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June 15, 2012 3:37 PM David Brooks Casts His Early Ballot

By Ed Kilgore

Given his habit of perpetually posing as the Columnist From Dover Beach, forever wheeling eagle-like above the grubby partisan pols with their petty concerns (before landing, inevitably, somewhere amidst the ignorant army of the Right), it’s refreshing to see David Brooks in his latest column just coming right out and making the case for his party, the GOP. Sure, he maintains the third-person in explaining the Republican “viewpoint” to his readers, but the whole way he frames the choices facing the electorate make his allegiances as clear as if he put on a fake elephant trunk and ran around yelling about “secular socialism.” Here’s a sample:

[M]any Republicans have now come to the conclusion that the welfare-state model is in its death throes. Yuval Levin expressed the sentiment perfectly in a definitive essay for The Weekly Standard called “Our Age of Anxiety”:
“We have a sense that the economic order we knew in the second half of the 20th century may not be coming back at all — that we have entered a new era for which we have not been well prepared. … We are, rather, on the cusp of the fiscal and institutional collapse of our welfare state, which threatens not only the future of government finances but also the future of American capitalism.”
To Republican eyes, the first phase of that collapse is playing out right now in Greece, Spain and Italy — cosseted economies, unmanageable debt, rising unemployment, falling living standards.

Democrats, of course, are blind to all this, imprisoned as they are in old-think. Doing his best Mitch Daniels impression, Brooks casts his vote for the party that wisely understands Yesterday’s Solutions Are Not Today’s, and that extremism in the defense of entitlement reform is never a vice:

The welfare model favors security over risk, comfort over effort, stability over innovation. Money that could go to schools and innovation must now go to pensions and health care. This model, which once offered insurance from the disasters inherent in capitalism, has now become a giant machine for redistributing money from the future to the elderly.
This is the source of Republican extremism: the conviction that the governing model is obsolete. It needs replacing….
This is what this election is about: Is the 20th-century model obsolete, or does it just need rebalancing? Is Obama oblivious to this historical moment or are Republicans overly radical, risky and impractical?
Republicans and Democrats have different perceptions about how much change is needed. I suspect the likely collapse of the European project will profoundly influence which perception the country buys this November.

Yes, that whole social-democratic thing from the 20th century has to be “replaced” by something “market-oriented,” i.e., by little on the pathway to nothing. I wonder what other shopworn vestiges of the 20th century need to be junked to avoid disaster and make way for progress? Unions, surely. Perhaps the minimum wage, or the 40-hour-work week (already fading fast). Public schools, those bureaucratic relics of the “industrial age,” probably strike Brooks as insufficiently nimble and entrepreneurial, certainly for children in his social circle. And who needs civil rights laws any more? Isn’t the real racism on the Left? Reproductive rights? Haven’t ultrasound and (as his Times colleague Ross Douthat suggests) other biomedical advances made those as dangerously obsolete as Social Security?

The real value of this column is as an illustration of how this bogus interest in “change and innovation” makes it so easy for someone as ostensibly reasonable as David Brooks to embrace the kind of raw right-wing radicalism that used to be associated (and still is, at the grass roots) with the kind of yahoos Brooks so often snipes at in his occasional efforts to chide his own party. If something like the basic and hardly over-generous social safety net that Americans rely on can be breezily dismissed as part of a “welfare model” that nobody outside a doomed Greece or Spain could possibly accept any more, then it’s hard to say what communal commitments Brooks would find indispensable. So he’s along for the newly respectable ride back to Goldwater and 1964, spouting pieities about “change” like a slightly more presentable version of Newt Gingrich. It’s truly pathetic what it takes these days to maintain a toehold in the GOP.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

Comments

  • Darsan54 on June 15, 2012 3:54 PM:

    And that pesky Emancipation Proclamation should be junked. Anyone with slave ancestors should report to the federal government for an individual assessment to be paid to the former slave holders relatives. After all the federal government at that time wrongly appropriated property from these individuals. It's only right they be paid back.

    I am sure there are many, many more examples of injustice that need to "righted" under the terms Babbling Brooks outlines.

  • TCinLA on June 15, 2012 4:04 PM:

    Brooks is as pathetic as any other idiot who could flunk the IQ test low enough to qualify for membership as a Republican.

