Why does David Brooks want to take the politics out of politics?

If Republicans want to vote against reasonable and popular ideas about guns, immigration, women’s rights, and public finance, why shouldn’t that cost them votes? Their alternative is to vote for those ideas.

David Brooks’s latest column reminds me of the definition of an “independent” as someone who wants to take the politics out of politics. Except that by “politics” Brooks means, not merely corruption or patronage, but the clash of rival ideas about the public good.

Brooks is horrified by the idea that the Democrats might – OMFG! – try to win the 2014 elections. And do so the dirty, slimy way, by proposing reasonable and popular policies that Republicans will nevertheless oppose. He imagines some Rasputin whispering in the President’s ear: “Twice a month, Democrats should force Republicans to cast an awful vote: either offend mainstream supporters or risk a primary challenge from the right.” Brooks identifies guns, immigration, women’s issues, social mobility, and the budget as issues where Democrats might corner Republicans.

And then Brooks wonders how the Republicans will respond.

Well, they have two choices, don’t they? Act like the lunatics only some of them really are but most of them play on C-SPAN, and risk losing their seats to Democrats in November, or act like sane patriots and risk losing their seats in primaries to other Republicans crazier or more cynical than they are.

And of course the plutocrats who bankroll the party will have to make up their own minds about how to deal with the challenge.

Either way, the country wins: we get some sensible legislation through and recapture the Party of Lincoln from the Confederate/Know-Nothing coalition, or we have a chance, despite the Great Gerrymander, of having a House of Representatives that reflects the will of the voters (which might shock the GOP out of its dogmatic slumber).

So why is this not the Washington David Brooks wants to cover? Does he really find the question of an infrastructure bank so utterly compelling? Or is he just appalled by the idea that the voters should have clear choices?

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

37 thoughts on “Why does David Brooks want to take the politics out of politics?”

  1. Mark,

    I think you’re missing the point entirely. David Brooks only wants to take the politics out of politics when it looks like Democrats might win or, having won, might claim a mandate for implementing policies that he dislikes. David Brooks is nothing but a pedestrian hack who was elevated by the New York Times and PBS because they wanted a Republican concern troll who wouldn’t scare people.

    1. David Brooks is willfully blind to what the Republican party has become. He still imagines it as an institution of upper-crust New England plutocrats fundamentally wanting to preserve a 19th century status quo. What it’s become is something far scarier.

      But my sense is that Brooks finds himself politically homeless, and he’s simply succumbing to the idea of “any port in the storm.” He stays with the Republican party because he has nowhere else to go.

      1. Also the shilling is a lot more profitable on the republican side. No one pays liberals for their considered opinion any more. Only freaks like kristol and Gerson can go on for years with the most ludicrous notions and bring down the Koch millions

      2. He isn’t politically homeless. Membership in the Republican Party is a requirement of his job. In each place where he has been hired, he has been hired specifically to fill a slot that was reserved for a Republican concern troll. If he stopped being a Republican or a concern troll, he would be out of a job in an instant. Period.

        1. I didn’t mean literally homeless. I meant existentially homeless, politically speaking. His breed–plutocrat Northeastern Republican–are dying off, and being replaced by a supercharged variety of flat-earther.

          The Republican party uses figureheads like Brooks to imply that it’s still safe to belong to the Party, but it’s all veneer, all fluff. Brooks is too obtuse to recognize that he’s no more than a useful idiot to his own party.

          1. You’re not wrong, but it’s not Ike the plutocratic moderate Republicans are being evicted from the Republican Party. They may not be in the driver’s seat, but they seem perfectly content to be ordered about by the crudest of Dittoheads. With Mitt Romney so recently the Republican nominee, it’s hard to argue that the plutocratic northeastern moderate is presumptively unwelcome in the top tier of the party, even if he did have to campaign as a Neanderthal in the primaries.

    2. I was about to point this out; Brooks’ ‘centrism’ is a 100% lie; or at least I’ve never seen an example where it excluded the right.

      BTW, Brooks’ was caught lying in an article a while back (which I can’t find), where he goes into a blue county and red county in Pennsylvania, to show the difference between blue and red states. That was my first encounter with the man, and I’ve seen nothing yet to redeem him.

