The personal is political, part two; Ratification Part One

David Brooks’ newest column is a reworking of his favorite recent themes: Our country’s real problem is immorality and selfishness, and that to restore morality we must slash entitlements.
The specific piece argues that Brooks is exactly in line with what the framers of the Constitution thought: “People are naturally selfish and need watching. But democratic self-government is possible because we’re smart enough to design structures to police that selfishness.” And the Constitution was designed to prevent that But because people don’t listen to the deep wisdom of David Brooks, “Leaders today do not believe their job is to restrain popular will. Their job is to flatter and satisfy it. A gigantic polling apparatus has developed to help leaders anticipate and respond to popular whims. Democratic politicians adopt the mind-set of marketing executives. Give the customer what he wants. The customer is always right.”
As it happens I spent part of my trip away reading Ratification by Pauline Maier, an exhaustively detailed account of the state conventions that approved the Constitution (excepting naysayers North Carolina and Rhode Island). And Brooks, as usual, is fitting facts to his needs.
It’s true the Founders feared mob rule, but they also feared very much that the national government wouldn’t be responsive enough to the will of the people (one recurring complaint was that the states would have too few representatives in the House to really represent the people), and that it would have no understanding of what the different states wanted or needed. Another worry was that the federal government would become an aristocracy, an elite dwelling above the people instead of answerable to them. The structure of the government (as Charles Pierce points out at the first link above) wasn’t designed to restrain public passions but the power of the three branches, so that none of them could become the tyranny Americans had just fought to get rid of.
(This is actually a more complicated topic than I’m making it sound so I’ll come back to this later in the week).
And then there’s the same problem Brooks always has with this problem, that while he mentions briefly the influence of big money on politics, his real focus is regular citizens or “American senior citizens receive health benefits that cost many times more than the contributions they put into the system” (which ties in to what I was writing yesterday). And in his other writing on the subject, that’s all he focuses on: Workers are becoming immoral (they use credit cards and sometimes change their jobs!). Having to save forces workers to behave morally! The common herd have babies without marriage, unlike their respectable leaders!
Discussion of for-profit prison companies or prison-guard unions fighting for tougher sentencing laws (which mean more need for prisons)? Nil. Or how major investment firms have lobbied for years to get Social Security funds invested in the stock market where they can charge fees for investing them? Nil. Or the government funding anti-abortion counseling centers with taxpayers’ dollars? Nil.
Of course Brooks has stated in the past that lobbyists are important experts government depends on, so possibly that seems perfectly reasonable to him. Just as he’s apparently nowhere near as upset about foreclosure fraud, Wall Street shell games and government corruption as he is about out-of-wedlock birth. And can’t imagine cutting anyone off the public teat except people who depend on the social safety net (admittedly a common assumption among DC pundits)—military contractors, for example.
How exactly does Brooks keep his job again?



Filed under economics, Politics

3 responses to “The personal is political, part two; Ratification Part One

  1. Pingback: Pardon me but do you have any links? | Fraser Sherman's Blog

  2. Pingback: Ratification, part two | Fraser Sherman's Blog

  3. Pingback: Undead Sexist Cliches: Schools castrate boys! | Fraser Sherman's Blog

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