David Brooks’ Moderate Manifesto

David Brooks believes that what Obama has done in power is more indicative of his beliefs than what he said to get that power. Specifically, he sees:

… a party swept up in its own revolutionary fervor — caught up in the self-flattering belief that history has called upon it to solve all problems at once. … We end up with an agenda that is unexceptional in its parts but that, when taken as a whole, represents a social-engineering experiment that is entirely new. 

So he proposes a Moderate Manifesto:

Those of us in the moderate tradition — the Hamiltonian tradition that believes in limited but energetic government — thus find ourselves facing a void. We moderates are going to have to assert ourselves. We’re going to have to take a centrist tendency that has been politically feckless and intellectually vapid and turn it into an influential force. 

The first task will be to block the excesses of unchecked liberalism. In the past weeks, Democrats have legislated provisions to dilute welfare reform, restrict the inflow of skilled immigrants and gut a voucher program designed for poor students. It will be up to moderates to raise the alarms against these ideological outrages.

But beyond that, moderates will have to sketch out an alternative vision. This is a vision of a nation in which we’re all in it together — in which burdens are shared broadly, rather than simply inflicted upon a small minority. This is a vision of a nation that does not try to build prosperity on a foundation of debt. This is a vision that puts competitiveness and growth first, not redistribution first.

From a cynical perspective, one could comment that at least he is as honest now than he was gullible during the campaign. But I consider Brooks to be an honest commentator who truly did hope that Obama would represent a change. What we are now reading in his columns is the disappointment in realizing that is likely not the case. However, the fact that he was a not a critic, but rather something of a supporter during the campaign, makes him a very effective critic now.

To me it is no coincidence that one of Brooks’ early mentors–and my hero as I was first interested in politics–was the great William F. Buckley Jr., someone who consistently elevated the public political debate.

All articles referenced are copied in full at end of post.

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A Moderate Manifesto

March 3, 2009 – Op-Ed Columnist

By DAVID BROOKS

You wouldn’t know it some days, but there are moderates in this country — moderate conservatives, moderate liberals, just plain moderates. We sympathize with a lot of the things that President Obama is trying to do. We like his investments in education and energy innovation. We support health care reform that expands coverage while reducing costs.

But the Obama budget is more than just the sum of its parts. There is, entailed in it, a promiscuous unwillingness to set priorities and accept trade-offs. There is evidence of a party swept up in its own revolutionary fervor — caught up in the self-flattering belief that history has called upon it to solve all problems at once.

So programs are piled on top of each other and we wind up with a gargantuan $3.6 trillion budget. We end up with deficits that, when considered realistically, are $1 trillion a year and stretch as far as the eye can see. We end up with an agenda that is unexceptional in its parts but that, when taken as a whole, represents a social-engineering experiment that is entirely new.

The U.S. has never been a society riven by class resentment. Yet the Obama budget is predicated on a class divide. The president issued a read-my-lips pledge that no new burdens will fall on 95 percent of the American people. All the costs will be borne by the rich and all benefits redistributed downward.

The U.S. has always been a decentralized nation, skeptical of top-down planning. Yet, the current administration concentrates enormous power in Washington, while plan after plan emanates from a small group of understaffed experts.

The U.S. has always had vibrant neighborhood associations. But in its very first budget, the Obama administration raises the cost of charitable giving. It punishes civic activism and expands state intervention.

The U.S. has traditionally had a relatively limited central government. But federal spending as a share of G.D.P. is zooming from its modern norm of 20 percent to an unacknowledged level somewhere far beyond.

Those of us who consider ourselves moderates — moderate-conservative, in my case — are forced to confront the reality that Barack Obama is not who we thought he was. His words are responsible; his character is inspiring. But his actions betray a transformational liberalism that should put every centrist on notice. As Clive Crook, an Obama admirer, wrote in The Financial Times, the Obama budget “contains no trace of compromise. It makes no gesture, however small, however costless to its larger agenda, of a bipartisan approach to the great questions it addresses. It is a liberal’s dream of a new New Deal.”

Moderates now find themselves betwixt and between. On the left, there is a president who appears to be, as Crook says, “a conviction politician, a bold progressive liberal.” On the right, there are the Rush Limbaugh brigades. The only thing more scary than Obama’s experiment is the thought that it might fail and the political power will swing over to a Republican Party that is currently unfit to wield it.

Those of us in the moderate tradition — the Hamiltonian tradition that believes in limited but energetic government — thus find ourselves facing a void. We moderates are going to have to assert ourselves. We’re going to have to take a centrist tendency that has been politically feckless and intellectually vapid and turn it into an influential force.

The first task will be to block the excesses of unchecked liberalism. In the past weeks, Democrats have legislated provisions to dilute welfare reform, restrict the inflow of skilled immigrants and gut a voucher program designed for poor students. It will be up to moderates to raise the alarms against these ideological outrages.

