David Brooks Is Always Wrong-Yeshiva Bocher edition

David Brooks is the plausible half of the Times’ con-op pair; Douthat, to be sneered at later, is the best known for not being as overtly, epically awful as William Kristol.  (Talk about the subtle bigotry of low expectations.)

Brooks’ trick, the one he’s mastered as his inferiors on the Right bloviating bench have not, is to present sentences that seem to imply great learning, whilst never falling into the temptation to make specific claims of fact that can be shown to be wrong.  It’s an important skill, and it fools lots of people who should know better.  Not so long ago, I was talking with a reporter from the Great Grey Lady herself — a good one, a real journalist covering a difficult beat and doing it well. Douthat, my interlocuter agreed, was an embarassment.  But Brooks.  Now there was someone, said my companion, who even if you disagreed with him, always managed to surprise you.

Well, I suppose, but not in a good way.

After I recovered from blowing bourbon though my nose, I put it to the room that the problem was that Brooks arrived not at unanticipated conclusions, but at pre-determined ones, to which he gave unmerited weight by grabbing the lustre of some intellectual antecedent or another whether or not that purported authority actually bore on the case at hand.

He does some variation on this gimmick over and over again.  It can be an appeal to anonymous “culture” — as in this catastrophe of a column — or it can be a more direct invocation of some exceptionally learned, and often obscure source.

So it is with Brooks now infamous  column on Jeremy Lin, basketball and Jewish Modern Orthodoxy.

Brooks of course has taken plenty of hits for his astonishing display of cluelessness about big time sports in general, basketball in particular, and the nature of the point guard position in fine detail. Charlie Pierce’s take down is vintage, but folks both here and many other places have had their way with the last-kid-picked-for-dodgeball poster child that is our David.  I agree with everything said in such pieces; it takes a willed choice to write so badly, so wrongly about something as broadly understood and loved as basketball.

But I think that all those snarktacular take downs stopped short.  Brooks is probably not as utterly dumb about this stuff as he appears to be in the first three quarters of the column; rather, as always with this sorry excuse for a public thinker, there’s a specific goal in mind.  You have to look carefully, because he tries to disguise the tell in such a way you won’t notice the bad faith that underlies what he presents as a self-evident conclusion.

So, in this column, the goal isn’t to make any kind of point about basketball, or the nature of sport, or even about what actually goes into superlative performance in any human endeavor.  The real end of Brooks’ barrage of high-toned word salad* comes late, almost buried in a gush of seemingly deeply pondered thought:

Much of the anger that arises when religion mixes with sport or with politics comes from people who want to deny that this contradiction exists and who want to live in a world in which there is only one morality, one set of qualities and where everything is easy, untragic and clean. Life and religion are more complicated than that.

Translated: it’s OK for the bishops to meddle with your lady parts because they are really engaging the tragic tension between ambition and self-abnegation.  Don’t get angry, because, damn it, this moral balancing is hard.

Of course, had Brooks simply said that we should not resist the injection of one view of religious obligation into the discourse of civil society, it would have been much easier just to say what many have recently hammered home:  it’s not religious conscience that’s the problem; it’s the assertion of one person’s religious views (biases, delusions) at the expense of others’ ethical, moral, and or faith-derived perspectives.

So, what Brooks has to do here, slyly, is to assert a universal, inarguable property of moral thinking that could trump any picayune sectarian objection that, say, my interpretation of Jewish tradition would prohibit state-sponsored rape.  He does so with the rhetorical gimmick outlined above.  Lin, he tells us, is caught between his desire to excel as a basketball player, which Lin sees as self-glorifying, and the ability to direct the greater glory to the divine.  That tension, Brooks tells us, lies between “two moral universes” that are not reconciliable.

And here is where he rolls out his big gun, a suitably impressive sounding, but (outside certain circles) almost wholly unknown really smart guy:

Our best teacher on these matters is Joseph Soloveitchik, the great Jewish theologian. In his essays “The Lonely Man of Faith” and “Majesty and Humility” he argues that people have two natures.

A couple of things to note here.  First, check out the very clever way in which Brooks appropriates to  himself the mantle of the wise man.  “Our best teacher,” he writes, to introduce Rabbi Soloveitchik, who is indeed a major figure in the construction of the Modern Orthodox view of Jewish life and faith.  The implication is clear.  Brooks himself has tilled these fields, has spent all the needed long hours in the study hall to master his Torah and his Talmud, the commentaries and the responsa — and from all this has distilled the labor of centuries to an essence captured by this one writer, hitherto utterly unknown to most of his readership.  It’s a lovely bit of sleight of hand: Soloveitchik’s asserted authority confers greater weight on Brooks himself in his role as the judge of the “best” source on matters of moral complexity.  How fortunate we are to have humble David as our guide!

The second feature to notice is that Brooks, in what appears to be his SOP, seems to hope that no one will actually go read the (outside Jewish Orthodox circles) reasonably obscure works he references.  You will note that links to the two essays Brooks singles out are strangely missing.  One might infer that such works — religious meditations by an orthodox Rabbi who died almost a decade ago (aeons in internet years!) could only be found in tattered volumes found in stacks to which most folks will never gain access.  Or one might wonder about the possibility of bad faith.

Bet on door number two.

Just to do what Mr. Brooks would not:  here’s the link (PDF) to “The Lonely Man of Faith,” and here’s one for “Majesty and Humility.

