It's as if Gerson were asleep during the 1970s when a long series of liberal intellectuals departed the Democratic Party after witnessing the harm that can come of unrestrained good intentions and sloppy follow-through in government. (They were called neoconservatives -- a word whose meaning has changed since then.) It's as if he never grappled with the practical limitations of government, or the corrupting effects of too much paternalism. At one point he writes, "Anti-government Republicans saw Katrina as an opportunity to cut off medicine to old people." Yes, and to grind the faces of the poor. Please.
Gerson cheerleads for a Gulf Opportunity Zone without acknowledging that it was just a renewal of an earlier Republican idea, the enterprise zone. And he chafes at the "budgetary constraints that made creativity on the domestic agenda nearly impossible."
His ambitions on the domestic front are Johnsonian (Lyndon). He would repair the racial and social ills of New Orleans. The Gerson healing balm would restore those "who had never had a bank account, never flown in a plane." There would be new job training programs -- though the Bush administration itself has acknowledged (on the White House website) that the federal government already spends "$23 billion annually for 30 different job training programs spread over 10 different departments and agencies."
The accusation of heartlessness against Republicans is silly and immature. Over the past two decades, a significant number of initiatives, from school choice to urban homesteading to health care reform to crime fighting to welfare reform, have emerged from conservative think tanks and been championed by Republican politicians. All of these ideas were intended to improve the lives of the poor, and some have succeeded remarkably well.
Toward the end of this book, Gerson eerily denies that he is falling into the trap of "blaming colleagues and enemies for blocking the arrival of [my] own private millennium." But that is exactly what he seems to have done. And for all his eloquence and piety, he has been deeply ungracious in the process.
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