Creativity for the Coal Miners

Luke Phillips


David Brooks’s column this week (and we’ll probably be sharing David Brooks’s column almost every week, god bless his soul) discussed one of the “Blue Model” challenges facing our country- what to do with old-line manufacturing and energy workers who find themselves newly jobless in a rapidly automating economy.

The particular case he took on was Hillary Clinton’s remarks to coal miners losing their jobs, and the absolutely vacuous lack of imagination the Democratic Establishment is bringing to the policy world:

“She vowed to “take a hard look at retraining programs.” She’d expand tax credits to encourage investment. She’d get tough on trading partners who are trying to dump cheap steel. These are the normal, sensible ideas candidates propose, but they are familiar and haven’t exactly done much good.”

Brooks touches on a larger issue that Walter Russell Mead spelled out in a fantastic essay earlier this week: the total lack of policy innovation on the Democratic side, coupled with a complete abdication of governing responsibility on the Republican side.

“The state of our union can be summed up pretty easily: Democratic policy ideas don’t work, and the Republican Party is melting down…

The more “Democratic” an institution is these days, on the whole the less well it is working. What institution in the United States has been under Democratic control longer and more thoroughly than the failing public school systems of major cities? Or their police departments? 

Yet against the backdrop of failing Democratic policies and institutions, the collapse of the Republican Party into political and intellectual incoherence is all the more striking. The Democrats, for all their inability to achieve their stated end of social progress through their chosen means of good governance, are clearly more competent at the essential business of party management than their GOP rivals. The failures of Democratic governance are so apparent, and the public unhappiness with the cronyism and inequality of interest group liberalism so deep, that organizing an effective opposition should be a fairly easy task—but even that basic objective has eluded the contemporary GOP.

The biggest deficits in the United States these days, however, are not the ones grabbing the headlines. The multi-trillion dollar deficit stalking the nation’s public sector pension plans, the fiscal meltdown bankrupting Puerto Rico and threatening half a dozen major cities, the deferred infrastructure deficit that leads to problems like the Flint water crisis, the disastrous military underinvestment, the federal budget deficit and the organizational and managerial deficits that make key public institutions like schools, police departments and prisons to perform so poorly: these are all terrible things that will wreak great harm in due course…”

Is this really where we are, Republicans? At a point where our party as a whole has so fundamentally lost its ability to govern responsibly, that we simply hand the task to incompetent throngs of Democrats more interested in rewarding their crony allies than advancing liberty and prosperity? When did we cease being the “goo-goo” party of good government, and start being the party pursuing the false dream of small government?

A grand opportunity presents itself- we can be the ones to reinvent governance for the 21st Century, to design the new middle-class social contract, to reconstruct a powerful American economy, to unify the nation behind new iterations of timeless American ideals. But we cannot do it under the twin spells of anger and ideology, the forces gripping the Republican Establishment and the Trump Insurgency. We’ll need a heavy dose of common sense, humility, a willingness to experiment, a firmness in the right as we are given to see the right, and an optimism about the prospects of our country combined with a sober pessimism about all utopian schemes. If we’re going to build up the Republican Party into something capable of governing the country well in the future, we can give nothing less.


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