Reihan says that he has a problem picking sides between Sullivan and Brooks in a new Sullivan fit over a recent Brooks column, but there really is an easy solution: I think Brooks is wrong, but Sullivan is out of his mind.   

Unlike Reihan, I have no qualms about criticising both of them.  Brooks starts:

There is an argument floating around Republican circles that in order to win again, the G.O.P. has to reconnect with the truths of its Goldwater-Reagan glory days. It has to once again be the minimal-government party, the maximal-freedom party, the party of rugged individualism and states’ rights.

Actually, there’s a lot of talk going around about the need to “get back to Reagan,” but what that means in concrete terms is never spelled out very clearly.  No mainstream pundit or columnist I know of has even mentioned “states’ rights”–what a quaint idea to talk about federalism in a serious way!  There are some, such as Ryan Sager, who talk vaguely about the “libertarian” side of the fusionist mix and regard big spending Republicans and Christians alike as internal enemies to be beaten down.  But very few people are really proposing anything that anyone could call Goldwaterite or small-government conservative.  So Brooks’ analysis starts off with a pretty flawed premise. 

Sullivan responded:

So far, nothing but rhetoric and cliches from David. “Rugged individualism”? Why the “rugged”? Why not just freedom to live one’s life as one chooses, as opposed to the way in which David’s allies in the religious and authoritarian right want to boss us around?

So far nothing but hysteria and name-calling from Sullivan (as usual).  Why not “rugged”?  What’s wrong with “rugged”?  It’s the individualism part conservatives should have a problem with, not the ruggedness or lack thereof.  David Brooks has allies on “the religious and authoritarian right”?  I must have missed the latest staff meeting down at Religious Authoritarian HQ, since no one except for the excitable Andrew Sullivan could ever mistake David Brooks for being an ally of these people.  This is right down there with the time Sullivan declared in person to Brooks that “your magazine” (he meant The Weekly Standard) was founded for the purpose of promoting religious fundamentalism.  Brooks is a defender of the administration’s unconstitutional and abusive policies in many cases, but it is impossible to take seriously Sullivan’s arguments thanks to his habit of reducing every disagreement he has with someone to their servitude to dark fundamentalist forces.

Brooks writes a bit later:

In short, in the 1970s, normal, nonideological people were right to think that their future prospects might be dimmed by a stultifying state. People were right to believe that government was undermining personal responsibility. People were right to have what Tyler Cowen, in a brilliant essay in Cato Unbound, calls the “liberty vs. power” paradigm burned into their minds — the idea that big government means less personal liberty. 

Here Sullivan has bigger targets, and he even manages to hit some, since it seems plain that liberty must wane as government increases:

But bigger government always means less personal liberty. This is simply a fact, not an opinion.

More amusing is Sullivan’s “I’m a small-government Goldwater conservative, but” section, in which he manages to explain exactly how he is no such thing:

I’m a small government Goldwater conservative, but I think compulsory high school education is worth the trade-off of freedom. I think universal healthcare insurance is an infringement of liberty, but since we have committed to providing emergency healthcare for all, it’s a trade-off worth making for fiscal and moral reasons. Small government conservatives don’t want to abandon government. We want it small - but strong and focused on what government really ought to do.

And he thinks government ought to compel your children to go to state schools and force you to sign up for health insurance, a la RomneyCare, whether you want it or not.  In other words, when it comes to things that he deems “moral” and “necessary,” he is an even bigger statist than the people he constantly berates as authoritarians and fundamentalists and oppressors.  He wants to expand government even more than the hated “Christianists” have ever proposed doing when it suits his doubt-ridden convictions. 

Sullivan then cites another bit from Brooks and makes this hilariously oblivious comment:

Normal, nonideological people …

Please. This is a straw man. Everyone who differs from David is ideological and abnormal?

But, correct me if I’m wrong, isn’t the entirety of Andrew Sullivan’s book several hundred pages of saying, in a shrill, excited voice, that virtually everyone in the conservative movement besides Andrew Sullivan is ideological and abnormal?  His book might very well be called, “Everyone Except For Me Has Betrayed Conservatism, Embraced Fundamentalism And Must Be Ideological And Abnormal,” right?  Not quite as catchy of a title, I grant you, but far more reflective of the contents of the book.

Sullivan actually has the better of the philosophical argument, to the extent that he is even engaging in argument, but he responds to Brooks in such a fashion that it comes off seeming unconvincing even to those of us small-government conservatives who instinctively reject whatever it is that David Brooks has to say about anything.  Maybe that’s because Sullivan says things like this:

Could it be that David’s project of bringing in a cohort of religious zealots has tarred the GOP as a bunch of intolerant, bossy bigots?

Again, where is the evidence for any of this?  He calls it “David’s project,” as if Brooks had ever met a “religious zealot” he didn’t automatically loathe.  Note also that what Sullivan calls “religious zealot” other people would call “weekly suburban churchgoer.”  He repeats this canard again:

No, they’re simply registering that the Brooks experiment in turning the GOP into a religious, statist party for cronies and incompetents has been a disaster for Republicanism and a catastrophe for conservatism.

Can anyone in his right mind believe that whatever superficial religiosity there is in the GOP has anything to do with David Brooks or a “Brooks experiment”? 

He does manage to get one bit right:

Brooks was an intellectual architect of both visions - massive intervention abroad, and warmed-over socialism at home.

Indeed, and both positions are repugnant.  Which is what makes Sullivan’s ham-fisted, often buffoonish reply to one of their leading advocates so painful to read.