David Brooks, the New York Times' token conservative, has an interesting hypothesis. What the Republican Party needs is to return to the good old days of … 2006. Or perhaps Richard Nixon.
Today, if Republicans had learned the right lessons from the Westerns, or at least John Ford Westerns, they would not be the party of untrammeled freedom and maximum individual choice. They would once again be the party of community and civic order.
By "civic order," Brooks means "more government," albeit with a Republican flair. Not just economic policies similar to those advocated by Democrats, but social policies similar to those the Republicans already endorse, with a healthy dose of hawkish foreign policy thrown in.
It's as though time-traveling Rip Van Brooks woke up after a six year sleep, just after what appeared to be a triumphant conclusion to the Iraq war and the Bush Medicare prescription drug expansion, and began writing columns without missing a beat.
According to time-traveling Brooks, the problem with the Republican Party is its insistence on individual freedom.
Republicans are so much the party of individualism and freedom these days that they are no longer the party of community and order. This puts them out of touch with the young, who are exceptionally community-oriented. It gives them nothing to say to the lower middle class, who fear that capitalism has gone haywire. It gives them little to say to the upper middle class, who are interested in the environment and other common concerns.
The problem with Republicans these days is that they are no longer the party of individual freedom, if they ever were. At its ascendance Republican rhetoric, if not policy, promised the little guy that he might be left alone by his government, economically if not socially. At the very least they'd lower his taxes, and get around to lowering government spending once the present crisis (whatever it might be now) was over. If the little man wanted to share a joint with the wife in his own home once in a while, or perhaps make whoopie with someone who, by law, couldn't be the wife, or wondered why we were still in Saudi Arabia ten years after the end of the first Iraq war, well that's why we have Democrats isn't it?
The Republicans who just lost power, on the other hand, spent (sorry, "invested" in "smart government") like drunken sailors and continued to deny the little man his joint or his own definition of the proper way to make whoopie.
They were the Party of Order in spades. If Brooks wants to use cinematic metaphors from John Ford, well, there are other directors who've tapped into the American consciousness:
"Middle class, you do not yet realize your importance. You have only begun to discover your power. Join the GOP, and we will complete your training. With our combined strength, we can end this destructive conflict, and bring Order to America."
I admit I found that appeal pretty cool at the age of 12 (when I got over the shock, I knew immediately that Vader was telling the truth), but when I got my first real paycheck and saw what the government had left me; when I first attended a party of young upper middle class professionals and realized that if we were still kids or black, we might go to jail when the bong came out; when, the first time I testified in court and realized that as an agnostic, I really am uncomfortable swearing on a Bible, it wasn't so appealing.
And anyway, John Ford isn't the quintessential American western director. While many of his films are great (I'm still weak for The Searchers and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance), they're mostly watched today by Frog film critics in Frogland. The quintessential American western director was an Italian who ripped off the films of Akira Kurosawa. His films were anarchic, celebrated violence, and even where they celebrated civilization, progress, and order, mourned for the gunmen who gave way to the railroad.)
So don't go telling me bout what movies Americans like to watch Mr. Brooks.
But I could be wrong. According to Brooks, the Republican Party needs to rebrand itself, not just as the party of John Ford, but as the party of Plato, Aristotle, and "the Good Life".
The emphasis on freedom and individual choice may work in the sparsely populated parts of the country. People there naturally want to do whatever they want on their own land. But it doesn’t work in the densely populated parts of the country: the cities and suburbs where Republicans are getting slaughtered. People in these areas understand that their lives are profoundly influenced by other people’s individual choices. People there are used to worrying about the health of the communal order.
Bullshit. Americans have voted overwhelmingly for Democrats in the past two elections because one party makes a credible case that it offers freedom in the social arena, while the other, apart from its rhetoric, offers none at all, economic or social. If it's true that the majority of Americans self-identify as libertarians, either socially or economically or on both fronts, the time is ripe for an organized party to offer them that choice.
They haven't had that choice in years, if ever. But Americans have rarely voted for, as I'm sure Brooks in his Greek way fails to recognize, the party of Spartan ephors. They simply choose, with their freedom in mind, between the lesser of two evils.
And the Republican Party, as it's currently constituted and as David Brooks wishes it to remain, is definitely the greater evil.