David Brooks’ essay this morning at The New York Times brings to mind a lost world of a generation ago. For him the Republican party has lost its way, has failed to learn the right lessons from the Western movie myth: it wasn’t the lone ranger that saves the day, but the community. Here is the vision of what party once was and could be, a vision of the party as one of civic order.
For those in the land of the Windmill, this sounds familiar — it’s another way of saying common grace. Indeed, there is something rather familiar in how Brooks expresses it:
Today, if Republicans had learned the right lessons from the Westerns, or at least 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.
This ethos was certainly the sort that motivated the older politics at its best. The Common Grace:Common Good equation is one of the core ideasof the Kuperian social vision and its interweaving of school, church, business, politics and neighborhoods. So what happened? How did this community come to disregard this birthright? Why did it purchase a mess of pottage?
Brooks suggests one vision, the triumph of an individualist ethic and especially tax-cut libertarian economics. And certainly one doesn’t have to go far to see Republicans of this ilk: the daily genuflecting of Rep. Peter Hoekstra before this altar seems proof enough. Yet, is the contrast so easy? How could it make this exchange, this surrending of its covenantal self-identity?
Here, a second article brings some darker insight. At The Democractic Strategist, James Vega explores and explains the levels of right wing extremism, and its source in the rise of war rhetoric to dominate our politics, from Nixon’s enemies list to the Ollie North testifying in uniform, to the casual encourgement of violence by an Ann Coulter or a Glen Beck. It was the culture war that fueled this militant turn.
It wasn’t that the Windmill liked the individualists (in fact, it rejected Reagan for Bush the elder in the primary of 1980), it became a participant in the culture war. The bright line that separated the immigrant culture from the majority — the antithesis — now fueled an engagement on social issues, most notably those surrounding women: feminism, women’s rights in the church, and abortion. This was seen as a social engagement that extended its social ethic, and confronted the godlessness of the culture, as one favorite (adopted) son said
” We are involved in a “cultural war” for the very soul of America… [We are] recruiting “soldiers in the army of Christ… [There are] “five key fronts in the modern-day culture war.” (D James Kennedy)
And the battle rent the community itself: the fight over the women in the pulpit broke created two barely speaking-to-each-other denominations, with all the attendant pain, and lost social influence. The promise of righteous conflict betrayed them.
It’s that way with the larger GOP, as well. The conflict — here symbolized ingloriously by Sara Palin — has defined them. Brooks vision, healthy as it would be for the party and the nation, will not take root as long as conservative wing clings to its pennants of the culture war. The path out is of course, for them to die. And that’s Scripture: unless a seed dies…