- The Washington Times - Friday, August 13, 2010

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

THE BATTLE: HOW THE FIGHT BETWEEN FREE ENTERPRISE AND BIG GOVERNMENT WILL SHAPE AMERICA’S FUTURE
By Arthur C. Brooks
Basic Books, $23.95, 174 pages

“America faces a new culture war,” writes Arthur C. Brooks, presi- dent of the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, in this crisply reasoned analysis. “This is not a fight over guns, abortions, religion and gays. Nor is it about Republicans versus Democrats. Rather, it is a struggle between two competing visions of America’s future.”

One vision, Mr. Brooks writes, continues to see America as “a unique and exceptional nation organized around the principles of free enterprise.” The other envisions our country moving toward a “European-style statism grounded in expanding bureaucracies, increasing income redistribution, and government-controlled corporations.”

“These competing visions are not reconcilable,” he concludes. “We must choose.”

On the face of it, given the history of our nation and its extraordinary record of providing generations of Americans with unprecedented freedom and opportunity, the choice between free enterprise and statism shouldn’t seem a difficult one. Moreover, as Mr. Brooks points out, poll after poll shows that whenever asked whether they would rather live in a socialist or free-enterprise economy, about 70 percent of Americans of all political stripes - and no matter what the current economic conditions - invariably choose free enterprise.

Why then does the statist 30 percent - a distinct minority - seem to be in control of the other 70 percent - a clear majority?

For one thing, Mr. Brooks writes, the “30 percent coalition is led by people who are smart, powerful, and strategic … people who make opinions, entertain us, inform us, and teach our kids in college.” This “intellectual upper class is far more statist and left-wing than the average American, and is getting more so … the chief adversary of the free enterprise system today.”

At the head of this intellectual upper class, Mr. Brooks writes, “are our current leaders in Washington D.C. - starting with activist, bestselling author, and Ivy League academic, President Barack Obama.”

From the outset, Mr. Brooks writes, a basic objective of Mr. Obama and his allies has been to strengthen and expand the grip of the 30 percent coalition on young people - “adults under 30. This is not just a fifth of the adult population: It is the future of our country.” The three long-term strategies to keep young people in the 30 percent fold, Mr. Brooks says, are “to pay off their debts, give them government jobs, and make sure they never have to pay for the services that the government provides.”

On the economic front, the 30 percenters gained significant ground over the past decade when Republicans proved themselves just as fiscally irresponsible as their Democratic counterparts. However, Mr. Brooks writes, “The real game changer - the opportunity to expand the 30 percent coalition - was not the Democratic sweep of 2008. It was the financial crisis of 2008-2009, which was used as a tool to attack the free enterprise system and change America’s culture for good.”

The attack succeeded in great part because of what Mr. Brooks calls “the Obama narrative,” built on several key claims. Among them: Government was not the cause of the economic crisis; government knows how to fix that crisis; the way to save the economy is through massive government growth and deficit spending; and only the rich, not the middle class, will pay for the stimulus packages.

“All of these claims are false,” Mr. Brooks writes. “To get the real story of the financial crisis, we need to dismantle this narrative piece by piece.” And that is what he proceeds to do, in the process making “the moral case for free people and free markets” with strength and elegance.

As Newt Gingrich puts it in his foreword to this book, “What makes ‘The Battle’ so important is its unique combination of intellectual clarity and the best succinct analysis of the values of the American people I have ever read.”

High praise, indeed. But well-earned.

John R. Coyne Jr., a former White House speechwriter, is co-author of “Strictly Right: William F. Buckley Jr. and the American Conservative Movement” (Wiley, 2007).


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