Preach a little Gospel, sell a couple bottles of Dr. Good

When I thin out (points at skeleton), I want to be well thought of. I know that it’s hopeless, in terms of what people think of me personally, but I’d like to think, as regards to what I do for a living, that future historians don’t point to this era as the time when universities degenerated into flashy TED talks about Big Data and buzzword-heavy, apocrypha-driven social pseudo-science. That’s why David Brooks bothers so much.

Yesterday’s column is based on a student paper in the class he’s teaching at Yale. Its thesis is that, whereas the last generation of young people were easily brainwashed order-takers, today’s kidz got disillusioned by all the neocon and free-market propaganda they were exposed to in those heady days before Iraq turned into a disaster and the economy went down the shitter (imagine that), so now they’d like to hear a few practical, empirical arguments before they support invading countries or putting an Ayn Rand fanboi in charge of monetary policy.

I hope she’s right. But it’s a bit astounding that Bobo — here and elsewhere — expresses no guilt for his own role in pimping Operation Irai Freedom and the Bush tax cuts. We all remember how much Bobo loved the war in Iraq but commenter Upper West also digs up this gem from Bobo at Driftglass, arguing in support of the the Bush tax cuts:

In other words, if you wade through the economic literature, it’s hard not to agree with the Cleveland Fed’s Jerry Jordan: We are living at a once-in-a-generation moment of economic opportunity. As productivity grows, the economy will grow. As the economy grows, revenues will grow, maybe beyond what the CBO projects. The real question about the Bush tax cuts, then, is not, Can we afford them? The real question is, Why are they so small?

(I don’t why conservatives love the contrarian construct “the real question isn’t should we whatever less, it’s why aren’t we whatever more”. You can plug in cherished right-wing activity you want — bombing, polluting, repeating baseless rumors.)

It’s not surprising, Brooks is an innumerate idiot who knows nothing about economics and probably couldn’t estimate the CPI or GDP without using google. That would be fine if he restricted himself to Jeff Foxworthy-style “you might be a bourgeois bohemian if…” humor. But he doesn’t. He’s in my base, killing my dudes, where by “my dudes”, I mean my older totebagger friends and colleagues (and possibly parents).

I know, I know. It’s in Texas, probably in Tennessee that says “Fool them once, shame on…shame on Bobo. Fool them… You can’t get fooled again!” But I hate him the way someone might hate a radio huckster who scammed his father out of money.

Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin sell gold and guns. David Brooks sells tote-bags and books. Mutatis mutandis, they’re exactly the same.

Snooze Hour watchers don’t like to hear this but they’re just as easy marks as Limbaugh fans. The truth is everyone’s an easy mark if they let themselves be. I’ll close with a bit from Sasha Issenberg’s brilliant Bobo take-down:

By holding himself to a rings-true standard, Brooks acknowledges that all he does is present his readers with the familiar and ask them to recognize it. Why, then, has his particular brand of stereotype-peddling met with such success? In recent years, American journalism has reacted to the excesses of New Journalism — narcissism, impressionism, preening subjectivity — by adopting the trappings of scholarship. Trend pieces, once a bastion of three-examples-and-out superficiality, now strive for the authority of dissertations.

[….]

This culture shift has rewarded Brooks, who translates echt nerd appearance (glasses, toothy grin, blue blazer) and intellectual bearing into journalistic credibility, which allows him to take amusing dinner-party chatter — Was that map an electoral-college breakdown or a marketing plan for Mighty Aphrodite? — and sell it to editors as well-argued wisdom on American society. Brooks satisfies the features desk’s appetite for scholarly authority in much the same way that Jayson Blair fed the newsroom’s compulsion for scoops.

42 replies
  1. 1
    cyntax says:

    “Irai Freedom”? I didn’t know we were thinking about invading Jamaica.

  2. 2
    Ben Franklin says:

    That which seems benign, is found to be malevolent.

    Brooks, Friedman remind us that the Devil often takes on a pleasing appearance.

    He rarely wears those horns.

  3. 3
    efgoldman says:

    @Ben Franklin:

    Brooks, Friedman remind us that the Devil often takes on a pleasing appearance

    See Magnus, Ronaldus.

