A QUICK-ON-THE-DRAW David Brooks replies in this morning’s Times to Arthur Brooks and Paul Ryan’s op-ed in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal. As Mr Brooks has it, the trouble with Messrs Brooks and Ryan’s line of thinking is that it’s bad history:
[T]he story Republicans are telling each other, which Ryan and Brooks have reinforced, is an oversimplified version of American history, with dangerous implications.
The fact is, the American story is not just the story of limited governments; it is the story of limited but energetic governments that used aggressive federal power to promote growth and social mobility. George Washington used industrial policy, trade policy and federal research dollars to build a manufacturing economy alongside the agricultural one. The Whig Party used federal dollars to promote a development project called the American System.
Abraham Lincoln supported state-sponsored banks to encourage development, lavish infrastructure projects, increased spending on public education. Franklin Roosevelt provided basic security so people were freer to move and dare. The Republican sponsors of welfare reform increased regulations and government spending — demanding work in exchange for dollars.
I know I’m simultaneously pushing a boulder uphill and spitting into the wind here, but who cares? Well, everybody cares. But why should everybody care? Mr Brooks of the Times is correct that American history does not correspond to fusionist conservative mytho-history. Pointing this out is indeed a useful corrective to the rhetoric of “restoration” deployed by the likes of Glenn Beck. However, if “limited but energetic” government is a good idea, it’s a good idea and can be defended on its own terms. Leave dead presidents out of it! Slavery doesn’t look better because George Washington was into it. Suspending habeus corpus isn’t a crackerjack move because Honest Abe made it. Attempting to crush judicial branch checks on executive power isn’t smart because FDR gave it a go. So what does it matter that the Whigs or the Pilgrims or the ancient Iroquois nation had their own boondoggles? It doesn’t!
Yes, as David Brooks tells us at least once a month, we human beings are not deracinated logic chimps. But shouldn’t we be a little more deracinated, a little more logical? Shouldn’t we try to combat our degraded argumentum ad verecundiam culture and elevate the quality of public deliberation? This is Logic 101 stuff. Isn’t it sad that we expect more of our college sophomores than of our think-tank presidents and prestige columnists? Ingsoc’s “Who controls the past controls the future” should not be treated as a political pro tip. It is a regrettable half-truth grounded in mental barbarism which civilised people aspire to falsify.
Full article and photo: http://www.economist.com/blogs/democracyinamerica/2010/09/dead_president_fallacy