Category Archives: David Brooks

Rich Dad/Poor Dad

David Brooks has the courage to ask the question that's on everyone's lips:

David Brooks: Yes. I was going to say that for the first time in human history, rich people work longer hours than middle class or poor people. How do you construct a rich versus poor narrative when the rich are more industrious?

The rich, who will speak for them?

h/t the whole blogosphere.

The eternal present of the New York Times

Punditry is an accountability free occupation.

In today's New York Times, the grizzled warrior David Brooks performs a chest-beating war dance over Afghanistan of the type he and his tough guy comrades perfected in the run-up to the Iraq War.  It's filled with self-glorifying "war-is-hell" neocon platitudes that make the speaker feel tough and strong.  No more hiding like cowards in our bases.  It's time to send "small groups of American men and women [] outside the wire in dangerous places."  Those opposing escalation are succumbing to the "illusion of the easy path."  Chomping on a cigar in his war room, he roars:  "all out or all in."  The central question: will we "surrender the place to the Taliban?," etc. etc. 

Needless to say, Brooks was writing all the same things in late 2002 and early 2003 about Iraq — though, back then, he did so from the pages of Rupert Murdoch and Bill Kristol's The Weekly Standard.  When I went back to read some of that this morning, I was — as always — struck by how extreme and noxious it all was:  the snide, hubristic superiority combined with absolute wrongness about everything.  What people like David Brooks were saying back then was so severe — so severely wrong, pompous, blind, warmongering and, as it turns out, destructive — that no matter how many times one reviews the record of the leading opinion-makers of that era, one will never be inured to how poisonous they are.

All of this would be a fascinating study for historians if the people responsible were figures of the past.  But they're not.  They're the opposite.  The same people shaping our debates now are the same ones who did all of that, and they haven't changed at all.  They're doing the same things now that they did then.  When you go read what they said back then, that's what makes it so remarkable and noteworthy.  David Brooks got promoted within our establishment commentariat to The New York Times after (one might say:  because of) the ignorant bile and amoral idiocy he continuously spewed while at The Weekly Standard.  According to National Journal's recently convened "panel of Congressional and Political Insiders," Brooks is now the commentator who "who most help[s] to shape their own opinion or worldview" — second only to Tom "Suck On This" Friedman.  Charles Krauthammer came in third.  Ponder that for a minute.

Read the rest.  The truly odd thing about all of this, as a friend of ours suggested, is that these people operate as if no one has access to their past writings on these matters.  Odder than that is the fact that people do, and yet there they are.

The world in black and white

Does some of the criticism directed at Obama have to do with race?  Undoubtedly.  Does that mean the people from whom it issues are frothing at the mouth KKK-style racists?  No, obviously not.  Someone please tell David Brooks.  Here he is describing his experience last week at the 9/12 protests:

You wouldn’t know it to look at me, but I go running several times a week. My favorite route, because it’s so flat, is from the Lincoln Memorial to the U.S. Capitol and back. I was there last Saturday and found myself plodding through tens of thousands of anti-government “tea party” protesters.

They were carrying “Don’t Tread on Me” flags, “End the Fed” placards and signs condemning big government, Barack Obama, socialist health care and various elite institutions.

Then, as I got to where the Smithsonian museums start, I came across another rally, the Black Family Reunion Celebration. Several thousand people had gathered to celebrate African-American culture. I noticed that the mostly white tea party protesters were mingling in with the mostly black family reunion celebrants. The tea party people were buying lunch from the family reunion food stands. They had joined the audience of a rap concert.

Because sociology is more important than fitness, I stopped to watch the interaction. These two groups were from opposite ends of the political and cultural spectrum. They’d both been energized by eloquent speakers. Yet I couldn’t discern any tension between them. It was just different groups of people milling about like at any park or sports arena.