So what happens should you actually dive into that work?

Well — let’s look at what Brooks says he gets from his august teacher:

First, there is “Adam the First,” the part of us that creates, discovers, competes and is involved in building the world. Then, there is “Adam the Second,” the spiritual individual who is awed and humbled by the universe as a spectator and a worshipper.In The Lonely Man of Faith and Majesty and Humility, he argues that people have two natures. First, there is “Adam the First,” the part of us that creates, discovers, competes and is involved in building the world. Then, there is “Adam the Second,” the spiritual individual who is awed and humbled by the universe as a spectator and a worshipper.

Soloveitchik plays off the text that humans are products of God’s breath and the dust of the Earth, and these two natures have different moral qualities, which he calls the morality of majesty and the morality of humility. They exist in creative tension with each other and the religious person shuttles between them, feeling lonely and slightly out of place in both experiences.

A couple of thing.  For one, it’s  “The Lonely Man…”  that engages the story of the two Adams. The other essay does draw a dichotomy based on two notions of the first man’s creation, but it draws on a rabbinical tradition to pick out two aspects of religious experience which Soloveitchik deploys to a distinct interpretative end — an astonishingly moving one when the essay shifts from a larger argument to an account of Soloveitchik’s search for some communion with the divine at the point of his wife’s death.

But really, all that’s trivial compared to the real sin Brooks commits here.  That would be — and I’m sure this comes as no surprise — that he simply gets it wrong.  What Brooks says about Soloveitchik’s teaching is not what can be found in the writing cited.  Look above:  Brooks claims that the  man of faith suffers loneliness because he must move between an active role building the world and the passive one of an observer humbled by the glory of God’s creation.  Here’s what the rabbi actually concludes:

Modern Adam the second, as soon as he finishes translating religion into the cultural vernacular, and begins to talk the “foreign” language of faith, finds himself lonely, forsaken, misunderstood, at times even ridiculed by Adam the first, by hinself. When the hour of estrangement strikes, the ordeal of man of faith begins and he starts his withdrawal from society, from Adam the first—be he an outsider, be he himself. He returns, like Moses of old, to his solitary hiding and to the abode of loneliness. Yes, the loneliness of contemporary man of faith is of a special kind. He experiences not only ontological loneliness but also social isolation, whenever he dares to deliver the genuine faith-kerygma. This is both the destiny and the human historical situation of the man who keeps a rendezvous with eternity, and who, in spite of everything, continues tenaciously to bring the message of faith to majestic man. (“The Lonely Man of Faith,” p. 65)

So, to Soloveitchik, a person engaged in this world, Adam the First, is demonic (his word) in his quest to succeed.  Adam the Second is lonely, but not because he has a dual allegiance, not because he flits between a sense of work and success in this world and a contemplative life of prayer and surrender.  Rather, he suffers solitude — or embraces it — because the men and women of the world pay him insufficient heed.

That’s Soloveitchik’s view.  I think it suffers from a conclusion derived from assumptions not in evidence, but that’s not the point.  It is, rather, that Brooks distorts what his source plainly writes to bend that thinker’s ends to his own.  This is the most basic form of intellectual dishonesty, an attempt to bolster a bad argument by laying claim to the authority but not the actual sense of a mind greater than one’s own.  It is Brooks’ stock in trade.

And this takes us back to the end to which Brooks hoped to turn this bit of fakery.  Remember, we face an irreducible contradiction.  We must, he beseeches us, concede that the two goals of mastery — really authority over our own bodies, agency — and that of surrender, of devotion to something beyond ourselves are “irreconciliable” — which means we must at times defer to one side or the other.  And that, he says, is what those who object to religion’s intervening into politics don’t get, but should.

Which is to say — sometimes you have to let the bishops mess with your body, or your desire to have sexytime without intending to enjoy babytime.  That’s the price of living with the incompatibility of agency and surrender to established (moral) authority.

You can see why Brooks might not want to say that plain.

More simply:  Expressed clearly Brooks’ conclusion does not follow from his premise:  a this-world focus does not preclude a rich moral life, nor does it bar the recognition that life is tragic, that man (and woman) born of woman is bound to die.  Those who oppose the injection of particular religious views into politics are unable to see complexity in life?  Really?  In what corner of the multiverse?

And that’s why you get all the wind and the flapping of authorial buttocks in this piece: Soloveitchik is this week’s victim of David’s friendly fire, just a name to be propped up to obscure the fatuousness of the underlying argument.  No orthodox anything me, but the old Rabbi deserves better, and Brooks should, but won’t, be ashamed of himself.

I’ll give him this, though:  he’s good.  You do have to work to find the con in his work.  But it’s always there.

So, in conclusion, let me simply say to Mr. Brooks (having finally exhausted any last reserve of politesse)…

…F**k you.  With an oxidized farm implement.

*Think of Brooks as the rocket, goat cheese, and heirloom pear end of the spectrum of the baffle-with-bullshit crowd.

Images:  Rembrandt van Rijn, The Old Rabbi, 1642

Pedro Berruguete, Burning the Heretics (Auto da fé), c. 1500

Eugène Delacroix, The Barque of Dante (Divine Comedy, Inferno, 8) ,1822.

Jacob Jordaens, Suzanna and the Elders, before 1678.



