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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Brooks Whistles In the Dark

It’s become a truism that David Brooks, the most entertaining sort-of-conservative commentator of the last decade, has lost his edge since becoming a regular columnist for the New York Times. Part of his problem has been the discipline of a 1000-word column, which prohibits the leisurely tours of American political sociology that have been his signature.
But he has no such excuse today. The New York Times Magazine gave Brooks plenty of space, and cover billing, to analyze the future direction of Brooks’ political party, on the eve of its convention in The Big Apple. And Brooks responds by demonstrating exactly how out of touch he is with the GOP, and how out of touch the GOP is with any sort of mainstream political point of view.
Check it out yourself. Brooks offers a devastating if mildly worded critique of today’s Republican Party as an ideologically bankrupt enterprise. But in the search for a “new, progressive conservatism,” he goes back to the “national purpose” ideology that Brooks and Bill Kristol famously proposed as the centerpiece of John McCain’s failed presidential campaign of 2000.
Harkening back yet again to the long-lost activist Republican tradition of Hamilton, Clay, Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt, Brooks now seems to suggest that the barrenness of George W. Bush’s GOP means that by 2008 something like a “progressive” ideology will have to re-emerge.
But when it comes to specifics, Brooks proposes that Republicans embrace ideas that have long been identified with New Democrats, and that the Kerry-Edwards campaign has largely appropriated. They range from waging a wider, non-military war against Islamic extremism and rebuilding multilateral institutions and alliances, to advocating a stronger national role in education reform, energy and environmental policy; reforming entitlement programs; attacking corporate subsidies; lifting working families above the poverty line; and expanding national service opportunities.
If Brooks were simply proposing a reconstruction of the Republican Party after a Bush defeat, his agenda would be constructive, if not practical. But he pretends, against all evidence, the Bush himself can become the sponsor of a “progressive conservative” revival. And after four years of identifying himself with the failed traditional conservatism that Brooks denounces in this piece, there’s no reason to believe that George W. Bush can or will do anything else.

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