Brooks's Big Tent Probably Wouldn't Fit a Circus
This week Ashley Spinks criticized a general sentiment among moderates and liberals that Democrats should tone down their more controversial ideas for the sake of a larger coalition. More specifically, however, she attacked this criticism as voiced by David Brooks of the New York Times. I think Ashley’s criticism was just a hair off target. Or perhaps right on target but the shot taken from the wrong angle.
I would love to have David Brooks in my big tent, so long as it was big enough that I didn’t have to hear him harp on “kids these days” (I don’t think he’d much care for my unshaven face and tousled hair). Brooks, however, seems to want an inclusive party only when it excludes pro-choice politics. He implores Democrats to ask,“how much is our position on late-term abortion hurting us? How many progressive priorities are we giving up just so we can have our way on this one?” Ashley rightly criticizes some of the assumptions he makes (including the assumption that “late term” is the controversial part of the position), but she perhaps misses a wider vulnerability.
In asking that question at all, Brooks assumes that conservative or moderately conservative voters agree with a slew of other generally progressive policy positions. Oddly enough, however, I’ve yet to see the column in which Brooks implores pro-life working class conservatives to ask about their pro-life positions; “how many concrete benefits to our families and real victories for our communities are we giving up just so we can have this one?” That’s because that particular condescending David Brooks column doesn’t exist.
David Brooks’s version of inclusion – and that of many critics across the spectrum – is one-sided. It’s that simple. A big tent that has a single live and die condition is not that big of a tent. Well-meaning people can disagree on how far the needle should move in either direction, but Brooks doesn’t entertain the possibility of two sides to the compromise when it comes to abortion rights. To be fair neither does Ashley, but she isn’t claiming that her position is the moderate self-evident one that everyone should hold. She probably thinks her position is a winner but argues as though it’s important enough to lose for (I very well may agree). Brooks’s big tent is simply much smaller than it looks to him from the inside.