American elections are one of the few times Americans dust off the political philosophies and talk about them. I can’t help but think of Edie Brickell and her line in What I Am:”Chuck me in the shallow water, Before I get too deep”. We don’t engage in discussions of “political economy” in the US, at least not outside college campuses. But we do have limited discussions about whether more or less government regulation and more of less aid to the poor is a good idea. Mostly in the last eight years it has been that less regulation is a good idea, and that the poor should turn to churches for help. The Republicans are generally linked with the more laissez faire argument and democrats with the government aid position.
David Brooks attempted to address the state of modern conservative thought in the NYTimes on Friday. He described it as originating in dissent from a group of intellectuals, but has drifted away from that because (his words) Democrats keep nominating pointy headed intellectuals and Republican strategists decided to attack them based on class war. What Brooks is dancing around with, but does not say is that Reagan and the people who handled him used Reagan’s acting talents to out-folksy Carter (who had done something similar to Gerry Ford). Reagan promised the easy solution, promised that he would get government off people’s backs. Of course the term Reagan Democrat, a group of working class people without college degrees, who might be a union man or woman but didn’t think the unions were doing anything anymore, originated then. I have been using it, I think some people might have used it in connection with Hillary Clinton’s Pennsylvania race.
Brooks now decries the dumbing down of the Republican party, fueled by the “plain speaking” conservative talk radio jocks like Rush Limbaugh and, around here Jim Quinn. He actually says that Democrats are deliberative and self-examining (well, maybe more than the Republicans) while the Republicans now govern from the gut. It sounds like he is a fan of Steven Colbert.
George Bush is a near caricature of this. John McCain also has some elements of this, as a Navy pilot he would have prized instinct and split second decisions over a considered approach (that would be more Colin Powell’s approach). Brooks also praises Sarah Palin as “smart, politically skilled, courageous and likable”. But he says that nobody plays the class-warfare card “as constantly” than Palin.
There is a commenter on twopoliticaljunkies, John K, who says that George Will and David Brooks are not “real” conservatives. They want the adulation of liberals, according to him. John K and other conservative commenters scattered around the Pittsburgh political blogosphere are commenters that I think Rush Limbaugh would approve of. John K uses short sentences with simple statements like “You lefties worship Ayers and Dorn” (not an actual quote, although that is how he spells “Dorn”). He writes “lol” a lot, comments not on the post but on whatever subject might have come up recently that is favorable to conservatives, and makes personally negative comments about other commenters. Now 2PJ’s is an unabashedly liberal blog, so a certain amount of this is probably a good thing. But John K and other commenters of that ilk represent a wing of conservatism that does attack using key works like terrorist, Marxist and John K, for example, rarely if ever refers to Obama as Barack Obama; he uses Hussein Obama constantly.
This kind of thing is also happening at Universities. Institutions of higher learning are finding they can not be part of any discourse on current events. If they try to discuss current events, whether from a professor’ particular point of view or even as an illustration for a lesson plan, professor’s find themselves besieged by national and local politicians and by trustees. Of course one problem is that the professors who feel most strongly about politics are usually the first to speak out at a University, and expressing only their views may well distort debate. The extremists who do leap to speak out help make conservatives arguments for them.
So actual discourse may only still exist on the mainstream media, often called the liberal media. Programs like Washington Week In Review or round tables on Meet the Press or this Week. Today somebody, might have been Brokaw himself, mentioned on MTP how we are a credit card economy. Since Brokaw broke the idea, the other journalists were happy enough to “comment” on it (I suspect no one wanted to be first with an idea like that). That discussion is only just barely present in the media, let alone on the campaign trail. McCain and Palin seem to want to use George W Bush’s old stand by, fear, to win the election. There’s little we can do about this now, but feel free to pester the next President.