Jonathan Chait

Arthur Brooks And Conservative Anti-Empiricism

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On the front page, I have a review of "The Battle," which is AEI President Arthur Brooks's call to arms for the conservative movement. Here's the beginning:

If there is one dream of the Obama presidency that died a swift, merciless death with no hope of resuscitation, it was the hope that President Obama would usher in a new era of bipartisan technocracy. As the president explained over and over, he believed he was not imposing an ideological agenda but simply responding to problems. “I’m not interested in another old debate about big government versus small government,” he would say. “I care about whether government is meeting its responsibilities to the people it represents.”

The problems that Obama proposed to addresseconomic collapse, global warming, the costliest and cruelest health care system in the advanced worldcould hardly be called mere excuses to impose liberal ideology. They were undeniably, empirically, crises. To be sure, conservatives and liberals had different means of attacking these problems; but there seemed to be every reason to believe that the ideological gulf could be bridged. George W. Bush had initiated bailouts of the finance and auto industries in 2008, and he had employed Keynesian fiscal stimulus in 2001, when the case for doing so was nowhere near as strong. Obama’s health care plan relied upon private insurance and resembled the plan that Republicans had formulated in 1993. His cap-and-trade program closely resembled a proposal by John McCain. The new president genuinely seemed to believe that he and the opposition could look upon the same set of facts, consult with the economic experts, and reason together toward agreeable solutions.

We now know that each of Obama’s proposals was met by overwhelming and often hysterical opposition. In his new book, Arthur C. Brooks, the president of the American Enterprise Institute, both advocates for and offers anthropological evidence of the right’s embrace of totalistic rejection.

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