  • nerd on June 15, 2012 4:05 PM:

    Interesting. Arguing for how things were done at the start of the last century (the 20th century) is new thinking?

  • Joe Friday on June 15, 2012 4:23 PM:

    BROOKS: "[M]any Republicans have now come to the conclusion that the welfare-state model is in its death throes."

    That would be news to the Scandinavian countries. They're not in recession. They don't have high unemployment. They don't have huge budget deficits. They also did not partake in massive tax cuts for the Rich & Corporate and deregulate their banking and financial sectors.

    They have stronger economies, higher Standards of Living, larger Middle-classes, less Poverty, lower infant mortalities, greater longevity, and on and on.

    What Brooks and the Republicans have FAILED to conclude, is that their model of massive tax cuts for the Rich & Corporate and deregulation CREATED our massive federal deficits and debt, because RightWing economic policies do not work, have never worked, and will never work.

  • emjayay on June 15, 2012 4:24 PM:

    Welfare state? What welfare state? Has David ever been to Germany or Denmark or Sweden or Finland or Norway or Holland? You know, those way more welfare statey way more economically equal and also healthier and happier and currently economically OK countries. With lots of vacation days for everyone, damn those socialists.

    Not that I'm not personally critical of certain counterproductive aspects of what welfare state we actually do have.

  • emjayay on June 15, 2012 4:26 PM:

    Joe, you beat me to it by one minute damn you. Great minds....

  • kitsune on June 15, 2012 4:54 PM:

    Mr. Brooks does an excellent job of illustrating that his tax burden is far too low.

    Economic anxiety for millions of Americans can be lifted, simply by raising Brooks' and those like him tax rates. I'd settle for the rates that were popular in the era they're always wishing we'd go back to: the 1950s. But as that would be impossible in this day and age, I suggest an middle-ground alternative: Income over $1 million should be taxed at 50%.

    Schools, Medicare and Social Security could be excellently funded (as we will also be lifting the cap on Social Security contributions where all income not just the first $85,000 will be assessed) with the richest among paying their fare share.

    And if they don't like it: tough. We've all got to make some sacrifices don't you know?

  • paul on June 15, 2012 5:02 PM:

    Dear David Brooks,

    Please imagine the following:

    As of tomorrow, if you write something any of your readers doesn't like, you will be evicted from your new house, and a member of your family will die from an easily-preventable disease. Just how innovative do you plan to be?

    Of course, Brooks, being who he is, can't imagine such a thing, any more than he can imagine someone putting in the effort to double the economic value of the work they do every day and being rewarded with exactly zero increase in real wages, but he sure acts as if he's terrified of someone.

  • RalfW on June 15, 2012 5:07 PM:

    A week ago Brooks was doing his usual soft-spoken, reasonable sounding patter on NPR's Friday afternoon show. And he just savored telling everyone how austerity is the thing (while phoning in from his $3.9M mansion, perhaps).

    A key part of the Greek problem (though there are others, sure) is that many in Greece, particularly the rich, refuse to pay much in taxes. They cheat like mad.

    Here, well, the rich have bought the Republicans and rented enough Democrats that they don't need to cheat, they just re-wrote the tax code to help them - like in Greece - pay far less than working schlubs do.

    I hear all this about austerity, but never, ever do I hear one iota of being in this mess together from Brooks or anyone on the right.

    Brooks likes to wring his hands about the breakdown the moral order. I see he and his fellow cossetted richies abandoning the central compact of America: that we are in this deal together. So they refuse to chip in, to pay even a vaguely fair share.

    Austerity now! Austerity tomorrow! Austerity everywhere except in my gated community!

  • DisgustedWithItAll on June 15, 2012 5:13 PM:

    Except this time, unlike Goldwater, they're going to win.

    Failure to fight back for 20+ years against this dumbassery has convinced the younger generation that these programs will not be there for them. Failure to combat the all-knowing, all-beneficent idea of the Invisible Hand and unfettered markets has engrained in the stupid and blind a unflenching faith in the laissez faire way.

    Is there any question as to what is going to happen when a financial disaster known as the Great Recession fails to convince a public of the need to regulate the banks that caused the disaster whether the American public has bought into some of the stupidest ideas humans have ever produced?

