Conservatives For Socialism?
January 30, 2016

David Brooks wishes America had conservatives willing to advance an agenda like the one being proposed by British's Tory prime minister, David Cameron:

In Britain David Cameron ... gave a speech [this month] called “Life Chances.” Not to give away the ending or anything, but I’d give a lung to have a Republican politician give a speech like that in this country....

He laid out a broad agenda: Strengthen family bonds with shared parental leave and a tax code that rewards marriage. Widen opportunities for free marital counseling. Speed up the adoption process. Create a voucher program for parenting classes. Expand the Troubled Families program by 400,000 slots. This program spends 4,000 pounds (about $5,700) per family over three years and uses family coaches to help heal the most disrupted households.

Cameron would also create “character modules” for schools, so that there are intentional programs that teach resilience, curiosity, honesty and service. He would expand the National Citizen Service so that by 2021 60 percent of the nation’s 16-year-olds are performing national service, and meeting others from across society. He wants to create a program to recruit 25,000 mentors to work with young teenagers.

To address concentrated poverty, he would replace or revamp 100 public housing projects across the country. He would invest big sums in mental health programs and create a social impact fund to unlock millions for new drug and alcohol treatment.

Does Brooks even understand that an American politician who proposed an agenda like this would be deemed a big-government leftist? Yes, a couple of pieces of this might fit into a conservative agenda -- but only if the programs funneled clients to religious-right charities, or the vouchers were meant to deprive unionized government workers of jobs. But the way this is described, it's what Americans, or at least conservative Americans, would describe as pure socialism.

But Brooks isn't the only righty who's surprising me by talking like a big ol' red. Over at the Washington Free Beacon, Matthew Continetti has read the Brooks column as well as this debate post-mortem by Charles Krauthammer, and he's taking issue with a declaration by Krauthammer:

My personal preference is for … the reform conservatism that locates the source of our problems not in heartless billionaires or crafty foreigners, but in our superannuated, increasingly sclerotic 20th-century welfare state structures.

Continetti, I'm surprised to learn, doesn't blame every ill in America on welfare.

Candidates for president in both parties this year, for example, have been shocked at the extent and toll of opioid and meth addiction. Did welfare state structures give us that? And if so, how? And wouldn’t any serious attempt to address the problem require more government involvement -- at the very least more police to interdict the drugs and imprison the dealers? Another pressing issue is mental health. Does the welfare state drive young men insane? I think not. But I do think that here, as well, government will have to do more rather than less to treat the mentally ill and commit those that are a hazard to themselves and to others.

As he gets wound up, Continetti sounds almost Sanders-esque:

The men and women who feel left behind in or cut off from the global economy didn’t necessarily get to where they are because of the welfare state. They got there because work disappeared, and they didn’t have the skills or resources or energy to cope. Unfortunately but crucially, in the absence of family, community, and tradition, the welfare state is the only attachment -- impersonal, uncaring, but present -- these people have. Republicans forget this fact at their peril.

Indeed, it seems that voters are tempted by figures like Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders precisely because of their intuition that the challenges facing America are much greater than any one set of causes or institutions, and do not conform to the division between government and the market that framed political life during the twentieth century. The welfare state may be superannuated and sclerotic -- this is government we’re talking about here -- and it is no doubt part of what can only be described as our collective demoralization. But it is only a part. And it may be part of the answer, too.

Brooks and Continetti aren't actually on the same page -- Continetti recognizes that jobs for which many workers are qualified seem to gone forever, while Brooks, by contrast, sneers at what he calls "the Bernie Sanders approach" to social problems: "Focus on economics. Provide people with money and jobs and their lifestyles will become more stable. Marriage rates will rise. Depression rates will drop."

And yet: Continetti is a right-winger for welfare, and a right-winger who thinks capitalism doesn't make all economic ills magically better. Brooks is a right-winger who pleads for the expansion of government social programs, however misguided. How bad must social conditions in America be if these guys are talking this way? Or is it just that they've noticed that some of the disaffected and addicted are white people?

(Crossposted from No More Mister Nice Blog)

Can you help us out?

For 18 years we have been exposing Washington lies and untangling media deceit, but now Facebook is drowning us in an ocean of right wing lies. Please give a one-time or recurring donation, or buy a year's subscription for an ad-free experience. Thank you.


We welcome relevant, respectful comments. Any comments that are sexist or in any other way deemed hateful by our staff will be deleted and constitute grounds for a ban from posting on the site. Please refer to our Terms of Service for information on our posting policy.