I remember watching Superman II and hearing the line “Kneel before Zod”. Maybe it’s just me, but that’s kind of the vibe I got from David Brooks in his uber creepy column earlier this week. By now, there are about a thousand different posts regarding Brooks’ column, but we here at United Liberty are just too awesome to not put our own thoughts on it.
Now, to be fair, much of the point of Brooks’ column is lamenting what he perceives as a lack of powerful monuments to our “Dear Leaders”. However, along the way, he also does the best job of boot-licking politicians I’ve seen that wasn’t intended as satire.
These days many Americans seem incapable of thinking about these paradoxes. Those “Question Authority” bumper stickers no longer symbolize an attempt to distinguish just and unjust authority. They symbolize an attitude of opposing authority.
The old adversary culture of the intellectuals has turned into a mass adversarial cynicism. The common assumption is that elites are always hiding something. Public servants are in it for themselves. Those people at the top are nowhere near as smart or as wonderful as pure and all-knowing Me.
You end up with movements like Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Parties that try to dispense with authority altogether. They reject hierarchies and leaders because they don’t believe in the concepts. The whole world should be like the Internet — a disbursed semianarchy in which authority is suspect and each individual is king.
The fight for the heart and soul of the Republican Party heated up this weekend as David Brooks, whose columns at The New York Times occasionally knock the freedom movement, claimed that the establishment would eventually triumph:
“I think it’s the beginning of a longer-lasting thing,” Brooks said. “There’s been a lot of calls for Republicans to change. And we have seen that from everybody to Paul Ryan to Marco Rubio. Now we’re beginning to see the donor class really begin to change. There is some question: Are they trying to change just the candidates, so they don’t get Todd Akin, or they trying to actually change some of the substance? And, so far, it seems to be just the candidates. One of the interesting things — and I can’t say I know the answer to this — is, how much will the tea party fight back? There has been some effort that they are saying, oh, the establishment is taking over.”
“But my own sense of things so far is that there is not the will to fight among the tea party, and that a lot of people in the tea party are, frankly — they’re not,” he continued. “They are also Republicans. Say, Rush Limbaugh, for example, who is not tea party. He’s more an establishment Republican who wants the Republican Party to win. So I have a feeling that the establishment is going to have maybe an easier time of it than some might think.”
Last week, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) and David Brooks met at the American Enterprise Institute to debate the topic, “How Much Government is Good Government?” Ryan took up the limited government aspect of the debate, while Brooks - not surprisingly - took up the case for an active government.
Ryan, the wonky administrator, emphasized the need for immediate legislative solutions in order to avoid a fiscal meltdown. “The numbers are vicious,” he said, underlining his contention that responsible governance should focus on responding to the grim math of the federal debt. Brooks, the cerebral cultural critic, responded that the key disagreement was not about particular policies, but about the narrative framework behind them, and he singled out Ryan’s “prose” outlining America’s stark fiscal choices as a problem.
It’s hardly in dispute that narrative matters in politics. The question is what story to spin. And the problem with the tale Brooks wants to tell—and sell—is that it’s the same one that’s led to the unsustainable fiscal situation he claims to want to fix.
For Brooks, the narrative that matters is that government, properly directed, can be a force for good, one that strengthens community bonds, counteracts social ills, and encourage the institutions of family and hard work. On several occasions, Brooks repeated his belief that the government’s job is to help citizens build “character.”