The problem with David Brooks

His column in today’s New York Times, “The Party of Work,” makes a lot of good points before crashing and burning in the conclusion (excerpted here at length):

The Pew Research Center does excellent research on Asian-American and Hispanic values. Two findings jump out. First, people in these groups have an awesome commitment to work. By most measures, members of these groups value industriousness more than whites.

Second, they are also tremendously appreciative of government. In survey after survey, they embrace the idea that some government programs can incite hard work, not undermine it; enhance opportunity, not crush it.

Moreover, when they look at the things that undermine the work ethic and threaten their chances to succeed, it’s often not government. It’s a modern economy in which you can work more productively, but your wages still don’t rise. It’s a bloated financial sector that just sent the world into turmoil. It’s a university system that is indispensable but unaffordable. It’s chaotic neighborhoods that can’t be cured by withdrawing government programs.

For these people, the Republican equation is irrelevant. When they hear Romney talk abstractly about Big Government vs. Small Government, they think: He doesn’t get me or people like me.

Let’s just look at one segment, Asian-Americans. Many of these people are leading the lives Republicans celebrate. They are, disproportionately, entrepreneurial, industrious and family-oriented. Yet, on Tuesday, Asian-Americans rejected the Republican Party by 3 to 1. They don’t relate to the Republican equation that more government = less work.

Over all, Republicans have lost the popular vote in five out of the six post-cold-war elections because large parts of the country have moved on. The basic Republican framing no longer resonates.

Some Republicans argue that they can win over these rising groups with a better immigration policy. That’s necessary but insufficient. The real problem is economic values.

If I were given a few minutes with the Republican billionaires, I’d say: spend less money on marketing and more on product development. Spend less on “super PACs” and more on research. Find people who can shift the debate away from the abstract frameworks — like Big Government vs. Small Government. Find people who can go out with notebooks and study specific, grounded everyday problems: what exactly does it take these days to rise? What exactly happens to the ambitious kid in Akron at each stage of life in this new economy? What are the best ways to rouse ambition and open fields of opportunity?

Don’t get hung up on whether the federal government is 20 percent or 22 percent of G.D.P. Let Democrats be the party of security, defending the 20th-century welfare state. Be the party that celebrates work and inflames enterprise. Use any tool, public or private, to help people transform their lives.

Emphasis mine. This is classic Brooks-ian thinking: decrying the failure of the Republican Party to measure up to its potential, admirably encouraging them to reform, and meanwhile forgetting that his prescription for success is exactly what the Democratic Party has been doing for years — and the precise reason they won again this year.

I bolded that last portion because it sets up such a clearly ridiculous straw man: the Democrats as the unimaginative defenders of the “20th-century welfare state,” while the Republican Party “celebrates work and inflames enterprise.” How can he attempt such a tried-and-failed GOP talking point immediately after acknowledging that “the basic Republican framing no longer resonates” for so many Americans? When Brooks says to “use any tool, public or private, to help people transform their lives,” he’s taking a page straight out of the Democratic playbook. This makes his characterization of the Dems as the “party of security” (whatever that means, exactly) all the more ridiculous.

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