Notice that Brooks doesn't give us any reason to suppose that the two groups were from "the opposite ends of the political and cultural spectrum."  I'm not even sure what it means to be from the opposite end of the "cultural spectrum" (black vs. white?) now that I think of it.  I find it remarkably odd that he would think of it this way, since it is obvious that the family reunion had nothing to do with the tea party protest–they weren't, after all, counter-protesters, they were just there.

More importantly, however, is the fact that he takes peaceful interaction between a white group of people and a black one to be evidence of the non-existence of racist motivations on the part of some (some some some) of the white people.  Is he expecting that they would treat the black people they meet rudely?

I think the accusations of a racial component to current anti-government feeling has something to do with certain celebrated conservative talkers fomenting fear among whites of racism directed at them–no., it's Obama who is a racist.  It might also have something to do with the fact that the mainstream media asking, every time a black man or woman does something, what Obama thinks of it.  What Obama has to contribute to the Kanye story is beyond me.  I wonder why no one is talking about Obama's take on the crazy child abductors in California.

David Brooks on human nature

David Brooks asks:

Has there ever been a time when there were so many different views of human nature floating around all at once?

Answer: Yes.  But he proceeds:

The economists have their view, in which rational people coolly chase incentives. Traditional Christians have their view, emphasizing original sin, grace and the pilgrim’s progress in a fallen world. And then there are the evolutionary psychologists, who get the most media attention.

Only three?  Anyway, in addition to that colossal dumbness, he really wants to argue that evolutionary psychology, as emboddied in the work of one popular author's narrow view of evolution, is wrong, because, err, evolutionary psychology has gotten evolution wrong:

The first problem is that far from being preprogrammed with a series of hardwired mental modules, as the E.P. types assert, our brains are fluid and plastic. We’re learning that evolution can be a more rapid process than we thought. It doesn’t take hundreds of thousands of years to produce genetic alterations.

And so on.  So the problem isn't evolutionary psychology–since evolution as a theory seems clearly right to Brooks, it's wrong versions of evolutionary psychology.  And who can't get behind that?

 

Phronesis

General philosophical post today.  It doesn't seem David Brooks has read Aristotle.  Had he read Aristotle, he would have not written this:

Socrates talked. The assumption behind his approach to philosophy, and the approaches of millions of people since, is that moral thinking is mostly a matter of reason and deliberation: Think through moral problems. Find a just principle. Apply it.

Discuss. 

UPDATE.  Ok, on the strength of a conversation with one of the commentators here, I will add the following two paragraphs (directly from above) to make the Aristotle point clearer.

One problem with this kind of approach to morality, as Michael Gazzaniga writes in his 2008 book, “Human,” is that “it has been hard to find any correlation between moral reasoning and proactive moral behavior, such as helping other people. In fact, in most studies, none has been found.”

Today, many psychologists, cognitive scientists and even philosophers embrace a different view of morality. In this view, moral thinking is more like aesthetics. As we look around the world, we are constantly evaluating what we see. Seeing and evaluating are not two separate processes. They are linked and basically simultaneous.

Now discuss (again).

Foro Italico

The low cost of energy, federal subsidies in the form of expressways (but not public transportation) fueled (!) a migration of people out to that land of autonomy, low taxes, and self-sufficiency, the suburbs and exurbs.  Now of course people have realized that those place are soul-crushingly monotonous places to spend one's days.  David Brooks has also realized this.  And the massive FDR-style infrastructure of the Obama administration should step up to remedy the situation.  Nothing like small government conservatives!  He writes:

People overshot the mark. They moved to the exurbs because they wanted space and order. But once there, they found that they were missing community and social bonds. So in the past years there has been a new trend. Meeting places are popping up across the suburban landscape.

Anyway, now for David Brooks's proposal for the Obama plan:

To take advantage of the growing desire for community, the Obama plan would have to do two things. First, it would have to create new transportation patterns. The old metro design was based on a hub-and-spoke system — a series of highways that converged on an urban core. But in an age of multiple downtown nodes and complicated travel routes, it’s better to have a complex web of roads and rail systems.

