Tag Archives: David Brooks

When David Brooks Gets Angry…

One of the things that has attracted me to David Brooks over the years is his willingness to not get so heated in his writing.  In a time when it seems that what sells is trying to show everyone how outraged you are, Brooks quiet conservations about issues has always been a breath of fresh air.  Brooks has been criticial of folks accross the political spectrum, but it was never done in a withering attack style.  That’s just not David Brooks.

At least it wasn’t until today.

Brooks incredible tounge lashing of the GOP for it’s dance with default should be a sign to Republicans that they are in danger of losing any and all credibility.  When you get the man who has made a living on calls for civility angry, you’ve pretty much lost the independents and moderates that are needed to win.

The modern GOP is in a bit of a bind. My guess is that even within the halls of Congress there are a number of GOP members of Congress who agree with Brooks.  They want to make a deal with Democrats to avert any kind of fiscal disaster.  But I also think the GOP is trapped by its own ideology; faced with a base that doesn’t want any compromise and will punish any lawmaker that goes against their wishes. As Jonathan Bernstein notes, citing a recent New York Times piece, GOP lawmakers are kept in line using fear:

What matters here, however, isn’t what actually happens in these primaries (after all, virtually all incumbents will survive them), but what’s in the heads of Republican Members of Congress. And for that, it’s possible that the ambiguities and unclear interpretations in Steinhauer’s story reflect accurately a focus on primaries and Tea Party short leashes that dominate the thinking of those Republicans.

All of which means that, at this point, it doesn’t really matter how many establishment figures defect or how harshly they complain: as long as Republican politicians are convinced that their main vulnerability is primary challenges from the right, they’re going to get crazier and crazier. 

The thing is, it’s really not that crazy to worry about challenges from the right. Several Republican incumbents went down to defeat in primaries last year because they were not “pure” enough. It happened enough in 2010 to strike fear in the the hearts of GOP lawmakers. And as Bernstein notes as long as those politicos think this is their fate if they even make a deal, they will ride that crazy train no matter what a columist says about them.

I really don’t know what the solution is.  Of course, GOP lawmakers should make deals, but the reality is they won’t because of what could be the reprocussions of compromising.  Brooks slap accross the face should be a wake-up call, but I doubt it will.  So far, there hasn’t been any consquences for going crazy.  There have been consquences for making deals.  Only when a price is paid for ideological rigidity will the GOP be able to change its course.  The question then will be if it’s too late.

…and David Brooks as Martin Luther

David Frum points to David Brook’s “withering column” on the GOP and notes that the public will not only blame the President for this mess, but will also look to the GOP as well:

Republicans in Congress need to understand that there will be a political price to them, not only to the president, if they force the United States into reneging on its contracted obligations. They need to hear that message from inside, from donors and supporters. That’s not a “pro-Obama” message as some hot-heads charge. It’s a pro “full faith and credit” message. The Obama program can (and in large measure should) be repealed. But default is not an acceptable tool of politics.

Brooks’ column is a manifesto for the times, it should be nailed to the Republican equivalent of the church door at Wittenberg.

Snatching Defeat from the Jaws of Victory

Whenever I start talking about issues regarding the budget, I tend to get a few responses that go like this: the Democrats are pragmatic and the Republicans are crazy.

I tend to roll my eyes when I hear that because I tend to think it’s too simplistic and tends to look at any and all political issues in a black and white viewpoint.  I like to believe life is a lot more complicated than that. That, and most of the folks that are saying this seem to be hard partisans that will always find the other side as crazy while they are rational and sane.

While I don’t think the entire GOP is nuts, there is always a bit of truth in everything.  There are those in the GOP who I think are able to control the debate when it comes to the budget.  They have turned tax policy into a religion and not in a good way.

David Brooks takes the Republicans to task for basically squandering a perfect opportunity to get control of federal spending.  As Brooks notes in today’s column, the GOP has in many ways “won” the debate on spending and has forced the Democrats’ hand when it comes to the budget.

But instead of declaring victory and making a deal which would include closing tax expenditures and maybe even raising taxes, the party has not budged from its “no-taxes” stance, risking the federal government to default in a month’s time. Here’s what Brooks notes about the GOP.

If the Republican Party were a normal party, it would take advantage of this amazing moment. It is being offered the deal of the century: trillions of dollars in spending cuts in exchange for a few hundred million dollars of revenue increases.

A normal Republican Party would seize the opportunity to put a long-term limit on the growth of government. It would seize the opportunity to put the country on a sound fiscal footing. It would seize the opportunity to do these things without putting any real crimp in economic growth.