102 replies
  1. 1
    butler says:

    Not that this should qualify as news, but Douhat’s column today was (again) terrible.

  2. 2
    JoyfulA says:

    And it’s a deceased authority, who can’t write a letter to the editor or go on a TV talk show to call out Brooks.

  3. 3
    Another Halocene Human says:

    Love the images and thank you so much for this takedown. If letters in US academia were more like what you’ve written here, I wouldn’t have been so repulsed by them in college. (Actually, you are reminding me of the philosophy class taught by a criminology professor that I took freshman year. She was an IDF veteran and a clear thinker if there ever was one.)

    The idea that any Orthodox rabbi until about 20 years ago (and in nutty messianic circles at that) would have advocated for a union between church and state is utterly laughable on its face, at any rate.

  4. 4
    Another Halocene Human says:

    I never really read Kristol, but is Douthat actually better than Kristol? Okay, so Kristol had the hots for Parah Salin but Douthat’s dick went limp when Chunky Reese admitted she was on the pill. One is comedy, the other is a purgative in word form.

    Yes, that is my metric.

  5. 5
    Another Halocene Human says:

    @JoyfulA: Na ja, das ist normal.

  6. 6
    Svensker says:

    By “rocket” do you mean “arugula” or are you talking about the “red glare” kinds that we’d like Brooks to ride out on?

  7. 7
    BGinCHI says:

    Shorter, clearer David Brooks: We learn from the wise Dr. Seuss that Sam-I-am symbolizes the Godhead (the trinity plain to see in his name), the message clearly available for us. We must eat it eventually, because God is always right.

  8. 8
    gene108 says:

    Why can’t these people say what they mean: Females, keep your legs shut for any man, who is not your husband or be ostracized from society and be derided for the damnable slut-whore that you are.

  9. 9

    I wrote a letter to the editor and also a letter (email, of course) to corrections because of Brooks’ column, which read:

    “I have to ask, honestly, why you keep paying David Brooks to write for you … because it’s disgraceful how far afield he is from fact, and I wonder why that does not cause the Times great embarrassment.

    On Lin, Brooks wrote: “But we shouldn’t neglect the biggest anomaly. He’s a religious person in professional sports.”

    This is so far from the facts (devout religious men and women DOMINATE professional sports, and have for a long time, from Ali to Tebow) that for Brooks to write that, and for you to publish it, with a straight face, is an insult to anyone who pays attention to sports.

    He needs to apologize. And so do you.”

    I sent that in to both, but haven’t heard back … the mere fact that someone wrote write that as their thesis sentence boggles my fucking mind … it’s like they’ve never watched a single professional sport in their life (pro MMA has a lot of devoutly religious people, too) … and it’s a damned disgrace that he gets paid as much as he does for such lazy fucking thinking …

    I’m never, ever giving the Times a single penny …

  10. 10
    General Stuck says:

    Life and religion are more complicated than that.

    In this Americana world, neither of these things trumps the morality deposited on the paucity of pages of what we call the Constitution. When religion and life intersect to violate that document, we ride it high and hard till it is no mo.

    Brooks knows this, but is fidgeting for his tribe to find a winning issue, because these people have convinced themselves another four years of no new wars and winding down the last one, with higher taxes for the rich, and mo money for the poor, etc…. etc….. won’t be worth living in the world Obama built. they can pound sand and write all the whiny articles in the world, and it will make me no never mind.

  11. 11
    pat says:

    I understand almost nothing of philosophy, and I know very little about religion, especially Judaism, but whenever I try to plow through one of Brooks’s columns, my bullshit detector goes off after the first couple of paragraphs.

    So thank you for confirming my impression that he doesn’t know what the hell he’s talking about.

  12. 12
    aimai says:

    I used to play a game with myself. How early in a Brooks’ column, ostensibly about something anodyne, could I predict the awful conclusion? It got to be easier and easier until, in the end, he would start out with:
    “It is a little known fact that the people of tenth century china….” and I’d guess, correctly, that “in conclusion: hippies suck” would be where we would end up in six paragraphs.

    Still, I give you a whole lot of Credit, Tom, for being willing to hang on to the Jeremy Lin column long enough to pick out the real punchline which a lot of other people missed in the scrum of fighting to make fun of the column as a whole. Brooks has the singular merit of being wrong not just at the highest level, but also at the lowest–he’s, as they say, fractally wrong. But then again when you are Jewish columnist engaged in a permanent apologia for the Catholic and Evangelical theocrats you’ve got to really work the angles.



  13. 13
    Rihilism says:

    Thank you for writing this. This is perhaps the best encapsulation of Brook’s “style” and dishonest SOP that I have read. I’d recommend you forward this to your NYT’s drinking buddy if you have their email address. Perhaps then they might begin to understand what is so blindingly obvious to anyone who has actually spent time considering the flimsy foundations on which Brooks consistently builds his consistently flawed theses upon. Then, perhaps they will realize what an unmitigated Republican hack Brooks truly is…

  14. 14
    gogol's wife says:

    This is slightly OT, but William Kristol’s daughter married Palin-defender Matthew Continetti, according to today’s Times.

  15. 15
    gnomedad says:

    @Another Halocene Human:

    Douthat’s dick went limp when Chunky Reese admitted she was on the pill.

    We now know that he feared prostate cancer.

  16. 16
    Egg Berry says:

    Is Brooks a Jew?

