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Friday, September 21, 2012

Gerson Blinks, Brooks Doesn't

I have been laying low about the whole 47% video, very much content to see big-time center-right thinkers like David Brooks lay bare the reality of the Romney-Ryan ticket’s adoption of the worst elements of conservative/libertarian social policy. Now, however, I am breaking my silence because another significant center-right figure, Michael Gerson, has written a column, “Ideology without promise”, for the Washington Post that I think misses the crucial point. While Gerson does go to great lengths to distance himself from the spirit of Romney’s 47% comments, and to suggest alternative rhetoric to replace it, he completely misunderstands the policy reality that the GOP’s Romney-Ryan ticket represents. He asks the right central question: Does the video reflect “Romney’s view of the nature of our social crisis?” but the muddled answer he gives is profoundly mistaken and very much at odds with David Brooks’ (correct) view. Instead of weighing the policy proposals, vice presidential selection and views of wealthy donors to the campaign—all things that would reasonably suggest whether or not the video is “Romney’s view”—Gerson falls back on a familiar center-right dodge. He claims without evidence that Republican politicians, chiefly Romney, are merely “mouth[ing] libertarian nonsense”, “parroting” Randian concepts and playing to “stereotypes” of conservative Republican ideology. Gerson suggests that Romney policies will be something different all together than the abundant rhetoric flowing from Romney, Ryan and GOP leaders. This hopeful view fits Gerson’s understanding that there are only a “few libertarians” in the GOP who actually believe this stuff, but Republican politicians and operatives have mistakenly turned to that rhetoric rather than the language of “Burkean conservativsm” and the “Catholic tradition of subsidiarity” to explain their policies and vision. Instead of seeing the GOP and the Romney-Ryan ticket as a reflection of the radical libertarian policies of the Tea Party movement Gerson believes that “Given Romney’s background, record and faith, I don’t believe that he” is one of the “few libertarians” in the GOP.

Make no mistake, Michael and I would agree that if libertarian policies were the true nature of the Romney-Ryan ticket then it would be awful for the country. He rightly and eloquently says these views offer “No sympathy for our fellow citizens. No insight into our social challenge. No hope of change…relentless reductionism… Social problems…reduced to personal vices. Politics …reduced to class warfare on behalf of the upper class.” Amen, I say. But where Gerson and I disagree is with his faith-based notion that Romney-Ryan do not actually share those views but are just speaking as if they do. It is striking to me that Gerson offers no concrete policy proposals from Romney-Ryan that show that they will govern in accordance with “Burkean conservatism” or “Catholic subsidiarity” rather than “ideology pitting the 'makers' against the 'takers'”. In the absence of facts and policies to buttress Gerson's faith I will continue to believe the words of David Brooks:

The Republican Party, and apparently Mitt Romney, too, has shifted over toward a much more hyperindividualistic and atomistic social view…[and] doesn't have a basic commitment to provide a safety net for those who suffer for no fault of their own.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Greg, It's been a long time since you've posted anything directly related to the election and thoughts have gone through my mind over the past few weeks, about your position (and those of like mind) on the coming election. You've never been bashful about touting your position since the beginning of your blog. The title of which has appropriately evolved from one of ardent political to support, to a more open ended query and finally to a resolute focus on that which is most important to us all: Faith and the Common Good.

    So my question is this: Are you still going to vote for President Obama this coming election? Haven't you had enough? Let's just say we forget about the middle east in chaos, the unprecedented increase in deficit spending, job numbers, unemployment, welfare roles, arguable encroachment on religious liberty, etc. Why will you vote for him again? You have a republican nominee who historically has governed in a way that is clearly moderate. Sure he has tact to the right, but as you know, I come from a right of center perspective and I am tacitly uncomfortable with the nominee of my own party. As uncomfortable as I was with John McCain. I have often looked at him and thought that social justice democrats may well have their dream candidate in the 2012 republican slot. Governor Romney has already started to tact back toward the center on many issues. His 4 years in Massachusetts seem to demonstrate that in many ways he is more comfortable working with Democrats than he is his own party. Certainly, he needed to embrace the right, but even you have to believe that was simply to secure the nomination, no? His foreign policy will be very similar to Obama's - if it weren't for the domestic topic creeping into the October 22 debate there was hardly any disagreement on policy at all-only on execution. With the possible exception of his more overt coddling of Israel, I doubt that much would be done differently on foreign policy. His domestic policy may not be that much different in all your most important areas. He has already made public statements about keeping "certain aspects" of the healthcare law - and even some of the current house and senate republican leadership express doubts about being able to repeal the disaster that is ObamaCare. If it weren't for Paul Ryan (who, while I am a strong supporter, I rue the day he accepted the nomination for the do nothing role of VP) I doubt that a President Romney will have any tendency whatsoever for right of center policy.

    What has the President done for a left of center Catholic like you, that can't be met (or exceeded) by a center of center Morman like him? I'd really like to know.