Tuesday, July 7, 2009

David Brooks is a predictable swine

When he begins with a long paean to the Founding Fathers -- in this case, George Washington -- you can bet money that the Republican Iago is about to plunge his dagger deep into someone's back:
First, there was Mark Sanford’s press conference. Here was a guy utterly lacking in any sense of reticence, who was given to rambling self-exposure even in his moment of disgrace. Then there was the death of Michael Jackson and the discussion of his life. Here was a guy who was apparently untouched by any pressure to live according to the rules and restraints of adulthood. Then there was Sarah Palin’s press conference. Here was a woman who aspires to a high public role but is unfamiliar with the traits of equipoise and constancy, which are the sources of authority and trust.
Right. A logical grouping:
  • The man who makes a spectacle of himself pursuing an Argentine floozy;
  • The man who makes a spectacle of himself pursuing pubescent boys and trying to look like a freakish parody of Liza Minelli; and
  • Sarah Palin.
Am I the only one who thinks the third item in this list is misplaced? Am I the only one who believes that the entire purpose of this 804-word column was to deliver that one cheap shot at Sarah Palin? Is there anyone on the planet who respects David Brooks or desires his approbation?

UPDATE: Linked by Obi's Sister, Daley Gator, Paco Enterprises and Memeorandum. Meanwhile, HuffPo's Adam Hanft analyzes the Brooksian method.

It's a familiar technique. If you go back to his classic 1997 betrayal of the conservative cause -- "A Return to National Greatness" -- you find Brooks begins by describing the century-old magnificence of the Library of Congress building. He contrasts a bygone time when "there was enthusiasm for grand American projects" with the limited-government agenda of the GOP majority which then controlled Congress, and finds the latter sorely wanting:
At a moment of world supremacy unlike any other, Americans are not asking big questions about their civilization, nor are they being asked anything but the sorts of things pollsters and marketers want to know. And so our politics has become degrading and boring. Political conflict appears trivial, vicious for no good reason.
So the splendor of the Gilded Age, symbolized by the elaborate architecture of the Library of Congress, is made a contrast to the "trivial" nature of contemporary politics, and the eloquence of Brooksian prose is such that the argument might easily persuade a reader who knows nothing of history.

To start with, if you walk three blocks north from the Library of Congress, you can find another impressive architectural specimen, Union Station, completed about a decade later. It took only a year to build it, too. What's up with that? You couldn't build a replica of Union Station today if you had a trillion dollars, and you sure as hell couldn't build it in a year.

Skilled labor was cheap. It's really that simple. This is the great lesson to be learned by the grandeur of the monuments of the past. Go to Berry College in Georgia and examine the Gothic glories of the Ford Buildings (example photo). With a philanthropic donation from Henry Ford, Berry brought in Italian stone masons to do the work. And they worked cheap.

A 55-hour week -- 10 hours a day Monday through Friday, and half a day on Saturday -- was common for laborers a century ago. (Benefits? Whoever heard of such a thing?) And the laborer who earned $2 for his 10-hour day was actually doing better than many small farmers of the era, who toiled from dawn to dusk merely to earn their family's subsistence.

When what we would today consider poverty (at least as measured by annual cash income) was the plight of a majority of the people, and when there was no welfare state to provide for the idle, it was possible to build grand monuments like the Library of Congress, Union Station or the Ford Buildings. Today, mechanization and mass-produced materials -- steel, glass, concrete -- allow us to erect giant skyscrapers, but the awe-inspiring handcrafted touches of those older buildings can't be had for any feasible sum, basically because of changes in economic conditions.

This historical background is omitted entirely from Brooks' celebration of the Beaux Arts splendor of the Library of Congress building in "A Return to National Greatness," just as he stripped George Washington from historical context for his column on "dignity." (One wonders how Washington would have dealt with the FOIA frenzy of Palin's enemies.)