  17. 17
    RossInDetroit says:

    If we have to credit Brooks for anything*, he pays us the compliment of working hard on his BS. It’s almost as though he respects the intelligence of his audience** and feels that only the most subtle cons are called for.

    *we don’t
    **he doesn’t

  18. 18
    Lyrebird says:

    @gene108: Yeah, they also forget that contraception is used by a lot of mommies who are only having sexual relations with their kids’ daddy and who know that they can only feed and tend to the ones they’ve got. Some o’ them wimmen (and some o’ their hubbies brothers dads and sons) VOTE demmit. Grrrr.

  19. 19
    Soonergrunt says:

    @gnomedad: I see what you did there.

  20. 20
    aimai says:

    Yes, I’m pretty sure that Brooks is Jewish. This has been a shonda for me, personally, ever since I found it out.


  21. 21
    chrismealy says:

    Yep, Brooks is Jewish. That’s what kept him from making him editor of National Review (google it).

  22. 22
    chrismealy says:

    @chrismealy: oops. That’s what kept Buckley from form making him editor of NR.

  23. 23
    Citizen_X says:

    @gogol’s wife:

    William Kristol’s daughter married Palin-defender Matthew Continetti

    Jesus wept.

    If you want an image of the future, imagine the spawn of pundits, stomping all over the TV schedule, forever.

  24. 24
    4tehlulz says:

    When it comes to Jewish theological issues, the first person I turn to for guidance is David Brooks.

    I, for one, look forward to his discussion of the Zohar in his next column.

  25. 25
    cathyx says:

    Are vasectomies allowed by the Catholic church?

  26. 26
    jeff says:

    Great piece! As an aside, I found the rabbi’s use of “kerygma” really surprising, as I thought it very much a term mostly used by fundamentalist Christians acting like they read Greek.

  27. 27
    Lyrebird says:


    fractally wrong


    And to totally depart from your carefully constructed evaluation, I’ll say he’s double-plus-wrong, especially with this bit which Tom so ably identified:

    So, what Brooks has to do here, slyly, is to assert a universal, inarguable property of moral thinking that could trump any picayune sectarian objection that, say, my interpretation of Jewish tradition would prohibit state-sponsored rape.

    I’m not learned at all, but in every congregation I’ve visited (all 4 denominations), I’ve heard the same story: Jewish law/tradition places top priority on preserving the *woman*’s life.

    As far as Jeremy Lin goes, good grief, it’s a team sport! He’s not trying to replace Donald Trump as the firer-in-chief or something. Where’s the conflict? I can’t follow angles as well as aimai here.

    I’m also the least learned among BJ readers about pro sports, or close, and frankly I prefer watching Div III or HS games, but I do think Mr. Brooks owes a HEAP of religious players an apology.

  28. 28
    Another Halocene Human says:

    @gnomedad: Zing!

  29. 29
    Hoodie says:

    You do have to work to find the con in his work. But it’s always there.

    Not sure the con is all that difficult to find. The tipoff is the constant use of obscure sources that are not familiar to his normal audience and, thus, will never check,which is an obvious trick of a huckster or sophist. If Joseph Soloveitchik had actually made an argument of such universal import, the concept would have reverberated through a score of other, more familiar sources, like your grandma.

    Brooks is a companion piece to Newt Gingrich, the columnist for stupid people who think they’re smart. It’s sad that newspaper editors and NPR producers are so frigging gullible.

  30. 30
    Another Halocene Human says:

    @Lyrebird: Did not Dr. Friessssss himself state that “contraception has been very good to me”?

  31. 31
    sb says:

    My sports-minded friends and I were too busy checking if there was another reality we were living in where religious minded folk playing sports was an anomaly. We didn’t even notice the larger, more insidious point Tom pointed out.

    Brooks used a ridiculous claim to deflect from his larger purpose. Damn you, Brooks!

    More seriously, Tom–thanks for this. Along with the McMegan takedowns (I know, you’re sick of them) I do like the careful analysis of Brooks showing him for what he is.

  32. 32
    BGinCHI says:

    The simple key to Brooks’s ability to fool the totebaggers and a lot of readers is that he is never shrill. He’s the perfect Village pundit. Wrong but never a boat rocker.

    That skill set and an Ivy League education will get you pretty far in this country.

  33. 33
    Ralphie; says:

    Brooks is the only columnist at the NYT that could make me miss William Saffire.

  34. 34
    sb says:

    @Ralphie;: Leaving open the question of who Ross Douthat makes you miss. Abe Rosenthal?

    I kid…

  35. 35
    namekarB says:

    What percentage of the population know who David Brooks is? And of those who know who he is what percentage actually read his column? And of those who read his column what percentage agree with him?

    One of life’s mysteries but I suspect more of the population can name the characters in South Park than know and read and agree with Mr. Brooks.

  36. 36
    Donut says:

    And so concludes another episode of “Are You Smarter than a New York Times Columnist”.

  37. 37
    BGinCHI says:

    @namekarB: South Park is way smarter than Brooks’s columns.

  38. 38
    Tom Levenson says:

    @sb: Abe “I’m Writing As Bad As I Can” “Husband of Bosomy Dirty Book Writer” Rosenthal? Douthat’s worse, IMHO — but he is also much duller. Sort of a food is terrible but the portions are smaller kind of problem. At least Rosenthal gave us plenty of unintended comedy; Douthat just makes you wince in embarrassment for the species — hell for mammals.