  4. 4
    WereBear says:

    I’ve never understood the appeal of Brooks. Back in college I tried to read his “Boobs in Paradise” or whatever it was; it was the stylistic equivalent of white noise and after struggling for several chapters expecting it to make sense, I gave up.

  5. 5
    Amir Khalid says:

    Fucker gets paid for writing columns about less than nothing. A student essay, for crap’s sake, and not even a good one. I wish I’d stumbled on a gig like his in my journo days.

  6. 6
    ThatLeftTurnInABQ says:

    (I don’t why conservatives love the contrarian construct “the real question isn’t should we whatever less, it’s why aren’t we whatever more”. You can plug in cherished right-wing activity you want — bombing, polluting, repeating baseless rumors.)

    “The real question isn’t why we are fighting Hitler, it’s why aren’t we joining in to help him combat communism?”

    They’ve never really forgotten or forgiven FDR for being a premature anti-fascist. “We” (meaning us and that guy with a funny mustache) had a chance to wipe the dirty commies out once and for all, and FDR fucked it all up. Everything else follows.

  7. 7
    Anoniminous says:

    If a person actually “wades through the economic literature” she will realize Economists are blowin’ it out their behinds.

    I give you:

    The Mecca of the economist lies in economic biology rather than in economic dynamics. But biological conceptions are more complex than those of mechanics; a volume on Foundations must therefore give a relatively large place to mechanical analogies; and frequent use is made of the term “equilibrium.”

    IOW, we need to do X not Y; we don’t know how to do X; so we’ll do Y instead because we know how to do it.

  8. 8
    efgoldman says:

    @WereBear:

    I’ve never understood the appeal of Brooks.

    I’m glad DougJ and Pierce read him so I don’t have to. Besides the fact that he’s a goddamned fool, his writing style is what Abbot and Costello would have written if they were Serious Conservative Thinkers.

  9. 9
    MattF says:

    It’s easy to overlook the fact that Brooks has a political agenda that he always works for. In fact, there was a brief period where he explicitly pitched the ‘National Greatness’ line, but then he backed off. Not, I think, because he stopped believing in it but because being explicitly ideological was out of character, not a part of the act that works.

  10. 10
    efgoldman says:

    @MattF:

    …being explicitly ideological was out of character

    Is “fuck all y’all, I got mine” really an ideology?

  11. 11
    ThatLeftTurnInABQ says:

    The truth is everyone’s an easy mark if they let themselves be

    The old Wall St saying was: If you look around the room and don’t know who the sucker is, it’s you.

    The contemporary media corollary is: In today’s media: if you read or hear something and don’t know who’s being trolled, it’s you.

  12. 12
    gogol's wife says:

    @WereBear:

    I bought that at a friend’s recommendation and made it through about 20 pages before I threw it across the room.

    Yesterday’s column made me laugh hysterically. What has Yale come to?

    DougJ: “I’d like to think, as regards to what I do for a living, that future historians don’t point to this era as the time when universities degenerated into flashy TED talks about Big Data and buzzword-heavy, apocrypha-driven social pseudo-science.”

    I’m afraid that ship has sailed. And don’t forget MOOCs, the administrators’ darling.

  13. 13
    Steeplejack (phone) says:

    Sitting in McCarran waiting to leave LAS. Filial duties discharged with minimal gunplay. Ethel M. chocolates on board to ransom the housecat tomorrow. Preflight hydration with gigantic Tanq & tonic at gateside bar. Seriously, I just stumbled on it. Seemed a shame to waste it. On the plane I will fold into suspended animation until arrival at BWI. Flight time only 4h 20m.

    Barring a final crash, this trip will be rated a success. Win!

  14. 14
    RobertDSC-iMac G5 says:

    The real question about the Bush tax cuts, then, is not, Can we afford them? The real question is, Why are they so small?

    Grotesque in the extreme.

  15. 15
    Chris says:

    @ThatLeftTurnInABQ:

    True story.

    Though they also never forgave the previous liberal giant, Lincoln, for fucking up their one big chance to remake America as it should have been.

    (If it hadn’t been for him, America wouldn’t have needed to ally with the German Nazi regime. We’d have had one of our own!)

  16. 16
    Ben Franklin says:

    @MattF:

    then he backed off. Not, I think, because he stopped believing in it but because being explicitly ideological was out of character, not a part of the act that works.

