“What’s The Big Idea?”
There are many interesting parts to this conversation, and I’ll post David Brooks’ as a teaser. See, especially, his comments on the GOP and the presidential campaign of 2008 at the end:
DAVID BROOKS: I’m mostly in agreement with what Karlyn said. There’s an odd polarization on the panel between those who have to deal with left-wing academics and those of us who don’t. Those of us who deal with Democrats are a lot happier than those who deal with the
academy. I’m tempted to leave it at that!
But first, let me just draw a few distinctions. There’s a big difference between partisanship and polarization. I’m basically with Brink and Tamar and Karlyn and Bill [Kristol] and all us Washingtonian types that there is a bell curve in this country on issues, but partisanship is important'”and in my sense, more important than philosophy.
How do most people form their political views? Almost nobody forms their political views by looking at the two parties and deciding which has the best philosophy. They form their political
views usually by inheriting them from their parents. Or in their early 20s, they look at the party that is filled with people like themselves. It’s social identity that comes first. Once you find the
party that’s filled with people like yourself, then the ideas come. Political scientists have measured this through surveys and studies: Philosophy comes after the social identity.
That doesn’t mean the philosophy is unimportant. Once people come up with their philosophy, it shapes them and helps determine what they believe in. But that doesn’t mean it’s primary. What’s primary, especially today, is the partisanship, which is a team-spirit tribalism. You can get vicious attacks based on very small political differences, but which reflect differences of social identity about which virtues you think a leader should have. The thing that polarizes the country primarily, is individuals. Half the country looks at George Bush and sees the virtues'” well, this was about three years ago, so now a third of the country looks at George Bush and sees
the virtues'”they want in a leader, and two-thirds see the virtues they don’t want. But primarily, it’s partisanship more than big, philosophical differences, which is one of the reasons I’m with
the Washington crowd in thinking the polarization is fundamentally unstable.
Another thing that has been weaving through the conversation is Eurocentrism and Europe.
Conservatives are accused of being Eurocentric. But you’d never know it, because we’re Europhobic, it turns out. Here the interesting issue is: Is the Left becoming more European, as Charles and some of the others have suggested?
Here, again, the crucial distinction is between the people who have to deal with left-wing academics and those who don’t. I think, in some circles, you do see European modes of behavior. Cambridge, Massachusetts. Berkeley. If you look at rising secularism in these areas, if you look at very low fertility rates in these areas, you do see sort of European patterns of behavior. If you look across the Democratic mainstream, you see very few signs of European actual behavior. If you look at ‘Red America’and ‘Blue America,’at how people actually live'”if you look at work patterns, divorce rates, drug use, mobility'”it’s very hard to tell the difference. On
indicator after indicator, it’s very hard to tell ‘Red America’apart from ‘Blue America.’Americans are still basically behaving the same whether they’re red or blue. To me, the difference is that the Democratic politicians basically understand that, and they represent the mainstream of the Democratic Party more than the more Europeanized academics.
So if you look at Hillary Clinton, for example, I differ with the view that she is an exemplar of continental European philosophy. I think she’s an exemplar of Blairism, which is a reaction against continental philosophy. It’s more liberal than I would like, but it is not Gunnar Myrdal. It’s a reaction against Gunnar Myrdal. So when I look at the Democrats that I meet every day covering politics, they are much more centrist, much more American, and much more in their bones American exceptionalist than some of the left-wing academics whom I meet from time to time. The power of America just did not vanish overnight. So, to me, that’s an important distinction.
The final thing I’ll say'”and this should be raised by somebody at a moment when the Republican Party is on the verge of splitting apart into a million different pieces, talking about polarization'”what’s interesting at this moment is, at one end of the polarization is a Republican Party in the midst of a fundamental change. I think the stresses, first of the 1995 government shutdown, and now the stresses of the last two years, are not just a passing moment which we will grow out of and return to the way conservatism or Republicanism was two years ago. I think something fundamental will change. My bet is that we will have a campaign [in 2008]'”and this is the accident of history'”between John McCain and Hillary Clinton, who sit on the Armed
Services Committee together, and who'”as far as I know'”have never disagreed on any single vote. If that happens, then talk about polarization will look a little weird!