Friday, October 1, 2021

Of the Waking of Brooks There Is No End

Pope David bestows Nihil Obstat on the Biden agenda. Image by Driftglass.

In his latest near-miraculous achievement, President Biden, who had already turned David Brooks into a bleeding-heart liberal, has made him actually good at it. That is, not only has he come out with a plea to Democrats to pass the whole reconciliation package ("This Is Why We Need to Spend $4 Trillion"), but he's come up with a fairly original, and very Brooksian argument for it, the kind of thing he's been misapplying to "compassionate conservative" policy proposals ever since I started reading him, and it's really kind of, umm, right:

The Democratic spending bills are economic packages that serve moral and cultural purposes. They should be measured by their cultural impact, not merely by some wonky analysis. In real, tangible ways, they would redistribute dignity back downward. They would support hundreds of thousands of jobs for home health care workers, child care workers, construction workers, metal workers, supply chain workers. They would ease the indignity millions of parents face having to raise their children in poverty....

These packages say to the struggling parents and the warehouse workers: I see you. Your work has dignity. You are paving your way. You are at the center of our national vision.

This is how you fortify a compelling moral identity, which is what all of us need if we’re going to be able to look in the mirror with self-respect. This is the cultural transformation that good policy can sometimes achieve. Statecraft is soulcraft.

Actually it's a good idea to add some wonky analysis, but all the same, these proposals really don't just give people stuff to make their lives easier, they really do offer respect, to the parent who doesn't want an additional job in the cash economy and to the parent who does, to the person who acquires a valuable skill without a college degree, and even to those awful people he's been so worried about for the last five years, "a group of people so enraged by a lack of respect that they are willing to risk death by Covid if they get to stick a middle finger in the air against those who they think look down on them. They are willing to torch our institutions because they are so resentful against the people who run them." But not only them. He's genuinely noticed something, I think, with that "I see you." It's the specificity of the proposals, and the way they try to recognize everybody's particular struggle, ill-educated white guys along with the black and brown and AAPI ones, single parents and married parents, people who are horrified by climate change and people who are horrified by the end of the fossil fuel industry.

It's not quite right to suggest the government is giving anybody a "compelling moral identity". I'd say rather that the legislation is recognizing that they have one. And assuming it in practice, rather than assuming they're despicable criminals looking for ways to game the system, the way Manchin did when he came up with that proposal for putting a "work requirement" on the child tax credit.

Speaking of Manchin, Washington Post's Seung Min Kim (I know some of you all don't love her, and neither do I in particular, but that's not the point) showed up on NYC radio and said something extremely clarifying about Manchin: that he's the last real deficit hawk. He really supports the tax side of the Biden bill, according to her, but he doesn't want to spend any of the money—he basically thinks it should all go to deficit reduction.

That would explain why he won't talk about any of the particular programs, because he doesn't really like any of them, or rather he's completely indifferent. Except for the child tax credit, I guess, which must be a West Virginia issue, given the depth of child poverty in the state. Perhaps he doesn't understand how much of the revenue it will eat up. It doesn't really explain how he's cheerfully voted for all $6 trillion in Covid relief over the past year and a half, of course. 

A marvelous video has shown up of Manchin on his boat, taking questions from protesters and telling them he's on their side—tax the rich!

I just don't know about anything any more, but I'm seeing a remarkably optimistic mood among congressional Democrats:

Rep Pramila Jayapal, the chairwoman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, praised the president after the meeting.

“The president was fantastic,” she told The Independent on her way to a meeting with the caucus after the talk with the president. “We’re getting both bills to his desk. And that’s what he wants. It’s his agenda.”

There's a widening admission that the top line on the reconciliation bill is unlikely to be $3.5 trillion (MSNBC reports between $1.9 and $2.3 trillion), but a general agreement that it's going to be the programs, not the number, that they're negotiating. But he's absolutely on the side of the progressive refusal to vote on the "bipartisan" bill before the reconciliation bill is assured:

“He was very specific, he said would like us to look at the policy first and work the math up,” Mr Gallego told reporters. But Mr Gallego also said that Mr Biden had “no confidence” that if the bipartisan deal passed first “that the reconciliation will also pass”.

And when you've got Brooks on board, how can you lose?

Update: Steve M covers all the terrible parts of the Brooks column that I left out.

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