Spurning David Brooks’ Anguished Cry For Help

I was just about to perform, as a public service, another deconstruction of another David Brooks column. But Jonathan Chait beat me to the punch by a country mile, and left little to be said in the ruins of Brooks’ argument.

You should savor Chait’s joyfully vicious logic at your leisure, but he does make one point worth underlining as a general indictment of the “reasonable Republicans” who admit the extremism of their party’s dominant elements but lash out at the opposition in their agony:

The prevalent expression of this psychological pain is the belief that President Obama is largely or entirely responsible for Republican extremism. It’s a bizarre but understandable way to reconcile conflicting emotions — somewhat akin to blaming your husband’s infidelity entirely on his mistress. In this case, moderate Republicans believe that Obama’s tactic of taking sensible positions that moderate Republicans agree with is cruel and unfair, because it exposes the extremism that dominates the party, not to mention the powerlessness of the moderates within it.

Just as conservatives want Obama to provide cover for their unpopular “entitlement reform” proposals, Republican “moderates” want Obama to give them the power they so completely lack by offering deals to the GOP that don’t offend the Right and give the “moderates” a position as brokers.

What I don’t understand is the extraordinarily blind conviction that the only reason these “moderates” have no power is the absence of deals on the table, which, because they can only be supplied by Democrats must be supplied by Democrats. This ignores the half-century story of the rise of the conservative movement and its eventual conquest of the GOP, which has nothing to do with “deal-making” and everything to do with repealing most of the policy legacy of the twenty-first century, as created by both parties. Perhaps some fine day, after the 100th “RINO Purge” primary or the millionth op-ed denouncing Republican “surrender” to socialism and secularism, David Brooks will wake up and figure out that movement-conservative types view people like him as dinosaurs who belongs on the ash heap of history. In the mean-time, Chait is right: progressives may sympathize with Brooks’ agony, but we have no responsibility to sabotage our own aspirations for the country to salvage his.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.