David Brooks, the right-punditocracy's most influential big-government enthusiast, has another one of those Last Honest Man columns today, in which, after spending eight paragraphs on a 19th century writer's description of having her cancerous breast sawed off (no, really), he gets to the preamble:
This emphasis on mental character lasted for a time, but it has abated. There's less talk of sin and frailty these days. Capitalism has also undermined this ethos. In the media competition for eyeballs, everyone is rewarded for producing enjoyable and affirming content. Output is measured by ratings and page views, so much of the media, and even the academy, is more geared toward pleasuring consumers, not putting them on some arduous character-building regime.
In this atmosphere, we're all less conscious of our severe mental shortcomings and less inclined to be skeptical of our own opinions. […] We have confirmation bias; we pick out evidence that supports our views. We are cognitive misers; we try to think as little as possible. We are herd thinkers and conform our perceptions to fit in with the group.
Gee, I wonder where he's going with this line of reasoning?
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.
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.