David Brooks is one of my favorite columnists. I look forward to his columns in the New York Times and am rarely disappointed. I guess I find myself agreeing with him more often than not - maybe as much as 75 % of the time, which is a lot actually! He is an attentive observed of society and an acute analyst of the causes of so many of our woes. His writing tries to address the social, cultural, and moral chaos which increasingly characterizes our society and is pushing it into dangerous decline. He is someone to pay attention to!
Here we are, once again, on the eve of yet another presidential election, an election he says is about anxiety over national decline and how to avert it, an election whose "core issue is the accumulation of deeper structural problems that this recession has exposed - unsustainable levels of debt, an inability to generate middle-class incomes, a dysfunctional political system, the steady growth of special-interest sinecures and the gradual loss of national vitality." I could hardly have said it better. (Of course not! That's one reason he's writing for the Times and I'm not!)
In the face of this anxiety, what do our political parties have to offer? (It is an election, after all!)
Brooks takes on both political parties whose rigidities have resulted in their abject failure to do precisely what we need them to do. (Again, it is an election, after all!)
The Republican agenda - what happens, Brooks suggests, when "a pragmatic policy proposal from 1980" (cutting taxes) degenerates into a test of rigid loyalty and ideological purity. The "tax cuts and nothing else" agenda he describes as "stupefyingly boring, fiscally irresponsible and politically impossible" - a prescription that "would do nothing to address the structural problems that are causing a working-class crisis."
The Democrats, on the other hand, remain mentally trapped "in the era of affluence," dreaming "new Deal dreams" and meanwhile proposing nothing more than "light rail" and "solar panels." He compares this coming election to "a competition between two Soviet refrigerator companies, cold-war relics offering products that never change."
Is it any surprise, I would add, then, that we are so easily distracted by extreme examples of narcissistic behavior on the part of some of our elected representatives?