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Where David Brooks Got it Wrong on Orthodox Republicanism March 9, 2016

Posted by intellectualgridiron in Politics.
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David Brooks, the in-house, right-leaning centrist for the NY Times, has written yet another thought-provoking article (this on March 8, 2016). This is not news.  He usually does this, and does so rather eloquently, though he lacks the true intellectual firepower and vocabulary of George Will.  This is not to be held against him:  who does have such capacity as Will?  Hands, anyone?

Thought-provoking as his most recent article may be, entitled “It’s Not Too Late,” there are some problems with his thesis.  Yes, he did get some things right, but he also got some key things wrong.  But in which respective areas?

Let us start with what the article is all about.  Brooks clearly recognizes the urgency within the Republican primary at the moment.  That is to say, the majority of the GOP electorate recognizes what a disastrous candidate Donald Trump would be in the general election, and his would-be GOP nomination must be thwarted at all costs.  Moreover, Brooks proceeds, further down in the article, to lay out the systemic problems behind Trump’s cult of personality.  He outlines that Trump’s populism is premised on an active, big government that is energized to help the American working class, but doing so in negative, defensive ways.  The blowhard wants to build walls, to close trade, to ban outside groups, and to otherwise smash enemies.  Put all your trust in Trump (half-sarcastically described in source-synonym form as “The Great Leader”), and he’ll take all enemies down.

This dovetails nicely into where Brooks made some very insightful observations, and also some caveats.  Let us look at where he “got it right” and “got it wrong” simultaneously.  He points out that Goldwater and Reagan positioned the Republican Party as that of those who are free-market and anti-government.  He got the first part correctly, the second part, not so much.

Goldwater and Reagan, for example, were trying to tackle the issues to make the marketplace freer after decades of Democrat interference via excessive regulation, excessively high taxes, union-friendly laws and trade-protectionist laws that ended up raising costs for consumers, allowing consumers fewer options, and stymying the economy in so doing.  Reagan helped re-energize America by doing away with most of such hindrances.  Today, the market is freer and taxes are much lower than they were prior to Ronaldus Magnus.

Since “Dutch” left office, most folks in the GOP have been searching for “the next Reagan”.  Here’s the problem, though:  since Reagan, new challenges have emerged.  Today, the economy has become much more unforgiving (“crueler” is Brooks’ adjective of choice).  Technology – particularly automation – has displaced workers and globalization has dampened wages.  Also, the social structure is far more atomized and frayed than it was 30 years ago, especially among the less-educated.  If that is not enough, demographics have also shifted, though to my mind, the previous item is part of this last item mentioned.

So far, Brooks is spot-on in listing some of the major domestic challenges that Americans face today.  Each one deserves lengthy, multi-installment analysis.  But where Brooks gets things wrong is by saying that “Orthodox Republicans” (embodied by Ted Cruz – Brooks describes him as the “extreme embodiment”, emphasis mine) are out of date.  Indeed, allowing free people to freely transact with one-another, abiding by sensible regulations and sensible laws, is never out of date.  Those were Reagan’s principles, and they still work today:  indeed, they work in any era, because human nature has not changed since the dawn of Man.

The other part of Brooks’ erroneous assertion is that Orthodox Republicans see no positive role for government.  Orthodox Republicans / doctrinaire conservatives do indeed see a positive role for government, but only in areas where they rightly recognize the things for which government is built to do effectively.  The Federal Government, for example, is built to defend our country, which is why conservatives call for a strong military.  Conservatives/Orthodox Republicans also recognize that the Federal Government is there to deliver the mail.  It can also help out with the national infrastructure (i.e., interstate highways, bridges, etc.), and is also there to regulate interstate commerce (see:  Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution), though vigilance must be maintained to keep said regulation sensible and thus to keep it from getting out of hand, as it is apt to do if we elect too many big-government liberals to Congress.  Beyond that, you leave it up to the States to decide, as it is written in the Tenth Amendment.

What Brooks has also overlooked is that, yes, while new challenges have emerged for America since Reagan’s time, some of these challenges can be addressed by Orthodox Republicans.  For example, lots of jobs have been killed by excess regulation.  It paralyzes innovation, it stymies companies trying to expand, and thus kills job growth.  Many of us want more manufacturing jobs in this country, but that will not happen with the EPA being allowed to run amok under the Obama Administration, for example.  An Orthodox Republican like Cruz would put a stop to that.  Same thing goes for the amazing potential to create jobs for the educated and under-educated alike in, say, the energy sector.