The party is not being asked to raise marginal tax rates in a way that might pervert incentives. On the contrary, Republicans are merely being asked to close loopholes and eliminate tax expenditures that are themselves distortionary.

This, as I say, is the mother of all no-brainers.

But we can have no confidence that the Republicans will seize this opportunity. That’s because the Republican Party may no longer be a normal party. Over the past few years, it has been infected by a faction that is more of a psychological protest than a practical, governing alternative.

Brooks pretty much tears the GOP a new one for not acting like a political party that makes deals and instead like a protest movement that doesn’t allow for any compromise.

And he’s correct in doing so.

Politics is and has always been a mix of compromise and principle.  It’s one thing to talk use ideology as a governing framework to guide oneself in a democratic society.  It’s is another thing to use ideology as something to hide behind, to keep yourself from governing and representing the people.

What the GOP is being asked to do is to accept closing some tax loopholes and subsidies.  Yes, that would mean “taxes would rise.” But really, are we talking about raising rates back to the Eisenhower era of 9o some percent?  No.

What this comes down to is what the GOP wants to be in the next few years.  It can choose to be a governing political party that accepts compromise and takes into account that there is another political party that they have to deal with, or it can choose to be a protest movement that doesn’t care as much about governing than it does getting accross it’s ideological message.  It can’t be both.

Republicans have an opportunity to make more inroads in 2012.  They actually might have a chance to win the White House.  But if the party chooses ideological conformity over responsible governing, they can expect to see those chances slip away.  As David Brooks says at the end of his column:

The struggles of the next few weeks are about what sort of party the G.O.P. is — a normal conservative party or an odd protest movement that has separated itself from normal governance, the normal rules of evidence and the ancient habits of our nation.

If the debt ceiling talks fail, independents voters will see that Democrats were willing to compromise but Republicans were not. If responsible Republicans don’t take control, independents will conclude that Republican fanaticism caused this default. They will conclude that Republicans are not fit to govern.

And they will be right.


The Man Trap

One of the knocks against blogger Andrew Sullivan is his fascination with Sarah Palin, to point of wondering whether or not her youngest child is really hers or not.  He has been pilloried on the right for this, but he has also recieved a few knocks from the center and the left as well for writing about the former governor day-in and day-out. I know personally, I’ve not read Sullivan the way I used to once, and part of the reason comes from his staying focused on Palin.

Now it seems that David Frum is heading down the same path.  Frum is a smart-writer and thinker, and I’ve been pleased to have some of my writings show up at FrumForum.  But lately he has also been focusing on Palin a bit too much. 

It’s been puzzling enough to me to wonder why Palin has become such a fixation on the Left, but it is even moreso a mystery why some centrists and conservatives are also obessesed with her.

I’ve been wondering why Sullivan and Frum are so Palin-obessed.  Why do we care about woman that didn’t even serve a term for governor?  Why do folks who used to be or are on the right want to pore through every book she’s written and watch her reality TV series?

I asked this question to frequent commenter Bubbaquimby who replies:

I think they see in her the manifestation of everything they see that is wrong with the GOP (anti-elite, very socially conservative, uncompromisable, more rhetoric than substance, etc). So they see themselves as heroes off to slay the evil dragon.

For one they are just preaching to the choir and in someways go off the deep end with craziness (more so Sullivan). They have really convinced themselves that she has a chance of winning the nomination. I just don’t see it, granted I don’t even think she will run.

But what I find odd is, wouldn’t they want her to win? I mean her getting trounced by Obama in some ways would be the best thing to moderate GOP. It would be like what Mondale/Dukakis did for the Dems.  It finally killed off the old left.

To which I say: yup.  Sullivan and Frum are the only ones obessed with Palin, but for those who are worried about the direction the Republican Party is taking, Palin provides away to package all those fears into one person.  She becomes the living embodiement of the modern GOP.  Now that we have a known demon, we can hurl all our hate towards it and feel like something is getting done.

In a slightly more odd take, the blogger zomblog thinks there is a sexual thing going on with Palin- haters.  I don’t know if I buy his take, his point  that seeing her as some kind of sexy, evil bully gives the opponent a sort of moral superiority makes a whole lot of sense.

But while it might make the opponent feel good, I wonder if it also prevents said person from actually doing anything else.  Palin obession reminds me of the Star Trek episode called “The Man Trap.”  A creature that needs salt shapeshifts into attractive women to lure men.  She then is able to extract the salt from the men leaving them dead.

