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With all the chest-thumping and flag-waving the Republican Convention contributed to Western civilization last month, President Bush finally got the bounce in the polls that may well keep him in the White House for the next four years. If so, what will he and his party do and where will they move?
In the New York Times Magazine of Aug. 29, just before the convention gathered, columnist David Brooks tells us what he and his neoconservative colleagues have in mind. If you think it’s what most conservatives want, take a closer look.
“Should Bush lose,” Mr. Brooks warns, the party “will be like a pack of wolves that suddenly turns on itself. The civil war over the future of the party will be ruthless and bloody,” with civil wars between foreign policy realists and “democracy-promoting Reaganites” (apparently not the “foreign policy-realist Reaganites”),“the immigrant-bashing nativists“ vs. the “free marketeers,”(apparently not the “immigration-controlling free marketeers“), etc.
You begin to get the picture. Every dog would get to bark except those Mr. Brooks wants to muzzle, and those just happen to be—well—the conservatives. [How to Reinvent the G.O.P. By David Brooks, August 29, 2004 ]
That’s because Mr. Brooks believes that “conservatism” in the sense the term has been used for the last several decades is defunct, and in this he and Pat Buchanan, who says the same thing in his new book Where the Right Went Wrong, are in agreement.
Mr. Buchanan, however, believes the right—and with it the GOP—should resurrect something like old conservatism. Mr. Brooks doesn’t.
The great virtue of Mr. Brooks’ article is that it pretty much settles once and for all whether the neoconservatism he represents is really conservatism in the traditional sense or not.
What then should the Republican Party do? In Mr. Brooks’ view, it should announce, as the front cover of the magazine proclaims in displaying his article, “The Era of Small Government is Over.” The future of the Republican Party, Mr. Brooks tells us, lies in “progressive conservatism,” which gets us back to the “Republican tradition” of “strong government.”
“Long before it was the party of Tom DeLay,” he writes, using Mr. DeLay as a kind of metaphor for “small government conservatism,”
“the G.O.P. was a strong government/progressive conservative party. It was the party of Lincoln, and thus of Hamilton. Today, in other words, the Republican Party doesn’t need another revolution. It just needs a revival. It needs to learn from the ideas that shaped the party when it was born.”
The reason they did and the reason they succeeded is that there was a large constituency in the country for resisting the leviathan state that liberalism created and championed.
What Mr. Brooks and his “progressive conservatism” are proposing is to dump that kind of conservatism and those who favored it.
Among the “tasks that strong government conservatism will champion” are fighting the “war on Islamic Extremism“ and promoting “social mobility.”
We know what the former means—perpetual war with the Muslim world. Mr. Brooks is a bit vague as to exactly what the latter means, but you can figure it out.
“Progressive conservatives understand that while culture matters most, government can alter culture. It has done it in bad ways, and it can do it in good ways.”
Maybe so, but unprogressive conservatives believe government has no business altering culture at all. The culture—the way of life of a people—is what creates and disciplines government, not the other way around.
Mr. Brooks has a small raft of nifty ideas about how the leviathan state can change the culture in “good ways”—”design programs to encourage and strengthen marriages,” “wage subsidies,” federal education policy, etc.
“More and more conservatives understand that local control [of schools] means local monopolies and local mediocrity. Most Republicans, happily or not, have embraced a significant federal role in education.”
Mr. Brooks, like Mr. Buchanan, is probably right that the old conservatism is defunct, and maybe he’s right it can’t be brought back to life.
But there’s another term for the sort of “progressive conservatism“he’s proposing, and that is just plain old vanilla liberalism.
In more recent years it’s been called “neoconservatism,” which is where we came in.
If anyone still in the Republican Party wants something different, I couldn’t tell you who it is.