Although I respect the intellect of New York Times columnist David Brooks, particularly his application of humanistic psychological and sociological research to the formation of public policy views, there are many times when I throw my hands up in frustration. While professing a moderate approach to the role of government in American society, he often ends up sounding much like a Republican mouthpiece. I am thinking of his implausible regard for Paul Ryan’s endless circumstantial flip-flopping on budget and deficit responsibility (pro-spending under George W. Bush, austerity principles during the Obama regime) as just one example.
At the risk of welcoming angry comments and hate mail, I do believe that a sound and rational two-party system is essential to the health of our cherished democracy. No one is served by a insulated majority free of checks and balances, closed to new ideas, no matter which end of the political spectrum that party should occupy.
I would assert that underlying much liberal anger is a genuine wish that those of the right wing persuasion would embrace modern reality and take part in a honest conversation about the direction in which the country needs to move if it is to face current challenges, including but not limited to: immigration and health care reform, globalization, fiscal balance, entitlement spending, the tax code and a whole host of other issues. Unfortunately, an increasingly radicalized GOP has brought little to the table in recent years beside anger, corporate kowtowing, backward social thinking and obstructionism.
With this in mind, there are elements to admire vis a vis Brooks’ column for the Times this week, entitled “A Second G.O.P.” In it, Brooks writes “On the surface, Republicans are already doing a good job of beginning to change their party. Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana gave a speech to the Republican National Committee calling on Republicans to stop being the stupid party, to stop insulting the intelligence of the American people….But, so far, there have been more calls for change than actual evidence of change.”
Well said. If the results of the 2012 Presidential election taught us anything, it’s that the Republican Party platform increasingly falls outside of mainstream views. Continuous disregard and disrespect for the middle and working classes, the social safety net, female reproductive rights and immigrants cost Mitt Romney the popular vote in a big way. Almost every GOP leader woke up the need for more inclusive messaging, but to Brooks’s point, how does that translate into real policy reform? Thus far, it hasn’t. In order for the right to begin taking steps toward relevancy, it must do more than talk to itself about change. It must actually make that change palpable.
Brooks goes on to observe, “In this reinvention process, Republicans seem to have spent no time talking to people who didn’t already vote for them.”
In other words, as the GOP seeks to rejoin productive policy dialogue, it must move away from navel gazing and the equivalent of empty locker room pep talks to doing the actual work required to attract new members. President Obama has made it clear over the last four years that he would love to count upon constructive Republican input when it comes to solving the nation’s problems – with disappointingly few results. As the title of Brooks’ column implies, the GOP needs to reverse course in the form of a total break with a failed platform.
It has been an interesting feature of 2013 that the direction of the Republican Party has been the subject of much internal criticism. Will that criticism be co-opted into sincere course correction? Stay tuned…