So it is with Palin obession.  People are drawn to her and start attacking her.  They build her up as an unstoppable threat to GOP and to America.  It drains the energy of fellow conservatives from focusing on how to reform conservatism.  Why do you want to talk about tax policy or new ideas, when you can focus on what is seemingly the source of all your problems?

Sarah Palin isn’t the source of all that’s wrong in the GOP.  The problems are pretty complex and the solutions even moreso.  But the more we all focus on her every move the more power she draws from us.

As Bubba notes, focusing so much on what’s wrong with the GOP and/or conservatism is a dangerous game.  Conservative critics start focusing so much on what’s wrong with conservatism, the stop focusing on what’s right.  That’s what happened with Andrew Sullivan.  He righly focused on some of the drawbacks of modern conservatism, but then started focusing on them so much that conservatism became nothing more than its weaknesses and not its strengths.

If there is one conservative writer that has learned not to focus on Palin, it would be David Brooks.  He has written about the GOP and conservatism’s shortcomings, but he has also written about what is good with conservatism and has provided some ideas to boot.

In the end, if conservatism is to be reformed, we have to move forward and not get tied up in distractions like Sarah Palin.  Don’t fall for her lures.

Walking Back from Tunnel Vision

A few days ago, I wrote a post criticizing New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s cancelling of a transit tunnel connecting New Jersey with New York City. While I like the Republican governor, I took issue with his decision and even invoked the holy name of Paul Krugman in my criticism.

Now I take most of it all back, thanks to some thoughtful posts by Mark Thompson over at the League of Ordinary Gentlemen and Reihan Salam and David Brooks who offered some reasoned objections to the project.  They didn’t take the “all government spending (save defense) is bad” tact that is so common on the American Right, but instead talk about cost and choices.

Both Thompson and Salam link to this article from the Regional Plan Association in the Bergen Record that explains some of the background on why Christie might want to cancel the project:

The less optimistic perspective is that the delay is a first step to killing or indefinitely delaying the project. Why would the Governor do this? Possibly because while ARC has its funding in place, the rest of the state’s transportation funding situation is a mess. This isn’t Governor Christie’s fault. Half a dozen Governors over ten years have spent more than the state’s Transportation Trust Fund could afford, collecting about $900 million a year in gas taxes and other sources, but spending about $1.4 billion each year on capital projects. The gap was filled by borrowing – a familiar story in New Jersey these days. Unfortunately, the bill is now due. Starting in less than one year, every dollar collected in gas tax revenues for the next 30 years will go to paying off bonds that have already been spent. Unless hundreds of millions of dollars in new revenues or significant cost reductions can be identified, the state’s capital spending on other transportation projects (street and bridge repairs, highway upgrades, other transit investments, etc.) will drop dramatically.

So, other governors had raised the gas tax, but not enough to cover the cost of these projects.  Salam then goes on to note the problem of cost overruns, a common problem with infastructure projects.  He notes that governor after governor kicked the can down the road, hiding the cost of infastrucuture projects from the citizens, and allowing costs to rise beyond what New Jerseyians could afford in the way of taxes. Salam  believes government has to find ways to rein in the costs:

Had New Jersey taxpayers been bearing the costs of these capital expenditures, they might have (a) decided they could do with less infrastructure or (b) demanded more efficiency from the construction firms responsible for massive cost overruns. 

But New Jersey’s leaders decided to kick the can down the road. And now those of us who are gently suggesting that we look under the hood and give these projects the scrutiny they deserve are being derided as senseless reactionaries hellbent on sinking the economy

I’m a devotee of Barry LePatner, an attorney who has been working on construction projects for decades. He’s shed light on the inefficiencies that drive cost overruns. Boston’s Big Dig was slated to cost $2.8 billion in 1985. By the time it was done, in 2006, it cost Massachusetts taxpayers $14.6 billion. The New Meadowlands Stadium for the New York Jets and the Giants was supposed to cost $800 million. Turns out it cost $1.7 billion. Chicago’s Dan Ryan Expressway wound up costing twice as much as advertised. 

LePatner has argued that inefficiencies in the trillion-dollar construction industry cost the country $120 billion a year, an effective $2,000 tax on a family of four.

So, we need to do something about cost overruns.  But why is it so hard to build a tunnel now when years ago we were able to finance large infastructure projects like the Interstate Highway System.  The answer,  according to Brooks is  the cost of government has gone up over the years and decades , making harder to do provide some of the basic government services:

Over the past few decades, governments have become entwined in a series of arrangements that drain money from productive uses and direct it toward unproductive ones.

