More Commercial Corruption
An email conversation about the news of the day.
Jan. 29 2002 12:37 PM

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Dear Joe,

Wow! It never occurred to me to name my kid after TR. It would have been tough to get past my wife, who is a religious zealot. But at least we did name our oldest after Joshua, who is sort of a paragon of Israelite national greatness.

You're absolutely right to have qualms about the rough rider. His thinking had an undeniable racial cast, which is repugnant to us. Suspicious of corporate types, he eventually fell for Herbert Croly's faith in rule by experts. Still, he is a remarkable antidote to many of our current diseases. He understood that the chief problem facing America is the danger that we might fall into a Belgian-style complacent malaise. We have less to fear from national arrogance or overreach than from enervating materialism.

He also understood that while America is powerful because of competitive capitalism, the commercial mentality is only a step to higher goals. Like Alexander Hamilton, his great forebear, he prized capitalism but had no interest in money or financial matters himself. He was always strenuously in pursuit of higher and somewhat romantic ideals.

I have high hopes for the State of the Union address because I think Bush has an opportunity to rejigger American politics. Up until Sept. 11, the Bush administration had done little to upend the 49-49 split that had marked recent elections. The tax-cut fight was an orthodox Republican vs. Democrat debate.

But since Sept. 11, he has seized, or stumbled onto, all sorts of McCainite issues that appeal to the independent voters between the two parties: national service, aggressive attempts to roll back rogue nations and champion democracy abroad, a revived sense of national unity. He may even embrace some ambitious national projects over the next weeks, such as spreading a broadband network or launching an effort to achieve energy independence. While hostile to nanny state government, he has broken the back of the libertarian "leave us alone" style conservatism that held that government was an evil that should always get out of the way.

I really think it is time to entertain the possibility that GWB is a transformational president like FDR and Reagan. If he can take some of the independent voters who have been longing for a Perot or a McCain, and attract them to the GOP with these McCainite policies, then he will have laid the groundwork for a working Republican majority. Look at Richard Morin and Dana Milbank's piece in the Post to see some early signs that this might be happening.

Let me also mention two other pieces, in keeping with my themes of the moment. First, the op-ed piece by Robert Kagan and Ronald Asmus on how Bush can show how the war on terror fits into a long-term strategy of international engagement.  Also Matt Drudge has been given a heads-up on how Republicans might try to use the Global Crossings bankruptcy to muddy the Enron fallout. Global Crossings, another broadband firm gone bust, had ties to Henry Waxman and other Democratic Enron inquisitors. More commercial corruption.

Best,
David

David Brooks is senior editor of the Weekly Standard and author of Bobos in Paradise.