Friday, October 10, 2008

Brooks Somehow Missed the Joke

David Brooks argues that the Republican Party engaged in class warfare, eroding its support among intellectuals:
[O]ver the past few decades, the Republican Party has driven away people who live in cities, in highly educated regions and on the coasts. This expulsion has had many causes. But the big one is this: Republican political tacticians decided to mobilize their coalition with a form of social class warfare. Democrats kept nominating coastal pointy-heads like Michael Dukakis so Republicans attacked coastal pointy-heads.

* * *

What had been a disdain for liberal intellectuals slipped into a disdain for the educated class as a whole. The liberals had coastal condescension, so the conservatives developed their own anti-elitism, with mirror-image categories and mirror-image resentments, but with the same corrosive effect.
The result, as Brooks sees it?
The Republicans have alienated whole professions. Lawyers now donate to the Democratic Party over the Republican Party at 4-to-1 rates. With doctors, it’s 2-to-1. With tech executives, it’s 5-to-1. With investment bankers, it’s 2-to-1. It took talent for Republicans to lose the banking community.

* * *

And so, politically, the G.O.P. is squeezed at both ends. The party is losing the working class by sins of omission — because it has not developed policies to address economic anxiety. It has lost the educated class by sins of commission — by telling members of that class to go away.
I think Brooks has it wrong. The Republican Party isn't declining because it has alienated intellectuals. It's declining due to a combination of bad policy decisions and its void of new ideas. That's why you have an array of Republicans suggesting that "You have to let the party die in order to save it", as if it will arise like a phoenix once it is reduced to ash.

That perhaps also reflects this nation's unfortunate tendency to start by supporting a party, embracing the party label as a matter of personal identity, and deciding from there that we support its agenda. If we even think about its agenda. It takes a great shock to wake people up to the idea that their political party doesn't actually have their best interests at heart, even though it seems obvious that the other party is full of corrupt, self-serving slaves to special interests.

As I see it, the set of elites that gained control of the Republican Party, and who foisted their policies upon the nation for the past eight years, have managed to convince a great many conservatives that the modern Republican party is largely not conservative, and has embraced one bad policy after another. Are you a fiscal conservative? How can you not choke on the manner in which the Bush Administration has blown the budget? A foreign policy conservative? How do you feel, then, about aggressive overseas military interventionism and the positioning of the U.S. as world policeman in a never-ending "war on terror"? Are you a social or religious conservative? What did the Bush Administration actually deliver on social issues, despite using them as wedge issues to "inspire the base" in every recent national election? Are you a "club for growth" type who cares about little beyond enriching yourself and eliminating taxes on inherited wealth? Somehow I don't think getting a capital gains tax cut's your hot button issue this week....

The conservative intelligentsia was always in on the joke. They voted for the Republican Party because they thought that Republican policies would best advance their interests, and they understood that the party had to string "the base" along in order to gain and hold power. The Republican party is losing their support because it has proved itself unfit to rule. (Which isn't necessarily to say that the alternative is better, but we're way past the point where "holding the course" seems like a credible response to the problems facing this nation.)

As for losing the base, the "working class" - a term elites use to describe blue collar "red state" voters - has faced a lot of adversity during the years of the so-called "Bush Boom". Then there was the housing bubble - okay, but that mostly affected other people, and most Americans were ready to ride that one out. Then there was the financial industry meltdown and a promise of even harder times, but not to worry - a bailout is on the way... for bankers. The weird thing about getting people to worry about social issues is that they have plenty of time and energy for it when times are good, but when the economy melts down attentions start to shift toward substantive political and economic issues. Right now, that's bad for the Republican Party.

I could have saved a lot of typing and coopted Clinton. Attention, David Brooks: It's the economy, stupid!

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