September 21, 2005

Column 2005-9-18 Commentary

In order to really understand this column, it's important that you read Brooks's own words, so I'm going to do some direct quoting here:

"On Oct. 5, 1999, George Bush went to the Manhattan Institute and delivered the most important domestic policy speech of his life. . . . he also broke with mainstream conservatism as it then existed. . . . Then he bluntly repudiated the small government conservatism that marked the Gingrich/Armey era.

It's not enough to cut the size of government, Bush said, or simply get government out of the way. Instead, Republicans have to come up with a positive vision of "focused and effective and energetic government."

With that, Bush set off on a journey to define what he called "compassionate conservatism" and what others call big government conservatism. . . .

Over the past five years, Bush has overseen the fastest increase in domestic spending of any president in recent history. Moreover, he's never resolved the contradiction between his compassionate spending policy and his small-government tax policy.

But gradually and fitfully, Bush has muddled his way toward something important, a positive use of government that is neither big government liberalism nor antigovernment libertarianism. "

The rest of the column is a lot of fluff about how Bush's programs for the area devastated by Katrina are going to give lots of money to important campaign contributors and politically connected corporations turn everything into a conservative utopia of "enhance[d] individual initiative and personal responsibility" (the latter of which is, of course, only for poor people, not presidents). But the beginning is as egregiously ludicrous a description of Bush's domestic policy program as has ever been written, and surely ranks among the most moronic words Brooks has ever committed to paper. Bush's domestic policy (or, at least, the economic aspects of it), insofar as it doesn't involve giving money to corporations and the rich, is really quite simple. Prior to Bush, the two parties had roughly opposite philosophies: for the Democrats, tax and spend, and for the Republicans, don't tax and don't spend (I am, of course, generalizing like mad here, but then so is Brooks). Bush's (or, more likely, Rove's) idea was to combine the popular parts of these programs -- the spending from the former and the not taxing from the latter -- and make that their new program, what Brooks refers to as "big government conservatism" (with, of course, much of that spending going to the rich, corporations, etc., but we're not dealing with that now). Brooks remarks on the "contradiction" between the two parts of this program as if this is a knotty problem that will be resolved in time, but of course it won't be. Bush has no intention of raising taxes or seriously cutting spending: either would be politically unpopular, and since he cares far more about politics than policy -- after all, why else would Rove be in charge of the Gulf Coast rebuilding effort? -- political concerns about popularity ratings will trump policy concerns about deficits every time. Essentially, Bush's fiscal policy is to recklessly bankrupt the U.S. by throwing money at problems -- the Katrina response is the latest example in a long list, including Iraq and the Medicare prescription drug benefit -- while cutting taxes. Remember, this is a president who has never vetoed a spending bill. Regardless of the quality of the programs taking up this much money, this is simply not a sustainable course. And this is what Brooks is lauding as a "positive use of government". It's sickening.

PS: When one realizes that almost all the new spending is intended to give money away to corporations and the rich while simultaneously helping the Republicans stay just popular enough to keep winning, it really starts to look like the Republican party -- or at least the corporate elites who run it -- is simply looting the U.S. government, on the theory that by the time the crash comes, they'll be safely away and everybody else will be left holding the baby. Sadly, they may be right.