David Brooks says the thing-that-is

A call to arms against the lunatics who have taken over the party of Lincoln, and a Jeremiad against the spineless mainstream conservatives who have let them do it.

The most important fact about contemporary American politics is that the Republican party has become an extremist organization, in which what used to be the fringe is now the base.

The most important problem facing political journalists and pundits is whether to report that fact as fact, or to remain even-handed as between (in Churchill’s phrase) the fire-fighters and the fire.

The biggest disappointment of the three and a half years since the 2008 election is the extent to which journalists (both reporters and pundits) have chosen a false ideal of even-handedness over the obligation to Say The Thing That Is rather than treating it as on an equal footing with The Thing That Is Not. Barack Obama’s “sweet reason” strategy had two chances to work: some Republicans could have chosen to be reasonable, or – given that the GOP went as far off the rails as it has – the reporters could have called them on it. Neither happened, and the result was the 2010 election outcome.

So I’m somewhat cheered by the evidence that journalists are waking up and smelling the crazy. But I have to admit that I didn’t expect David Brooks to help lead the charge. Why, the man who seemed to embody the reborn spirit of David Broder sounds positively reality-based as he rages at the spinelessness of his fellow conservatives:

The wingers call their Republican opponents RINOs, or Republican In Name Only. But that’s an insult to the rhino, which is a tough, noble beast. If RINOs were like rhinos, they’d stand up to those who seek to destroy them. Actually, what the country needs is some real Rhino Republicans. But the professional Republicans never do that. They’re not rhinos. They’re Opossum Republicans. They tremble for a few seconds then slip into an involuntary coma every time they’re challenged aggressively from the right.

Without real opposition, the wingers go from strength to strength. Under their influence, we’ve had a primary campaign that isn’t really an argument about issues. It’s a series of heresy trials in which each of the candidates accuse the others of tribal impurity. Two kinds of candidates emerge from this process: first, those who are forceful but outside the mainstream; second, those who started out mainstream but look weak and unprincipled because they have spent so much time genuflecting before those who despise them.

Just as the Terri Schiavo affair helped push some people across the aisle in the mid-2000s, the anti-contraception jihad, along with Santorum’s virtual call to religious warfare, is doing so today.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

21 thoughts on “David Brooks says the thing-that-is”

  1. I’m not sure I’d call writing one column like this every six months or so as David Brooks helping to “lead the charge”.

    Something’s better than nothing, so I’m glad he wrote this column. Now if he takes the approach David Frum has taken the last few months, and does so over a period of months or years, then yes, that would be Brooks helping to lead the charge and yes, I’d welcome it too. (But I’m not holding my breath.)

  2. I’m with massappeal, Frum has been honorable for a lot longer than Brooks, who if he follows form will write an apologetic column within a week to take back what he said.

  3. I think Brooks is a little behind the times. There are no rino politicians left. They’re all from the extreme right.

  4. The wingers call their Republican opponents RINOs, or Republican In Name Only. But that’s an insult to the rhino, which is a tough, noble beast.

    What about Dinos, like Zell Miller?

  5. Seconding massappeal’s comments, and (gently) chiding Mark:

    Mark, once or twice a year, all but the foulest pundits have an encounter with reality, where they notice *a tiny bit* of what’s going on. They write one column, and then sleep it off, and wake up bright and – not delusional, but dishonest – the next day.

    That doesn’t mean that they’ve changed, it means that nobody is perfectly evil.

  6. Brooks is part owner in this insanity. Where was he when the Reagan/Bush mob reached out to fear crazed racists? Where was he when the religious bigots were co-opting the party? Did he really think they could use the nuts and bigots without giving them their due? I guess he is shocked that they left the buffet, ( at Applebee’s) to take some control and demand their hatred be put into policy.
    I think Brooks is a typical self-serving authoritarian who is fine with the dog whistles, but gets embarrassed when it becomes an air raid siren. Your not supposed to really let the rubes into the club.

    1. Where was Brooks? The same place as other “sensible conservatives” – firmly seated on the tiger’s back, enjoying the ride.

  7. Santorum appears to have jumped the shark by saying that JFK made him want to throw up. If he is that queasy, he would be a pretty poor president, who would be spending half the day in the bathroom puking into the toilet bowl. He can be counted out from now on.

  8. Odd how many progressives would prefer to have enemies rather than allies. David Brooks’s history of collaboration with the wingnuts makes his calling them out that much more notable. I’m not interested in canonizing Brooks; I’m interested in pointing out that he’s right to say that his party has gone ’round the bend, and that his saying it makes it clear that “Republicans are crazy” isn’t routine partisan spin.

  9. Odd that UCLA can’t cough up a professor who recognizes reality.

    Mark, read what I wrote, and respond to that.

  10. Blog bet – Mark, $100 to a favorite charity if this turns out to be a blip on Brooks’ part. Note that I include ‘both sides do it’, or ‘we need a centrist’ as backtracking on Brooks’ part.

  11. Mark,
    Brooks is not our ally. He’s only “calling them out” because the dog whistle is being heard by the non-bigots. He really thinks it’s O.K., but not if it’s too loud.

    1. I don’t care whether Brooks is “our ally” generically. In this case, he said a true thing that was useful for our side. I quoted it. I hope it’s the beginning of a trend toward reality on his part, but if it isn’t I’ll still take it for what it is.

      The response “But Brooks is a bad person!” misses the point which is that everyone can now smell the Republican crazy.

      1. No, because what Brooks is really b*tching about is that they’re blowing the election (barring an economic crisis). He had noooooooooooooooooooooo problem with everything beforehand; he just thinks that things are now counter productive.

        He doesn’t mind the evil, the corruption, the insanity, the hatred; he just feels that the PR has failed.

        Some comments from Tom Levenson: http://www.balloon-juice.com/2012/03/04/lets-review-david-brooks-really-is-a-boil-on-the-body-politic/

  12. Mark,
    You’re right. It is something for him to admit the lunatics are hurting his party. Point taken.
    I’m being a curmudgeon, too, which is my default position on everything these days.

  13. No, Mark, he had a brain fart, and giving him any credibility just gives him some cred to spend on lies.

  14. Is there a chorus to endlessly repeat this “bi-partisan” consensus?

    I think of the constant repetition of statements like ‘Even Paul Krugman thinks @@@@@” as a drumbeat refutation.

    If we won’t be hearing that “Even David Brooks thinks the Republicans have gone too far” and there is no corresponding change in rightwing belief, this is feckless at best (and harmful if Brooks is given credibility as a commentater).

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