  • John on June 15, 2012 5:25 PM:


    David Brooks is the single most dishonest man in America.

  • thebewilderness on June 15, 2012 5:29 PM:

    "They stab it with their steely knives but they just can't kill the beast"

  • cthulhu on June 15, 2012 5:54 PM:

    I know Brooks might only concern himself with economic measures of standard of living but Quality of Life (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quality-of-life_Index) places Spain and Italy above us and Greece not that far below us and above both the UK and Germany. This is from 2005 admittedly I doubt there has been that jostling of ranks.Despite being a claimed expert in it, he has no clue what people really care about.

  • Al B Tross on June 15, 2012 5:57 PM:

    Brooks, and the modern GOP are nothing like Goldwater. Barry defined conservatisn as, " facing the challenges of the future, with the success of the past", not the failed policies of the NeoCon movement.

    What David Brooks just did was to endorse Fascism, whether he knows it or not. My guess is, like most Authoritarian followers, he doesn't realize it. What a dumbshit.

  • Daniel Kim on June 15, 2012 6:00 PM:

    "Money that could go to schools and innovation must now go to pensions and health care."

    Damn right! Those old and sick folks should just die on the spot. Maybe some kind of evaluative group can be created that will decide whether a person's contribution to society is enough to justify their continued existence, once they are too old to continue in their job or too sick to work. They could be called, uh, 'death panels' or something.

    Back before pensions or Social Security were made normal expectations, what did people do as they grew older? I suppose some lived with their kids. Some died 'in the saddle.' I'm too young to remember those wonderful times, before the welfare state made people expect to be able to live with a little digni- . . . well, live.

    Anyone remember?

    How about:

    "Money that could go to schools and innovation must now go to . . ." tax cuts for the very wealthy.

  • Mimikatz on June 15, 2012 6:10 PM:

    Poverty among the elderly was a huge problem pre-SS. The Lost Generation, counterparts of today's Gen X, were particularly hard hit. Before Medicare elderly people chose between food and medicine, and cat food was a staple, particularly at the end of the month, as back then SS checks all went out the first of the month. More people lived wi their adult children in old age. And of course people didn't live as long, not into the late 80s and 90s like today, although most of the gains in life expectancy come from reducing the infant mortality rate.

    Brooks literally does not know what he is talking about, as so many have pointed out, and he has no f'ing idea the uncertainty so many people live under today.

  • driftglass on June 15, 2012 6:16 PM:

  • Jasperinboston on June 15, 2012 6:55 PM:

    Yes, but those of you arguing for northern European-style safety nets need to realize it would never work in the US because of hand-waivy hand-waivy hand-waivy.

  • biggerbox on June 15, 2012 9:03 PM:

    Ah, David Brooks, the columnist who most deserves comparison with a cabbage. Though, to be fair, the cabbage is probably less annoying, if equally smart.

    I get so tired of hearing Brooks and his ilk loftily pronounce the failure of the welfare state and the 'obvious' end of 20th-century social approaches while blithely failing to provide any factual evidence. No, so much better, they think, to move straight on into crafting bizarre straw-man caricatures of what the left believes, or what that vile old system demanded, again based more on ideological fantasy than reality.

    But the most charming thing about ol' Cabbage-head is the cheerful way he thinks his readers will accept that line about money that could go to schools and innovation going instead to pensions and health care. As if we didn't all know that money wasn't actually going to pay for needless wars and tax cuts for the wealthy! As if, it weren't for those darn liberals, the GOP would be drowning the schools in dollars, and funding a thousand Solyndras a week.

    Do you suppose he knows how many people laugh out loud at his columns?

  • Annoying Poetry Weirdo on June 15, 2012 10:09 PM:

    You are completely right about the piously dishonest, profoundly repulsive David Brooks. But also - I saw what you did there. (And the ghost of Matthew Arnold thanks you.) Excellent.

  • Texas Aggie on June 15, 2012 10:13 PM:

    "the conviction that the governing model is obsolete. It needs replacing…."

