I’m not usually a reader of, or fan of Gail Collins and David Brooks, both staunch Republican Op-Ed Columnists for the New York Times, but even they have surprisingly strong criticism of Sarah Palin and the Republicans of today, in their columns for the past two days. They are worth reading. I know I was surprised by what they had to say, but I was particularly interested in Brooks’ column.
He began by talking about the fact that there have been substantial changes in the Republican Party over the years, changes that many Republicans are not particularly happy with. Apparently, according to Brooks, conservatives, driven by a need to engage elite opinion, tried to build an intellectual counterestablishment with think tanks and magazines. They disdained the ideas of the liberal professoriate, but they did not disdain the ideal of a cultivated mind.
But over the past few decades, the Republican Party has driven away people who live in cities, in highly educated regions and on the coasts. This expulsion has had, says Brooks, many causes, but the big one is this: Republican political tacticians decided to mobilize their coalition with a form of social class warfare. Democrats kept nominating coastal pointy-heads like Dukakis so Republicans attacked coastal pointy-heads.
He goes on to say that over the past 15 years, the same argument has been heard from thousands of politicians and hundreds of talk-radio jocks. Now the nation is divided between the “wholesome” Joe Sixpacks in the heartland and the oversophisticated, overeducated, oversecularized denizens of the coasts. Hmmm, well, I don't know about you, but I know who I would prefer.
What had been a disdain for liberal intellectuals slipped into a disdain for the educated class as a whole. The liberals had coastal condescension, so the conservatives developed their own anti-elitism, with mirror-image categories and mirror-image resentments, but with the same corrosive effect.
Brooks says that Republicans developed their own leadership style. If Democratic leaders prized deliberation and self-examination, then Republicans would govern from the gut.
According to Fred Barnes, who wrote in his book, “Rebel –in-Chief”, George Bush “reflects the political views and cultural tastes of the vast majority of Americans who don’t live along the East or West Coast. He’s not a sophisticate and doesn’t spend his discretionary time with sophisticates. As First Lady Laura once said, she and the president didn’t come to Washington to make new friends. And they haven’t.”
The Republicans have alienated whole professions. Lawyers now donate to the Democratic Party over the Republican Party at 4 to 1 rates. With doctors, it’s 2-to-1. With tech executives, it’s 5-to-1. With investment bankers, it’s 2-to-1. Brooks says, it took talent for Republicans to lose the banking community.
Conservatives are as rare in elite universities and the mainstream media as they were 30 years ago. The smartest young Americans are now educated in an overwhelmingly liberal environment.
This year could have changed things. The G.O.P. had three urbane presidential candidates. But the class-warfare clichés took control. Giuliani disdained cosmopolitans at the Republican Convention. Mitt Romney gave a speech attacking “eastern elites.” John McCain picked Sarah Palin.
Brooks says that while Palin is smart, politically skilled, courageous and likable – I have to question that description, but then I’m a Democrat – and her convention and debate performances were impressive -- his words, not mine. But no American politician plays the class-warfare card as constantly as Palin. Nobody so relentlessly divides the world between the “normal Joe Sixpack American” and the coastal elite. Now, on that we can agree!
So, politically, the G.O.P. is squeezed at both ends. The party is losing the working class by sins of omission – because it has not developed policies to address economic anxiety. It has lost the educated class by sins of commission – by telling members of that class to go away.
A pretty sad picture, at least for Republicans, but hopefully it means a brighter day for the Democrats and this country.