Saturday, December 4, 2010

Framing the Political Debate

David Brooks sometimes refers to himself as the liberal's favorite conservative. That is because he is a very knowledgeable person who enjoys a good debate that deals with substance. I was particularly interested in his description of his debate with Paul Ryan at the conservative American Enterprise Institute. Brooks was arguing that there was room for compromise on many of the issues that have divided our political parties. Ryan took the position that the GOP should not compromise on principle, and that the GOP should aggressively pursue its own agenda. Brooks then offered his view of a compromise on tax reform that he believed Obama could sell to the public.

The debate between Brooks and Ryan reminded me of a debate between William Buckley, who was one of the leading conservative intellectuals at that time, and Howard Zinn who represented the left wing of the Democratic party. Buckley expressed dismay at the political dialogue that he observed in the country. He felt that the debate was between liberal democrats and radicals on the left. He was concerned that conservatives had been left out entirely from the debate. I think that Buckley was correct in his observation. I think the debate between Brooks and Ryan reflects the political dialogue that frames most of our debates today. It is between the political center and the radicals on the right. Brooks admires Ryan (because he is smart), but he believes that Obama, who he also admires (because he is smart), could move a bit to the right and get a tax bill passed. I doubt that this is true, given that the objective of the GOP is to destroy the Obama presidency, but that is not my point. A political system in which the debate is between Brooks and Ryan unnecessarily restricts the range of solutions to many of our problems that require government leadership and a broader range of potential solutions.

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