    Damn,as annoying as they could be, I miss Spy.

  39. 39
    MonkeyBoy says:

    @Egg Berry:

    Is Brooks a Jew?

    Yes, but he is pretty much in-the-closet about it.

    I guess he feels that the aristocratic types he keeps sucking up to and in whose social circle he wants to reside would be more welcoming if he keeps quiet about it.

  40. 40
    Roxie says:

    Here’s a live stream from Ocean Beach in San Francisco celebrating Warren Hellman with performances by John Doe, Boz Scaggs, Steve Earle and others. Beautiful Sunday afternoon music. Fuck David Brooks

  41. 41
    sb says:

    @namekarB: I would imagine that most, if not all of the readers of the NYT know Brooks a little bit. And most if not all of the viewers of NewsHour on PBS know Brooks. As for most of the population knowing the characters of South Park more than _________, well, you can put a lot of names in __________ .

  42. 42
    gene108 says:


    I do think Mr. Brooks owes a HEAP of religious players an apology.

    There are a ton of deeply Christian black athletes. I do wonder, why none of them get any respect from the white power establishment?

    The late Minister Reginald Howard White played defensive end professionally for the Memphis Showboats, the Philadelphia Eagles and Green Bay Packers, yet no one went nuts over his religion or to put it another way, no one ran around wearing 92 jerseys because Minister White was a Christian.

    Also, too they called him the “Minister of Defense”, not in deference to any Parliamentary forms of government, but because he was so deeply religious he became a friggin’ ordained minister.

    I wonder why black Christians don’t get the right-wingers all worked up in support of them, like they are over Tebow?

    I mean, it’s like Christians self-segregate based on their interpretation of the Bible and other factors; it’s like they don’t always get along and speak with one voice, like Mr. Brooks would have us believe.

  43. 43
    sb says:

    @Tom Levenson:

    At least Rosenthal gave us plenty of unintended comedy

    Boy, howdy. Remember how he quoted himself quoting himself? I do.


    I need a hobby.

  44. 44

    Great piece. I would agree that, pace the prior comment, you do need to work to empirically find the con. You actually have to go to the referenced source, as you did. To smell the con, however, you merely need to glance at the opinion page from a distance.

    I’ve done grad school and decided–genuine decision–not to do a doctorate. I have felt in social situations with some academics a type of ugliness that put me on the outside of an in-crowd, mostly with younger academics who hadn’t yet proved themselves in the biz. There was a big temptation for me to bite the bait and start dropping academicky names to prove that, really, I had whatever it was people were chasing. I am glad that I had enough self-respect to not go there, even if I did numb the pain with alcohol each time.

    Brooks strikes me as a grad-school dropout like me, but one who never got past the need to ingratiate himself to his academic superiors. Unfortunately, he came off from the first, much like this piece intimates, as someone who got the structure of academic language without any of its actual meaning. That can get you far, though, and I’m sure he makes more per word than I do writing this comment.

  45. 45

    I would add to my last comment: he’s someone who would make for ideal satire if he hadn’t already done that work for us.

  46. 46
    Ralphie; says:

    Brooks is a Jew that is convinced he’s an Episcopalian.

  47. 47
    beltane says:

    @Egg Berry: Yes, but apparently a “self-hating” one since the teachings of his own religion are subordinate to his job as right-wing hack and defender of Christian theocracy. Sorry I went there but it had to be said.

  48. 48


    I wonder why black Christians don’t get the right-wingers all worked up in support of them, like they are over Tebow?

    You really wonder? In America, after 500 years of this s@#t?

  49. 49
    Citizen_X says:

    Since we’re talking, sort of, about the bishops, I thought I’d link to the obvious Python reference (no, not the “Every Sperm is Sacred” one, the other obvious reference.

  50. 50
    Redshift says:

    @namekarB: The reason he’s worth being concerned about is not because a broad swath of the population cares what he thinks, but because his function is to convince people who otherwise ought to be clear supporters of the Democratic side that there still exist rational Republican alternatives.

  51. 51
    sb says:

    I wonder why black Christians don’t get the right-wingers all worked up in support of them, like they are over Tebow?

    The first adjective in your question might be the clue. :)

    I know Reggie White got into significant hot water for a speech he made to the state assembly. IIRC, it was after their Super Bowl win and White made a number of racial stereotypes. Additionally, White had a problem with gays and his wife had a bigger problem with gays if her quotes are to be believed. Which is to say that had he lived, White might very well have been embraced by the fundies if he wasn’t already.

    But your larger point stands–there have been a LOT (pardon the shouting) of black Christian athletes in sports and none of them have ever been embraced as much as Tim Tebow.

  52. 52
    dslak says:

    @Bill (@freenezwandring): Sure, there’s that side of academia, but there’s also plenty of positive interaction with students and neophytes on the part of others. If you’re going to justify avoiding a profession simply because it’s filled with assholes, I can’t think of many that would be available to you.

  53. 53
    Yutsano says:

    @efgoldman: Nowhere near Stevens Pass fortunately. It’s an amazingly beautiful drive however. The mountains are just getting socked with snow.

  54. 54
    Redshift says:

    @efgoldman: Yes, an excellent anniversary (though I’m not actually quite old enough to remember it.)

