Mind Reading: On The Eve of Destruction

David Brooks explains the Republican mind, and I suspect he is more or less correct, though I think he's leaving out a lot of crucial details.

Democrats frequently ask me why the Republicans have become so extreme. As they describe the situation, they usually fall back on some sort of illness metaphor. Republicans have a mania. President Obama has said that Republicans have a “fever” that he hopes will break if he is re-elected.

I guess I’d say Republicans don’t have an illness; they have a viewpoint. Let me describe it this way: In the 1950s, Dwight Eisenhower reconciled Republicans to the 20th-century welfare state. Between Ike and George W. Bush, Republican leaders basically accepted that model. Sure, they wanted to cut taxes and devolve power, but, in practice, they sustained the system, often funding it more lavishly than the Democrats.

But many Republicans have now come to the conclusion that the welfare-state model is in its death throes.

It's just, says Dave, that the viewpoint they happen to have is an apocalyptic one. If the apocalypse is coming, almost any kind of extremism is justified. I have little doubt that this is indeed what some Republican elites - call it the John Galt wing of the Republican party - believe. Galt, for those who don't know or won't follow the link, is the Voldemort like figure at the heart of Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged, a super powerful wizard who manages to invent all sorts of miracles while spending most of his time stalking the heroine and giving book length speeches that would bore Fidel Castro's dog to death. Galt doesn't just anticipate the demise of the welfare state, he plots its destruction with a program of sabotage, piracy, and other crimes. So it is too with the Republican policy elites who plotted to sabotage the government with the enormous deficit spending begun by Reagan, and continued by the Bushes, and now by the way the Republican Congress is undermining any attempts to restore our economy to growth.

Most Republican voters, though, see a different kind of apocalypse. They are elderly and mostly ensconced in the very welfare state their leaders would abolish. What they see is a world where blacks and Mexicans won't keep their place, and homosexuals refuse to stay in the closet. Even more pointedly, they see the destruction that three decades of rapid economic change have wrought on their lives.

Never mind that the evidence the Galtian's see - Brooks eagerly awaits vindication by Euro collapse - hardly fits their narrative, as Krugman and others point out. On the other hand, the Democrats really have led in the social changes that much of the Republican party abhors.

Barry McGuire


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