Friday, January 29, 2016


David Brooks wishes America had conservatives willing to advance an agenda like the one being proposed by British's Tory prime minister, David Cameron:
In Britain David Cameron ... gave a speech [this month] called “Life Chances.” Not to give away the ending or anything, but I’d give a lung to have a Republican politician give a speech like that in this country....

He laid out a broad agenda: Strengthen family bonds with shared parental leave and a tax code that rewards marriage. Widen opportunities for free marital counseling. Speed up the adoption process. Create a voucher program for parenting classes. Expand the Troubled Families program by 400,000 slots. This program spends 4,000 pounds (about $5,700) per family over three years and uses family coaches to help heal the most disrupted households.

Cameron would also create “character modules” for schools, so that there are intentional programs that teach resilience, curiosity, honesty and service. He would expand the National Citizen Service so that by 2021 60 percent of the nation’s 16-year-olds are performing national service, and meeting others from across society. He wants to create a program to recruit 25,000 mentors to work with young teenagers.

To address concentrated poverty, he would replace or revamp 100 public housing projects across the country. He would invest big sums in mental health programs and create a social impact fund to unlock millions for new drug and alcohol treatment.
Does Brooks even understand that an American politician who proposed an agenda like this would be deemed a big-government leftist? Yes, a couple of pieces of this might fit into a conservative agenda -- but only if the programs funneled clients to religious-right charities, or the vouchers were meant to deprive unionized government workers of jobs. But the way this is described, it's what Americans, or at least conservative Americans, would describe as pure socialism.

But Brooks isn't the only righty who's surprising me by talking like a big ol' red. Over at the Washington Free Beacon, Matthew Continetti has read the Brooks column as well as this debate post-mortem by Charles Krauthammer, and he's taking issue with a declaration by Krauthammer:
My personal preference is for … the reform conservatism that locates the source of our problems not in heartless billionaires or crafty foreigners, but in our superannuated, increasingly sclerotic 20th-century welfare state structures.
Continetti, I'm surprised to learn, doesn't blame every ill in America on welfare.
Candidates for president in both parties this year, for example, have been shocked at the extent and toll of opioid and meth addiction. Did welfare state structures give us that? And if so, how? And wouldn’t any serious attempt to address the problem require more government involvement -- at the very least more police to interdict the drugs and imprison the dealers? Another pressing issue is mental health. Does the welfare state drive young men insane? I think not. But I do think that here, as well, government will have to do more rather than less to treat the mentally ill and commit those that are a hazard to themselves and to others.
As he gets wound up, Continetti sounds almost Sanders-esque:
The men and women who feel left behind in or cut off from the global economy didn’t necessarily get to where they are because of the welfare state. They got there because work disappeared, and they didn’t have the skills or resources or energy to cope. Unfortunately but crucially, in the absence of family, community, and tradition, the welfare state is the only attachment -- impersonal, uncaring, but present -- these people have. Republicans forget this fact at their peril.

Indeed, it seems that voters are tempted by figures like Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders precisely because of their intuition that the challenges facing America are much greater than any one set of causes or institutions, and do not conform to the division between government and the market that framed political life during the twentieth century. The welfare state may be superannuated and sclerotic -- this is government we’re talking about here -- and it is no doubt part of what can only be described as our collective demoralization. But it is only a part. And it may be part of the answer, too.
Brooks and Continetti aren't actually on the same page -- Continetti recognizes that jobs for which many workers are qualified seem to gone forever, while Brooks, by contrast, sneers at what he calls "the Bernie Sanders approach" to social problems: "Focus on economics. Provide people with money and jobs and their lifestyles will become more stable. Marriage rates will rise. Depression rates will drop."

And yet: Continetti is a right-winger for welfare, and a right-winger who thinks capitalism doesn't make all economic ills magically better. Brooks is a right-winger who pleads for the expansion of government social programs, however misguided. How bad must social conditions in America be if these guys are talking this way? Or is it just that they've noticed that some of the disaffected and addicted are white people?


Victor said...

This is Bobo and Continetti!?!?!

I suspect that right now, they're both sitting and sweating in some little local pay-as-you-go medical facilities, where their bosses made them go, waiting for the results of their wee-willy-winkie-whiz-tests for opiods, pot, shrooms, and/or acid!

Maybe there's some tiny bit of hope on the right after all!
Who am I kidding?

Frank Wilhoit said...

How many cubic tons of ridicule -- a little of it even funny, a little of it even to the point -- has David Brooks been subjected to, in various fora, over the years?

Yet the worst picture of him that could be assembled from any of that material would not be anywhere near so absurd, so pitiful, as the thought that he has been taken in by Cameron, the Incredible Shrinking Mussolini.

Yastreblyansky said...

I don't follow Continetti the way you do, but Brooks has been advocating this kind of social program--the kind that doesn't give the poors any money but pressures them to form stable relationships and go to church--since forever. It just looks more startling now because he's never been able to imagine what such programs would look like in any kind of reality, and now Cameron has proposed some.

The main thing in the Cameron program, unmentioned in Brooks's piece, is the £12 billion in cuts in welfare benefits, which dwarf the new spending, and the demolition of 100 housing estates to turn the land over to private developers who will totally use it to build affordable housing, Cameron thinks.

I think what is disturbing Brooks and Continetti and others in and around the "reformicon" camp is the way Cruz and Trump tear down the pretense of the proper conservatives that what they're doing is for everybody's good--a pretense that is necessary to the continued existence of the movement.

Unknown said...

But Yas,their messages are quite distinct: Cruz is pushing a view that we all ought to join in a megapack of feral constitutionality to feast on the softly marbled fatted calves of the socialist liberal welfare state, then while the blood's still congealing we march on Washington D.C. and turn it into the most glorious weinies-with-gun-bacon pure white marshallow-singing bonfire in national history.

Where Trump's message is all Look people, let me take care of everything while you all get into your togas and head on down to the casino-themed jacuzzi complex - and don't forget, you only live once so go crazy.

Yastreblyansky said...

True enough, Unk, but they're equally vulgar, and that isn't conservative at all. True conservatism is where the squire's wife and the vicar get together to sponsor a fete on the village green, with folk dancing and contests of strength, and bring bowls of nourishing broth to the sick, so that people understand that the upper class deserves to be where it is because they really are better than you and me.