Thursday, October 06, 2011

No, That's Not What Republicans Want

David Brooks describes what Republicans supposedly want in a Presidential candidate:
The central problem is that Mitt Romney doesn’t fit the mold of what many Republicans want in a presidential candidate. They don’t want a technocratic manager. They want a bold, blunt radical outsider who will take on the establishment, speak truth to power and offend the liberal news media.
David Brooks is a Republican, so it's telling that he is saying "they" instead of "we". Brooks is not describing what he or his peers want - his thesis, after all, is that the Republican masses need to get past their visceral need for "Braveheart" and accept Mitt "Organization Man" Romney. (Yes, he really said that Republican voters want their leader to be like "Braveheart".)

The first thing that comes to my mind, though, is that I can't think of a single Republican nominee who has come close to fitting Brooks' description. Certainly not Gerald Ford. Ronald Reagan was literally a spokesperson for corporate America. Bush I and II were the antitheses of "outsiders". If you were to identify a Republican who comes close to fitting the bill you could argue Richard Nixon, although by today's measures of Republicanism he was something akin to a socialist. While Ronald Reagan presented the affable cowboy persona and G.W. played the part of a Texas rancher, as part of their respective efforts to present a public image that might fool people into thinking them something other than insiders, they were both selected and advanced by the party because of the expectation that they would advance the interests of the nation's political and corporate elite - and they did so, in spades.

If you were to challenge Brooks to explain why Republicans keep nominating Robert the Bruce instead of Braveheart, why their typical nominee is a "that ain't me" from Fortunate Son, you're probably going to hear it explained that (as with Brooks' push for Romney) Republicans would prefer Braveheart but to the extent that there's an actual contest for the nomination they'll settle for electability. Barry Goldwater, millionaire's son; George H.W. Bush, Senator's son; George W. Bush, Senator's grandson and President's son; John McCain, admiral's son. Bob Dole was in Congress for more than thirty years before he led the ticket - humble beginnings can't transform a guy who has spent a quarter of a century in the Senate into an outsider. Gerald Ford, despite almost a quarter century in the House, was the closest of the post-Nixon bunch to an outsider, for all the good it did him. Bold? If Brooks means "brash," perhaps he's thinking of G.W. as "the exception who proves the rule," but which of the Republican presidents or nominees had a track record in office (whether in Congress or the Senate) that can truly be called "bold" or "radical"? Blunt? If Brooks means "dull"....

Somehow, despite supposedly wanting a bold, blunt outsider, the Republicans keep nominating and electing establishment Republican insiders. Instead of electing people who will "speak truth to power", they elect corporate spokespersons. Instead of electing candidates who "offend the liberal news media", whatever that is, they elect candidates who get kid gloves treatment from the mainstream media. If you didn't live through his presidency, you might be confused (as Brooks apparently is) and believe that Ronald Reagan was vilified in the media, while in fact he was the "Teflon President". When an obviously unprepared G.W. Bush ran for the Presidency, the mainstream media told us that we shouldn't care because he would nominate and delegate to competent people and he was the guy we would most want to share a beer with. Such harsh treatment....

As usual, Brooks condescends to Republican voters. He knows better than the masses in his party what is good for them and what is good for the nation. They're grunting savages who want Braveheart, and they now need erudite nerds like Brooks to tell them what is best for them. Do I exaggerate?
The only real shift between school and adult politics is that the jocks realize they need conservative intellectuals, who are geeks who have decided their fellow intellectuals should never be allowed to run anything and have learned to speak slowly so the jocks will understand them.
I think it's a fair characterization to say that, in that sentence, Brooks is describing his perception of himself in relation to the typical Republican voter.

Brooks might respond that he's correct about what Republicans want, even if they keep voting for consummate insiders who might, in the vein of an ad for a pain reliever, declare, "I'm not a bold, honest outsider, but I play one on television". But if that's the case he's still not really telling us anything. You may as well make a claim like, "Liberals want the President to be a philosopher king, but keep voting for people who actually exist." What voters of all stripes really want is for their elected representatives to share their values. What insiders like Brooks have done is to both recognize and create a set of litmus tests and cognitive shortcuts, and to instruct voters, "These are the measures by which you know that the candidate is 'one of you'". Voters say they want strong leaders? Outsiders? People who will "speak truth to power" (now a Republican slogan?), and the like? Then, by Jove, that must be what they're voting for in their party nominee until, at the end of the campaign, they compromise on somebody who they think can win the election. I guess we're not supposed to ask why the nominee that best fits the bill of "what voters want" is so often rejected in favor of one who is "electable". Political self-flagellation?

Meanwhile, Brooks' "lunch room poly sci" lunch buddy, David Frum, is dancing on the grave of a politician that David Brooks would have us believe comes as close to the Republican ideal as is humanly possible. To Brooks, that would seem to translate into, "We can't vote for the candidate we all want because nobody will vote for her."


  1. Republicans want what everybody else wants: lower taxes (on them), increased government services (that they value), less government waste (i.e. money spent on things they don't value), and a higher standard of living (for them). Which would of course differ from what Democrats want in absolutely no way whatsoever . . . (except of course in those pesky little details)


  2. I agree with the first part but not with the specifics. I would phrase it, "Republicans want what everybody else wants: Money for nothing and their chicks* for free." Which helps explain why we're in such, well, dire straits.

    The real problem this nation faces is that people want a ton of government services, but don't want to pay for them. Secondarily they want a ton of government hand-outs, but don't want to pay for those received by others (regardless of whether they're even paying income taxes such that they're actually contributing to those hand-outs).

    * "Chicks" as presented here is a musical allusion, and should be read as including both genders.