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David Brooks' Words Of Wisdom For Republicans

So David Brooks' last two columns have both taken on the broad subject of how Republicans should feel about Obamanonics (mostly sad) and their chances to get back in power (mostly bad). Four days ago, their odds were truly dismal. Today, much better. What changed? A poll, of course.

David Brooks, April 20:

If Republicans aren't nervous, they should be. Obama is arguing for his activist agenda not on the basis of class-consciousness, which is alien to America, but as a defense of middle-class morality, which is central to it. Obama is positioning the Democrats as the party of order, responsibility and small-town values. If he pulls this mantle away from the Republicans, it would be the greatest train robbery in American politics.

David Brooks, April 24:

For Republicans, the message is that all is not hopeless. Swing voters have temporarily rejected the party, but not the Weltanschauung. After this crisis is over, they still want a return to normalcy, with balanced budgets and a limited state. Americans still want to see power dispersed among a diversity of institutions, not concentrated in the hands of supertechnocrats in Washington.

To sum up: Republicans should be quite nervous that Obama will destroy their party and transform American political alignments, but the GOP can find solace in the fact that we'll always suspect that his government is too big.

So this isn't exactly like having your cake and eating it too. It's more like holding your cake in your mouth and refusing to swallow. The message, like the cake, is getting rather mushy. I appreciate that Brooks upholds the mantle of moderation and likes to toe the line between respect-for-Obama and advice-for-Republicans but I also think he's misreading this poll.

The most interesting part of the poll for me asks Americans how they think they manage risk. Americans largely think they can manage their own financial risk. But a super-majority think all other Americans are terrible at it. In short, we feel the same way about risk that we feel about Congress and congressmen. It's terrible. We hate them all. But ours is just fine.

As a personal matter, this is unsurprising and insignificant. As a public policy matter, it's a argument for larger federal involvement in American lives -- the managing of things that we don't trust anybody else to do. This is exactly why, during the next few years as we emerge from the recession, Americans are going to continue to rely on a bigger government in a world of bigger risk: We don't trust anybody else to handle it.

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Derek Thompson is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about economics, labor markets, and the entertainment business.

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