17 August 2006

David Brooks on Lieberman and McCain

David Brooks of the NY Times had a recent column that was a mix of good points and wishful thinking. He basically puts Lieberman and McCain into a category of politicians that the electorate will embrace as an alternative to the partisans in both parties. Interesting premise but it fails on one really important part: McCain did not lose his party’s primary and is, for now, the front-runner for the Republican nomination. If David Brooks can get voters to think that the Republican front-runner is a moderate non-partisan, the Republicans win again.

The truth is, McCain is very conservative. . If you say, “Well, he’s against torture,” I’d simply say that such a stance is less conservative / liberal than totalitarian / democratic. “Liberal” Stalinists and “Conservative” Nazis both supported state-sponsored torture. McCain is simply more interested in defending rights than attacking or protecting ideologies. The conservative tradition has seemed to produce some of the strongest defense of individual rights in the face of the state (and depending on how you define conservative, some of the most egregious infractions against those rights). I don’t think that liberal or conservative automatically tells one anything about whether the individual will be treated with dignity or treated like chattel.

What Brooks is really doing is vying to define the Lieberman defeat. The market determines the price of a house or stock. It has no price until a group agrees. I think that political events are similar – they have no meaning until that meaning is agreed upon. Brooks is saying, “This means that people are going to turn from extremism to moderates like McCain.” Of course, he never once mentions Bush’s extremism because he’s been defending it as actually quite moderate for the last six years. We’ll see whether his interpretation of the events in CT as proof that voters are becoming extremists holds. If it does, the Republicans have a much better chance in November. If the other story takes – the people are taking back politics from the power elites – then the Republicans (as incumbents) will have a tough time in November. Like bidding to determine the price of a stock, Brooks is jockeying to define what this political event means. His view could win, but it'll take a lot of media help. He may get it.

What the main stream media rarely if ever reports is the percentages of Americans who support policies painted as marginal or extremist. For instance, about two-thirds of Americans support some kind of universal health care, yet this is consistently represented as a marginal view espoused only by die-hard liberals. About 85% of Americans think that big business has far too much influence in DC and would support moves to curtail their influence – again, the big business media simply doesn’t report this. From this perspective, it could be that Brooks is (willfully?) clueless about real trends in the US.

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