  2. I’m not David Brooks, but here’s what I object to–forcing votes on controversial issues, AND THEN doing exactly the same thing whether they win or lose. I’d love a rule that if something is voted on and doesn’t pass, it’s then NOT THE LAW. So, the ERA didn’t pass; nothing it would have done is the law because of a new interpretation of the 14th amendment. Cap-and-trade didn’t pass; carbon dioxide isn’t a regulated emission. The DREAM Act didn’t pass; you can’t just stop enforcing the laws it would have changed.

    1. Hmm, yes. Bills that don’t pass become anti-laws. So in interpreting the law, we should follow not only what the laws say but not follow what the anti-laws say. T’would be an interesting country indeed.

    2. Two questions:

      1) Would you make an exception for “anti-laws” that pass the House and command majority support in the Senate, but cannot get a 60 vote super-majority?

      2) Consider a situation where the President is an out of the closet Republican and the GOP is on the side where the “anti-law” commands support from the GOP but not the Democratic party; does the same objection then hold, or may the President and the executive branch more generally enforce those parts of it that it can by reinterpreting existing laws?

    3. Cap-and-trade didn’t pass; carbon dioxide isn’t a regulated emission.

      What? The Supreme Court ruled that carbon dioxide met the definition of a harmful emission based upon previous law prior to cap-and-trade not passing. Your argument is that the failure of Congress to pass a new law should alter established interpretations of old laws. Even as you state it, your idea is completely unworkable. When it’s understood that you misrepresent actual events, that becomes even more clear.

    4. I look forward to your denouncement of abortion protestor’s tactics. Because it is NOT THE LAW.

  3. Brooks has a way of blaming Democrats for Republican foolishness. Not too long ago he wrote a column where he, quite explicitly, blamed Republican intransigence on climate change on the fact that Al Gore had made a big issue of it.

    Do the NYT editors read his stuff, I wonder? What are they thinking?

    1. The NYT has had an opinion columnist slot reserved for a conservative Republican for a longtime. Recently, they’ve expanded it to two slots. From the perspective of the editors of the NYT, this drivel is a feature, not a bug.

  4. What are they thinking? About how they are going to cash out before the Times goes the way of Newsweek.

  5. I see a lot of this “politics is illegitimate as a way toward results” at stae, local, and federal levels. It seems to be an idee fixe of the Republican Party these days as well as having some currency now.

    Jan Brewer announces that if the nation doesn’t vote R, the Rs will have to resort to “second amendment remedies”. The gun nuts talk about armed revolution and watering the tree of liberty with blood in order to restore their version of constitutional living. State-house Rs gerrymander districts because they can’t get a win on the basis of a fair, straightforward majority vote in un-rigged districts. The republicans in congress claim that Obama must identify the spending cuts they advocate but won’t specify themselves because it would be political suicide.

    These are the signs of party that not only can’t govern, it can’t even put t together a proposal that actually appeals to the electorate. Populism is ascendant, but it is not on their side.

    1. To be fair to the American people, the Second Amendment remedies line came from Sharron Angle, not Jan Brewer.

    2. A democratic constitutional republic isn’t supposed to be infinitely governable. For that you want a totalitarian state. If you don’t have some line beyond which you’d water that tree, you’re a fit subject for such a state, waiting for somebody to come along and fit you with your chains.

      Which is not to say that we can’t have a fun argument about where the line should be. (I’d relish that.) Just that there damned well better be a line, and it’s fatuous to attack somebody for having one.

      1. OK, Brett, you start by stating approximately where you think the line is. Under what circumstances would you think it would be appropriate to “water the tree” of liberty with the “blood of tyrants,” which is to say, assassinate or take up open arms against elected officials?

        I should say that if your answer is anywhere within a hundred miles of the U.S. government this century, I think you’re a dangerous extremist.

        1. Or the government is run by such. It certainly seemed that way when they were burning Americans alive back in the ’90s. Fortunately they only do that to foreigners these days, much more “progressive”, I gather.