Brooks' walk-off yesterday was a classic:
But it’s not right to end on a note of cultural pessimism because there is the fact of President Obama. Whatever policy differences people may have with him, we can all agree that he exemplifies reticence, dispassion and the other traits associated with dignity. The cultural effects of his presidency are not yet clear, but they may surpass his policy impact. He may revitalize the concept of dignity for a new generation and embody a new set of rules for self-mastery.
What is the sum of the "reticence" and "dispassion" that Brooks praises? Mainly, there is Obama's deep baritone voice. If the politics thing hadn't worked out, Obama could have had a successful career as an announcer for an FM "smooth jazz" station. As it is, however, he is blessed with a fawning press corps whose members seem to conceive themselves as employees of the marketing department of Obama Inc.

Easy to strike the presidential pose of reticence under such circumstances, but as is his habit, Brooks omits the context necessary to understanding the phenomenon he celebrates. Brooks wishes to appropriate for himself the "dignity" he praises, but in fact his impulse is childish: "Look, something wonderful!"

Let mature students of statesmanship reserve judgment. We'll see how Obama's "dignity" holds up when unemployment hits 14 percent.


  1. Stacy,

    You write:

    "Am I the only one who thinks the third item in this list is misplaced?"

    Probably not ... but what's your point?

    I'm pretty sure there's more than one guy who thinks the moon landing was faked, or that George W. Bush and Dick Cheney used their neat new Nintendo 64 to remotely pilot airplanes into the World Trade Center, too.

  2. One of these things is not like the other... one of these things doesn't belong...

  3. Contrary to elite opinion, David Brooks has no class. Nor is he a gentleman. He called Sarah a cancer on the Republican party. (Never ever forget he also called Obama a reassuring mountain) Then when she bows out, instead of being pleased the Republican party is cancer-free - Brooks sucker punches her.

    At the very least it makes one think Brooks cannot deal with beautiful, intelligent and accomplished women. No wonder he's so comfortable hanging out with the Beltway and NYTimes fag, excuse me I mean, sea hags.

    Mrs. Peperium

  4. I don't know why you're going easy on Brooks, Stacy.
    First, this useless excuse for a column attempts to imply that these Rules of Civility were the main item informing Washington's character. What of Washington's spirituality, David? Is it possible that some sort of, you know, Christian faith may have driven the man? Do you think that 110 rules alone result in "...his moral character that set him off from other men.”?
    Remnants of the dignity code lasted for decades.
    Why the past tense, sir? You think the current day completely bereft of Civility?

    The rules that guided Washington and generations of people after him are simply gone.
    We can all list the causes of its demise. First, there is capitalism.

    Have you ever been to Mount Vernon, Mr. Brooks? You do realize that, while maintaining a wonderful hosptitality, George Washington was a thoroughly capitalistic man until his demise?

    Second, there is the cult of naturalism. We are all encouraged to discard artifice and repression and to instead liberate our own feelings.
    Welcome to Progressivism, that disease you seem bent on cultivating, sir.

    Third, there is charismatic evangelism with its penchant for public confession.
    You've used three terms in one sentence that have serious theological overtones. Is this the religion section? How are you possibly going to develop the idea fully within the space of the column?

    Fourth, there is radical egalitarianism and its hostility to aristocratic manners.
    Indeed, common courtesy is just too, you know, common.

    In each of these events, one sees people who simply have no social norms to guide them as they try to navigate the currents of their own passions.
    You completely ignore Jenny Sanford. That lady, in her own right, crushes your invertebrate thesis.
    Jackson. Meh.
    Then there is Sarah. She's a God-fearing Christian woman and a lifelong churchgoer. To say she has "no social norms to guide [her]", and juxtapose her with Mark Sanford and Michael Jackson, is to engage in the very uncivility you claim to decry, sir. You've hoisted yourself on your own petard. When you return to earth, you might consider laying by your dish.

  5. Well if there was still any doubt that David Chauncey Gardiner Brooks was a Wormtongue to the 'beautiful people'....

    To quote Gandalf: 'The wise speak only of what they know, Gríma son of Gálmód. A witless worm have you become. Therefore be silent, and keep your forked tongue behind your teeth. I have not passed through fire and death to bandy crooked words with a serving-man till the lightning falls. See, Théoden, here is a snake! To slay it would be just. But it was not always as it now is. Once it was a man, and it did you service in its fashion.'

