David Brooks vs. Rush Limbaugh


So what is a conservative today anyway? The reaction to Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal's response to President Obama's description of our expanding government seems to have created some tensions within the conservative community. David Brooks, the conservative columnist for The New York Times, said on PBS that Jindal's speech represented "the stale conservatism of a bygone era."

The next day on his radio program, Rush Limbaugh proceeded to throw Brooks under the conservative bus, sautéing him for saying that he admired Obama in the beginning and has only recently been surprised by what the president has been offering lately. Limbaugh concluded his segment by saying:

"Well, if you want to be proved wrong by Barack Obama and you're going to call yourself a conservative columnist, Mr. Brooks, you need to drop conservative from your title, 'cause the two don't go together."

Limbaugh questioning the conservatism of David Brooks has somewhat of an extended history, but this latest attack seems to come from Limbaugh's assessment that Brooks no longer believes that the principles of Ronald Reagan will strengthen the Republican Party in the future. So when Brooks gave a non-complimentary assessment of Jindal's speech, calling it "a disaster for the Republican Party," Limbaugh suggested that Brooks does not want Republicans sounding like Reagan as the party moves forward. Brooks conservatism may have shifted, Limbaugh intimated.

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This began to raise the question in my mind: "What is a conservative." Brooks believes that the American people will vote only for a Republican that sounds more moderate than those who sound like Reagan. So in order to be a conservative, must one align oneself with Limbaugh's views or those of Reagan? Is not Rep. Ron Paul more conservative than Reagan on some issues? Are true conservatives more libertarian in their views? Can one be a conservative politically and not morally?

Is it "OK" to be a "Brooks conservative," who seems to be more moderate in the eyes of some wanting Obama to do well? Or is a true conservative a "Limbaugh conservative," which Brooks would say represents the rhetoric of a "bygone era."

Is it likely that future battles in the Republican Party will be between those who think more like David Brooks versus those who think more like Rush Limbaugh? Is a more moderate conservatism the future or do Republicans need to lean more toward classical liberalism or libertarian views? My own view is that we may need to resurrect the Federalist Party and hope voters will re-learn what federalism is meant to obtain.

Anthony Bradley
Anthony Bradley

Anthony is associate professor of religious studies at The King's College in New York and serves as a research fellow at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty. He is author of The Political Economy of Liberation and Black and Tired. Follow Anthony on Twitter @drantbradley.


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