          The classic analogy is to rape: If you think somebody is liable to rape you, do you put up a fight when they start raping? Or do you put up a fight when they try to handcuff you, or tie you to a bed? The latter, of course, because the decision to permit yourself to be stripped of the power to resist, IS the decision that you won’t resist.

          Similarly, were the government to seriously set out to deprive Americans of the power to forcibly resist the government, THAT would be the signal moment when it was time to forcibly resist, because to not resist then would be the same as deciding you’d never resist.

          That’s my line, I would, albeit reluctantly, take up arms against a government which made a serious effort to deprive Americans of arms. Note, I said “serious”, I don’t think the pathetic jokes we’ve seen thus far really qualify for a transition from mere disobedience to active resistance. I mean the sort of efforts which would have some chance of actual success, and which I (perhaps foolishly) hope ‘liberals’ would blanch at.

          Another line would be canceling elections, or, (Again, serious) efforts to deprive Americans of the freedom of political speech necessary for elections to be meaningful.

          Basically, any government which sets out to make sure it can’t be removed if it outrages the public, has demonstrated it needs to be removed before it succeeds in this.

          1. Brett, I think this business about taking up arms against a government that tried to impose serious and effective gun control (does Austraila post-Port Arthur count?) is a dangerous fantasy of the gun enthusiast. To begin with, the idea that gun ownership is correlated with other sorts of freedom should’ve vanished in a puff of smoke once it became widely reported that gun ownership was widespread in Saddam Hussein’s Africa. And the fantasy that you and whatever hardware you own are capable of resisting the federal government if it decides to take you down would be cute if it didn’t sometimes get people killed. I mean, you brought up Waco, they had guns and they didn’t win their battle. (Aside: How come MOVE never comes up in these arguments? It can’t just be the difference between the Feds and the Philadelphia government.) The power to resist doesn’t come from gun ownership and it never did.

            Also, protip for people on the political right: SHUT UP ABOUT RAPE, PLEASE. Or don’t, I don’t hate winning elections.

            I would think that rigging elections, like the gerrymander that prevented the people from ousting the Republican house even when more people voted for Democrats than Republicans in House elections, or the Republican proposals to rig the electoral college in states that tend to vote Democratic, or backdoor restrictions on the franchise, or of course the canceling of an accurate vote count in a Presidential election, are much more serious threats to rule of the people. But they still need to be dealt with through the rule of law. Even a situation like that of Fidesz calls for peaceful protest rather than armed resistance.

            Anyway, thank you for answering the question. I’m going to comfort myself that I think you’re all talk, and that you wouldn’t really commit treason if our democratically elected government decided on gun policies you really don’t like.

          2. Question for you Brett — do you think that Democrats should arm themselves and commit bloodshed against Republican tyrants who have gerrymandered districts so that the People cannot control their own Republic through Congress, and who are now planning to gerrymander the Electoral College so that the People can’t choose their President either?

            At what point in the electoral disarming of liberals and minorities do you believe they should resort to Second Amendment Remedies?

            Since your guys are the ones talking about Second Amendment remedies (whatever that means)

          3. Matt, I think the scariest fantasy here is the common gun controller belief that all you have to do is pass a law, or maybe just an executive order, slaughter a few people who resist, and an entire nation of gun owners will fall over themselves to comply. Only reason the US didn’t have a revolution back in the 90’s was that your leadership aren’t stupid enough to believe that.

            Betsy, Democrats Gerrymander themselves by their chosen pattern of living in city centers at high concentrations. There is no plausible way to draw districts which would not leave Democrats under-represented, you’d have to engage in the most gross and blatant sort of Gerrymandering to compensate for that.

            And erase all those majority-minority districts in the process, good by black caucus.

            No, if you want representation in proportion to your numbers, while living in ghettos where you get 90-100% of the votes, (Because you’ve driven out everyone who doesn’t agree with you!) the only answer is at large proportional representation. That renders Gerrymandering impossible.

            Which I actually favor, so there.

          4. “the common gun controller belief that all you have to do is pass a law, or maybe just an executive order, slaughter a few people who resist, and an entire nation of gun owners will fall over themselves to comply.”