Another aspect of Orthodox Republicanism that could help meet the challenges of today would be to allow for more local control over education, so that educational reformers have more flexibility to be more innovative.  The idea behind this is that doing so could help us improve our human capital.  The part of American society that has atomized could improve themselves through fundamental improvements in education, but that will not happen under a top-down approach from the Federal Government, where innovation is stifled through bureaucracy.

Granted, Cruz has his own problems, but they’re more about him than the ideology.  He managed to alienate just about everyone in the Senate in both parties since he was elected in 2012.  These are the same people with whom he must build coalitions if he wants to accomplish anything through Congress so he could sign it into law as President.  His rigid, immoderate tone could alienate too many moderate voters as well.  Goldwater was way too rigid as a candidate, and that is why he lost as badly as he did in 1964.  Reagan, conversely, was just as conservative as Goldwater, but he was much more moderate in his tone.  This in turn allowed for the Gipper to successfully position himself as a pragmatic problem-solver, allowing him to win over enough moderates, who joined the conservative voters in allowing him to win comfortably in 1980, and even more so four years later.

Cruz likes to think that he is Reagan’s ideological heir, but to truly find his inner Gipper, he too must moderate his tone.  It remains to be seen whether or not he can.  At least Brooks, to his credit, was on to something when he pointed out that both Marco Rubio and John Kasich are viable alternatives to the rigid (at the moment) Cruz and to the authoritarian Trump.  He even proceeds to hint at the potential of both Rubio and Kasich as potential candidates to successfully position the Republicans as a party of reform, which is desperately needed at the Federal Government level for America to continue to be a viable power both at home and abroad.  I personally would, at this time, favor either over Cruz, to say nothing of Trump, who, just to remind everyone, must be stopped at all costs, lest the efforts to roll back big government be set back for a generation.

Nevertheless, Brooks conveniently overlooks some important tenants of the conservative ideology, and how they would still work today.  If he meant to say that Cruz’s tone was out of date, he was partly right:  it never has been palatable to the national electorate.  But Orthodox Republican/conservative principles are timeless because they recognize that the nature of mankind is permanent.  No doubt these convenient dismissals on Brooks’ part are ongoing symptoms of his Stockholm Syndrome to which he has succumbed after all those years with the New York Times.

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What Caused the Progressive Plague? February 14, 2016

Posted by intellectualgridiron in Politics.
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When we look back at the ravages of a plague that has swept through a region or even a continent, it is many a person’s impulse to, once the dust has settled, do a little detective work and ascertain its origin.   Where did it begin?  What was its root cause?  What was the impetus that caused it to spread across an area so relatively quickly, leaving havoc in its wake?

George Will succinctly observed that for there to be an epidemic, one needs two things; a microbe, and an enabling social context.  For example, the enabling social context for the infamous Black Plague of the 14th Century was increased international trade.  The bacteria causing the deadly disease were found in the saliva of fleas laced with rodent blood.  They hitchhiked on the rats (or, gerbils, as a recent scientific study suggests) as whole colonies of them moved westward through Asia along with merchants traveling along the Silk Road, eventually reaching the ports at Crimea.  The rats wasted no time climbing the mooring ropes of merchant ships bound for ports in Europe, and the rest, as they say was history.  If one were to view a map of the number of dead per square mile (or kilometer) in Europe, it becomes clear that Italy, with its bevy of Mediterranean ports, was the hardest-hit area of Europe during the time of the Black Death almost 700 years ago.

 While media hype may have overblown the occasional Ebola outbreak in west Africa, nothing like the Black Plague has ravaged society like it did Europe so long ago.

 That said, another infectious plague, this time of the ideological persuasion, has been ravaging America for the past century:  that of Progressivism.  But what caused its spread at the outset of the Twentieth Century?  Sure, the microbe of the authoritarian ideology had germinated amongst some of the intelligentsia during the last couple of decades of the 19th Century (e.g, John Dewey and his idea that we should be “free” from poverty).  At that same time, Woodrow Wilson found out how to rationalize his knowing what was best for his fellow man.   He did so while studying for his doctorate at Johns Hopkins University, a school that imported the collectivist, bureaucratic German thinking of the age in the attempt to infect the American-nurtured concept of a freeborn citizenry.

 But while the ideological microbe had grown into a potent colony of cells by the 1900s, what was the social context that unleashed its destruction?  Blame the progress of that time, indirectly.  Joel Mokyr of the Manhattan Institute explains the context.  The hallmark of the 20th Century, he says, in terms of human progress, was large-scale technology.  Some examples include:  massive shipping containers; manned spacecraft (or just communication satellites) launched into space on huge rockets; oil-drilling platforms; massive power stations; steel mills and car assembly plants that take up many acres, not to mention huge airplanes (from Howard Hughes’ Hercules to the recently-retired Boeing 747).