  55. 55
    Jennifer says:

    @Bill (@freenezwandring): To boil it down, Brooks is simply following the well-trod conservative pundit path of larding over whatever pre-conceived notion he’s supposedly proving with “sources”. Remember Ann Coulter’s “footnotes”? You know, the ones that often, if you went to the original piece they were drawn from, made the point opposite of the one she said they supported? But according to Coulter, everything she wrote was proved by these footnotes. Just the fact that she had used footnotes was proof of the veracity of whatever she wrote.

    Brooks may be a bit more deft at burying his bullshit in high-falutin’ “sources” and ten-dollar words, but at the most basic level, he’s just Coulter in a suit and tie.

  56. 56
    BGinCHI says:

    @Bill (@freenezwandring): That grad school insecure name-dropping shit goes away after you get a job and grow up.

    Numbing with alcohol, not so much.

  57. 57
    BGinCHI says:

    @dslak: Catholic Bishop.

    Wait. Never mind.

    OK, US Senator.

    I suck at this.

  58. 58

    @dslak: You know, I thought about putting a comment in my comment that I’m all well and good with academia. I like academic inquiry. I also have a music habit, which made me feel like I would never be willing to give the work–and my advisor, whom I really cared for–the 100% attention it would deserve.

    My target rather than academia is academickyists, people who mask their own insecurities with references that are totally banal in a small circle–piggybacking on an earlier comment–but rarified in the general public. It’s like me trying to sound cool because I dig Tarkovsky flicks. It’s not an arcane reference, really, but it sounds it to most people. I am no smarter for it.

  59. 59

    @BGinCHI: Agreed on both. One year and change sobriety here, and loving it.

  60. 60
    lacp says:

    The only thing one needs to know about David Brooks is that he is, and always has been, full of shit. If you are ever tempted to ignore that fact, follow the link (it can’t be posted too many times):

  61. 61
    dslak says:

    @Bill (@freenezwandring): Ah, I see. That’s not a vice peculiar to academics (I’ve seen it in artists and pop culture critics), but it’s probably far more common among them than the general population.

  62. 62
    Regnad Kcin says:

    @Tom #40

    Ditto on “Spy” (albeit reluctantly)

    Thanks for the excellent Guide for the Perplexed

  63. 63
    BGinCHI says:

    @Bill (@freenezwandring): I see your Tarkovsky and raise you a Blanchot and a Virilio.

  64. 64
    JPL says:

    Tom, The paintings you selected were so appropriate and I thank you. Count me as one that listened to Brooks during NewsHour and thought he offered a reasoned conservative viewpoint. When the Times brought him on board it didn’t bother me at first. The difference between NewsHour and the NYTimes, it appears, is Lehrer and Shields would challenge his bull.

  65. 65
    toujoursdan says:

    @Ralphie;: Maybe an Episcopalian of the 1950s, but most Episcopalians these days think he’s a moran [sic]. (The Church’s membership shifted to the moderate to liberal Democratic base in the mid-late 1980s.)

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    Marcellus Shale, Public Dick says:

    whereas brooks looks at the rare(not) athlete with faith, who just happens to catch brooks attention (harvard fuck yeah!) and tries to fit linsanity into his bias for the separation of body and mind, which is what aligns him with the bishops, and at least to the extent brooks needs, Soloveitchik, he still misses the jumper at the top of the key.

    Phenomenal break down Mr. Levenson, as Jim Rome would say, if…

    athletes often believe in superstitions, or are people of faith because they are at a loss to explain success when everything objective points to failure.

  68. 68
    Mike G says:

    @gogol’s wife:

    William Kristol’s daughter married Palin-defender Matthew Continetti, according to today’s Times.

    Talk about your multiple generations on (wingnut) welfare.

    Imagine the density of douchebags at that ceremony.

  69. 69
    wrb says:


    Are vasectomies allowed by the Catholic church?

    No need

    And the castrati do have prettier voices.

  70. 70
    Professor says:

    But is Matthew Continetti a Jew? I understand William Kristol is a devout practising orthodox Jew!

  71. 71
    eemom says:


    50 years ago today, Feb. 19, 1962, John Glenn became the first American to orbit the earth. Three times.

    Yes, and t’other day I heard him on CSPAN blaming the Bush administration for gutting the space program. How sweet it was.

  72. 72

    @Jennifer: I don’t remember Coulter’s, but I have indeed followed some conservative pundits’ footnotes to find as you point out the precise opposite point of what the pundit says it said. I had a friend in college who, to make his own point, fabricated not only a bibliography but detailed footnotes, receiving the expected A on the paper.

    These people are so well-paid for it, too.

  73. 73
    ReflectedSky says:

    First, I would like to take a moment to stick up in defense of rocket, goat cheese and heirloom pears. I don’t think I’ve ever had an heirloom pear, but based on my experiences with other heirloom fruit, and fresh pears plucked off trees, I bet they’re delicious.

    It doesn’t make you an anti-factual asshole to appreciate tasty food. Isn’t there a BJ slogan about that?

    Second, this strikes me — a uterus owner — as much simpler. A non-uterus owner is trying to construct some argument in favor of letting other non-uterus owners bully uterus owners, in a country in which that is illegal by statute. There is no legal argument for this, so he instead offers a winsome tap dance to an obscure non-uterus owner’s melody, in the hopes that the freshness of the music and the entertainment value of the dance will obscure the utter and complete lack of standing, evidence or logic of his desire.

