Unlike some others, I don't see much to laud in Brooks's column this morning. From my vantage point, it's just another trite outing in which Sensible David explains that it's not lockstep ideological rigidity combined with top-flight institutions that has made conservatism the handsome superforce it is today, but a long process of healthy intramovement argument and deep study of their philosophical forebears. In other words, more on how wonderful Republicans are and why Democrats should take off their horns and copy their opponents. The column ends with one of those now overused conclusions that most liberals, sad to say, probably couldn't tell you their favorite philosopher if you asked them to. That, of course, is what's wrong with the Democratic party. Bush can name Christ, Brooks can name Burke, but leftists don't think quick enough to say Rawls.
But which Democratic party has Brooks been watching? Because I've certainly missed the incarnation he noticed, with its painless ideological evolution and lack of internal dissent. The party I'm part of spent the 90's arguing over free trade and NAFTA, welfare and health care, before turning its attention to a bitter discussion over the use of preemptive force in 2003. Before that, the 80's had the beginning of the battle between solid progressives and more business-minded folks, the 70's and late 60's were a war over Vietnam, the 40's and 50's showcased the ejection of Wallace and his band of "softs" that Beinart constantly memorializes -- where's the consensus? You can't read a book on the Clinton-era without being impressed by the ferocity of the intraparty arguments he presided over, and in some cases instigated. So where's the refusal to face up to big disagreements and ideas? For that matter, what serious factions are missing and therefore leaving converts no place to join up? Is there no DLC, no MoveOn, no place for liberals and greens and law-and-order types and moderates? Because, correct me if I'm wrong, but don't Marc Cooper and Al From pledge allegiance to the same ticket every four years, but spend the intervening periods screaming at each other?
Or is this just about philosophers? More than any other, I've grown to despise the who's-your-ideological-forefather parlor game. It's like the intellectual one upsmanship that danced around dinner tables in the academic community I grew up in. What Derrida said isn't so important as whether or not you can synthesize his point with a Focaultian analysis in order to make an elementary argument sound brilliantly grounded. Liberals could, if needed, turn to an endless number of sources to find their inspiration. I'm currently reading Robert Parker's massive biography of John Kenneth Galbraith, and he certainly seems a candidate. Studs Terkel's got something to say, or at least something to transcribe, and Charlie Peters certainly had points to make. Do they suffice? Should I be referencing Chester Bowles or Henderson? Or are they not "philosophers"?