Earlier this week I offered a less-than-glowing review of the speeches by Marco Rubio and Paul Ryan at the Jack Kemp Foundation dinner, which mocked their advance billing as harbingers of the Great Big Things To Come in the GOP and the conservative movement. Rubio trotted out an assortment of conservative policy chestnuts and reprised his well-rehearsed American Immigrant Dream number. Ryan, for the third time in the last year so far as I can remember, reframed his own policy preferences from a struggle of makers against takers into a War On Poverty where conservatives will bravely liberate the poor from the bondage of dependence on food and medicine.
If you happen to be a movement conservative, it all sounded fine. But “new” it wasn’t. Still, revealingly, it was enough to excite David Brooks, who chowed down on this thin rhetorical gruel as the kind of reformist nourishment he’s been hongryin’ for. I know he’s not responsible for the headline the Times put on his column (though who knows? he may have approval rights in his contract), but “The Republican Glasnost,” fatuous as the allusion is, does accurately reflect his suggestion that this dinner might have represented a turning point.
And what did Brooks regard as the big moment at this dinner? A shout-out to the service staff, and to landscaping crews, and to janitors! They, suggested Rubio, will someday perform Amazing Feats with the opportunities America gives them!
Rubio didn’t offer these proletarian heroes anything tangible. He sure as hell doesn’t want them to raise themselves up with any help from unions or government. What appeared to shock the audience into “hushed silence” and then a “roaring ovation” is that Rubio bothered to notice these people at all. And guess what? They need the same policies rich folks prefer! Indeed, they need them more, as Ryan’s speech insisted! No wonder a well-heeled conservative audience ate it up.
After swallowing this dubious entree, Brooks goes on to link the exciting new message he heard at the dinner with two other signs of glasnost: Jim DeMint’s decampment to Heritage (which most everyone else is viewing as a sign of the South Carolinian’s even greater power) and John Boehner’s willingness to offer Mitt Romney’s tax ideas as a “concession” to Obama.
I don’t know if Brooks’ column is an act of deception, or merely of self-deception. But it shows how little it takes for movement conservatives to turn the unhappiness of would-be “moderate reformers” into the happy yelps of a well-fed puppy.