An open letter to establishment Republicans to take back their party

David Brooks New York Times column

The Road Not Taken

Over the past months, Republicans enjoyed enormous advantages. Opinion polls showed that voters are eager to reduce the federal debt, and they want to do it mostly but not entirely through spending cuts.

There was a Democratic president eager to move to the center. He floated certain ideas that would be normally unheard of from a Democrat. According to widespread reports, White House officials talked about raising the Medicare eligibility age, cutting Social Security by changing the inflation index, freezing domestic discretionary spending and offering to pre-empt the end of the Bush tax cuts in exchange for a broad tax-reform process.

The Democratic offers were slippery, and President Obama didn’t put them in writing. But John Boehner, the House speaker, thought they were serious. The liberal activists thought they were alarmingly serious. I can tell you from my reporting that White House officials took them seriously.

The combined effect would have been to reduce the size of government by $3 trillion over a decade. That’s a number roughly three times larger than the cost of the Obama health care law. It also would have brutally fractured the Democratic Party.

But the Republican Party decided not to pursue this deal, or even seriously consider it. Instead what happened was this: Conservatives told themselves how steadfast they were being for a few weeks. Then morale crumbled.

This week, Republicans will probably pass a balanced budget Constitutional amendment that has zero chance of becoming law. Then they may end up clinging to a no más Senate compromise. This proposal would pocket cuts that have already been agreed on, and it would eliminate leverage for future cuts and make them less likely.

It could be that this has been a glorious moment in Republican history. It could be that having persuaded independents that they are a prudent party, Republicans will sweep the next election. Controlling the White House and Congress, perhaps they will have the guts to cut Medicare unilaterally, reform the welfare state and herald in an era of conservative greatness.

But it’s much more likely that Republicans will come to regret this missed opportunity. So let us pause to identify the people who decided not to seize the chance to usher in the largest cut in the size of government in American history. They fall into a few categories:

The Beltway Bandits. American conservatism now has a rich network of Washington interest groups adept at arousing elderly donors and attracting rich lobbying contracts. For example, Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform has been instrumental in every recent G.O.P. setback. He was a Newt Gingrich strategist in the 1990s, a major Jack Abramoff companion in the 2000s and he enforced the no-compromise orthodoxy that binds the party today.

Norquist is the Zelig of Republican catastrophe. His method is always the same. He enforces rigid ultimatums that make governance, or even thinking, impossible.

The Big Government Blowhards. The talk-radio jocks are not in the business of promoting conservative governance. They are in the business of building an audience by stroking the pleasure centers of their listeners.

They mostly give pseudo Crispin’s Day speeches to battalions of the like-minded from the safety of the conservative ghetto. To keep audience share, they need to portray politics as a cataclysmic, Manichaean struggle. A series of compromises that steadily advance conservative aims would muddy their story lines and be death to their ratings.

The Show Horses. Republicans now have a group of political celebrities who are marvelously uninterested in actually producing results. Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann produce tweets, not laws. They have created a climate in which purity is prized over practicality.

The Permanent Campaigners. For many legislators, the purpose of being in Congress is not to pass laws. It’s to create clear contrasts you can take into the next election campaign. It’s not to take responsibility for the state of the country and make it better. It’s to pass responsibility onto the other party and force them to take as many difficult votes as possible.

All of these groups share the same mentality. They do not see politics as the art of the possible. They do not believe in seizing opportunities to make steady, messy progress toward conservative goals. They believe that politics is a cataclysmic struggle. They believe that if they can remain pure in their faith then someday their party will win a total and permanent victory over its foes. They believe they are Gods of the New Dawn.

Fortunately, there are still practical conservatives in the G.O.P., who believe in results, who believe in intelligent compromise. If people someday decide the events of the past weeks have been a debacle, then practical conservatives may regain control.


From NPR News David Brooks Slams Norquist, Palin, Bachmann, Limbaugh As Unhelpful

NPR (blog)

7 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. nswfm
    Jul 19, 2011 @ 18:34:53

    He left out the people exploiting religion. Otherwise, not bad. Still waiting for the Rs to start using reasoning, but not holding my breath. I’d rather write in Mickey Mouse of Orange County, CA than vote for a Republican.


