“Conservatism has lost the balance between economic and traditional conservatism. The Republican Party has abandoned half of its intellectual ammunition. It appeals to people as potential business owners, but not as parents, neighbors and citizens.”
So writes David Brooks in his latest column in the New York Times. Reading his words yesterday, I was immediately struck by their power. Brooks may have defined a turning point. Certainly, given how poorly Mitt Romney has been doing at a time when the state of the economy should have handed him an impregnable lead, it is clear that the Republican party is going through a historic life crisis. The betting is that it will seek to redefine itself in future elections and Brooks’s remarkable tour de force will help show the way. My conviction in this regard has not been lessened by the discovery this morning that his column has already attracted more than 540 comments at nytimes.com.
Brooks is in a perfect position to read the Riot Act. For most of the last thirty years, he has been one of the Republican party’s more prominent spear carriers, having generally supported its ideology in a succession of commentariat jobs at National Review, the Washington Times, the Wall Street Journal, and latterly at the New York Times. He even provided outspoken support for George W. Bush’s disastrous effort against Saddam Hussein. Though those of us who see the world in a larger context always knew the war was based on simplistic ideology and would end in fiasco, Brooks’s mistake has done nothing to undermine his credentials as a Republican loyalist. By the same token his credibility in the larger world was quickly repaired when he became one of the earliest of the war party’s members to admit that, to use Hirohito’s words in another context, the war situation had not necessarily developed to the aggressors’ advantage.
In condemning the party’s obsession with simplistic economic ideology, Brooks is again displaying the sort of intellectual leadership that has long been sorely lacking in both American political parties. His basic point is surely right: the human condition cannot be reduced to mere accounting pluses and minuses. The Republican party of the Eisenhower understood this and 1950s America was visibly the better for it (at least the white majority was and for minorities the trend on civil rights was already then moving in the right direction). It is past time the party rediscovered commonsense.
Eamonn Fingleton is the author of In the Jaws of the Dragon: America’s Fate in the Coming Era of Chinese Hegemony .