    Yeah. It’s a weird cognitive-dissonance radar. It’s as though he sees himself as a significant historical figure, and is cognizant of the camera.

  17. 17
    WereBear says:

    why conservatives love the contrarian construct

    Because they have been hired to convince us that simple and sensible and humane solutions to our problems will wind up with us all working the unobtanium mines on Uranus.

    It’s just not obvious to the likes of us so they have to convolutedly explain!

    Constantly explaining to the robbed why their poverty is their own fault is much harder than it seems; they are constantly turning their brains inside out in consequence.

  18. 18
    khead says:

    It’s pitiful that the last paragraph is almost 10 years old and still relevant.

    I would go nuts if I were driftglass.

  19. 19
    HinTN says:

    Bobo is emblematic of the interminal droning on that arrives at nothing in the end that has become The Atlantic. And let’s not get started on John Meacham either.

  20. 20
    Anoniminous says:

    [Brooks] sees himself as a significant historical figure

    Most high functioning psychopaths* do.

    * a personality disorder characterized by coldheartedness, egocentricity, superficial charm, manipulativeness, irresponsibility, antisocial behavior, a lack of remorse, and a parasitic lifestyle.

  21. 21
    Jim, Foolish Literalist says:

    Snooze Hour watchers don’t like to hear this but they’re just as easy marks as Limbaugh fans.

    absolutely, and totebaggers are, I think, far more likely to be smug and self-congratulatory because they agree with David Brooks/Broder/Gregory that Both Sides Are Equally To Blame, really there’s no difference between Sean Hannity and Rachel Maddow.

    It may sound snarky, but I think you could honestly ask who’s dumber: People who watch (and put their faith in) the Sabbath Gasbags, or the Sabbath Gasbags themselves

  22. 22
    Sly says:

    When I thin out (points at skeleton), I want to be well thought of. I know that it’s hopeless, in terms of what people think of me personally, but I’d like to think, as regards to what I do for a living, that future historians don’t point to this era as the time when universities degenerated into flashy TED talks about Big Data and buzzword-heavy, apocrypha-driven social pseudo-science. That’s why David Brooks bothers so much.

    Though their interests are very often in alignment, the David Brookses of the world have nothing on the cadre of private equity and hedge-fund vultures who think the best thing to do with the Academy is to turn it into a Corporation.

  23. 23
    Tom says:

    It’s obvious this student has Brooks’ number. She basically cribbed the formula for a Brooks article and fed it back to him and so of course he thinks it’s genius.

  24. 24
    Just Some Fuckhead says:

    fap fap fap

  25. 25
    Yutsano says:

    @Just Some Fuckhead: Towel?

    (I always assumed you were a hoopy frood.)

  26. 26
    David Koch says:

    How many divisions does Bobo have?

  27. 27
    mclaren says:

    Demented contrarianism at its finest. The real question isn’t why we lynch blacks: it’s why we lynch so few! It would create jobs, which generates wealth — jobs for law enforcement, jobs for hospital workers, jobs galore.

    The insanity rolls on, never-ending, ever-increasing. I was reading an internet blog article the other day about 10 mind-altering parasites that create self-destructive behavior in the host. Sounds to me like one has zeroed in on homo sapiens.

  28. 28
    eemom says:

    Papa woulda shot him if he knew what he’d done….

  29. 29
    smintheus says:

    You hate Bobo because he exudes the same smug aura of authority that Cheney employed to such success. They’re both idiot ideologues who cultivate the mandarin’s appearance of wisdom and confidence in their own reasonableness.

  30. 30
    hitchhiker says:

    thx for the thread about this . . . I think.

    I read that column at the breakfast table today and startled the dog by shouting, “F*CK ALL, I HATE THAT STUPID DAVID BROOKS!”

    He has a student who said that her generation wants evidence before they make up their minds about policy. They’re wonks. They’re cynics. She’s a genius!!

    Nobody has ever heard of evidence-based policy decisions until this morning. No wonder it was so confusing to deal with global warming, regressive taxes, abstinence-based sex ed, the need for seat belts, food safety standards, cheap oil, and a billion other things. We the public just weren’t cynical enough. We just didn’t demand enough evidence.

    I am 60 years old, Mr. Brooks, and I have been cynical all my life. And you, Sir, are either an idiot or a liar — or both.

