Occasional blogging, mostly of the long-form variety.

Monday, September 12, 2005

David Brooks and The Thoughtful Conservative

While I skew liberal, I’ve voted for Republicans and Independents, and overall my stance is pro-accountability, pro-honesty/transparency, and pro-competence. I’m willing to take on folks of any political stripe, but with the vast majority of talk shows belonging to the right wing and all three branches of government in Republican hands, the balance of power and the bulk of the microphones belong to conservatives. Thus, they get the bulk of attention from those of us in the “reality-based community” who actually want to discuss matters. Additionally, I would argue that the conservative views we hear on radio and TV are actually further to the right of most American conservatives (certainly a greater percentage of Republican congressmen are fiercely pro-life than one finds in the party as a whole). I suspect this is because the typical conservative talk show host offers a simple solution of what’s right and wrong, and that moral certainty is comforting, even when the person is talking from his ass. It’s also more dramatic and entertaining and thus sells better (even some liberals will concede that Rush Limbaugh, while vile and an established liar, has perfected a successful format for his show). Honesty, I hear liberals engaging in hyperbole (Randi Rhodes) and declining to engage in true debate (I heard a show where Mike Malloy needlessly yelled down a caller), but unlike the right wing, I have not heard many of them outright lie. Nor have I heard from the left anything approaching the hatred and venom that seems unfortunately de rigueur of right-wing pundits. My plea is first for more balance. Most liberal talk show hosts are pretty moderate – if we have so many far right-wing pundits, can’t we have at least one or two true commies for balance? But the more important plea is that, in addition to having a more even representation of liberals and conservatives on the air, could we please jettison the bulk of the right wing nut-jobs and let the more mainstream, moderate Republicans take over their slots? (And could we have more honest discussion, the type that sheds light versus the heat favored by programmers?)

This brings me to David Brooks, who will be familiar to anyone who reads The New York Times or watches The News Hour on PBS. While he is definitely a conservative (he’s a die-hard small government man) and I do not always agree with him, he has shown a willingness to offer thoughtful, genuine responses, break with the party line, and to engage in true discussion and debate. In this sense he reminds me of William F. Buckley, Jr. Buckley was at times a blowhard, but generally a charming one. When he was full of crap you got the sense he knew it, and if there was any doubt his grin confirmed it. However, when I was a teenager, I watched and taped several of the debates Buckley sponsored and broadcast on PBS, on subjects from drug decriminalization to flag-burning to the death penalty. Buckley had the wit to throw in a bon mot and score a quick point, but when it came down to it, he was always willing to get down to business and actually discuss the matter. We need less of the rabid right-wingers and more conservatives in this vein. (Not to mention, where do we see two hours of formal debate on an important issue of the day anymore?)

While many on the right such as Limbaugh have been berating the poor of New Orleans for not being able to afford a car to evacuate Hurricane Katrina, David Brooks offered two very thoughtful op-eds. The first is about victims and scapegoating during natural disasters, while the second is about the opportunity to rebuild New Orleans better than before, especially in regards to the poor and disenfranchised. I believe this is the compassionate conservatism our President once assured us he espoused.

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