New Jersey can’t afford to build its tunnel, but benefits packages for the state’s employees are 41 percent more expensive than those offered by the average Fortune 500 company. These benefits costs are rising by 16 percent a year.

New York City has to strain to finance its schools but must support 10,000 former cops who have retired before age 50.

California can’t afford new water projects, but state cops often receive 90 percent of their salaries when they retire at 50. The average corrections officer there makes $70,000 a year in base salary and $100,000 with overtime (California spends more on its prison system than on its schools).

States across the nation will be paralyzed for the rest of our lives because they face unfunded pension obligations that, if counted accurately, amount to $2 trillion — or $87,000 per plan participant.

All in all, governments can’t promote future prosperity because they are strangling on their own self-indulgence.

What it comes down to is that governments are having to shoulder the cost of  paying for their workers (and their pensions) and try to find ways to fund the basics.  As the cost of the workers rise, then there’s less and less for things like roads and bridges.

I’ve long said that Republicans have to get off their “no-new-taxes” mantra.  That said, you can only tax so much.  If you keep raising taxes and don’t try to control spending, well then those tax dollars are being wasted.

Many communities are trying to find ways to pay for pensions and also provide things like health care.  Why can’t states and cities basically do what private companies did long ago- put employees on 401(k) plans?  The answer is that government then would have to face the wrath of public sector unions which long ago fought for those pensions. 

This argument about a tunnel has to be more than about government good/ government bad.  It has to be about making choices with what we have and trying to use the resources (taxes) wisely.  We need a government to provide us with good roads.  But that doesn’t mean that we should sit back and allow costs for projects to balloon out-of-control. 

The real challenge and hopeful path the for the GOP is to raise a generation of politicians that are more interested in thoughtful reform of government than in worthless slogans.  Too much of modern conservatism and libertarianism views government as evil to want to do anything to make it leaner and more efficient.

My partner is taking the lead in adding on an addition to our house.  He has long bugged the contractor in making sure that they get quality stuff at a good price.  He wants to get the work done at a good price and has worked hard with the contractor to get that done.

As Americans we have to learn how to use government efficiently.  The question  is not about big government versus small government, but if we can get it for a good price.

Tom Joad Meets the Tea Party

A blog post from Dave Sessions over at The American Scene delves into the issue of the Tea Party and diversity…again.  This time it deals with a conversation between a caller and conservative windbag Rush Limbaugh about the use of Spanish during an NBC football game.  Sessions sums up that white fear (not racism) is a part of the Tea Party movement:

Anyone who insists the Tea Party is not animated by a distinctively white unrest should read that whole thing three times slowly. I’ve had several conversations lately with people who insist, as Glenn Beck and other Tea Party leaders have done, that the movement is not about racism or xenophobia. I believe them. I doubt than anyone outside a small fraction of the activists who have marched in Washington openly despise black people or have personal antipathy toward the Hispanic immigrants in their hometowns. (In mine, they work for virtually every local business, and Mexican flags fly uncontroversially alongside the U.S. and Texas flags at many auto dealerships.) But one cannot listen to the exchange above and miss the clear sentiment behind the expressed concern: distinctive American culture, which happens to be the way white middle-class people who speak English live, is “under assault from within.”

I think Sessions is correct that “white panic” is a major part of the Tea Party movement and he is also correct that this panic is not the same as pure racism.  I don’t think white Tea Partiers somehow hate blacks and other folks who aren’t white.

But while Sessions doesn’t say that such folk are racists, he does at the same time seem to imply that these folks are not the norm:

People who dismiss the “white fear” interpretation of the Tea Party will no doubt accuse me of presenting anecdotal evidence, or say that Rush Limbaugh is not a Tea Party leader. That’s fair enough, and focusing on this undercurrent in no way suggests it is the only thing the Tea Party is about. But the ubiquity of the type of conversations like this “Fútbol Americano” exchange among the Tea Partiers I know, the reflexive undercurrent of hostility toward anything—Spanish, mosques, bike lanes—that is not distinctively American, gives something away. They are not just under assault from a Democratic president, but a host of vaguely-defined foreign invaders, just like Richard Hofstadter described in “The Psuedo-Conservative Revolt.” It just so happens that most of the defenders are white Christians and most of the invaders are something else. And the fact that these Americans can make wild connections between 20-second Spanish advertisements during NFL games and the “degradation” of American culture shows us something about what’s going on inside their heads.

