Pundits, Part II

In contrast to George F. Will, I continue to enjoy David Brooks. I appreciate his Hamiltonian conservatism and his commitment to moderation in our politics. His latest column is no exception. In contrast to Will’s goal of a political victory, Brooks’s goals is a governance victory. The question he poses to Republicans is not “How do we defeat the president?” but “How do we achieve the most of what will be best for the nation?” Of course, everyone is entitled to their own view of “what is best for the nation,” but I want to focus here on the underlying logic that separates the two perspectives on what should be done.

For starters, Brooks doesn’t assume that any of the politicians he is writing about are wrong or nefarious. Rather, he recognizes that the two sides have differing ideological perspectives and that compromise will be difficult for reasons of both politics and conscience. He then proceeds to unfold an argument based on moderate political values as to why they should accept a (still necessarily vague) centrist compromise.

His arguments reflect several moderate values:

  1. Pragmatism – When doing nothing risks so much, when all the alternatives are worse, then accepting the best if otherwise unpalatable solution is the right thing to do.
  2. Shared sacrifice – Rather than pushing to get their way and only their way, responsible legislators must be willing to give a little to get a little.
  3. Incrementalism – Sure, even the grand bargain won’t solve everything. But if it puts us on a better path it’s worth supporting.
  4. Pro-growth – Capitalism has been wonderful for our nation, even if the economy is struggling right now. Any bill that puts us on a better path for long-term growth is certainly worth consideration.
  5. Timing – Punting this down the road a few months or a year won’t make it any easier.
  6. Patriotism – If our government is one of the things that makes our country great, then politicians must be willing to make the hard decisions that will preserve the nation’s greatness, not just their own seats.

None of these arguments is partisan in the traditional left-right sense. Nor do they require that ideologically-minded politicians give up their deeply held beliefs. Rather, Brooks asks them to balance one set of ideological commitments against another set of equally important values. His last line, directed at members of the U.S. Congress, sums this up well: “Keep your reservations in mind, but let the mission continue.”

2 Responses to Pundits, Part II
  1. Craig
    July 23, 2011 | 8:16 pm

    While Mr. Brooks has a reasonable approach, you cite that his underlying logic is that the politicians negotiating are not nefarious or “wrong”. I would argue that the politicians are not only ideologically blockaded on separate sides of the isle they are so invested in their own success as a party and politician that they are intentionally not doing what is best of the economy. I am not sure that any of them are truly negotiating in good faith.

    • Jason
      July 23, 2011 | 8:34 pm

      I think you’re right that partisanship has trumped the desire to participate in good governance for many on both sides of the aisle. From this distance it’s hard to tell whether any of them are or have been negotiating in good faith. I personally held out hope that Cantor was doing so for longer than may have been warranted. And, of course, the events of yesterday suggested that Brooks’s optimism was misplaced or at least premature.

      My larger point is that Brooks’s analysis (in contrast to Will’s) at least leaves room to understand ideological opponents as potential partners in compromise. And since compromise is essential for governance, such an analysis seems more useful to me than assuming bad faith on the part of our ideological opponents.