I can never stay angry with Brooks because he's so annoyingly gracious; episodically, anyway, such as today, subsequent to his neurotic breakdown over those mean Democrats who are making Republicans go crazy and do crazy things. Yet Brooks is not Fox-deaf to presidential eloquence. He writes, for instance, of Obama's second inaugural address as "surely ... among the best of the past half-century," a speech in which the president "came across as a prudent, nonpopulist progressive."
But--and you knew there'd be a but--Brooks also thinks that "Obama misunderstands this moment," a misunderstanding wrapped in a collectivist misreading of our uniquely individualist history:
The Progressive Era, New Deal and Great Society laws were enacted when America was still a young and growing nation. They were enacted in a nation that was vibrant, raw, underinstitutionalized and needed taming.
Putting aside that we as a nation had lost our once youthful virginity in every conceivable manner by the Vietnam era, Brooks seems to miss the almost unmissable historical point that Progressive Era and New Deal laws were enacted in response to a highly refined collectivism by the monied and powerful few. Early 20th-century government interventions in the marketplace came not in response to an American individualism in need of "taming," but to trusts, pools, holding companies, and monopolistic strivings of mutual agreeability.
Capitalists, turned out (although Adam Smith had already told us of this), rather unreservedly loved collective action, as long as it was circumscribed with class-conscious propriety--roped off, that is, from the unworthy rabble.
And thus proceeds this century, same as the last--with the smartly organized warning the individually rugged just how perilous collectivism can be.