Friday, May 06, 2011


We're subjected today to David Brooks in finger-wagging mode, as he harrumphs about our decadence and moral flabbiness:

Because we take it as a matter of faith that the people are good, we are no longer alert to arrangements that may corrode the character of the nation. For example, many generations had a moral aversion to debt. They believed that to go into debt was to indulge your basest urges and to surrender your future independence. That aversion has clearly been overcome.

We no longer have a leadership class -- of the sort that existed as late as the Truman and Eisenhower administrations -- that believes that governing means finding an equilibrium between different economic interests and a balance between political factions. Instead, we have the politics of solipsism. The political culture encourages politicians and activists to imagine that the country's problems would be solved if other people's interests and values magically disappeared.

The democratic triumph has created a nation that runs up huge debt and is increasingly incapable of finding a balance between competing interests.

Here's the problem when you're talking about debt and the alleged solipsism of the electorate: We had a president in recent years -- Bill Clinton -- who raised taxes and reduced indebtedness. After a period of adjustment, a solid majority of Americans approved of his economic decisions. The only people who didn't approve were Republicans.

And when Clinton's vice president ran for president and -- unlike his Republican opponent -- didn't promise to cut taxes, and made a much-mocked pledge to keep Social Security tax revenue in a "lockbox" instead of handing out refund checks to the populace, he won the majority of the popular vote. Again, the people who rejected this course, and who responded to George W. Bush's incessant cries of "It's your money," were Republicans.

And on the subject of solipsism in general, and the refusal to take other people's interests into account, what Brooks is saying today was rebutted in advance by The American Prospect's Jamelle Bouie yesterday. Citing a new Pew survey, Bouie wrote:

If you compare Pew's typology groups on "Politics & Elections" and particularly, "support for compromise," you'll find that 70 percent of solid liberals like elected officials who "compromise with those they disagree with." By contrast, only 17 percent of "staunch conservatives" agree. The rest -- or at least, 79 percent -- prefer elected officials who stick to their positions.

Again, this contrast explains a lot about the current state of American politics. Republican politicians refuse to compromise because they are accountable to conservative voters who dislike compromise. Democratic politicians, on the other hand, are in the opposite position: Not only are they accountable to other groups besides liberals but liberals themselves prefer compromise.

So, yes, we have a problem with voters who insist on getting what they want and won't take other people's interests into consideration.

Those voters are called Republicans.


I'll add that what ordinary Republican voters demand isn't necessarily in their self-interest as much as it is in the interests of the wealthy people who use and manipulate them. If David Brooks really wants to find a group of purely solipsistic Americans -- people who "imagine that the country's problems would be solved if other people's interests and values magically disappeared" -- he might want to start with the Forbes 400.

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