Second, the Obama stimulus plan could help localities create suburban town squares. Many communities are trying to build focal points. The stimulus plan could build charter schools, pre-K centers, national service centers and other such programs around new civic hubs.

That stuff sounds really like a state-driven urban renewal plan once undertaken by a guy named Benito.  So much for Brooks' conservatives.  The people moved out to the burbs, turned it into a nightmare of alienation, traffic, and high fuel prices (they'll be back folks) and now they need to be bailed out by Obama in a massive suburban investment plan.  Why this?  Well, the alternative is just too boring to contemplate:

But alas, there’s no evidence so far that the Obama infrastructure plan is attached to any larger social vision. In fact, there is a real danger that the plan will retard innovation and entrench the past.

In a stimulus plan, the first job is to get money out the door quickly. That means you avoid anything that might require planning and creativity. You avoid anything that might require careful implementation or novel approaches. The quickest thing to do is simply throw money at things that already exist.

Sure enough, the Obama stimulus plan, at least as it has been sketched out so far, is notable for its lack of creativity. Obama wants to put more computers in classrooms, an old idea with dubious educational merit. He also proposes a series of ideas that are good but not exactly transformational: refurbishing the existing power grid; fixing the oldest roads and bridges; repairing schools; and renovating existing government buildings to make them more energy efficient.

This is the federal version of “This Old House.” And this is before the stimulus money gets diverted, as it inevitably will, to refurbish old companies. The auto bailout could eventually swallow $125 billion. After that, it could be the airlines and so on.

It's so boring and uncreative to fix decaying infrastructure in an infrastructure investment plan!  On my way to school this morning, I was bored to tears by the tedium of the mini lagoons of frozen dirty water festooning Bryn Mawr avenue, the sewers too aged to handle large but extremely common influxes of water.  I'm also bored by the idea that the power grid cannot handle green power innovation–what would be cool is a street with cafes and bookstores on it in a far out suburb.  Fixing this stuff shows a lack of creative vision.

Blooming Idiocracy

Oftentimes, there's something inspiring about a person so rigidly dedicated to a particular ideology that not even the existence of contrary facts can sway them. In that vein, there's a movie line that's always stuck in my mind: "Uncompromising men are easy to admire." Nothing could be more apropos of that sentiment than today's sycophantic paean to the Bush Doctrine from the inimitable David Brooks. While the tone of the column is odd–President-Elect Obama as torchbearer of the Bush Doctrine–here's the bit that caught our eye:

Actual progress was slow, but the ideas developed during the second Bush term have taken hold.

Some theoreticians may still talk about Platonic concepts like realism and neoconservatism, but the actual foreign policy doctrine of the future will be hammered out in a bottom-up process as the U.S. and its allies use their varied tools to build government capacity in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Lebanon, the Philippines and beyond. Grand strategists may imagine a new global architecture built at high-level summits, but the real global architecture of the future will emerge organically from these day-to-day nation-building operations.

Obviously, someone's been reading his Allan Bloom, but I digress.  Brooks' misunderstanding of Plato, coupled with a severe misreading of the President-Elect's decision to retain the services of SECDEF Robert Gates is one thing; defeating the imaginary political theorists in one's mind while acting as if some point has been proven is quite another.  Brooks' dogged devotion to neoconservative ideals has taken him so far afield that he has outpaced any real opponents, so he just creates opposition out of whole cloth; but this ability to outmaneuver notional opponents cannot demonstrate what it purports to show. 

That’s what she said

David Brooks, Sunday, on the state of the conservative movement:

"World of pain," Brooks said. "A generation of pain. 1964, it was so much better than now. In '64, they had a coherent belief system. They lost, they didn't persuade the American people about it, but they understood where they wanted to take the country.

