Jerry Kopel

Readers of my columns know I rarely, if ever, dip into national politics. But a New York Times magazine article of August 29th by influential conservative columnist and Republican David Brooks is worth your consideration. Brooks, who appears weekly on the PBS Friday night Jim Lehrer News Hour, has managed to dissect what's wrong with where we are heading and what could we do about it.

The following quotes cover about five percent of the article so there's enough other meat in the article for anyone's table.

"Democrats may imagine that the GOP is an amalgam of fat cats and conservative ideologues, but things feel different inside Republican circles. Inside there are, beneath the cheering and the resolve, waves of anxiety, uncertainty and disagreement.

"There used to be a spirit of solidarity binding all the embattled members of the conservative movement. But with conservative ascendant, that spirit has eroded. Should Bush lose, it will be like a pack of wolves that suddenly turns on itself. The civil war over the future of the party will be ruthless and bloody.

"The foreign-policy realists will battle the democracy-promoting Reaganites. The immigrant-bashing nativists will battle the free marketeers. The tax-cutting growth wing will battle the fiscally prudent deficit hawks. The social conservatives will war with the social moderates, the biotech skeptics with biotech enthusiasts, the K Street corporatists with the tariff-loving populists, the civil libertarians with the security-minded Ashcroftians. In short, the Republican party is unstable."

On pork: "In 1994, there were 4,126 "earmarks" (special spending provisions) attached to the 13 annual appropriation bills. In 2004, there were around 14,000. Real federal spending on the Departments of Education, Commerce and Health and Human Services has roughly doubled since the Republicans took control of the House in 1994. This is a governing majority without shape, coherence or discipline."

"Long before it was the party of Tom DeLay, the GOP was a strong government/progressive conservative party. It was the party of Lincoln, and thus of (Alexander) Hamilton. Today, in other words, the Republican Party doesn't need another revolution. It just needs a revival. It needs to learn from the ideas that shaped the party when it was born."

On business: "...Conservatives admired capitalism but understood that business people fundamentally did not like competition and would much rather use their lobbying power to induce government to protect them from competition, to confer unfair advantages, to offer them subsidies, and to issue regulations that blocked future competitors.

"Over the past few years the distinction between conservative and Republican has eroded. Under Tom DeLay, the conservative movement has fused with the K Street brigades. There are now fewer ideological checks on the corporate community's desire to use government to stifle competition. Now it is conservatives who often embrace special tax breaks, special subsidies, special regulatory sinecures. This is a cancer on modern conservatism, and most every conservative in his or heart knows it."

On corporate welfare and tax reform: "Some future president needs to go through the budget and rake out tens of billions of dollars of corporate subsidies. They can be reduced only all at once, in a great sweep that overwhelms the parochial lobbying campaigns that groups will mount on behalf of each one.

"They can be reduced only as part of a larger tax-reform effort that will simplify the code, flatten rates and clean out the morass of credits, deductions, phase outs, differential taxation arrangements, double-taxation provisions, alternative-minimum-tax fiascoes and growth inhibiting distortions.

"Everybody understands that our budget and tax systems have become dishonorable, favoring the well connected, neglecting everybody else, breeding cynicism, and sapping national morale. These systems will never be pure and pork-free. But every few years somebody has to come in and clean out the encrustations that inevitably develop."

"Trench warfare (in World War I) finally ended because somebody invented the tank. It is time for one party or another to invent the tank, some new governing philosophy that will broaden its coalition and transform the partisan divide."

Too bad Brooks isn't running for president. You and I can find places where we disagree with Brooks, but he would surely be a breath of fresh air.


(Jerry Kopel served 22 years in the Colorado House.)

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