A lot of African Americans as well as conservatives and liberals well versed in diversity will no doubt say that the Tea Party is racist or like Sessions say that its driving force is racial resentment and leave it at that.  When such statements are made, we who have issues with the Tea Party movement can either look at them with fear or with contempt.  But what we don’t do is figure out what is fueling that racial resentment.  It is simple racism or is it something more complex?

There is no doubt that folks like Rush Limbaugh and Angelo Codevilla are adept in stirring the racial and ethnic pot.  But I believe there is more going on than the tired old story of conservatives being racist.

I think this racial resentment and fear is more of symptom than it is the disease itself.  A changing America, with the first African American president as its symbol, is a threat to those who feel left behind by this changing nation.  While working African Americans have been hammered over the last 30 years, so have working class whites.  Their story is less well known, but they tend to live lives of quiet desparation, seeing their way of life dissapear.

Back in July, Virginia Democratic Senator James Webb stirred things up in an op-ed where he talked about the economic concerns of working class whites.  He makes a case that race-based affrimative action programs have done harm to poor whites and need to cease.  He wrote:

In 1938, President Franklin Roosevelt created a national commission to study what he termed “the long and ironic history of the despoiling of this truly American section.” At that time, most industries in the South were owned by companies outside the region. Of the South’s 1.8 million sharecroppers, 1.2 million were white (a mirror of the population, which was 71% white). The illiteracy rate was five times that of the North-Central states and more than twice that of New England and the Middle Atlantic (despite the waves of European immigrants then flowing to those regions). The total endowments of all the colleges and universities in the South were less than the endowments of Harvard and Yale alone. The average schoolchild in the South had $25 a year spent on his or her education, compared to $141 for children in New York.

Generations of such deficiencies do not disappear overnight, and they affect the momentum of a culture. In 1974, a National Opinion Research Center (NORC) study of white ethnic groups showed that white Baptists nationwide averaged only 10.7 years of education, a level almost identical to blacks’ average of 10.6 years, and well below that of most other white groups. A recent NORC Social Survey of white adults born after World War II showed that in the years 1980-2000, only 18.4% of white Baptists and 21.8% of Irish Protestants—the principal ethnic group that settled the South—had obtained college degrees, compared to a national average of 30.1%, a Jewish average of 73.3%, and an average among those of Chinese and Indian descent of 61.9%.

Policy makers ignored such disparities within America’s white cultures when, in advancing minority diversity programs, they treated whites as a fungible monolith. Also lost on these policy makers were the differences in economic and educational attainment among nonwhite cultures. Thus nonwhite groups received special consideration in a wide variety of areas including business startups, academic admissions, job promotions and lucrative government contracts.

Where should we go from here? Beyond our continuing obligation to assist those African-Americans still in need, government-directed diversity programs should end.

I don’t know if we should abandon Affirmative Action, but we should consider long and hard how are we to help poor whites get leg up in this swiftly changing environment.

Why should a black guy like me care?  Because I grew up in a working class town where poor whites as well as poor blacks came to town to work in the auto plants.  When those jobs went away, it hit both just as hard.  They scrambled for work saw their ways of life dissappear.  If you want to know why Michigan has so many white folks in the milita movement, you might want to look at the loss of auto jobs.  Back in the 1980s, a group of white men killed an Asian man they thought was Japanese.  Was it racist?  Yes, but it was also fear  of  losing a decent way of life because the Detroit and the rest the auto industry was in the crapper. 

In a recent column, Ross Douthat noted that being left behind in a changing America tends to fuel paranoia. He was talking about white Christians being underrepresented in elite colleges, but he could have been referring to the economy as well:

Inevitably, the same underrepresentation persists in the elite professional ranks these campuses feed into: in law and philanthropy, finance and academia, the media and the arts.

This breeds paranoia, among elite and non-elites alike. Among the white working class, increasingly the most reliable Republican constituency, alienation from the American meritocracy fuels the kind of racially tinged conspiracy theories that Beck and others have exploited — that Barack Obama is a foreign-born Marxist hand-picked by a shadowy liberal cabal, that a Wall Street-Washington axis wants to flood the country with third- world immigrants, and so forth.

But Douthat also concludes that because white liberals have little contact with poor whites, they also have a jaundiced view of them:

Among the highly educated and liberal, meanwhile, the lack of contact with rural, working-class America generates all sorts of wild anxieties about what’s being plotted in the heartland.

In the Bush years, liberals fretted about a looming evangelical theocracy. In the age of the Tea Parties, they see crypto-Klansmen and budding Timothy McVeighs everywhere they look.

