David Brooks and the Republican Reformation

Let me explain why I love David Brooks. He gave me a job, yes, but the real reason is that he writes with real curiosity and generosity, as demonstrated very clearly in his latest column. The obvious conflict of interest is why I steer clear of writing Hosannas twice a week. I know better than anyone that it is deeply and profoundly lame to publicly praise one of your mentors. But who else has the empathy and the insight to write such a perceptive column about how our politics might be taking a turn for the better? David is one of the Upbeats, an unfashionable thing to be now and most of the time, particularly among the Cosmic Brunettes. But it’s an upbeatness founded in experience and a basically clear-eyed view of a resilient body politic.

After a convincing take on how Obama is pointing the way to a less adversarial and more hopeful US liberalism, Brooks offers a dead-on read of Mike Huckabee: he’s opened up a new terrain for Republicans, if they’ll take it. A few choice lines below.

(1) He’s funny, campy (see his Chuck Norris fixation) and he’s not at war with modern culture.

What a lot of us have been calling “evangelical identity politics” can be something much more inclusive and forward-looking. Gertrude Himmelfarb described how religious revivals become moral revivals, and that it, hopefully, the stage we’re entering now. Obama is a part of this.

(2) He took on Rush Limbaugh, the Club for Growth and even President Bush. The old guard threw everything they had at him, and their diminished power is now exposed.

We saw this coming, but now the evidence is there for all to see.

(3) Huckabee understands that economic well-being is fused with social and moral well-being, and he talks about the inter-relationship in a way no other candidate has.

Which is, by far, the most important thing about his campaign.

(4) A conservatism that recognizes stable families as the foundation of economic growth is not hard to imagine. A conservatism that loves capitalism but distrusts capitalists is not hard to imagine either. Adam Smith felt this way. A conservatism that pays attention to people making less than $50,000 a year is the only conservatism worth defending.

Pro-competition, not pro-business. For clean government, not cronyism. On the side of working families, but not against the struggling poor or the entrepreneurial rich. In Comeback, David Frum forcefully makes the point that the Republicans are the party of the American middle, and that it should acting the part.

(5) Will Huckabee move on and lead this new conservatism? Highly doubtful. The past few weeks have exposed his serious flaws as a presidential candidate. His foreign policy knowledge is minimal. His lapses into amateurishness simply won’t fly in a national campaign.

And so Huckabee isn’t my candidate. I buy many of the conservative criticisms, and I think an activist, reformist conservatism needs to be more vigilant about wasteful spending and smarter about how to tax without destroying wealth. But there’s nevertheless a real sense in which I’m rooting for him — to have an impact, to shape the debate, and hopefully to help shape the future of conservatism.

(6) Huckabee probably won’t be the nominee, but starting last night in Iowa, an evangelical began the Republican Reformation.

Fingers crossed. It’s awkward for me to cheerlead, but there you have it. Barmike Huckabama is, for the most part, a force for good. Not for heaven on earth, but for a slightly more responsive and more humane politics.