But beyond that, moderates will have to sketch out an alternative vision. This is a vision of a nation in which we’re all in it together — in which burdens are shared broadly, rather than simply inflicted upon a small minority. This is a vision of a nation that does not try to build prosperity on a foundation of debt. This is a vision that puts competitiveness and growth first, not redistribution first.

Moderates are going to have to try to tamp down the polarizing warfare that is sure to flow from Obama’s über-partisan budget. They will have to face fiscal realities honestly and not base revenue projections on rosy scenarios of a shallow recession and robust growth next year.

They will have to take the economic crisis seriously and not use it as a cue to focus on every other problem under the sun. They’re going to have to offer an agenda that inspires confidence by its steadiness rather than shaking confidence with its hyperactivity.

If they can do that, maybe they can lure this White House back to its best self — and someday offer respite from the endless war of the extremes.
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Remembering the Mentor

February 29, 2008 – Op-Ed Columnist – By DAVID BROOKS

When I was in college, William F. Buckley Jr. wrote a book called “Overdrive” in which he described his glamorous lifestyle. Since I was young and a smart-aleck, I wrote a parody of it for the school paper.

“Buckley spent most of his infancy working on his memoirs,” I wrote in my faux-biography. “By the time he had learned to talk, he had finished three volumes: ‘The World Before Buckley,’ which traced the history of the world prior to his conception; ‘The Seeds of Utopia,’ which outlined his effect on world events during the nine months of his gestation; and ‘The Glorious Dawn,’ which described the profound ramifications of his birth on the social order.”

The piece went on in this way. I noted that his ability to turn water into wine added to his popularity at prep school. I described his college memoirs: “God and Me at Yale,” “God and Me at Home” and “God and Me at the Movies.” I recounted that after college he had founded two magazines, one called The National Buckley and the other called The Buckley Review, which merged to form The Buckley Buckley.

I wrote that his hobbies included extended bouts of name-dropping and going into rooms to make everyone else feel inferior.

Buckley came to the University of Chicago, delivered a lecture and said: “David Brooks, if you’re in the audience, I’d like to offer you a job.”

That was the big break of my professional life. A few years later, I went to National Review and joined the hundreds of others who have been Buckley protégés.

I don’t know if I can communicate the grandeur of his life or how overwhelming it was to be admitted into it. Buckley was not only a giant celebrity, he lived in a manner of the haut monde. To enter Buckley’s world was to enter the world of yachts, limousines, finger bowls at dinner, celebrities like David Niven and tales of skiing at Gstaad.

Buckley’s greatest talent was friendship. The historian George Nash once postulated that he wrote more personal letters than any other American, and that is entirely believable. He showered affection on his friends, and he had an endless stream of them, old and young. He took me sailing, invited me to concerts and included me at dinners with the great and the good.

He asked my opinion about things, as he did with all his young associates, and he worked hard on polishing my writing. My short editorials would come back covered with his red ink, and if I’d written one especially badly there might be an exasperated comment, “Come on, David!”

His second great talent was leadership. As a young man, he had corralled the famously disputatious band of elders who made up the editorial board of National Review. He changed the personality of modern conservatism, created a national movement and expelled the crackpots from it.

He led through charisma and merit. He was capable of intellectual pyrotechnics none of us could match. But he also exemplified a delicious way of living.

Magazines are aspirational. National Review’s readers no doubt shared a hatred for Communism, but many of them simply wanted to be like Buckley. He had a Tory gratitude for the pleasures of life: for music, conversation, technology and adventure.

Days at the magazine were filled with rituals. And through all the fun, I don’t recall him talking about politics much. He talked about literature, history, theology, philosophy and the charms of the peculiar people he had known. I don’t recall politicians at his home, but I do recall literary critics like Anatole Broyard and social thinkers like James Burnham, even after his stroke.

Buckley contained all the intellectual tensions of conservatism, the pessimism of Albert Jay Nock and Whittaker Chambers, as well as the optimism of Ronald Reagan. He loved liberty and felt it must be constrained by the invisible bonds of the transcendent order.

One night we were at his home, and his wife, Pat, at the height of her glamour, swept in from an evening on the town and took one look at the little group of us debating some point. You could feel her inner thought: “Why does he spend his time with those people?” But Buckley loved ideas, swept us along as his companions, and sent us out into the world.

And years later, I asked if he’d ever reached a moment of contentment. He’d changed history and accomplished all that any man could be expected to accomplish. After you’ve done all that, I asked, do you feel peace? Can you kick back and relax?

He looked at me with a confused expression. He had no idea what I could possibly be talking about.
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About Jorge Costales

- Cuban Exile [veni] - Raised in Miami [vidi] - American Citizen [vici]
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