Poor David Brooks. The New York Times‘ center-right columnist is looking at the 2012 presidential race from a “Hamiltonian/National Greatness perspective,” and he’s left with the impression that the major parties are “unusually pathetic,” with “unusually unimaginative” agendas, which are “unusually incommensurate to the problem at hand.”
Brooks longs for a “Hamiltonian reinvigoration agenda,” and proceeds to tell us what that might look like.
This reinvigoration package would have four baskets. There would be an entitlement reform package designed to redistribute money from health care and the elderly toward innovation and the young. Unless we get health care inflation under control by replacing the perverse fee-for-service incentive structure, there will be no money for anything else.
There would be a targeted working-class basket: early childhood education, technical education, community colleges, an infrastructure bank, asset distribution to help people start businesses, a new wave industrial policy if need be — anything that might give the working class a leg up.
There would be a political corruption basket. The Tea Parties are right about the unholy alliance between business and government that is polluting the country. It’s time to drain the swamp by simplifying the tax code and streamlining the regulations businesses use to squash their smaller competitors.
There would also be a pro-business basket: lower corporate rates, a sane visa policy for skilled immigrants, a sane patent and permitting system, more money for research.
I don’t mean to sound picky, but isn’t this effectively a recitation of President Obama’s “winning the future” agenda? In fact, forget “effectively.” Doesn’t Brooks’ column read like he copy-and-pasted from one of the president’s speeches?
As Ezra Klein explained:
The Affordable Care Act cut spending on Medicare and raised taxes on wealthy Medicare beneficiaries in order to redistribute that money toward the young and the sick. It put growth constraints on Medicare’s future spending and on the tax break for employer-provided health care to free money up for other uses. It attempted basically everything anyone could think of to figure out how to define, track and pay for quality.
It looks to me like every single items in Brooks’s “targeted working-class basket” is also on Obama’s agenda. Early childhood education? It got a Race to the Top program — a program, incidentally, that Brooks admires — in the president’s 2012 budget. Same for technical education/community colleges. As for the infrastructure bank, Obama proposed it last year. Meanwhile, Obama’s State of the Union emphasized the exact sort of tax reform and R&D investment Brooks proposes, and he’s long supported high-skills immigration reform.
Brooks said in his column that Democrats are offering “practically nothing.” He ought to pay closer attention — they appear to be offering him exactly what he wants.