A right-wing apologist in sheep’s clothing


The ideological battle over the role of government promises to figure large in the current election campaign. So much so that it commands nearly daily attention in the mass media. Hardly a news cycle goes by without some reference to it.

Earlier this week David Brooks, a regular contributor to the oped pages of the New York Times and frequent guest on television news shows, jumped into the battle with both feet. Brooks positions himself as an above-the-fray "moderate," but the reality is otherwise.

In an article in the Times, titled "The Role of Uncle Sam," Brooks writes that his vision of government and its role can be traced to Alexander Hamilton, one of the nation's founding fathers and its first secretary of the Treasury. According to Brooks, Hamilton believed that the federal government should be an active force that focuses on "long term structural development, not on providing jobs right now," and "on dynamism and opportunity more than security, equality, and comfort."

Thus, a Hamiltonian government, Brooks tells us, would be "energetic without ever becoming gigantic."

Fair enough!

But this vision of an active but narrowly circumscribed role for the federal government, Brooks says, has been largely abandoned over the past century. The abandonment came during three eras of progressive reform - the Progressive era (in the first decade and a half of the last century), the New Deal, and Lyndon Johnson's Great Society.

In each of these eras, Brooks claims, "a good impulse was taken to excess" as the federal government assumed functions and established rights (unemployment relief, jobs, Social Security, Medicare, food stamps, Medicaid, welfare, education, environmental protection, civil rights, etc.) that went beyond Hamilton's vision.

Now it may be true that the evolution of the federal government's role in the 20th century eclipsed what Hamilton had in mind in the late 18th century, but it is also true that it was a necessary evolution given the crises, contradictions, and unfulfilled promises of developing capitalism.

The particular configuration and functions of the government and state are not set in stone. They change under the impact of capitalist development and class struggles. Hamilton were he alive would probably understand this better than Brooks, who blanches at the very thought of a broadly activist government animated by people's needs.

In fact, if Brooks could have his way, he would like to freeze the role of the federal government to a time when it created favorable conditions for capitalist expansion and accumulation, while at the same time largely ignoring questions of economic security and equality for working and oppressed people.

Is this an unfair characterization? I don't think so.

Think about it - even now when the country is reeling and tens of millions are suffering from the impact of the longest economic crisis since the Great Depression - a crisis that leaves poverty rates at record levels, wages stagnant, cities and communities near collapse, public services underfunded, and inequality, and especially racial inequality, growing - our good "friend" Brooks is more worried about government "excess" than what positive actions (moratorium on home foreclosures, public works jobs, a second stimulus, green development, funds for education and infrastructure) the federal government could take to address the economic mess that capitalism has wrought.

He may not want to admit it - in fact, he would probably deny it - but Brooks' position is not that much different from the right-wing firebrands. On the one hand, he like them, would drastically and immediately scale back those governmental functions and those democratic rights (won in the course of hard struggle) that expand the life possibilities of tens of millions of working and oppressed people.

On the other hand, he, again like them, would tender to the needs of the rich and wealthy. He and his counterparts on the right don't even mind deficits as long as the deficits serve the needs of the 1 percent. Have you heard any of them scolding the wealthy for their "excessive" demands on the federal government?

If there are differences between Brooks and his fellow travelers on the right, they are differences of style and manner, not of substance and strategic outlook.

David Brooks isn't Rush Limbaugh; he isn't Sean Hannity. But don't mistake his lack of shrillness and soft demeanor for some "third way" when it comes to the role of government in a modern capitalist society.

Photo: RubyGoes // CC 2.0

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  • Very good maded ! All so called "progressve" talkers are going around the real reason.

    Posted by Kamen Velitchkov, 06/12/2012 5:16pm (4 years ago)

  • Decent article, Sam. Brooks was the New York Times "house conservative." A sop in effect to W Bush.
    He speaks the usual right "free market," supply side chamber of commerce, NAM ideology minus the national chauvinism, racism, and crude baiting associated with the Murdoch pundits and today the majority of Republican politicians.
    By the standards of what the Republicans are today, he could be seen as a "moderate" on non economic issues in their ranks , but that is much more of comment on them.
    It is essential for us though to develop the PW, PA, our own media. Our readers are unlikely to be misled by such people.
    We should remember that at the beginning of the Reagan era, a whole slew of "liberals" whose specialty was baiting peoples movements and the left, Morton Kondracke, Michael Kinsley, Joe Klein, Andrew Sullivan, as a gay British neo conservative, were paraded through mass media as an absurd "moderate" alternative to Reagan policies. Some of these Reagan era characters are still around, reinventing themselves.
    Brooks is an example of the same media game.

    Posted by norman markowitz, 06/11/2012 3:04pm (4 years ago)

  • And when it comes to "deficit reduction" the right never mentions the biggest black hole sucking away our money: endless imperialist wars and imperialist military deployments all over the globe. End the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and Pakistan and Yemen and the war on drugs (really a war on the poor in Latin America and the United States), close down the 100 plus military bases and bring the soldiers home. See how much $ can be saved that way!

    Posted by John Whiskey, 06/06/2012 12:16am (4 years ago)

  • gooinbg back to Hamilton, He was an elistist and not on the side of the working people. He was responsible for the tac on whiskey that caused the wiskey rebellion. He wanted to show those people on the frontier the power of the Federal government. People on the frontier could not bring their corn to market as corn kernels because of the bad roads, so they made it into whiskey to sell in the East. Hamilton started the tax to cause them trouble.

    Posted by Pammela Wright, 06/05/2012 2:18pm (4 years ago)

  • WEll said. I spotted Brooks long ago on educational TV. He's a personable guy, but his politics reek of elitism.

    Posted by jim lane, 06/03/2012 7:40pm (4 years ago)

  • Great article. Now we need another one on that great "economic theorist" Robert Samuelson.

    Posted by Emile Schepers, 06/03/2012 1:10pm (4 years ago)

  • Did it again, Sam. My sentiments on Brooks ditto. Keep the articles coming. They are a great contribution to the electoral process. Brooks is an ideologue that needs to be taken on. He's not as blatant as some others, but just as bad in essence. You're right, only difference is style and manner, and he shows up everywhere on TV these days.
    Love ya Sam,

    Posted by carole Marks, 06/03/2012 10:27am (4 years ago)

  • Good point Mr. Webb. However isn't a Communist voting Democrat is in Sheep's clothing too?

    Posted by denise, 06/03/2012 1:06am (4 years ago)

  • You're right about Brooks. I think Hamilton would be opposed to austerity measures and all for stimulus, but Brooks has a man-crush on Hamilton and wants to distort him for his own purposes.

    Posted by Fietsbode, 06/02/2012 2:35pm (4 years ago)

  • The differences between David Brooks and Rush Limbaugh may just be in cosmetic, volume, and level of crude appeal to the worst in human behavior-- me first the rest of you get what's left. Brooks can be heard on public radio each Friday as his tone and words speak the line and spirit of right wing electoral standard bearers. More subtle, nah, just a few decibels lower.

    Great article, Sam.

    Posted by Beth Edelman, 06/01/2012 8:52pm (4 years ago)

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