David Brooks issues a clarion call for radical moderation.
Those of us in the moderate tradition — the Hamiltonian tradition that believes in limited but energetic government — thus find ourselves facing a void. We moderates are going to have to assert ourselves. We’re going to have to take a centrist tendency that has been politically feckless and intellectually vapid and turn it into an influential force.Of course, I would find Brooks' commitment to aggressive, principled moderation more convincing if he believed that unchecked conservatism is just as bad as unchecked liberalism. As it is, he only seems worried about the tendency of liberalism to bring out the worst in conservatives. In other words, if those dirty effing hippies would just stop being so effing dirty, then conservatives wouldn't have to be so conservative in response. Kind of like advising a victim of sexual harrassment to dress more modestly in the future.
The first task will be to block the excesses of unchecked liberalism. In the past weeks, Democrats have legislated provisions to dilute welfare reform, restrict the inflow of skilled immigrants and gut a voucher program designed for poor students. It will be up to moderates to raise the alarms against these ideological outrages.
But beyond that, moderates will have to sketch out an alternative vision. This is a vision of a nation in which we’re all in it together — in which burdens are shared broadly, rather than simply inflicted upon a small minority. This is a vision of a nation that does not try to build prosperity on a foundation of debt. This is a vision that puts competitiveness and growth first, not redistribution first.
Moderates are going to have to try to tamp down the polarizing warfare that is sure to flow from Obama’s über-partisan budget. They will have to face fiscal realities honestly and not base revenue projections on rosy scenarios of a shallow recession and robust growth next year.
They will have to take the economic crisis seriously and not use it as a cue to focus on every other problem under the sun. They’re going to have to offer an agenda that inspires confidence by its steadiness rather than shaking confidence with its hyperactivity.
If they can do that, maybe they can lure this White House back to its best self — and someday offer respite from the endless war of the extremes.