 While these are familiar sights today, a century ago, such large-scale things would be absolutely awe-inspiring.  At that time, titans of industry were opening up production facilities at scales undreamed of then.  For example, Henry Ford opened up his Highland Park plant in 1910, and implemented the first auto assembly line there four years later.  By 1917, Ford already started building his even-larger Rouge plant in Dearborn, Mich.  The size of this plant is mind-boggling even by today’s standards, what with its covering 960 acres (that is one-and-a-half square miles), and had 100 miles of internal railroad track.  At its peak, 100,000 men earned their livings in that gargantuan facility.

 At the same time, giant steel mills sprang up along the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland, and even more so along the Allegheny and Monongahela of Pittsburgh.  As political scientist Michael Barone speculated, these had to have been breathtaking to people in the 1910s, since most of those folks grew up on farms where the tallest structure they had ever seen was the steeple of their local town’s church.

 Also during this time, immigrants came to America through New York harbor.  They travelled on ocean liners that were the largest ever built, and once in the Big Apple, they witnessed skyscrapers continuing to arise, one higher than the other.  Some of them held offices for the titan industrialists and financiers, like that of John D. Rockefeller at 26 Broadway and J.P. Morgan at 23 Wall Street.  Behind them was the 60-story Woolworth Building, which was the tallest building in the world when it was completed in 1913, and would maintain that distinction until the Chrysler Building was built in 1930

All this was amazing progress by the standards of any age, before or after.  But it came with a major side effect.  “Large” technology had the tendency to encourage large bureaucracies and large government.  To be sure, you needed this sort of large, military-style bureaucracy and centralized control in the private sector to manage those 100,000 workers at Ford’s factory complex in Dearborn, and eventually, to manage the big unions that grew with it and other plants.

It thus became an easy sell to the voting public that that with so much wealth and such gigantic means of production concentrated in the hands of so relatively few, that both (a bigger) government and (growing) labor unions should be a counterweight of power in society, lest we somehow become a Plutocracy (or so the Progressive narrative went as part of their sales pitch to the people).

Of course, that was 100 years ago:  this is now.  And now, the potentially new American Century is defined by small-scale technology.  Television is a good example:  they used to take up whole consoles in a living room.  Now, you can watch network and cable TV shows alike on your portable, lightweight smartphone on demand.  Henry Ford’s plants were an icon of that industrial age, while the smartphone is an icon of ours.

Another contrast between the ages, technologically-speaking, is the military.  Large technology begat large armies, as is evident in both World Wars.  Historian Niall Ferguson estimates that total casualties of the First World War alone to be about 9.5 million deaths and 15 million wounded.  Almost three decades later, military tactics evolved along with the technology.  Gone were the Napoleonic approaches of trench warfare; in was General Patton’s mechanized warfare doctrine, which, according to military historian Robert Shales, culminated in the march to Baghdad in 2003.  But the enemies adapted, and the mass armies that were of Patton’s time have given way to special operations forces who are more adept at dealing with asymmetrical warfare.

The reason that large-scale technology became the breeding ground for Progressivism to infect the public like the Plagues of yore was that it required the standardization of masses of people; it required centralized command-and-control, along with conformity to social norms (the latter of which might ironically appeal to social conservatives today, contingent on the social benefit of said norms).

Yet it is “small” technology of the current day and age that enables more individuals to make individual choices, to fashion our world in our own dimensions, and to apply our talents and pursue interests in ways that we choose.  In short, what has happened over the past 100 years, at least in terms of options in the market, is that standardization has given way to customization.

The B. Hussein Obama Progressives of today do not understand this at all.  They – the President included – see history as a progress from minimal government to ever-larger, ever-growing government.  This is only logical, since government is the false god they worship.  Indeed, such religious zeal blinds Progressives to the fact that history does not proceed in a straight line.  One only needs to see the decline of Rome, and the technological and economic stagnation of the Dark Ages that succeeded it, to understand this fact.

More to the point, that fact is on display today.  The Progessives’ religious fixation on big government has thus led to a major disconnect in our society.  Sure, it was an easy sell to the public 100 years ago given the afore-explained context of large-scale technology.  But the “small” technology of today requires a different approach; that is, more adaptability and responsiveness to constituents.  One does not get that from the bloated bureaucracies of a big government that is a disastrous holdover from yesteryear.