Defining Cultural Conservatism Down

Wow. David Brooks really likes John Edwards. So much so that I feel compelled to attack Brooks from the right. He says that "If you had to put a label on Edwards, you’d say that he is a culturally conservative anti-Washington liberal" and he means it in a good way. Edwards, says Brooks, is "going to be able to connect with working-class white voters in Ohio, Virginia, Nevada and Michigan" and that a big part of this "is his cultural traditionalism." Of what does this traditionalism consist?

Edwards will be talking about an issue, and his voice will rise and he’ll punctuate his argument with a ringing declaration of stern common sense. On education: “Parents can’t just drop their kids off at school and forget about it. Parents have to take responsibility for their children!” On immigration: “They have to learn English!”

I dunno about that. My upbringing was about as far from working class Ohio as you can get, and this idea that parents should be interested in kids' education and immigrants should learn English was pretty uncontroversial among secular Jews in Greenwich Village. If this is all it takes to be a cultural conservative, then sign me up. It's all the stuff about sex -- abortion, gays, abstinence, etc. -- that turned me off of cultural conservatism, not the idea that parents should care about their kids.

Meanwhile, I note that while Brooks has never taken such a simplistic view, I do believe the orthodox conservative position is that if public school teachers didn't have unions -- or, better, if we didn't have public schools at all -- that education would be great no matter what parents thought or did. Be that as it may, this is one of the strongest parts of the Case for Edwards: out of his mouth, totally banal phrases strike many people as culturally conservative.