Must-Read: Democracy Journal: Arguments: Arthur Brooks and the Desperate Search for a Smarter Conservatism: "President Obama spoke on poverty at Georgetown...:
...Event planners needed to find someone of suitable stature to sit alongside the president. They chose Arthur Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute.... In the Village, a figure like Brooks matters immensely. He stands in for respectable, intelligent conservatism.... Brooks’s expertly crafted image... lies somewhere between conservative pundit and motivational speaker. He regularly contributes to The New York Times pieces with titles like ‘Love People, Not Pleasure.’... A recent piece warned against the ‘hamster-wheel life’ and quoted ‘the existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre’ and Bach, ‘considered by many to be the greatest composer who ever lived.’...
Brooks’s partisan bromides have the same airy style. When defending conservative policy views against liberal criticisms, Brooks relies on arguments so broad that they could only work as responses to the crudest straw men. Hence the preponderance of worthless observations masquerading as devastating rebuttals, such as: ‘The irony is that, by wide margins, Americans support free enterprise.’ Or this argument defending tax cuts for the wealthy: ‘But if America is an opportunity society — if you have the chance to work harder, get more education and innovate — then rewarding merit is fair, and it is fair for some to make more money than others. Most Americans believe we live in an opportunity society.’ Or this, against regulating Wall Street after the 2008 crash: ‘It wasn’t free enterprise that was at fault; it was the lack of free enterprise.’
The need for somebody to reassure D.C. that a respectable conservatism still exists means that Brooks will never be without an outlet or an audience.... Brooks’s free pass persists—born of establishment institutions’ genuine desire to promote alternatives to the worst of Tea Party know-nothingism. But that’s a dangerously low standard. The intellectual deference granted to Brooks is akin to the endless credulity extended to Rand Paul by people who will excuse the kooky neo-Confederate ties because they hope he’ll be a vehicle for saner drug laws. I doubt that strategy will work in Paul’s case, and I’m certain that it won’t in Brooks’s. The way to revive an intellectually robust conservatism is to insist on high standards, not to settle for low ones.