Tuesday, January 29, 2013


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.

In this reinvention process, Republicans seem to have spent no time talking to people who didn't already vote for them.
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.

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.


Victor said...


Out of all of the great stuff I've read from you over the years, this may be the very best.

You've said it all, and that's all I've got to say, Steve.

Steve M. said...


aimai said...

Its also not really since Barry Goldwater-- a name so old that most voters (not Brook's readers but actual voters) won't remember him its since the CIVIL WAR. Encroachment fever began before the Civil War with the struggle over the question of whether new states and territories would be free or slave and continued right through Reconstruction and post reconstruction. Encroachment and "state's rights" being obvious covers for a local agenda of repression and theft (theft of native american lands, repression of non whites). Wherever the state and the constitution have been used to wedge open rights and opportunities for disfavored groups (including women and children) the pushback has been at the local level against national law.

Nothing new there and it certainly doesn't date back to Barry Goldwater. What's new is the total embrace of this viewpoint by even the Federal movers and shakers in the Republican party. Usually people who manage to get to the top of the heap at least acknolwedge the validity of the power they themselves wield. Post Reagan the rhetoric of devolution and of state's rights became more powerful than the reality of the national state. But that is a case of the "lady riding the tiger." Basically, the tiger ate the lady and the party of the John Birchers and Barry Goldwater and the neo confederates at the national party.

Nefer said...

Jindal thought it would be a swell idea to funnel money to rich people and corporations from the poorest of the poor as they are dying, by gutting Medicaid hospice care.

Enabling these people to spend their last days of life in dignity and without pain? Pffft. Not like they will be sending campaign contributions or voting for the "right" people. What use are they? Why waste a dime on them for no return?

He backed off, but that doesn't make him any less vile.

Philo Vaihinger said...

The encroachment story only works for the libertarian types.

It works against the entire project and all the political goals of the Christian right and the sociocons.

debg said...

I'm with Victor and Aimai. This is a great post, Steve. And Aimai's right about the much older history of encroachment fear.

Steve M. said...


Bulworth said...

The reference to Mancur Olson really threw me. Olson, who wrote a book called The Logic of Collective Action:Public Goods and the Theory of Groups. I doubt Brooks would dig it.