Friday, March 12, 2010

NYTimes Conservatives

A Facebook commenter who styles himself a libertarian was describing sources he would not trust, such as all the liberal blogs and the New York Times. Perhaps there is something to that view, as two of the so-called conservative NYTimes columnists surprised me recently. Ross Douthat said, in a posting on his blog, that any tax reform should still contain some progressive elements (in other words, a flat tax is not appropriate for tax reform). And in today's NYTimes David Brooks does a surprisingly accurate job of describing Obama's politics.

In the past year and a half, Brooks has switched from praising the political, oratorical and intellectuals gifts Obama has, to accurately describing and analyzing Obama's actions and predicaments, to essentially carrying the water for his fellow conservatives by lying about Obama's actions and intentions (including when he accused Obama of telling lies to the American people). Need less to say, I have become very ambivalent, at best, about Brooks. But in today's column, for whatever reason, he gives a very even handed and reasonable description of Obama's politics (it's worth reading). He starts by pointing out the flaws in the views of Obama of both liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans.

There are a couple of points where I think his analysis could use some clarifications. He states that (he thinks) there are not any cost containment measures in the (a?) health care bill currently in Congress. That may be true, but if the public option had survived in the bill, something Mr Brooks, among many others, fought against (and lied about), there might well have been downward pressure on both health insurance premiums and health providers charges. Obviously a single payer option would have addressed both issues, but both have been demonized out of any chance of passage in the Congress.

Second, Mr Brooks calls Obama (accurately, IMO) a center left pragmatist looking for a moderate middle to work with to pass moderately progressive legislation. But, says Mr Brooks, the voters are in information cocoons, listening only to the extreme views on their side of the political spectrum. I believe Brooks is saying there is no moderate middle in Congress right now, because of the pressure from the views of the political extremes. To the extent that that is true (and I have to say I think it is an accurate reflection of current reality), I blame the media, ever willing to report the views of the leaders of extreme groups instantly, and the internet for flattening information, so a determined chorus from the extremes can gain more attention than their usually inaccurate view deserve.

But I still believe that some politicians ran for office to help people, regardless of how they define helping people. I think that if they felt they would not be portrayed by opposition interest groups as villains, they might be willing to compromise and vote for legislation that does at least some good. But that would take an effort by those who have the ability to reach large numbers of people to get the voting public to calm down and let their legislators actually do their jobs.

I wonder about the coincidence of Brooks writing this column the day before the Coffee Party has its kick off nationwide meeting. Perhaps Brooks is sending an implicit message that he approves of the goal of promoting civility in politics, and of getting legislators to listen to the majorities in their districts and take action based on the will of the people.

Or maybe Brooks got out of the left side of his bed today.

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