  2. Kate
    Jul 19, 2011 @ 21:46:56

    Isn’t it ironic that these Republicans of today, especially the Tea Partiers, repeatedly speak of Ronald Reagan as if he was a saint, and yet, if he was around today, he’d be considered a RINO. How would they react to his raising taxes? They refuse to admit, especially Pat Buchanan, that Reagan raised taxes on his watch. These freshman Tea Party Congressmen need to go. They act as if they know far more than anyone who has been educated in economics, even those with a Ph.D., calling out President Obama and his financial advisors as liars, including those who worked under a Republican President. Did anyone catch Joe Walsh, Rep. from IL today on Chris Matthews’ show? The disrespect that this man has towards the President is disgusting. He also thinks he knows far more than anyone else who has been in Congress for years. He comes across as a know-it-all, rude and nasty, and will, hopefully, be voted out come 2012. It’s what he and his friends deserve. Let those moderate Republicans, the few that are left, debate with the Democratic Party members and then maybe we’ll see them agree to a compromise and actually get some work done that benefits all the people of this country, not just the wealthy!


    • Sarah Palin has a serpent's heart
      Jul 20, 2011 @ 09:43:08

      Did you watch Rachel Maddow last night? She played some clips of old Saint Ronnie talking about raising the debt ceiling, which he did 18 TIMES during his tenure. And she read a passage from The Reagan diaries where he expressed his disgust at the REPUBLICAN controlled Senate for refusing to meet his demands.


  3. mgardener
    Jul 20, 2011 @ 06:11:59

    I hope the republican party as we know it today, goes down in flames.
    We need a robust 2 party system for this country to work.
    I thought it very interesting that he did mention the incredible religiosity of the republican party, where a candidate is considered worthy ONLY if he has evangelical credentials.


  4. climber357
    Jul 20, 2011 @ 07:50:08

    The Republican Party continues to tout, either by public proclamation or silent refusal to correct the record, the outrageous claim that sarah is qualified for elected office. How is it possible for me to believe ANYTHING else they claim? Do they really expect me to toe the party line and embrace the nonsense about sarah being a ¨bona fide energy expert?¨ They are counting on my loyalty and expect me to play ¨follow the leader.¨ Sorry, no can do, not when the leaders are blatantly lying to me.

    I find the current state of the GOP galling.


  5. Delia
    Jul 20, 2011 @ 08:37:34

    If the senior Republicans took the junior Republican freshman candidates by the hand, from the get go, and explained to them the ropes, that making compromises and doing the people’s work is part of their job description, then perhaps the GOP could see the great risks this president has taken by moving toward the center, they’d have had a chance at actually accomplishing what the GOP once stood for.
    Unfortunately, they probably wouldn’t have listened anyway, but it may have helped stop this nonsense on both sides. An eye for an eye leaves everyone blind.

    The GOP my Father once belonged to no longer exists. This “my way or no way” mentality is truly distructive.


  6. Montana
    Jul 20, 2011 @ 17:47:40

    You know what this current crowd of GOP liars want is to turn the United Sates into China, where only a few giant corporations run things, they own the factories, the apartments, the grocery stores, the gas stations, the newspaper and magazine publications, the radio stations, the television stations and you pay them and they get all the benefits, and if you do not like it go jump off cliff. Well some Chinese workers seeing that as individuals that they cannot progress have done just that by committing suicide.

    The current crowd of GOP liars want to steal Medicare from the elderly, they want to abolish a woman’s right to choose and have control over her own body, they want to abolish collective bargaining rights for our Unions, and on top of it all they want to blame the poor, the middle class and the public sector workers for a recession that the GOP created (Thanks to the Dullard “W”), while their beloved “Fat cats” continue to pay themselves exorbitant salaries, bonuses, fringe benefits.

    The GOP is like the “Chicken Littles” always saying that the “Sky is Falling”, like the same ones that were the “Chicken Hawks” (“W” Wars), big talk no courage.

    The United States, favors creativity wherever it can be found. We’re apostles of prosperity and defenders of the free exchange of ideas and when more people in more countries are free to rise, to invent, to communicate, to dissent, it’s not the doom of United States leadership, its the triumph of the American way.

    Generations have worked hard and sacrificed much for the country to reach this point (individuals and our Unions that represented our poor, the middle class and public sector workers), and with further hard work and sacrifice (along with our relentless self-doubt) the United States will rise again, we do not tire and we are coming back, no matter what Fox news and their GOP “Chicken Littles” lackies keep saying about our nation. The win in New York was the beginning but the next will be Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin and later the other states of our nation, Never Bet Against the United States, watch out GOP, we are coming for you!


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