  74. 74

    @cathyx: No, as is “having your balls pulled off in an accident.”

  75. 75
    elftx says:


    I read the article from your link and wow did he take that man down…and neatly.

    Also too…thanks Tom for the education !! I enjoy it.

  76. 76
    wrb says:

    @WereBear (itouch):

    No, as is “having your balls pulled off in an accident.”

    If accidental was ok what would the barbers do?

    Pope Sixtus V issued a papal Bull in 1589 which approved the recruitment of castrati for the choir of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Castrati were later widely employed by opera companies.
    “The practice reached its peak in 17th and 18th century opera. In Naples it is said that several barbershops had a sign that castration was performed there. However, this cannot be confirmed. The male heroic lead would often be written for a castrato singer (in the operas of Handel for example). When such operas are performed today, a woman (possibly cross-dressing as a man in a so-called trouser role) or a countertenor takes these roles. However, some Baroque operas with parts for castrati are so complex and difficult that they cannot be performed today.””Pope Clement VIII became smitten with the sweetness and flexibility of their voices. … While some Church officials suggested it would be preferable to lift the ban on women singers than to continue endorsing the castration of little boys, the Pope disagreed, quoting Saint Paul, ‘Let women be silent in the assemblies, for it is not permitted to them to speak.’ … since it was illegal to perform castrations, … all castrati presenting themselves for the choir claimed to have lost their genitals through tragic ‘accident’.”
    “After the Pope’s official acknowledgement and acceptance of castrati, the number of these “accidents” increased dramatically. Parents seeking upward mobility towed their little lads down to a barber or butcher who separated them from their testicles for a fee. 5


  77. 77
    WyldPirate says:

    I think that you struggle to hard to make a case for Brooks’ intellectual hacktacularness and his attempt to snow his reader’s with obscure references to relatively unknown interpretations of religious works.

    Brooks doesn’t come straight out and say that it is okay for Bishops or any other religious authorities to dick around with people’s “lady bits” decisions or about other complex moral decisions(though I agree that he is surreptitiously working towards that end). Instead, I see his underlying hackery in the fact that while he implies that there are shades of gray in the conflicts between different moralities of “life and Religion”; he then pivots and seems to suggest that there is simply two either/or choices between earthly fulfillment and spiritual isolation that will leave Lin (or anyone else) as miserable spiritual nomads. In other words, it seems that Brooks is making a case for a perpetual state of religious Sturm und Drang for us all using an athlete as protagonist.

    The malarkey of his distorted example of the Rabbi’s interpretation is just an example of his dishonesty as you correctly point out. The really insulting part of Brooks piece to me is that he seems to suggest that one cannot attain happiness during the only known “life” we have without struggling with an Abrahamic philosophy of what is seen as moral and spiritual.

    Another insult in this Brooks’ column is that the Constitution precludes religion from sticking its nose into how Americans worship (or choose not to) as General Stuck points out (and I know Brooks is always making the case that this should be changed). If that’s the case, then why the hell should we let some well-off wankers who play a game (or a bunch clergymen for that matter) serve as an arbiters or examples as to the “moral” way to conduct our lives as Brooks seems to suggest? The only conclusion that can be reached is that Brooks thinks religion trumps the Constitution.

  78. 78
    Taobhan says:

    Brooks is THE biggest poser in punditry today. He writes as though he is learned and well-informed on every topic he writes about but he is a total fraud. He is a faker of the highest order. My local newspaper regularly re-prints his columns as though this very wise man has pondered deeply on the major issues of the day and has rendered to us peons his learned conclusions. The truth is that he doesn’t know what the hell he’s talking about. I try to write a letter to the editor of my newspaper after each Brooks column to expose this simple truth but the damned newspaper keeps printing his garbage. Guess I’m fighting a losing battle in trying to fight back against his nonsense. Anyway, good job, Tom, for such an excellent take-down of this con artist!

  79. 79
    Ronzoni Rigatoni says:

    @Bill (@freenezwandring): Geeze, I remember writing a paper and came up with a phrase (on my own) that I deemed so profound that it had to be worthy of a footnote. Unfortunately, one can’t footnote one’s self and get away with it, so I just made one up and added an insert into the bibliography. Yep. An “A” paper. Freshman English sure taught me a lot LOL

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    PTirebiter says:

    @eemom: Great memories watching it at home and on a school day. Patrick Henry Elementary School lost some serious federal dollars that day. My folks figured it had to be more educational than the field trip to Knott’s Berry Farm.

  82. 82
    Snarki, child of Loki says:

    @Rihilism: You want the NYT to pay attention to Bobo’s formulaic dishonesty?

    Well, writing sternly-worded letters isn’t going to to the job.

    I suggest coding up a “David Brooks Column Generator” web page, that strings together a randomized selection of semi-plausible sounding platitudes and dishonest references to obscure authorities, all in the service of right-wing ideological goals.

    No need to read Bobo’s column any more, just click the button and generate a new one.

    And, pretty soon, the NYT will realize that they’re wasting their money paying Brooks, when they can just click the button and copy and paste from your page.

  83. 83
    Tim F. says:

    Wow. I never understood how much effort Brooks puts into a lazy argument. Beautiful bit of scholarship, Tom.

