I initially wasn’t going to bother responding to David Brooks‘ column today–until I read Pete Abel’s response. Brooks, perhaps thinking being a New York Times columnist gives him the authority, presumes to understand the thoughts of all independents. In the end he uses what he claims to be the views of independents to justify calling on the Democratic Party to do what he believes should be done.
One problem with the column is in discussing independents as a cohesive block of voters. I’ve already discussed the vast differences between independents in previous posts, such as here. There is no single position held by independents.
Abel cites a line from the column before proceeding to debunk Brooks’ premise. The line of interest, and the primary reason why I’m actually writing this post, is “Independents are herds of cats who find out what they think through a meandering process of discovery.” This leads to Pete Abel’s conclusion:
I shouldn’t tell Brooks how to write his column. Hell, he’s paid to write it, and I’m writing for nothing. Still … in floating test arguments for conservatives, Brooks’ seems to forget his meandering-cats metaphor and the import of that metaphor, namely: If in 12- to 18-months’ time, the cats can skew conservative, it’s entirely possible they’ll skew liberal in another 12- to 18-months, especially if the economy continues to heal and the masses get accustomed to new, more egalitarian health care rules.
See, that’s the problem with cats and independents, including this one. We’re sometimes forgetful, and very easily distracted.
Pete embraces Brooks’ characterization as a wandering cat while using it to show where Brooks is wrong. The more I think about it, the more I also like the description of “a meandering process of discovery.” Of course stress the fact that for many of us there was a process, and there is discovery. If looked at in the right way, meandering is not necessarily bad. This is far preferable to the ideologues, both on the left and right, who are always certain that all the answers are contained in their ideology.
I certainly have meandered over the decades. During my meandering, I’ve looked at the conservative movement and the Republican Party. I read magazines such as National Review and Human Events. Even decades ago, well before Fox, I saw many of the features of the conservative movement which we see today. Their use of the rhetoric supporting freedom was not matched by their policy positions. The conservative magazines created an imaginary world which contradicted what I read from more objective sources. Just as is the case now, conservatives would “explain” this by complaining of a biased press which was hiding the truth.
If Republicans supported freedom in their rhetoric alone, libertarians were more consistent here. Philosophically I come closest to libertarianism in the respect that I remain strongly committed to civil liberties. I would like libertarianism to be correct that everything else is also better when the government stays out. Unfortunately for holding such philosophical beliefs, I found that this is often not true. I also meandered away from the libertarian movement as I saw how easily libertarians were able to cherry pick facts to support their economic beliefs while ignoring any contrary evidence.
Practicing medicine and running a business made it clear that all the libertarian and conservative beliefs about health care which supported their opposition to “socialized medicine” were simply not grounded in reality. Libertarianism is unable to respond to the big problems which do require government action, such as the health care crisis and climate change. In response to such problems, libertarians and conservatives hide from reality and pretend the problems do not even exist.
Unfortunately I also found that libertarianism was often contaminated by its relationship to the conservative movement with libertarian beliefs often being twisted to lead to a decrease in personal freedom. This was especially apparent with Ron Paul’s presidential run. Many self-described libertarians justified his social conservatism, along with his view of states’ rights which would permit tyranny as long as done under the auspices of a state as opposed to the federal government. At least Paul was consistent in his opposition to the Iraq War, with people calling themselves libertarian even finding ways to justify the war and the Patriot Act.
Well before the 2008 election I had meandered closer to the Democrats. If I would have ever considered voting Republican, the Bush years made that impossible. At least the Democrats offered an alternative to neoconservative foreign policy and to the social views of the religious right. Meandering to hang out with the Democrats, I also found that their views were far different from how they were characterized by the right. That is primarily because of their views being mischaracterized, but to some degree as Democrats had also meandered a bit over the years.
I might not agree with Democrats on all matters but at least, in contrast to Republicans, their views tend to be reality based, especially if you exclude the extremes on the fringes. In the case of Republicans, the extremists have taken control. Even when I disagree with a Democrat or someone on the left, it often comes down to a difference of opinion based upon the actual facts, as opposed to the fantasy-based arguments which have become even more common from conservatives.
I’ve meandered quite a bit in this post, (far more than I initially intended) but I guess this is appropriate considering the title. Getting back to Brooks, Pete has it right. Independents are scared right now, but can easily meander back to the Democrats if they see signs that we are on the right track next year. Republicans might have picked up a couple of wins this week, but they mean very little when looking back at previous off-year elections. Independents might meander, and a few will meander back to the Republicans, but many of us will not. Back in 1992 I initially thought it might be a good thing to have a Republican Congress to counter Bill and Hillary Clinton. After seeing what they did, I won’t make that mistake again. On this point at least, I hope Pete is wrong about independents being forgetful.