Thursday, July 31, 2008

David Brooks finds his inner FDR and TR

I long ago lost interest in David Brooks, who started out as a thoughtful conservative and turned into a hack not long after joining the NY Times op-ed page (more hackery here and also here). However, this latest essay from Brooks is one of the finest he has ever written. Note its structure, and succinct analysis of sources, just for starters.

While I don't subscribe to his single-bullet answer that education or skills improvement will restore this nation's economic greatness, it is definitely true that restoring our nation's commitment to improving educational opportunities, and redeveloping our infrastructure and manufacturing base, are vital domestic policies the next president should pursue.

Also, while I disagree with Brooks' gratiutous attack on economic populists, I found these two paragraphs of his essay breathtaking--coming from such a pro-Republican as Brooks:

Second, there is a big debate under way over the sources of middle-class economic anxiety. Some populists emphasize the destructive forces of globalization, outsourcing and predatory capitalism. These people say we need radical labor market reforms to give the working class a chance. But the populists are going to have to grapple with the Goldin, Katz and Heckman research, which powerfully buttresses the arguments of those who emphasize human capital policies. It’s not globalization or immigration or computers per se that widen inequality. It’s the skills gap. Boosting educational attainment at the bottom is more promising than trying to reorganize the global economy.

Third, it’s worth noting that both sides of this debate exist within the Democratic Party. The G.O.P. is largely irrelevant. If you look at Barack Obama’s education proposals — especially his emphasis on early childhood — you see that they flow naturally and persuasively from this research. (It probably helps that Obama and Heckman are nearly neighbors in Chicago). McCain’s policies seem largely oblivious to these findings. There’s some vague talk about school choice, but Republicans are inept when talking about human capital policies.

It has long been my view that the Republican Party leadership has run out of substantive ideas. They feed like zombies on income tax cuts, the protection of zygotes and whipping up racial hate and homophobia--try to imagine a working class leftist doing this in our time, for example (I guess we should be glad the guy didn't shoot at the children performing the play at the Universalist Unitarian church).

This failure to promote any substantive economic and nation redevelopment ideas also explains why McCain has gone negative against Obama so early. The corporate broadcast media can still help McCain prevail in the presidential race, but I am starting to believe that Obama can defeat McCain this fall, despite earlier concerns that still linger...As Michael Berube says in his brilliantly satiric post, this election should not be close, even though it is very close, no matter what polls say. Obama is clearly the superior candidate to lead our nation and potentially restore our nation's health. McCain, however, is looking worse and worse in his ability to process and articulate public policy, and looks more like the old guy shouting, "Get the hell off my lawn, you go-for-nuthin' kids."


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