    He only wanted to be loved [http://www.thecampofthesaints.com/2008.10.05_arch.html#1223562965175#1223562965175].

    Trouble is, the Sarumans he serves will discard him in a New York minute once he becomes no longer useful. Then he'll become like Maureen Dowd: sitting on his counch waiting for the phone that never rings, clutching a stuffed animal, and wondering what he did wrong.

    [Sorry, couldn't resist the LOTR stuff: Wormtongue is just so damn fitting in this case]

  6. I wish i could write like the other commenters.

  7. Mr. McCain
    Thank you for reading Brooks so I do not have to!
    I have always thought he was a c**k suc*ing son of a wh*re. Your latest confirms my long held opinion.
    If my lanugage is strong it is because my opinion is strong!

    an old exJarhead
    Cerritos, Cal

  8. 'David Brooks is a predictable swine'

    Let's feed him to the Muslims!

    [can't wait for my CAIR package]

  9. Wormtongue. Damn. That's better than calling Michelle Ma Belle "Worf." I give up.

  10. Regarding your comment:

    Am I the only one who thinks the third item in this list is misplaced?

    The really short answer is "NO"!

    The less than really short answer is "HELL NO"!

    David Brooks is a putz. If not for the fact that you keep blasting him, I wouldn't know a word about what he said. Are you sure you want to give him any cred by posting about him?

  11. Stacy,

    You are so freaking wrong on your Jackson assertion I don't even know where to begin. I am utterly shocked at your observation.

    Michael Jackson looked nothing like Liza Minelli, he looked like a demented cross beteen Janet Jackson and Diana Ross with a little bit of Elizabth Taylor thrown in there.

    I can't believe I have to clarify this for you, geez!


  12. Do posters here have no sense of irony? Clearly Mr. Stacey is advancing Mr. Brooks' thesis by referring to him as "swine." This is a clever ploy to illustrate Brooks' point by feigning the sort of lack of dignity decried by Brooks. Mr. Stacey only appears to disagree with Brooks. By serving as an example of one who "has no social norms," Stacy clearly wishes to illustrate Brooks' righteousness. (As do the posters who use words like "putz," and "c**k suc*ing son of a wh*re."

  13. I think David Brooks is a lot smarter than most of the people who like Sarah Palin. So yea-she deserves to be included in a list of people who have behaved stupidly.

    But hey, she so much of a fighter that she quit.

  14. What???
    "But it’s not right to end on a note of cultural pessimism because there is the fact of President Obama."


  15. Palin definitely belongs on the list. She's not only an idiot, and just plain nuts, but she is also a pathological Republican liar straight out of Central Casting.

  16. Why does Brooks need to prove himself so smart with his vocabulary? Why not just say "balance and consistency" rather than "equipoise and constancy"?

  17. Well, well...the Orcs in the service of Obamuman have spoken [grinder & Skippy-san].

    Let me phrase it so you will understand it:
    U bagronk sha pushdug Brooks-glob búbhosh skai!

  18. You have to give Brooks some credit: I cannot imagine how he was able to type his "article" while simultaneously blowing Obama. Seriously, it's no mean feat. Of course, since almost everyone in the MSM is currently engaged in the same act, Brooks doesn't receive the bonus that being unique would grant him.

  19. "Here was a woman who aspires to a high public role but is unfamiliar with the traits of equipoise and constancy, which are the sources of authority and trust."

    Ah. Equipoise and constancy are the sources of authority and trust! Reputation for integrity; not relevant. Personal commitment to the Constitution and the values that uphold it; Er, sorry. Track record of successfully challenging corruption; No. How naive of you to even mention it. No: To be authoritative and trusted, one must display traits of equipoise and constancy!

    Has anyone at the New York Times given serious though to the causal relationship between content and tanking share value? For decades the New York Times eschewed running color comics out of a concern for... appearances. Yeah, well, with the current cluster embarrassing the Op-Eds and payroll, who needs Bill Watterson or Gary Larson?