Conservatives in Retreat

Reinvigorating a mature nation means using government to give people the tools to compete, but then opening up a wide field so they do so raucously and creatively. It means spending more here but deregulating more there. It means facing the fact that we do have to choose between the current benefits to seniors and investments in our future, and that to pretend we don’t face that choice, as Obama did, is effectively to sacrifice the future to the past.

The Collective Turn,” David Brooks

I sometimes see David Brook as the “reasonable conservative,” if only because he rarely if ever sounds like his wacky-right comrades. He doesn’t seem to associate Israel with the coming apocalypse and he doesn’t have any strange ideas about what makes a rape legitimate or not or how the state should force women to bear the children of their abusers. He might think these things, of course, but if he does he keeps them out of print.

If Obama’s nascent liberalism is real and if it pushes the conservative nuts further into obscurity, Brooks would be a good model for conservatism in retreat. In effect, his stripped down conservatism only has one last idea: we cannot allow ordinary people to take a larger share of the huge profits of American capitalism less we kill the goose that laid our golden egg. If we do, we become “European” and stagnant.

Yet the last three decades of corporate tax policy has led to an unprecedented gap between rich and poor on the one hand and huge corporate reserves of cash on the other. It’s not simply capitalism that concentrates wealth, though, its government policy as well, and whatever government policy can do it can undo as well. That’s the real anxiety behind Brook’s calm demeanor and his implicit call for a new conservatism.

About Ray Watkins

I was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, at Our Lady of the Lake Hospital. I grew up in Houston, as a part of what we only half-jokingly call the Cajun Diaspora. At a certain point during the Regan administration, I had to leave, so I served in the Peace Corps, Philippines, from 1987-89. I didn't want to return to the United States just yet, so I moved to Paris, France, where I lived for three years or so. I then moved back to Austin, Texas, where I had received my Masters Degree, and (eventually) began a Ph.D., which I completed in 1999. I spent a year at Temple University and then accepted a position at Eastern Illinois University where I worked until May of 2006. I now work exclusively on line (although that may change) for Johns Hopkins, the Art Institute Online, and I can be reached most easily via email: raywatkins [that 'at' symbol]

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