Bobo pushing the Villagers' favorite narrative that America is a "center-right" country and that it's impossible to help alleviate income disparity by raising taxes on the wealthy.
January 3, 2014

David Brooks apparently believes the measure we should use to judge majority opinion in the United States is by looking at what a bunch of Blue Dog corporate Democrats in red states are willing to vote for in the Senate.

That or he just thought he hadn't quite received enough abuse for the day after writing his god-awful column on marijuana legalization before appearing on this Friday's PBS Newshour:

JUDY WOODRUFF: First program of the new year, and I guess the political event of the week, David, as you're in New York, was the inauguration of their new mayor, who sounds like he's going to make inequality and doing something about it the theme of his leadership.


JUDY WOODRUFF: What did you make of him and his message?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, we have been waiting around for sort of a populist progressive. I guess we had Elizabeth Warren in Massachusetts, but here is someone running a city on that agenda. And to me, the question is, is it going to be a national agenda? And I guess I'm not quite clear sure yet. I mean, clearly progressive voices are going to blare very loudly in Democratic circles, in liberal circles, in the academy, because inequality is a genuinely significant issue.

The question is, can they get a broad -- a broad movement behind that? New York is not America. John Podhoretz in the New York Post today pointed out that it has been 117 years since a major New York City official had national office or even big state office, and that was Teddy Roosevelt. So it's been very hard to export New York politics nationally.

And it could be that the distrust of government is so strong that even though people acknowledge that inequality is a big, serious issue, they don't quite trust big government programs to take care of it.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Mark, is this a liberal message that has legs outside of New York?

MARK SHIELDS: Yes, it does, Judy.

First of all, a corrective item. Franklin Roosevelt was a governor of New York when he was elected president of the United States in 1932.

DAVID BROOKS: Right, not New York City, though.

MARK SHIELDS: Oh, New York City? OK. I'm sorry. I didn't -- that distinction.

The -- yes, it does, Judy, and I would say this. Lost in the results in 2012 because of the presidential race was the fact that we saw a populist revolt in California put to the ballot test. Proposition 30, Jerry Brown, the governor pushed it. The state was in dire financial straits and funding for education was way down. Proposition 30 raised taxes on couples earning over $500,000 a year.

Millions spent against it, $11 million by one secret group alone spent against it, and it prevailed. It won; 89 percent of it is going to college colleges, community colleges, and K-12. Bill de Blasio ran on this issue. He didn't just pull it out of his hat. He didn't discover it between winning and his inaugural.

And David's right. Does it have its most intense support on the coasts? Yes. Probably in several academic areas. But the reality is, this is a reality-based movement. It's everywhere. Inequality is across the board.

Just one figure, OK? In the last four years, the last four years, since Barack Obama has been president, 95 percent of the wealth in the country that's been created has gone to the top 1 percent, who own 33 percent of the stock.

I mean, and I think anybody who accused Barack Obama of being a socialist owes him and us an apology, because it's been -- it's been very, very good. The stock market had its best year in 17 years. Coincidentally, that was when another Democrat, Bill Clinton, was in the White House.

So, I mean, it's been very good, but it's been very unequal. And one of the things de Blasio wants to do is universal pre-K. That is a radical idea. It's now the state law in Oklahoma and the state law in Georgia.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, David, what do you -- what do you -- I mean, what is the strength of -- of liberalism in this country today?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, I think the problem is real. Mark is absolutely right about that. The inequality, the statistics are pretty -- pretty overwhelming.

The question is, it seems to me two agendas flow out of that. One, which I do think is a majority agenda, is that -- the argument that basically our economic system is working, but a lot of people don't have access to it, and therefore you want to invest heavily in human capital, in pre-K, in community colleges, in education. And you want to give people access.

I think that is a majority agenda that is probably a center-left, even some center-right. You could get an agenda behind that. The second agenda that grows out of it is the argument the economic system fundamentally is not working, that we have deep structural problems that are leading to this widening inequality. And you want to address the deep structural problems in the economy with much more redistribution, much higher taxes on the affluent, and therefore redistributing the money down.

I do not believe that is a majority agenda, whether it's justified or not. I just think right now there are -- I think there are seven Democratic senators running for reelection right now in states that Mitt Romney won. I do not think those seven senators are going to be endorsing any sort of redistributive program or even much big government program this year or any time soon.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Mark, what about that? And connect it to what is president is talking about, because he said he wants to devote the rest of his presidency to inequality. Is he going -- what is he going to be able to do in that regard?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, I mean, there are steps.

And the president is, in fact -- I mean, this is an issue waiting to be galvanized, waiting to be energized. I think there is no question, Judy. First of all, minimum wage, very simple, very straightforward. Three-quarters -- according to the Gallup poll, three-fourths of independents favor raising the minimum wage from $7.25 to $9 an hour.

All right? A majority of Republicans do. Now, there's a majority of Republicans in the House of Representatives who don't. That's where you come down to political skill, organizing, galvanizing public opinion to push that through. The extension of unemployment insurance benefits to the long-term unemployed, who are suffering the most in this entire recession, and now all of a sudden...

JUDY WOODRUFF: We're waiting to see if...


MARK SHIELDS: Now, all of a sudden, it has become an article of faith on the part of Republicans in Congress that this has to be offset in spending.

That wasn't the case when George W. Bush, the last president to propose extension of unemployment insurance benefits, prevailed. They didn't insist then. But it a different rule now. I think that's one where you could show an inconsistency, a contradiction.

These are just the first steps. But David's right that the system, our system produces great wealth. It is lousy at re -- at distributing it.

DAVID BROOKS: I would say..

MARK SHIELDS: And that -- go ahead.

JUDY WOODRUFF: David, go ahead.

DAVID BROOKS: I would just say it's important to realize how deep the problem is.

The structural problem behind inequality -- well, there are a whole bunch of them -- it is complicated -- but one of them significantly is the education premium has gone up. The rewards to education has gone up. Women have gotten the message. Women have increased their education levels commensurate with that. And we are seeing some gains among women.

The widening inequality of the wage stagnation, it is very significantly a male problem. Men have not gotten the message. They have not increased their education levels. And, therefore, they are the ones primarily suffering. That is a deep fundamental problem that is very hard to figure out how to address.

A second sort of related problem is family structure. If you have got a majority of kids under age 5 not growing up in two-parent homes, that too has a significant effect on inequality, because their educational outcomes tend statistically on average to be worse. So, these are really deep things having to do with family structure, males not responding to incentives.

And I'm for extending unemployment insurance, but that doesn't get at the really core problems that are affecting not only the U.S., but in Europe and elsewhere.


JUDY WOODRUFF: Nor does raising the minimum wage.

MARK SHIELDS: No, I'm not saying those are cures. But are they steps? Yes.

What we have done -- and I think Michael Sandel of Harvard has raised this point -- over the last few years in this country, we have taken the market and made it not an economic factor. We have made it our system. I mean, everything now has a price. If you even think about pollution, Judy, if you want to spend enough money, you can pollute. That's because the law and the pattern of the land.

We have monetized just about everything, including education. Education -- the genius of this country and its growth from the 19th century forward was universal public education, universal quality public education. And that is a value to not simply to be esteemed and to be proud of, but is central to this country's resurgence and restoring itself.

About the only good thing I can say about this is that I'm really enjoying watching how much it chaps the backsides of Villagers like Brooks that there is a populist uprising and support for the likes of Warren and de Blasio. Americans are fed up with the lack of jobs and the record income disparity and they know they can't outright dismiss them, but they'll do their best (as Brooks did here) to marginalize them.

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