  31. 31
    DougJ, Friend of Hamas says:

    @eemom:

    FTW

  32. 32
    Bill Arnold says:

    Big Data and buzzword-heavy, apocrypha-driven social pseudo-science

    I sorta enjoyed (i.e. read all the way through) his recent column series on expertise and prediction. (The mention of “Thinking, Fast and Slow” (D. Kahneman) was interesting. Many people would be self-improved by reading it IMO.)
    It’s the moderate Republican schtick that drives me up the wall; not clear he even believes it.

  33. 33
    cokane says:

    I think you can watch the Newshour and respect its reporting while despising the debate section of the show.

  34. 34
    Redshirt says:

    The appeal of Brooks is easy to understand. Twofold: 1. He’s gained the platform (implying he deserves it, true or not). 2. He conveys an air of seriousness. Appearances often matter more than substance.

    And thus, a respected purveyor of wisdom who could be wrong about everything but, hey, who’s checking besides the DFHs?

  35. 35
    cmorenc says:

    @DougJ:

    Yesterday’s column is based on a student paper in the class he’s teaching at Yale. Its thesis is that, whereas the last generation of young people were easily brainwashed order-takers, today’s kidz got disillusioned by all the neocon and free-market propaganda they were exposed to in those heady days before Iraq turned into a disaster and the economy went down the shitter (imagine that), so now they’d like to hear a few practical, empirical arguments before they support invading countries or putting an Ayn Rand fanboi in charge of monetary policy.

    In fact, David’s student is right in identifying her generation as being the next to come into the thrall of idealistic disillusionment with the crass follies of the generation before them, thinking their own generation is on a better path toward making a quantum leap in understanding. The particulars of their cynical look back and potential vision forward differ, but the framework is the same. The counterculture, anti-Vietnam war generation of the 60s through mid-70s was another such clearly identifiable generation, and the generation who grew up during the Depression often thought of themselves as another such generational pulse. But each generation seems to generate its own fresh foreign, economic, and social follies, each in its own way.

  36. 36
    Tomolitics says:

    Rather, the Cynic Kids have embraced the policy revolution; they require hypothesis to be tested, substantiated, and then results replicated before they commit to any course of action.”

    Yeah, god forbid we should check up on how things actually have worked in the past rather than just going with our gut and thinking they will turn out differently this time because we want them to…

  37. 37
    Fred Fnord says:

    I enjoyed the linked piece, but I will never understand how anyone finds Brooks ‘engaging’. On the rare occasions when he is not obviously wrong, he is still so glib he makes my teeth squeak.

    I swear he writes his columns while staring into a mirror. Typing one-handed.

  38. 38

    […] DougJ writes a lengthy post on David Brooks, concluding: […]

  39. 39

    @Ben Franklin:

    Brooks, Friedman remind us that the Devil often takes on a pleasing appearance.

    If there’s one thing I learned from being an Iraq invasion supporter in my early 20s, it’s that the devil is a man of wealth and taste.

    As Cmorenc points out, it’s not the first time anyone’s had that insight.

  40. 40
    Bruce S says:

    At least William Safire wrote interesting columns on language. He was also easily recognizable for what he was, in political context. Brooks is a shmoozy chameleon. Doesn’t even have the courage of his crank convictions. He’s got the perfect cocktail party personality. Worthless…

  41. 41
    Elizabelle says:

    Had sorta given up reading Bobo (I ain’t Driftglass), but you might make me look. First, more coffee.

  42. 42
    MQ says:

    Rather, the Cynic Kids have embraced the policy revolution; they require hypothesis to be tested, substantiated, and then results replicated before they commit to any course of action.”

    This is actually a recipe for paralysis and political ineffectuality. Seriously. You have to take your principles and have no fear about implementing them in what appears ex ante to be an intelligent way, then correct as necessary based on observation. You need good principles and the ability to reason in good faith to do this, of course. But ‘hypothesis testing’ and ‘replicated results’ before you do anything is idiotic. Especially since in social ‘science’ there will always be a number of industry funded charlatans to hoodwink you about ‘what works’ and what doesn’t.

    If we’re going to have a cynic generation they ought to just be cynical about everything big business and the military-thinktank imperialist-industrial complex tell them, full stop. Don’t expect ‘policy analysis’ to bail you out of politics.

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