            Interesting, because I didn’t express that belief. But answer my hypothetical please: Suppose, what is probably impossible in the current political climate, the US government were to pass Australia’s gun control laws. Revolution: justified? You can answer whether Australians would’ve been justified to revolt in response to their gun control laws if you want.

            And yes, I think this flip talk about revolutions is really corrosive to our politics. It’s the same attitude that underpins the general Republican view that Democrats aren’t entitled to win elections when they get more votes, and that they aren’t entitled to govern when they win elections — going back to Robert Bartley’s refusal to acknowledge Bill Clinton’s legitimacy, and manifesting itself lately in the filibuster-everything Senate and the apparently failing attempt at government by extortion. Democracy: It means you lose sometimes, and you have to deal with it.

          5. No, I think we’d respond to Australian gun laws in basically the same way Australians did: By massively violating them, (Compliance rates with that law were quite low.) while doing something the Australians didn’t: Destroying the political careers of the people who passed the law.

            So we’d have no need to revolt, which would only be appropriate if the adminstration started in on the kind of police state measures which would be needed to effectively enforce such a law: Warrentless door to door searches, administrative penalties without trial, that sort of thing. Short of that, such laws mostly get ignored.

            And I think what’s corrosive is the flip attitude towards civil liberties being demonstrated here: Fine, you don’t like it, but gun ownership is a civil liberty in this country. Which makes the laws you want as deserving of respect as censorship laws, or attacks on any other civil liberty.

            You can’t claim that others are obligated to obey the laws you pass, if you won’t be bound by the highest law of the land.

          6. Brett, stop burning straw. I’ve already said that I think the proper response to a Supreme Court decision that I believe to have been utterly lawless and a naked power grab was to respect it, because it needed to be deal with through the rule of law. I think that the same thing would apply to a Supreme Court decision throwing out a gun restriction, which would also be much less worthy of criticism.

            Between my willingness to entertain the kind of gun control that is found in free societies all over the world and your willingness to entertain armed rebellion against the government (and your steadfast refusal to say that the situation that would justify it is very distant from any situation we’ve been in in the past twenty years), I think it’s clear which is the extremist and corrosive one. But I’ll just let third parties judge that.

          7. “I’ve already said that I think the proper response to a Supreme Court decision that I believe to have been utterly lawless and a naked power grab was to respect it, because it needed to be deal with through the rule of law.

            Between my willingness to entertain the kind of gun control that is found in free societies all over the world”

            Just to be clear about this, shouldn’t your respect for a court ruling about an amendment those other countries don’t have effect your willingness to entertain the sorts of laws this country doesn’t have?

            IOW, how are you showing respect for the unique constitutional status of gun ownership in America, if you don’t notice that it precludes America having the sort of gun laws other countries lacking that special status for guns have?

            Is your position that the Second amendment has no effect on the sort of gun laws which are constitutionally permissible? Doesn’t respect for a civil liberty involve the government not being able to do things it could do were the civil liberty not respected?

        2. Brett, nothing in your latest post is connected to anything I’ve said, and I find it impossible to keep holding this conversation. Because you talk so flippantly about how close we came to a revolution in the 1990s, like you’ve completely forgotten Oklahoma City. I think it’s despicable.

          1. Gee, I would have thought the OK bombing actually counted towards the proposition that we were risking revolution. Along with the militia movement. But I guess in your world government buildings being bombed is evidence that revolution isn’t in the cards.

            Frankly, I’m glad one of the responses to that bombing was that the government stopped burning Americans alive in their own homes. That, more than the crackdown that followed, contributed to a scaling back of tensions.

            Now, seriously: The US has the 2nd amendment, Australia doesn’t. Is it your position that “respecting” the 2nd amendment doesn’t have any kind of implications for whether we can have the same gun laws as Australia? Would you extend this to ‘respecting’ the 1st amendment not implying we can’t have British libel laws?

  6. Brett — dude — that may be the most incoherent and laughable series of responses you have ever given on this blog. Thanks for the hoots and hollers! I’ll be chuckling the rest of the morning.

    Oh, my God, this is thigh-slapping good fun. Thanks, Brett.

    What a maroon.

    [going off chuckling to myself]

Comments are closed.