David Brooks Fighting GOP 'Freedomism' to the Death


My Twitter feed is a-flurry with praise (sometimes backhanded) for today's David Brooks New York Times column, which imagineers building "a new wing of the Republican Party, one that can compete in the Northeast, the mid-Atlantic states, in the upper Midwest and along the West Coast," populated by people "who don't share the absolute antigovernment story of the current G.O.P."

"A must-read column from David Brooks," writes National Review's valuable Capitol Hill reporter Robert Costa. "I think Brooks' column is spot-on and a rare example of something perfect at op-ed length," seconds Slate's Matthew Yglesias. David Frum gives another hi-five. And cartoonist Tom Tomorrow gives the back of his hand: "Poor David Brooks. Finally realizing his entire life/career aligned with party of nutjobs and psychos,starts fantasizing about 3rd party."

Tomorrow is wrong about the "finally." David Brooks has been railing against the GOP's "antigovernment story" and dreaming up fantastical new political coalitions since at least 1997, back when federal spending was about $1.7 trillion in today's dollars, or less than half of what it is now. He was railing against the "Goldwater-Reagan ideological message" and dreaming up fantastical new John McCain-led coalitions back in 2000. When McCain lost, Brooks was railing against the GOP's libertarianism and flirting openly with a fantastical Bull Moose-style third party in 2001.

September 11's workfare for neoconservatives gave Brooks the opportunity to go from opposition "rebel" to establishmentarian enforcer in the blink of an eye. "President Bush has broken the libertarian grip on the GOP," he exulted in 2002. Two years later he celebrated "the death of small-government conservatism," maintaining that "progressive conservatism" was the GOP's secret weapon "to become the majority party for the next few decades."

Yet there he was in 2008, as if the big-government Bush administration had ignored his interventionist advice, railing against both the conservative and libertarian (!) establishments, announcing that "official conservatism slipped into decrepitude," to be eventually replaced by a fantastical new political coalition personified by Sam's Club shoppers (you had to be there, I guess). The year 2010 saw more Goldwater-hatin' progressive conservatism and tirades against "vehement libertarianism." And when Commentary magazine recently asked Brooks to contribute to its recent "Future of Conservatism" symposium (see my contribution here), he–wait for it–complained about conservatism becoming "estranged" from its roots, dreamed up a fantastical new coalition (the "Rhino Wing," he cheekily dubbed it), and blamed the party's woes on antigovernment types:

Today's conservatism is more properly called Freedomism. It is the elevation of freedom as the ultimate political good. […]

Freedomism tramples epistemological modesty. It has become an all-explaining and unbending ideology: Whatever the problem, the answer is less government. […]

The Rhino Wing would reject the Freedomist equation that more government necessarily equals more dependency. It would reject the entire Big Government vs. Small Government frame. What matters is not the size of government but the nature of its citizenry. It would embrace any government program that stokes ambition, energy, and industriousness–the Hamiltonian virtues. It would reject any policy that stifles these things.

That vague little hand-wave about policy (Embrace the good ones! Reject the bad! Just don't be ideological!) is baked right into the design of Brooks-style, do-something punditry. As tellingly, his uninterrupted, 16-year crusade against Freedomism (or Goldwaterism, or libertarianism) has not coincided with anything that could be confused for Freedomist policies in action. If antigovernment ideology is so strong, how come government doubles in cost every decade? It's a question worth asking anti-Freedomists of all political stripes.