I find myself agreeing with every David Brooks’ column I read. His latest is no exception. First, he points out that the U.S. budget deficit and huge debt is a big problem that neither party appears ready to address. The GOP steadfastly refuses to discuss raising taxes as part of a bi-partisan deal. The Democrats, meanwhile, refuse to discuss any type of entitlement reform. Then, Brooks goes a step further and makes a prescient observation about the virtue of today’s political class:
For centuries, American politicians did not run up huge peacetime debts. It wasn’t because they were unpartisan or smarter or more virtuous. It was because they were constrained by a mentality inherited from the founders. According to this mentality, a big successful nation exists in a state of equilibrium between its many factions. This equilibrium is fragile because we are flawed and fallen creatures and can’t quite trust ourselves. So all of us, but especially members of the leadership class, should practice self-restraint. Moral anxiety restrained hubris (don’t think your side possesses the whole truth) and self-indulgence (debt corrupts character).
This ethos has dissolved, on left and right. The new mentality sees the country not as an equilibrium, but as a battlefield in which the people, who are pure and virtuous, do battle against the interests or the elites, who stand in the way of the people’s happiness.
The ideal leader in this mental system is free from moral anxiety but full of passionate intensity. This leader pushes his troops in lock step before the voracious foe. Each party has its own version of whom the evil elites are, but both feel they’ve more to fear from their enemies than from their own sinfulness.
Compromise is thus impossible. Money matters should be negotiable, but how can one compromise with opponents who are the source of all corruption
Yes, exactly. Each political party has created an “other” that can’t be reasoned with. The GOP sees a Marxist-minded president bent on destroying capitalism as we know it. The Democrats see a bunch of Fox News-watching rubes suffering from their own lack of education.
Perhaps it’s not the other party, but our own skewed perceptions that have been corrupted. It’s hard to find fault with oneself when you’re sure all the fault lies with someone else.
Too bad no one’s listening.