Friday, February 20, 2009

Politics: So That's Why I Like David Brooks!

TORONTO, ONTARIO - For some time now, I've been surprised how often I listen to New York Times columnist David Brooks and think he has a good point even when I disagree with him--and I don't always disagree with him. The conservative Brooks appears each Friday with liberal E.J. Dionne on National Public Radio's All Things Considered and with liberal Mark Shields on the Public Broadcasting Service's News Hour with Jim Lehrer, and sometimes on other programs as well.

Today, Brooks finally made it really obvious why I can stand him. In his appearance on All Things Considered, he responded to a question about the Obama's housing plan by explaining the Republican position, but then saying this:
I guess my counter-argument would be that we are not only individuals. We have a system--a system we all share. And the system right now is so unsteady that we have no individual responsibility in our own system because the economy is so unsteady. Sometimes, if you deserve a job, you get laid off, and if you don't deserve a job, you don't get laid off. The government's fundamental responsibility right now is to make sure that the system is stable.
In other words, David Brooks understands the need for balance between individualism and communal responsibility. If things are too out of balance, then not even basic conservative principles work anymore.

Just on Monday, this blog focused on how Barack Obama understands the same point from the liberal perspective. David Brooks has now made it clear that he understands it from the conservative perspective, and not only that, but he sees it as essential to his own conservative viewpoints being applicable. His world view requires a degree of balance just as much as Barack Obama's world view.

I've said for some time that I could work with conservatives if they were all like David Brooks. Now, I understand why. I may disagree with Brooks on the best way to run the economy or the role of taxation, but he understands that the playing field has to be fair in order for free market principles to function properly, and that government on occasion may have a role in ensuring that this is the case. He actually thinks through the practicalities of a given situation, instead of just relying on an ideology.

More Republicans used to be able to think like Brooks. They used to be able to see when compromise in the short term actually helped their position in the long term. Now, one needs to look no farther than the California budget battle to see how too many Republicans behave, refusing to compromise on taxation no matter the circumstances or the lack of balance inherent in a situation.

I daresay that if Republicans took their cues from David Brooks instead of Rush Limbaugh, the United States would be in a lot better shape right now--and in the long term, a healthy United States economy is one in which free market principles have the best chance of succeeding.

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