David Brooks is very grumpy today, blasting the leaders of the GOP for hiding from their responsibilities and letting “wingers” and “protestors” take over the party:
In the 1960s and ’70s, the fight was between conservatives and moderates. Conservatives trounced the moderates and have driven them from the party. These days the fight is between the protesters and the professionals. The grass-roots protesters in the Tea Party and elsewhere have certain policy ideas, but they are not that different from the Republicans in the “establishment.”
The big difference is that the protesters don’t believe in governance. They have zero tolerance for the compromises needed to get legislation passed. They don’t believe in trimming and coalition building. For them, politics is more about earning respect and making a statement than it is about enacting legislation. It’s grievance politics, identity politics.
Good point, but what does it mean to be a party leader these days, anyway? And who, really, are these people, these supposed leaders who are hiding behind the voting booths rather than keeping the unwashed Tea Party zealots from running the party ship aground? Whoever they are, they are definitely “not honorable to kowtow to the extremes so [they] can preserve [their] political career[s],” says Brooks. So, these dishonorable, kowtowing bunch of “mainstream conservatives” have lost control of the asylum, and now the lunatics are in charge.
I’m not sure which is more dishonorable, pretending not to be a moderate to win primaries (which Republicans do) or pretending to be a moderate (which is what Democrats have been doing for years). In either case, politicians keep obeying the fundamental theorem of politics: if you don’t win, nothing else matters. “Pandering” and “kowtowing” are pejoratives used by pundits to malign politicians for promising to do what voters actually want them to do. Another word for it is democracy.
The latest news from Michigan is that Democrats are urging their rank and file to go out and vote for Santorum. It is hard to know if this is a ploy to keep Obama from having to face Romney, or if it is one of those clever tricks to get Republicans to think that Obama is afraid of Romney, thereby encouraging more Republicans to vote for Romney. Sort of a twist on my enemy’s enemy is my friend (but maybe that is just what Santorum wants you to think?).
The continuing story of the campaign is all the Super-PACS spending loads of money with no one supervising them. Of course this is mostly the story in the media because no one is more threatened by Super-PACS than the mainstream press. If everyone is out there saying whatever they want to, as loudly as they want to, with no one regulating them, it not only mutes the message of the official campaigns, but it provides further competition for the media, not to mention making their jobs harder (a chat with the campaign manager on the back of the campaign bus will no longer suffice).
Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton is chipping in by warning that our political dialogue is inflaming passions among the Afghanis—like they really need sweater-vested Americans to become inflamed. It’s like saying Mayor Bloomberg is responsible for inflaming the anti-Yankee passions of the Red Sox Nation.
Who is in charge here? The thing that social engineers of all stripes hate about market economies is that no one is in charge. Indeed, it is the lack of central planning that gives the free market its strength. Does this work in politics, too?
Mr. Brooks longs for the old days when Democrats and Republicans got together over cocktails to hammer out new ways to raise spending on entitlement programs, following which they would go out together to dinner with New York Times columnists. Those days are gone.
I keep wondering in my mind which would be the worst case scenario: Santorum getting the nomination and getting trounced by a President who will have to do little more than sound reasonable (something he is pretty darn good at); or Romney winning the nomination but entering the campaign so bloodied and bruised that he has little chance, which will lead the ignorant to believe that what the party really needed was a Gingrich, Bachman, Santorum or, God help us, Sarah Palin. The really depressing thing is that regardless of which scenario plays out, Barak Obama gets to appoint the next Supreme Court justice. [Ever notice that those who are most outraged about the Court’s disrespect for the Constitution are those most willing to sacrifice the appointment power in the name of ideological purity?]
This debate over strong leaders v. democratic processes goes back to the Founding. When asked whether we were going to have a monarchy or a republic, Ben Franklin quipped, “A republic, if you can keep it.”
This many years later, it is still not so clear that we can.