In the last election, we often heard the mantra “makers and takers.” The implication was that Republicans stand for the “makers” and Democrats stand for the “takers.”
Conservative N Y Times columnist David Brooks wrote an interesting article this week where he skirted up against some hard truths for his own Republican party to swallow. The title of his article is “The Party of Work.” In his article Brooks points out that two hard working demographic groups, Asian Americans and Latinos, rejected the Republican message by overwhelming majorities. Brooks asks what should his party make of such hard working demographic groups voting against the mantra that big government means less opportunity? Brooks believes the Republican narrative does not speak to their experience:
Moreover, when they look at the things that undermine the work ethic and threaten their chances to succeed, it’s often not government. It’s a modern economy in which you can work more productively, but your wages still don’t rise. It’s a bloated financial sector that just sent the world into turmoil. It’s a university system that is indispensable but unaffordable. It’s chaotic neighborhoods that can’t be cured by withdrawing government programs.
Brooks then implores his Republican mates to do a makeover in messaging that will speak these growing demographics.
Over all, Republicans have lost the popular vote in five out of the six post-cold-war elections because large parts of the country have moved on. The basic Republican framing no longer resonates.
If I were given a few minutes with the Republican billionaires, I’d say: spend less money on marketing and more on product development. Spend less on “super PACs” and more on research. Find people who can shift the debate away from the abstract frameworks — like Big Government vs. Small Government. Find people who can go out with notebooks and study specific, grounded everyday problems: what exactly does it take these days to rise? What exactly happens to the ambitious kid in Akron at each stage of life in this new economy? What are the best ways to rouse ambition and open fields of opportunity?
In his conclusion Brooks asserts:
Let Democrats be the party of security, defending the 20th-century welfare state. Be the party that celebrates work and inflames enterprise.
There is much truth in his article, but I believe Brooks’ diagnosis is much more dire than he realizes. Brooks rightly points out that the Republican message isn’t working, but he misses the fact that it isn’t working because it isn’t true. To say that management is the “maker” and labor is the “taker” is an act of dissociation. Is it not labor who makes and owners who take? What re-framing will mask such a fundamental lie? To make his case Brooks has to play with words. He calls Republicans the “Party of Work.” He cannot say it is the party of “workers” so he shifts the word to the abstraction “work.”
To his credit, David Brooks was willing to open Pandora’s box. To his further credit, he was willing to swallow some unpleasant truths. But if we follow his argument all the way out we are lead to the reality that both political parties would need radical overhauls to make them friendly to the people who actually do the work.