"Now it's just a circular firing squad, with everybody attacking each other, and no coherent belief system, no leaders. You've got half the party waiting for Sarah Palin to come and rescue them. The other half is waiting for Bobby Jindal, the Louisiana governor, to come rescue them. But no set of beliefs. Really a decayed conservative infrastructure. It's just a world of pain.

And,

He added, "[F]undamentally, the conservative movement failed — and I've been in it my entire life — because it hasn't addressed the problems of today."

Maybe the conservative movement needs new advocates

h/t Political Animal.

Counterestablishment

Whining that conservatives have lost touch with their intellectual roots, David Brooks inexplicably writes:

Modern conservatism began as a movement of dissident intellectuals. Richard Weaver wrote a book called, “Ideas Have Consequences.” Russell Kirk placed Edmund Burke in an American context. William F. Buckley famously said he’d rather be governed by the first 2,000 names in the Boston phone book than by the faculty of Harvard. But he didn’t believe those were the only two options. His entire life was a celebration of urbane values, sophistication and the rigorous and constant application of intellect.

Driven by a need to engage elite opinion, conservatives tried to build an intellectual counterestablishment with think tanks and magazines. They disdained the ideas of the liberal professoriate, but they did not disdain the idea of a cultivated mind.

Silly goose.  The "rigorous and constant" application of intellect wouldn't produce silly caricatures such as those which occupied the late Buckley's mind.  Those same silly caricatures too often drive the discourse of the conservative intellectual counterestablishment (global warming is a hoax!!!), an ideologically defined movement whose primary function consists in not attempting to challenge the ideas of the "liberal professoriate" in anything like intellectually rigorous terms, but rather in vilifying reasonably credentialed experts for specious ideological reasons.

The power of ideas

David Brooks, conservative columnist and former Bush sycophant, yesterday:

[Sarah Palin] represents a fatal cancer to the Republican party. When I first started in journalism, I worked at the National Review for Bill Buckley. And Buckley famously said he'd rather be ruled by the first 2,000 names in the Boston phone book than by the Harvard faculty. But he didn't think those were the only two options. He thought it was important to have people on the conservative side who celebrated ideas, who celebrated learning. And his whole life was based on that, and that was also true for a lot of the other conservatives in the Reagan era. Reagan had an immense faith in the power of ideas. But there has been a counter, more populist tradition, which is not only to scorn liberal ideas but to scorn ideas entirely. And I'm afraid that Sarah Palin has those prejudices. I think President Bush has those prejudices.

Gee, who would scorn ideas?  Maybe the David Brooks, court flatterer of Bush's Versailles era [October 2, 2004]:

When John Kerry was asked how he would prevent another attack like 9/11, he reeled off a list of nine concrete policy areas, ranging from intelligence reform to training Iraqi troops, but his answer had no thematic summation. If you glance down a transcript of the debate and you see one set of answers that talks about “logistical capacity” or “a plan that I’ve laid out in four points,” or “a long list” of proposals or “a strict series of things” that need to be done, you know that’s Kerry speaking. [emphasis added] 

Ideas are so boring!  Concrete policy!  Snore.  Contrast this with Bush [following directly from the same October 2, 2004 op-ed]:

If, on the other hand, you see an answer that says, “When we give our word, we will keep our word,” you know that is Bush. When you see someone talking about crying with a war widow, you know that’s Bush.

Bush had no ideas then either, and it seems Brooks knew it.  But then it was a virtue.  Now it obviously isn't.  My only question is why it took Brooks so long to learn this. 

In a related matter, I'm happy to be wrong about the right wing pundit army marching lockstep with their guy, however bad his arguments.  This was true with Bush until just recently.  The only disagreements (uttered sotto voce) were that he was not conservative enough.  Now to the growing chorus of right wing pundits who reject McCain for reasons other than sufficient rightwardness, a group which includes George Will, Kathleen Parker, and to some extent Charles Krauthammer, one can perhaps now definitively add David Brooks.