Yesterday the New York Times played host to a strange event. In a piece communicated as a sort of public service message, commentator David Brooks declared that the Republican Party has become “naïve,” “cynical,” “bumbling,” and most of all, “incompetent.” From his piece:
Politics is the process of making decisions amid diverse opinions. It involves conversation, calm deliberation, self-discipline, the capacity to listen to other points of view and balance valid but competing ideas and interests.
But this new Republican faction regards the messy business of politics as soiled and impure. Compromise is corruption. Inconvenient facts are ignored. Countrymen with different views are regarded as aliens. Political identity became a sort of ethnic identity, and any compromise was regarded as a blood betrayal.
There is nothing in his typically literate and insightful assessment that I disagree with. What makes this column, like the rest of his work, so frustrating is this burning question: “Where the f%$# have you been for the past decade?”
Through an endless string of Mission Accomplished’s and Terry Schaivos and Rev. Wrights and Sarah Palins, through climate denial, and mortgage crisis denial and deflation denial and apology tours, past gold-buggery, the Amero, FEMA camps, and Jade Helm, through hearings on Fast and Furious, the IRS, Benghazi, and Planned Parenthood; all of a sudden NOW the GOP is nuts.
There is a strange detachment experienced by established Republican figures in DC and New York circles. Out in the provinces the pace of events has been dizzying. These folks seem largely unaware that they are no longer driving the bus.
Every political organization has its share of weirdos and extremists. Conventional wisdom dictates that engaging those characters directly is fruitless. A healthy organization can overwhelm the will of a few oddballs merely by remaining on task.
There are exceptions to that rule. Sometimes, as in a patient with a compromised immune system, otherwise ordinary pathogens turn lethal. Out in flyover country this dangerous condition has been apparent for a long time while our “thought leaders” on the East Coast twiddled away, dismissing concerns. If David Brooks is finally noticing that there’s a problem, then it is probably too late to reach the lifeboats.
To his credit, Brooks has a least taken a different path from his ideological predecessor, George Will. In fairness to Will though, the difference may be marked more by a generational divide than any particular personal insight. As the GOP has raced over a cliff Will has dutifully followed, becoming that obnoxious bigoted uncle at the Thanksgiving table. Brooks is still clinging to the ledge, trying not to become a cartoon while the party leaves him and others like him unrepresented and despised from all sides.
I wish him luck. We all need it. These are difficult times for sane conservatives. Even if the party were in a healthier state, the accelerating pace of technological and social change would make credible conservatism uniquely challenging – and more valuable than ever.