June 16, 2006

Brooks on the real ideological division in America

David Brooks has a well written column in today's NY Times, in which he points out the obvious. He argues that the real ideological division in America isn't between confused notions of conservatism and liberalism:

The main fight would pit populist nationalism against progressive globalism.The populist nationalist party would be liberal on economics, conservative on values and realist on foreign policy. It would bring together a wide array of people who are disenchanted with their respective parties' elites, and who would find they have a lot in common. It would bring Kevin Phillips together with Pat Buchanan, the Virginia senatorial candidate James Webb together with Lou Dobbs, Al Sharpton together with James Dobson....The progressive globalists, on the other hand, would be market-oriented on economics, liberal on values and multilateral interventionists in foreign affairs. The leading spokesman for this movement would be Tony Blair. Domestically, it would be led by the major presidential aspirants, who don't differ much: John McCain, Hillary Clinton, Mitt Romney, Mark Warner and Rudy Giuliani.Here's how a globalist might sound: "We're inspired by the opportunities a globalizing and flattening world open up before us. We embrace technological dynamism and cultural diversity and reject beggar-thy-neighbor policies. But we understand that globalization means interdependence, and we have to build institutions to ensure everybody shares the new prosperity."We have to reform education and improve skills so that more people succeed. We need to reform entitlements so the economy can remain flexible and not buried by debt. We have to work together to address global warming, oil dependence and protectionist barriers. We have to understand that this open, diverse world has enemies. We have to confront Islamic extremism ideologically and militarily, and battle it at its roots with democracy and freedom. We need to manage the movement of peoples without shutting off the flow, open up trade, not shut it down."This modernizing progressivism would also be politically potent. It would thrive among the educated, among aspiring suburbanites, among hawks and among immigrants who look to the future more than the past.Of course these alignments won't come about instantaneously. Our political institutions and habits have staying power, and the politics of globalization is lagging far behind the reality of it. But the issues that realigned politics in the 1960's are fading, and issues like immigration, trade and interdependence are rising to the fore. Politics is becoming less about left versus right and more about open versus closed. Or, to put it in starker terms, the populists are getting more populist while the elitists are getting more elitist.
I think Brooks' distinction is an interesting one. In many ways this is an old distinction. You have free-market/self-interested Republicans on one side and more progressive socially liberal Democrats on the other. The difference is that Brooks drops a new variable into the mix: globalization. Free-marketeers are all for it. For one, it benefits themselves, but it also has the potential to make everyone better off (while not harming those already well off). This simple utilitarian argument makes the free-market perspective appealing to more than just the self-interested free-marketeers. Then, of course, you have the flip side. They are the Americans who are wary of the change globalization creates, the jobs it destroys, and the culture it alters. This is, of course, the same logic behind isolationism. So lump those two things together and you have the start of a pretty appealing party line.I just saw that Hammond has some issues with this. My response is coming right up.