When someone says, "Yes, David Brooks is an idiot, but today's column isn't bad," I rarely agree -- but that's what I'm going to tell you about today's David Brooks column. He's looking at the GOP's reinvention efforts and, surprisingly, he's not fooled, even by the dulcet tones of Bobby Jindal:
... so far, there have been more calls for change than actual evidence of change. In his [recent] speech [to the Republican National Committee], for example, Jindal spanked his party for its stale cliches but then repeated the same Republican themes that have earned his party its 33 percent approval ratings: Government bad. Entrepreneurs good.I don't want to give Brooks too much credit here -- his solution to the Republican Party's problems is the rise of a coastal/Midwestern wing of the GOP that hates government only a little rather than a lot. Outside the Northeast, I'm not sure how these nouveau Republicans are supposed to avoid being primaried into early retirement, and I'm also not sure why this is supposed to work in the Midwest, home of Michele Bachmann and Steve King. Not does Brooks have much of a program for these GOP renegades -- what he recommends is something about making government less "sclerotic," and making the poor more educated and marriage-minded, as that great sage Charles Murray advises.
In this reinvention process, Republicans seem to have spent no time talking to people who didn't already vote for them.
But it's still a better column than what Brooks usually coughs up. I give him points for being less bedazzled by Jindal than, say, Chris Cillizza, or Politico.
I'll just quibble with this:
Since Barry Goldwater, the central Republican narrative has been what you might call the Encroachment Story: the core problem of American life is that voracious government has been steadily encroaching upon individuals and local communities. The core American conflict, in this view, is between Big Government and Personal Freedom.I actually think "Encroachment Story" is an excellent name for the narrative in right-wingers' heads. But Brooks's view of this story is too narrow. Right-wingers' central narrative isn't just that government is encroaching on decent Americans -- it's that practically everything and everyone on earth is encroaching.
Black people. Brown people. Gay people. Feminists. Hollywood. College professors. The UN. European socialists. Jihadists. The liberal media. Takers. Union thugs. Gun grabbers. Nanny staters. Domestic mosque builders. People who take God out of the public square. People who say "Happy holidays" rather than "Merry Christmas." People who want to replace American law with sharia law. They're all encroaching!
Brooks writes, "if opposing government is your primary objective, it's hard to have a positive governing program." But really, what makes it hard to have a positive government program is a mindset that says, "Don't you understand?! There's no time to lose! We have to neutralize all these encroachers!!!"
The message of the current GOP arouses the fight-or-flight mechanisms of targeted voters, and thus gives those voters a tremendous sense of purpose. They're heroes! They're helping to rid the world of evil encroachers! I don't know how a moderate wing of the GOP can compete with that message.