Among people too ill educated to understand the different spheres, political practitioners adopted the mental habits of the entrepreneur. Everything had to be transformational and disruptive. Hierarchy and authority were equated with injustice. Self-expression became more valued than self-restraint and coalition building. A contempt for politics infested the Republican mind. Politics is the process of making decisions amid diverse opinions. It involves conversation, calm deliberation, self-discipline, the capacity to listen to other points of view and balance valid but competing ideas and interests. But this new Republican faction regards the messy business of politics as soiled and impure. Compromise is corruption. Inconvenient facts are ignored. Countrymen with different views are regarded as aliens. Political identity became a sort of ethnic identity, and any compromise was regarded as a blood betrayal.
On the 4th of July, 2011, as congressional Republicans imposed the first-ever debt-ceiling crisis on the nation, the New York Times' David Brooks published an important column. The center-right pundit, who had predicted months earlier that the GOP would show restraint following its 2010 successes, conceded that the Republican Party “may no longer be a normal party.”
Brooks, lamenting "Republican fanaticism," said the GOP may not be "fit to govern."
Eventually, that unnecessary, Republican-imposed crisis passed -- though it led to others, of course -- and Brooks' general acceptance of GOP priorities returned. But as chaos has gripped the Republican-led House, and the chamber's GOP majority struggles to even elect a Speaker, the columnist's disdain for what's become of the party has returned in force.
Brooks, himself a Burkean conservative, defended his ideological home that "stands for intellectual humility, a belief in steady, incremental change, a preference for reform rather than revolution, a respect for hierarchy, precedence, balance and order, and a tone of voice that is prudent, measured and responsible." What seems to frustrate Brooks is the extent to which contemporary Republicans have abandoned conservatism for what he identified as "right-wing radicalism."
The column, which reads like an indictment from a lapsed ally, added that today's Republican officials are guilty of "jaw-dropping incompetence," resulting in policymakers who do not respect government's "traditions, its disciplines and its craftsmanship."
Condemning the likes of Ted Cruz and the House Freedom Caucus, the columnist added, "Really, have we ever seen bumbling on this scale, people at once so cynical and so naïve, so willfully ignorant in using levers of power to produce some tangible if incremental good? These insurgents can’t even acknowledge democracy’s legitimacy.... These figures are masters at destruction but incompetent at construction. These insurgents are incompetent at governing and unwilling to be governed."
There are, to be sure, some obvious criticisms of Brooks that have merit. One is tempted to ask, for example, why it's taken so long for him to reach this breaking point. It would also be good know if Brooks intends to return to his partisan/ideological "home" fairly soon.
But those questions notwithstanding, today's column is a compelling one, overdue or not. Many have wondered in recent years just what it would take -- how far Republicans would have to go, how many crises they would have to deliberately create, how many of their own would have to be purged, how indifferent to governing and the affairs of state they would have to become -- before some of their reluctant-but-reliable allies would have no choice but to say, "No more."
For Brooks, at least for now, that bridge has apparently been crossed.
Perhaps the only development that can halt the Republican Party's descent into deeper and deeper radicalism is defeat -- losses caused by GOP voters, en masse, declaring to their party, "You've gone too far and I won't follow you down."
If today's New York Times piece was, in a sense, Brooks' declaration of independence, it will be that much more consequential if and when others follow.