David Brooks, as all right-thinking people know, is the "nice" conservative -- willing to concede the occasional point to liberals, non-threatening enough to appear in The New York Times and on NPR. These same right-thinking people believe that Rush Limbaugh is a nasty, snarling extremist zealot and a menace to society (or perhaps they believe he merely plays a nasty extremist on the radio).
So quick question: Which one, in the past 24 hours, said that President Obama "is trying to dismantle, brick by brick, the American dream," and which one said Obama is "attack[ing] modern capitalism as it now exists" and "challeng[ing] the entire logic of capitalism as it has existed over several decades," "part of a comprehensive attack on the economic system"?
Can't tell? Well, Limbaugh said the former and Brooks wrote the latter.
Does it matter, ultimately, that Brooks says Obama has not previously been a critic of global capitalism and has hobnobbed with some of its elitists, while Limbaugh reverts to conspiracy theories about leftist indoctrination in Obama's youth ("His father was a communist. His mother was a leftist")? Does it matter that Brooks thinks this is mostly just campaign rhetoric, while Limbaugh thinks it derives from core leftist convictions on Obama's part? I don't think so. Both Brooks and Limbaugh arrive at the same McCarthyite point: Obama is mounting a dangerous attack on our foundations.
And Brooks is, if anything, even more Randian than Limbaugh in defense of Romney-style capitalism. The utter contempt for the casualties of Bainism is palpable:
Romney is going to have to define a vision of modern capitalism.... He needs to define the kind of capitalist he is and why the country needs his virtues.Of course, as Anthony Luzzatto Gardner wrote yesterday for Bloomberg, that wasn't his selling point:
... It has been the business of his life to take companies that were mediocre and sclerotic and try to make them efficient and dynamic. It has been his job to be the corporate version of a personal trainer: take people who are puffy and self-indulgent and whip them into shape.
That's his selling point: rigor and productivity. If he can build a capitalist vision around that, he'll thrive.
What's clear from a review of the public record during his management of the private-equity firm Bain Capital from 1985 to 1999 is that Romney was fabulously successful in generating high returns for its investors. He did so, in large part, through heavy use of tax-deductible debt, usually to finance outsized dividends for the firm's partners and investors. When some of the investments went bad, workers and creditors felt most of the pain. Romney privatized the gains and socialized the losses.But just savor what Brooks is celebrating here: "rigor and productivity" that "whip[s] into shape" "people who are puffy and self-indulgent." Brooks isn't even making the valid argument that changing market conditions can make formerly profitable companies less able to thrive -- he's telling us that every loss of profitability is a moral failing. Bain bought your company and bled it dry? You deserved it, you slothful bastard!
That's the "vision" Romney is supposed to sell to the voters: a wingtip in the face forever. We've long known that it's Limbaugh's vision; some of us, however, might have had our doubts about whether Brooks shared it. Now we know.