U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Huntsville, is a smart guy. I’ve interviewed him many times. I usually disagree with him, but my theory has always been that an intelligent elected official is better than a dumb one, regardless of his political views. I’m beginning to have second thoughts on the theory.
Brooks withdrew a statement he made Friday on the House floor about other members of Congress being socialists. Later, he said he thought Democrats who objected were being “thin-skinned.”
Brooks was opposing an alternative 2012 federal budget from the Congressional Progressive Caucus when he made the statement.
“Folks, we are here today forcing this issue because America is at risk. We are at risk of insolvency and bankruptcy because the socialist members of this body choose to spend money that we do not have,” Brooks said.
The Democrats probably were being “thin-skinned.” But Brooks is educated enough to know what socialism is, and what it is not.
Socialism is the public ownership of the means of production and allocation of resources. Apply the term narrowly, and the United States always has had some degree of socialism. The state controls the military, most aerospace, postal operations, libraries and sewer. If “socialist” is an epithet, then Brooks’ grandfather could have hurled it at his country a century ago.
Intelligent citizens, however, understand that unlimited capitalism does not work very well. People starve, and externalities like the environment fall through the cracks. Brooks — a former Mormon and former Sierra Club member — gets this.
So when Brooks calls his colleagues socialists, he is playing political games that are beneath him. Indeed, a major dispute he has with President Obama — the privatization of some NASA operations — has Brooks arguing for the “socialist” position.
As long as Brooks is playing the political game — placating tea party voters and defense-contractor donors — his constituents will not enjoy the benefit of his intelligence. His retracted cry that his colleagues are socialists suggests he has a long way to go. Let’s hope that he finds the will to apply his intellect to solving the nation’s many problems, rather than to winning the next election.