David Brooks’ columns sometimes strike liberals as not just wrong, but somehow insidious, tricky, an effort to put one over on the public. Aside from the evident sexual tension, today’s effort on John Thune strikes me as almost the reverse. Brooks’ project is to build up Senator Thune as some kind of Great Plains David Cameron who can construct a more reasonable version of the conservative project and bring the GOP back to power. I’m not, myself, a moderate conservative but I think this is a worthy project. And the Idea of John Thune seems like a good idea:
He doesn’t have radical plans to cut the federal leviathan. He just wants to restrain the growth of government to bring deficits down. He doesn’t have ambitions to restructure the tax code. He just wants to lift burdens on small business.
He says his prairie background has given him a preference for small companies and local government. When he criticizes the Democrats, it is for mixing big government with big business: the bailouts of Wall Street, the subsidies to the big auto and energy corporations. His populism is not angry. He doesn’t rail against the malefactors of wealth. But it’s there, a celebration of the small and local over the big and urban.
But there’s no evidence that any of this is real. As Brooks concedes, “His positions on the issues are unremarkable.” At the end of the day, as Brooks says, “He is down-the-line conservative on social, economic and foreign policy matters.”
Brooks may say that Thune “just wants to restrain the growth of government to bring deficits down” but orthodox conservative dogma involves tax policy that implies either gutting the federal government or else massive deficits. For example, Jim DeMint proposed an alternative to the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act that was focused on large permanent tax cuts. It would have added $3.1 trillion to the deficit over ten years—about triple the cost of ARRA—with no end in sight. And John Thune voted for it.
The weirdest thing here is the idea that Thune is praiseworthy for his opposition to “the bailouts of Wall Street.” For one thing, David Brooks thinks (and I agree) that voting yes on the TARP bill was the right thing to do. For another thing, John Thune voted for TARP along with the GOP party leadership. He’s done what the bulk of the GOP did, namely when everyone’s butt was on the line he voted for bailouts as a necessary evil, but then after Inauguration Day turned around and started hypocritically slamming them while going to war on behalf of financial services companies looking to avoid regulation.