David Brooks has quickly become one of my favorite columnists. Even when I disagree with him, he gives my brain a workout. This week’s column was especially interesting to me. Readers and friends know that I am no fan of pragmatism by any means, but just as I disagree with much of Dick Morris’ jibber-jabber, I don’t doubt that he’s right.
Brooks’ presumption is that we Republicans can have either the majority or purity, but that the two are mutually exclusive. He may be right in practice, but I don’t think it has to be so. Talking with the Angry Clam, he made the good point that if voters elect Republicans based on a certain set of principles, it should follow that we stick to those principles. Today that’d translate that if the country wanted a Medicare bill like this one, they’d have elected Democrats. And there is definitely something to be said there.
The irony of this debate is that one of the biggest supporters of the bill was Newt Gingrich, the guy who got us to this point in the first place. The “Contract With America” surely would have had no place for this socialized prescription drug coverage.
Either way, the Medicare Bill was a sham, and I’m proud of the conservatives who stood against it. Brooks at least explains the “why” of this sort of governing, and basically says, “Get used to it.” I sure hope he’s wrong…
By DAVID BROOKS
The history of American conservatism is an exodus tale. It begins in the wilderness, in the early 1950's, with Russell Kirk, Milton Friedman and William F. Buckley Jr. writing tracts for small bands of true believers.
Conservatives crashed into the walls of power during the Goldwater debacle of 1964, and then breached those walls with Reagan's triumph 16 years later. But even with Reagan in the Oval Office, Republicans were not the majority party. Democrats controlled the House, and few Reaganites actually knew how to run a government.
In 1994, with the Gingrich revolution, the conservatives strode closer to the center of power. But even then, they were not quite there. For the rule of exodus tales is that the chiefs who lead in the wilderness and storm the citadels do not get to govern once their troops have occupied the city. Renegades are too combative to govern well.
It was only this week that we can truly say the exodus story is over, with the success of the Medicare reform bill. This week the G.O.P. behaved as a majority party in full. The Republicans used the powers of government to entrench their own dominance. They used their control of the federal budget to create a new entitlement, to woo new allies and service a key constituency group, the elderly.
From now on, as Tony Blankley observed in The Washington Times, if you work at an interest group and you want to know what's going on with your legislation, you have to go to the Republicans. The Democrats don't even know the state of play.
If you are the AARP, seeking a benefit, you have to go to the Republicans. If you are a centrist Democrat like John Breaux or Max Baucus seeking to pass legislation, you have to work with the Republicans.
Under the leadership of Bush, Frist, Hastert and DeLay, the Republicans have built a fully mature establishment of activist groups, think tanks and lobbyists, which is amazingly aloof from the older Washington establishment (not to mention the media establishment). Republicans now speak in that calm, and to their opponents infuriating, manner of those who believe they were born to rule.
The Democrats, meanwhile, behave just as the Republicans did when they were stuck in the minority. They complain about their outrageous mistreatment by the majority. They are right to complain. The treatment is outrageous. But the complaints only communicate weakness.
Democrats indulge in the joys of opposition. They get to sputter about fiscal irresponsibility, just as the green-eyeshade Republicans used to, as the majority party uses the power of the purse to buy votes. They get to make wild charges. They get to propose solutions that ignore inconvenient realities. They never have to betray their principles to get something done, and so they savor their own righteousness.
Minority parties are pure but defeated; governing parties are impure but victorious. The Republicans are now in the habit of winning, and are on permanent offense on all fronts. They offer tax cuts to stimulate the economy and please business. They nominate conservative judges to advance conservative social reform and satisfy religious conservatives. They fight a war on terror. They have even come to occupy the Democratic holy of the holies, the welfare state. In exchange for massive new spending, they demand competitive reforms.
The only drawback is that now, as the governing party, they have to betray some of the principles that first animated them. This week we saw dozens of conservatives, who once believed in limited government, vote for a new spending program that will cost over $2 trillion over the next 20 years.
In the past three years, federal education spending has increased by 65 percent. Unemployment benefit payments are up by 85 percent.
Many conservatives are dismayed over what has happened to their movement as it has grown fat and happy in the Promised Land. A significant rift has opened up between the conservative think tankers and journalists, who are loyal to ideas, and the K Street establishmentarians, who are loyal to groups.
The good news for Democrats is that the K Street establishment will slowly win this struggle. The majority will ossify. It will lose touch with its principles and eventually crumble under the weight of its own spoils. The bad news for Democrats is that, as Republicans can tell you, the ossification process is maddeningly slow. After the New Deal, it took 60 years.