David Brooks in his Op-Ed today describes how Republicans have tilted toward freedom and rights at the expense of community.
He notes Republicans’ love of Western culture and uses as a didactic icon director-great John Ford’s 1946 Western, My Darling Clementine, in which…”Henry Fonda plays Wyatt Earp, the marshal who tamed Tombstone. But the movie isn’t really about the gunfight and the lone bravery of a heroic man. It’s about how decent people build a town. Much of the movie is about how the townsfolk put up a church, hire a teacher, enjoy Shakespeare, get a surgeon and work to improve their manners.
“The movie, in other words, is really about religion, education, science, culture, etiquette and rule of law — the pillars of community. In Ford’s movie, as in real life, the story of Western settlement is the story of community-building. Instead of celebrating untrammeled freedom and the lone pioneer, Ford’s movies dwell affectionately on the social customs that Americans cherish — the gatherings at the local barbershop and the church social, the gossip with the cop and the bartender and the hotel clerk.
“Today, if Republicans had learned the right lessons from…John Ford Westerns, they would not be the party of untrammeled freedom and maximum individual choice. They would once again be the party of community and civic order.
“They would begin every day by reminding themselves of the concrete ways people build orderly neighborhoods, and how those neighborhoods bind a nation. They would ask: What threatens Americans’ efforts to build orderly places to raise their kids? The answers would produce an agenda: the disruption caused by a boom and bust economy; the fragility of the American family; the explosion of public and private debt; the wild swings in energy costs; the fraying of the health care system; the segmentation of society and the way the ladders of social mobility seem to be dissolving.”
The last point dovetails well with consensus that emerged from a recent meeting we convened of some of the leading minds from academia, think tanks and philanthropy about “Increasing Opportunity in an Age of Inequality”.
Read the rest of Brooks’ editorial (“The Long Voyage Home“) about how this has cut off Republicans from the civicly-minded youth and cities (where people realize that they need to cooperate), at the peril of the party.
Brooks concludes: “The Republicans know they need to change but seem almost imprisoned by old themes that no longer resonate. The answer is to be found in devotion to community and order, and in the bonds that built the nation.”
It reminds one of just how deeply the vision of “compassionate conservatism” has faded. In the very early days of the GW Bush Administration it seemed like there was a there there, but by the end had crumbled into extremely hollow rhetoric.