So, how do we solve this?  Well, one way is listening to Tom Joad again.  Using the lead character from the Grapes of Wrath, David Brooks says its time for a progressive, nonideological center to arise and work to spread middle class wealth again.  He notes that affluent liberals and anti-tax conservatives have crowded out any concern for the standards of the middle class, even as jobs dissapear.  I would add that unless there is a center that listens to the white working class as well as others, we will continue to have movements fueled by white panic. 

It’s time that we give a damn about Tom Joad, instead of looking down at him.

The Parent Model

One of our loyal readers brought this article to my attention and it is well worth reading and considering.

The article compares the US and German economies and the fact that while our economy is still struggling the German economy is moving along and a steady clip. Since the growth (or lack thereof) is only reflected by a short period of time the author does not suggest that it proves our model wrong or the German model right, but it is interesting to ponder.

The point he does make however that part of the reason the German economy is recovering more quickly is because they took care of the fundamentals over the last decade while we borrowed and spent.

I’m quite sure a lot of you have thoughts, so sing on out.

Crossposted at the Moderate Voice

Missing (and Proving) the Point

David Brooks column today is a good one, but it has already stirred a bit of ire from some libertarians who in some way prove his point. The column is about how we are not as hardy thinkers as we used to be, not allowing for any thought that just might upset our mental applecarts. Here’s a taste:

The ensuing mental flabbiness is most evident in politics. Many conservatives declare that Barack Obama is a Muslim because it feels so good to say so. Many liberals would never ask themselves why they were so wrong about the surge in Iraq while George Bush was so right. The question is too uncomfortable.

There’s a seller’s market in ideologies that gives people a chance to feel victimized. There’s a rigidity to political debate. Issues like tax cuts and the size of government, which should be shaped by circumstances (often it’s good to cut taxes; sometimes it’s necessary to raise them), are now treated as inflexible tests of tribal purity.

It’s a worthwhile read because what Brooks is getting at is that we are less willing these days to really use our brains and think about the beliefs we hold in a critical light. Instead, we want our beliefs to be confrimed, we want to have the feeling that we are always right and that we never have to change a thing.

As if on cue, Matt Welch replies with a snarky post calling Brooks a lover of big government. He takes Brooks quote on the issue of taxes and the size of government, and makes it sound like Brooks is saying that any talk about free markets is bad and any talk of government (as well as higher spending and higher taxes) is good:

So after a decade of hysterical growth of government at all levels, which has left us with a crappy and unimproving economy, unprecedented debt and deficits, and a long-term fiscal outlook too horrifying to contemplate, it is a demonstration of confirmation bias, herd thinking, and inflexible tribal purity to question the continued growth of the state. I sure do hope that David Brooks is good enough to let us know when it’s okay to come outside and criticize big government again. Though judging by his track record–whether 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2002, 2004, 2005, 2008, or 2010–it may be a long time coming.

I think this is a rather unfair assessment.  Brooks isn’t saying that we should never question government spending.  Anyone that has read Brooks over the years know that he tends to favor smaller government.  But he is saying to both those that favor smaller government and those that favor larger government that they need to step out of their ideological cocoons sometime.

And that is the problem with our political discourse these days.  On the conservative-libertarian side, there seems to be only one answer for everything: Government is always too big, it needs to be smaller.  Okay, I get that and tend to favor that.  But the problem is that it becomes the answer to things people aren’t asking.  When it comes to things like the economy or housing or economic development, sometimes saying “let the market handle it” is not always sufficient.  So how can the government have a role that doesn’t make it expand greatly or raise taxes?  Now that would mean using your grey matter.  But too many people don’t actually want to think, lest they be branded as a traitor by their compatriots.

The same goes for liberals who think the government can solve everything and should regulate everything.  As E.D. Kain noted a while back, regulation can at times, lead to oligarchies that keep out smaller businesses.  Because of government regulation, niche breweries were shut out of the American market for years until President Carter deregulated the industry in the late 70s.  But again, we don’t want to think outside of the box at times; we don’t want to be accused being capitalists.

What Brooks has long advocated, and what I have agreed with, is that government has to be both small and active.  It has to be willing to provide some leadership to society issues, even if it is not the one that provides the answer.  Small government is great, but it is of no use if it is inefficient and not able to help when people do need it. 

It doesn’t take much a brain to advocate for ever bigger government or to whack all government programs.  It does take thought in how to provide the government services needed and not expand government.

When America is able to get out its ideological cul-de-sacs, the we will become a more functional society again.