    For the republicans, governing is obsolete and needs to be replaced by some sort of feudal system where only people of "high quality" (i.e., the rich) are in control of society. Fascism probably is not their end game. Too many members of the hoi polloi may come up through the political ranks. They're more into a warlord situation or maybe something like the Mafia where powerful families run the show with no back talk from the underclass.

  • bob h on June 16, 2012 6:19 AM:

    How useful the Greek disaster is to a Party that is waging war on public institutions here.

  • esaud on June 16, 2012 9:38 AM:

    So let's see: Our spending on unemployment, food stamps, etc lags behind most other developed nations, while we spend roughly the same as the rest of the world combined on the military. Seems to me that makes us a military state, not a welfare state.

    As yes, there are plenty of good models of happy, peaceful countries who take care of one another.

    There are also examples of what happens when conservatives actually get to implement their "new vision": Pinochet's Chile, Noreiga's Nicaragua, Yeltsin's Russia.

  • Nealix on June 16, 2012 9:58 AM:

  • david1234 on June 16, 2012 11:25 AM:

    Things were going great under welfare state Clinton. Then the Republicans took over, and we had an economic disaster under free market Bush caused by the financial shenanigans of the private sector.

    My conclusion is different that that of Brooks.

  • MassachussettsLiberalinDC on June 16, 2012 5:25 PM:

    Brooks is hysterical. I mean out of his mind hysterical, because there is nothing funny about this ridiculous argument.

    He claims "This model, which once offered insurance from the disasters inherent in capitalism, has now become a giant machine for redistributing money from the future to the elderly."

    Anyone with a little know how can discover that only 15% of retirement spending comes from general federal revenues, the rest from dedicated payroll taxes and premiums. This 15% was about $220bil in 2010, whooping 1.5% of GDP. How could anyone in their right mind call this a "giant machine for redistributing money from the future to the elderly"??

    He can argue all he wants that it is $220 billion we should not be spending, but it will be a hard political sell, especially if he doesn't stop making hysterical claims.

  • Anonymous on June 16, 2012 6:49 PM:

    A followup to my comment above on the hysterical claims in Brooks' piece.

    Spending on "welfare" programs - Medicaid/CHIP/SNAP/TANF/EITC - totaled $450bil in 2010 or 3%gdp. I explained above how only 15% of spending, or 1.5%GDP, on retirement programs comes from general government revenues.

    Taken together, spending from non-dedicated revenue on retirement and welfare total 4.5%gdp. How does this justify the claim that this level of spending has put us on “the cusp of the fiscal and institutional collapse of our welfare state”??

    Again, you can argue that it is money we should not be spending, but it will be a hard political sell, especially if he doesn't stop making hysterical claims.

  • MassachussettsLiberalinDC on June 16, 2012 6:53 PM:

    A followup to my comment above on the hysterical claims in Brooks' piece.[sorry for the re-post but I mistakenly posted this as Anonymous]

    Spending on "welfare" programs - Medicaid/CHIP/SNAP/TANF/EITC - totaled $450bil in 2010 or 3%gdp. I explained above how only 15% of spending, or 1.5%GDP, on retirement programs comes from general government revenues.

    Taken together, spending from non-dedicated revenue on retirement and welfare total 4.5%gdp. How does this justify the claim that this level of spending has put us on “the cusp of the fiscal and institutional collapse of our welfare state”??

    Again, you can argue that it is money we should not be spending, but it will be a hard political sell, especially if he doesn't stop making hysterical claims.

  • Russell Sadler on February 27, 2013 6:20 PM:

    "Money that could go to schools and innovation must now go to pensions and health care. This model, which once offered insurance from the disasters inherent in capitalism, has now become a giant machine for redistributing money from the future to the elderly."

    This statement by Brooks is deceitful. It has become a "conservative meme." The implication is that the federal government is spending billions on "old people" at the expense of young people. The federal government is spending money on old people because capitalism left older works to fend from themselves after they were used up in a lifetime of work.

    The truth is that the federal government took on the responsibility for a measure of security for the the elderly because state and local governments spend the lion's share of their budget on children -- mostly students from K-Graduate School in public schools and universities.

    There is a rough justice here that conservatives ignore because they really want to avoid responsibility for anyone but themselves in their Libertarian Paradise. But avoiding responsibility is not why "governments are instituted among men."