  84. 84
    Hovercraft Full of Eels says:

    In addition to being a bad writer, David Brooks is a spineless toady to the rich and powerful, a shameless liar, and, save for the specific sort of cunning needed to obtain and keep his current sinecure, a very stupid person. If this were a just universe, he’d spend his life stuck in a time loop a few seconds long, a loop in which he is always getting punched in the face, over and over and over again. Hard.

  85. 85
    LosGatosCA says:


    You beat me to it. Gingrich is the loud assertive type telling righties it’s all right to be completely selfish and they think, “Hey, he must be smart he’s telling me just what I want to hear, but with really big words I don’t understand but that’s all right I get the context.”

    Brooks is the quiet professorial type who uses big concepts no one is familiar with tell the righties it’s all right to be selfish, judgmental, whatever and they think, “Hey this guy must be smart he’s telling me just what I want to hear, with really big concepts I’ve never heard of before, so it must be really intelligent and he’s so confidently soft-spoken he must be really smart, way smarter than me.”

    But all the while it’s just bull shit spewing at various rates, various decibels, and in various styles to fool the same rubes that thought patent medicine was the cure for baldness just before the Civil War. You know, PT Barnum’s customers.

  86. 86
    Gretchen says:

    I’m looking forward to your takedown of Douthat. His cure for unplanned pregnancy, according to today’s column, is monogamy. Huh? Either we’re fine with having 12 kids once you’re married, or if you’re married you’re not interested in each other so you’ll never have sex or babies. Which is it, Ross?

  87. 87
    Marmot says:

    Thanks for doing the real work with this Fk Brooks column, Tom. There’s always a scam buried deep in his pretentious bull, and it never ceases to amaze me when otherwise middlebrows, like your journalist acquaintance, express their respect for that shyster.

    Also, may I suggest that you plant your nut graf higher? Here’s what I think is your post’s core:

    “Brooks distorts what his source plainly writes to bend that thinker’s ends to his own.  This is the most basic form of intellectual dishonesty, an attempt to bolster a bad argument by laying claim to the authority but not the actual sense of a mind greater than one’s own.  It is Brooks’ stock in trade.”

    Don’t hide the strongest point!

  88. 88
    vernon says:

    Dudes, I have come to the conclusion that we lionize Charles Pierce at our peril. He may be a cut above Brooks but he’s still a bloviating embarrassment who gets his bullshit over with tin-eared faux Edwardianisms like “it is passing odd.” The whole present column is a survey of the Roman Church’s famous dichotomy of feasts and fasts, Popes and Trappists, royalty and asceticism—a duality that Catholicism has always touted as particularly catholic and of which it has been proud for 2000 years—except Pierce pretends that nobody ever noticed it before, so he can treat it as a logical fallacy from out of David Brooks’ head. And he can’t even sustain the Dog Named “Moral Hazard” angle. This shit is second-rate at best.

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  90. 90

    Thanks, Tom, for the oblique shout-out* and for this very tasty take-down of David Brooks. He really is loathsome in that he wraps so much verbiage around his agenda in hopes of conning the masses.

    Hey, NYT! I will write his column for a fourth his salary. I can bloviate like no one’s business – with the additional perk of delicious snark. Call me!

    *My rusty pitchfork™ is open source.

  91. 91
    LanceThruster says:

    Man will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest. ~ Denis Diderot

  92. 92
    Waingro says:

    Question that I’m guessing has already been answered-

    Is the front page not refreshing for some people? I’ll check BJ a few times a day and the same post is up and then suddenly I check in again and 5-6 new posts are suddenly up. This post says 38 comments and when I click here are 90-some odd comments. This is weird.

  93. 93
    C says:

    @Waingro: I’m having the same issue. This is the most recent post I see right now.

  94. 94
    Dave says:

    Really, just some of the ugliest art shows up in these posts. Suzanna and the Elders is just objectively hideous. An aesthetic abomination. That starving dog. Those pink, gawking, puckered men. Even the peacock is dull and offensive.

  95. 95
    Nellie says:

    I can’t get anything but this column for the past two days. Yes, it says 28 comments but it comes in at 98.

  96. 96
    C says:

    Nellie: It works for me on my phone (I can see the latest updates). I’d imagine it’s some sort of DNS/provider issue, but that’s about the extent of my expertise ;).

  97. 97
    Waingro says:


    Ok, thanks. I was pretty sure I wasn’t the only person.

  98. 98
    Billy Beane says:

    Jesus titty fucking christ on a stick. Is this website fucked up or what?! Same story up for like 2 days now. A 10yo could run this site better than Wrong Way Cole.

  99. 99
    Scott says:

    Hrm, the site was current for me until just now. Don’t know why all the old stuff has been pinned to the top…

  100. 100
    Brian says:

    This column is at the top of the page for me, too. It also said 38 comments when mine should be the 104th. I’ve noticed this going on for a week at least. Switching browsers doesn’t help.

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    nellie says:

    Well, I’m normally in New Zealand. I accessed it just fine in Sydney, but now am in Hawaii and it is really stuck. I can only go forward by manually hitting the next item on the top right hand corner and I just don’t have time for that. Guess I’ll just skip it and try it when back home.

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    […] heroic virtues. For a long detailed take down of the piece with full quotes from Rav Soloveitchik, see here. Modern Adam the second, as soon as he finishes translating religion into the cultural vernacular, […]

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