The ideological extremism of David Brooks
posted at 11:26 am on May 19, 2012 by Karl
The latest column from David Brooks attempts to diagnose the fiscal crisis in Europe and the growing fiscal threats in America:
[M]any voters have come to regard their desires as entitlements. They become incensed when their leaders are not responsive to their needs. Like any normal set of human beings, they command their politicians to give them benefits without asking them to pay.
The consequences of this shift are now obvious. In Europe and America, governments have made promises they can’t afford to fulfill. At the same time, the decision-making machinery is breaking down. American and European capitals still have the structures inherited from the past, but without the self-restraining ethos that made them function.
The American decentralized system of checks and balances has transmogrified into a fragmented system that scatters responsibility. Congress is capable of passing laws that give people benefits with borrowed money, but it gridlocks when it tries to impose self-restraint.
Of course, there are many Americans who still have an ethos of self-restraint. Those Americans have elected people to the House and Senate in an attempt to restrain and reform the entitlement state. And David Brooks has metaphorically compared them to Nazis, uninterested in governance.
How does Brooks square that circle? By assuming that the problem is gridlock, which he blames on the tougher position the right is now taking as the fiscal cliff draws ever closer. (I know; it’s just craaaaazy of the right to do this, amirite?)
Mind you, the big-taxing, so-called “balanced approach” to addressing sovereign debt problems is failing where it is being tried in Europe. The wingnutty wingnuts at the OECD and the IMF already knew it would fail, and that solutions which rely overwhelmingly on controlling spending work. Yet Brooks bitterly clings to the center-left establishment mindset that has led America to the situation he now despairs.
Jonah Goldberg addresses this ideology in The Tyranny of Clichés:
If I say we need one hundred feet of bridge to cross a one-hundred-foot chasm that makes me an extremist. Somebody else says we don’t need to build a bridge at all because we don’t need to cross the chasm in the first place. That makes him an extremist. The third guy is the centrist because he insists that we compromise by building a fifty-foot bridge that ends in the middle of thin air? As an extremist I’ll tell you that the other extremist has a much better grasp on reality than the centrist does. The extremists have a serious disagreement about what to do. The independent who splits the difference has no idea what to do and doesn’t want to bother with figuring it out.
Goldberg does not identify centrism ans an extreme ideology, but the quoted example (and others given in the book) graphically demonstrate it can be at least as impervious to logic or data as any other ideology. Anyone who finds those examples a straw man should consider the very real examples compiled by the NYT’s Ross Douthat:
It wasn’t the Tea Party that decided to create two new health care entitlements (Medicare Part D and Obamacare) just as America was about to go over a fiscal waterfall. It wasn’t kooks and reactionaries who got the European Union into its current mess. It wasn’t the radicals of the left and right who risked the global economy on a series of disastrous real estate bets, or locked our government into a permanently symbiotic relationship with the banking and financial sectors, or created a vast labyrinth of unaccountable bureaucracies in the hopeless quest for perfect security from terror attacks. And to bring things up the present day, it wasn’t the more “extreme” members of the Senate — be they Jim DeMint and Tom Coburn on the right, or Bernie Sanders on the left — who just voted for more short-term spending and tax cuts without any plan to pay for it.
***[W]hat Jesse Walker has dubbed the “the paranoid style in center-left politics” *** seems like a rather odd response to a political moment in which nearly all of our overlapping crises are the result of disastrous misgovernment at the center ***. The Tea Party’s politics are not my politics, but the movement has virtues as well as vices, and at the very least it represented a possible alternative force at a time when our politics desperately needs alternatives, whether right-wing or left-wing or something else entirely, to the policies that have led us to our present pass. Nothing good may come of it, but an awful lot more ill has come from politics-as-usual of late than from grassroots populism.
Brooks and his ilk are a particularly odious sort; they have urged and pursued a ruinous course of misgovernment, all the while deluding themselves that they are not extreme and demonizing the people who are not responsible for the West’s current malaise.