The Spectacle Blog

David Brooks’ Conservatism

By on 12.8.05 | 11:09AM

In response to one of the polling posts below, a reader asks how these new NYT numbers jive with the ones David Brooks uses in his piece today. I found the Brooks piece on Lexis Nexis. It's something else.

First, the numbers.

On the economy, Democrats are trusted more, 56 to 34. On education, it's Democrats 55 to 32. On taxes, Democrats 48 to 38. On health care, Democrats 54 to 29.

The Times/CBS poll reports Democrats are trusted more on the economy 45 to 37 percent, moral values 43 to 41 percent, terrorism 42 to 31 percent, Medicare 54 to 24 percent, and immigration 38 to 32 percent. Democrats are trusted less on ethics, 31 to 34 percent. The Times/CBS poll didn't ask about taxes, education, or general health care.

The rest of the Brooks article is rife with oversimplication.

First, most of the issues that propelled conservatives to power have been addressed. Modern American conservatism was formed by people who wanted to defeat the Soviet Union, reduce crime, reform welfare, cut taxes, deregulate the economy and reintroduce traditional social values. All those problems are less salient today.

Ok, so the Soviet Union is vanquished. And some of these individual issues aren't so pressing: welfare reform, crime, deregulation. But Brooks can't see the forest for the trees. Conservatism is generally about limited government, a strong national defense, and family values. Those principles guided those earlier issues, and now it's moved on to cutting government growth, fighting terrorism, and protecting the family.

Brooks then repeats that common claim that once-uppity conservatives have sold out. "Now that [conservatism is] a movement with power, it attracts sleazeballs." Many if not most of that younger insurgent set have sold out. But perhaps Brooks missed the Harriet Miers nomination, over which conservatives revolted against party leadership -- and won. Perhaps he missed widespread disappointment with leaders in the Senate over the family values agenda. Perhaps he's never heard of Mike Pence and the House Republican Study Committee. The distinction between conservatives and Republicans is decidedly not "obliterated."

Brooks also seems to be smarting about TimeSelect:

Conservatives used to live in a media world created by people who thought differently than they did. Reading certain publications and watching the evening news was like intellectual calisthenics. Now conservatives can be just as insular as liberals, retreating to their own media sources to be told how right they are.

Irony aside, halfway through Brooks' article, his misunderstanding is clear. Rather than the conservatives he targets, he's most guilty of "intellectual flabbiness." Despite plenty of evidence to the contrary, Brooks has completely lumped conservatism and the Republican Party into one faceless hegemon. Thus, all conservatives only watch Fox News, all conservatives have lost their governing philosophy, and all conservatives have lost touch with their base. This is only true if President Bush, Leader Frist, Sen. Specter, Rep. DeLay, Gov. Bill Owens, and Speaker Hastert are conservatism.

Yes, Mr. Brooks, some folks who once called themselves conservatives and acted as conservatives are now in power and unmoored from their principles. If an "R" follows their name, that only makes them a Republican, not a conservative. If you want conservatism, check out the House Republican Study Committee. Read a few blogs. Listen to Rush. Return to the exurbs or chat with folks in "flyover country." You'll find a deep well of frustration not with conservatism, but Republican leadership.

David Brooks is usually the master of nuance. Here he's just sloppy.

Send to Kindle

Like this Article

Print this Article

Print Article

More Articles From David Holman