrat when he was younger, and I think that deep down he wants to be one now but something is holding him back. In today’s column he briefly pretends to be a Democrat again and likes some of what he sees:
I feel beleaguered because the political winds are blowing so ferociously against “my” party. But I feel satisfied because the Democrats have overseen a bunch of programs that, while unappreciated now, are probably going to do a lot of good in the long run.
For example, everybody now hates the bank bailouts and the stress tests. But, the fact is, these are some of the most successful programs in recent memory. They stabilized the financial system without costing much money. The auto bailout was criticized at the time, but it’s looking pretty good now that General Motors is recovering.
He found more to like about how Barack Obama is governing:
What can my party do to avoid the big government tag that always leads to catastrophe? Then I remember President Obama’s vow to move us beyond the stale old debates. Maybe he couldn’t really do that in the first phase of his presidency when he was busy responding to the economic crisis, but perhaps he can do it now in the second phase.
It occurs to me that the Obama administration has done a number of (widely neglected) things that scramble the conventional categories and that are good policy besides. The administration has championed some potentially revolutionary education reforms. It has significantly increased investments in basic research. It has promoted energy innovation and helped entrepreneurs find new battery technologies. It has invested in infrastructure — not only roads and bridges, but also information-age infrastructure like the broadband spectrum.
These accomplishments aren’t big government versus small government; they’re using government to help set a context for private sector risk-taking and community initiative. They cut through the culture war that is now brewing between the Obama administration and the business community. They also address the core anxiety now afflicting the public. It’s not only short-term unemployment that bothers people. What really scares people is the sense that we’re frittering away our wealth. Americans fear we’re a nation in decline
Brooks unfortunately took what could have been one of his best columns in a long time and ruined it by thinking in terms of right wing talking points. His fear when acting as if he was a Democrat became: “What can my party do to avoid the big government tag that always leads to catastrophe?” His hope:
Eventually, I see a party breaking out of old stereotypes, appealing to entrepreneurs and suburbanites again, and I start feeling good about the future. Then I take off the magic green jacket and return to my old center-right self. A chill sweeps over me: Gosh, what if the Democrats really did change in that way?
Brooks managed in the same column to show the benefits of Obama’s economic plans while also fearing they will tagged as big government. He worried about having “the same old tax debate” while ignoring the fact that Obama included some of the biggest tax cuts in history in his stimulus package.
The difference between the parties is that the Democrats are trying to solve today’s problems, even if not always in the right way, while Republicans have taken an extremist and inflexible position. They say no to virtually everything, and would never think of joining Brooks in finding things to praise in some of Obama’s policies.
Republicans certainly would not echo Brooks and admit that the differences generally are not big government versus small government. It was clear to most people, even if not David Brooks, that in 2008 the Democrats were the party which was “breaking out of old stereotypes, appealing to entrepreneurs and suburbanites again.”
Republicans will label the Democrats as the big government party, regardless of whether it is true. Never mind how much government grew under the Republicans, or that it is Republican policies which wind up infringing upon the rights of individuals far more than those of Democrats. Even the major “big government” program passed by the Democrats, health care reform, is made up of ideas initially proposed by Republicans.
If David Brooks wants to move beyond stereotypes and really wants to pursue pragmatic solutions to today’s problems there really is only one choice among the major political parties. If he could overcome his biases he would even realize that even for someone who calls himself center-right, at present the positions of the Democrats are far closer to the views of any sane people than the extremism which now dominates the Republican Party.