David Brooks feigns concerns over Hillary Clinton's strategy for winning the Democratic nomination for 2016. He suggests that she might be tempted to stress a populist agenda in order to attract primary voters who are generally more radical than voters in the general election. He concludes his op-ed by arguing that voters in the general election respond better to uplifting messages than they do to negative messages. If Brooks had his way, Clinton would follow Ronald Reagan's strategy by presenting her own "Morning in America" message.
Brooks, of course, is not interested in helping Hillary Clinton win the presidency. He is more concerned with countering a trend among some Democrats that concerns him. He is worried that they will abandon their traditional support for "human capital progressivism" for "redistributive progressivism" which is a form of populism that shifts the focus from improving educational opportunities to the problem of income inequality. The implication is that Democrats must oppose human capital progressivism in order to pursue policies that deal more directly with growing income inequality. Nothing could be further from the truth. There is no reason why Democrats have to abandon their traditional interest in expanding educational opportunities in order to deal with the problem of income inequality. Human capital formation has a positive impact on worker productivity and economic growth. However, educational inequality is not the primary cause of rising income inequality. It will have to be dealt with by reversing many of the changes in our political economy that had their origin in Ronald Reagan's "Morning in America". The rising share of income that has been going to the top 1% is totally unrelated to educational achievement. They are not any smarter than were when the gains from productivity were more equally shared. Part of David Brooks mission is to shift attention away from the top 1% and focus our attention more broadly on the income differences that have always existed between the better educated and the educationally disadvantaged.
If David Brooks were really concerned about educational opportunity he should address his concerns to the Republican governors who have been reducing their funding for higher education. That increases the cost of higher education and reduces opportunity for low income families. The GOP governor of Wisconsin has proposed a $300 million cut in the higher education budget. He is running for the GOP nomination and he believes that this will help him to win GOP primaries. He is not misreading the GOP electorate. They don't want to support higher education if it means that they have to pay for it with taxes.