In Which The New York Times Epic Search For An Intellectually Rigorous Conservative Goes, Again, Unrequited

So, Bret Stephens has another column explaining why he remains a never-Trumper.  It is, I guess, churlish to dump on someone who has consistently weighed in on the right side of that particular question.  But, frankly, that’s a low bar. The fact that so many of his co-conservative-cultists have failed to surmount it is their shame, and while I’m surely not criticizing Stephens for his stance, I’m not sure how many cookies he’s earned just yet.

And so, I’m unwilling to let this pass unscorned:

Tax cuts. Deregulation. More for the military; less for the United Nations. The Islamic State crushed in its heartland. Assad hit with cruise missiles. Troops to Afghanistan. Arms for Ukraine. A tougher approach to North Korea. Jerusalem recognized as Israel’s capital. The Iran deal decertified. Title IX kangaroo courts on campus condemned. Yes to Keystone. No to Paris. Wall Street roaring and consumer confidence high.

And, of course, Neil Gorsuch on the Supreme Court.

What, for a conservative, is there to dislike about this policy record as the Trump administration rounds out its first year in office?

That’s the question I keep hearing from old friends on the right who voted with misgiving for Donald Trump last year and now find reasons to like him. I admit it gives me pause. I agree with every one of the policy decisions mentioned above.

So here, I’ll confess.  This whole post is an excuse to publish this:

An amazing resemblance, right?

OK. Let’s go through Stephens’ list:

Tax cuts? You mean tax increases on at least 53% of American households w/in the life of this bill.

Deregulation? Like this? Because, of course, no one needs less oversight than those who can wreck an entire coastline.

More for the military? Because, of course, there is no upper bound to the transfer payments to be made to what Eisenhower knew to be a danger to democracy.

Less for the UN?  Because, of course, unilateralism is our best defense.  I take this catchphrase as a synecdoche for the wholesale abandonment of multilateral ties, from hammering NATO to the blanket disdain of multi-nation trade negotiations to the gutting of the State Department.  This is the fever dream of American exceptionalism, and without turning this whole post into Bronx cheer on this one point, I’ll just say that those who’ve actually had self and others at risk in the world tends to think that a gazillions for defense and none for soft power approach is the way of keyboard kommandos and dangerous buffoons.

ISIS crushed in its heartland? I blame Obama.

Assad hit with cruise missiles? And…? (Also, Yemen.)

Troops to Afghanistan? OK — he did that. And…?  This is a success, how? There’s an end goal of what?

Assad hit with cruise missiles? And…? (Also, Yemen.)<

Arms for Ukraine?  This is perhaps the most interesting of the alleged foreign policy successes.  How much of this was forced by the need to be seen not to be in Putin’s pocket? History may relate.  Perhaps this will end well, confounding the sad record of the region.

A tougher approach to North Korea? Really? I mean, Bret, seriously?  Just today the news broke that Trump’s Russian friends are supplying fuel to the North Korean regime.  NK’s nuke program continues to display itself at regular intervals.  Trump managed to make Kim look rather the more self-controlled leader — a task that takes some doing.  Tell me one aspect in which the Trump approach to North Korea has advanced US interests or enhanced the security of our allies?

I’m waiting…

Jerusalem recognized as Israel’s capital.  Well, NYT colleague Chunky Ross sees the lack of overwhelming Arab anger as proof that this is all going to turn out OK, but, again, tell me one US interest this advances.

I’m still waiting.

The Iran deal decertified? This is good because absent that deal there’s no barrier to the creation of an Iranian bomb? This is just tribal stupidity, of course. And it reflects the state of “conservative” “intellection”: the second step in the chain of reasoning needs never to be expressed.  Decertify Iran and then…what? Profit? As the cartoon has it

Title IX gutted? Because sexual assault is such a messy problem….(This one is going to look less and less good with each passing day, I reckon, but what do you expect from, as Stephens himself puts it, “

the party of the child-molesting sore loser” and its allies, heirs and assigns.)

Yes to Keystone? Come on, Bret. Not even trying here. This truly is just checking off the in-group markers.

No to Paris? Because what is an incorrigible (literally) climate denialist to say? You’d think after the last year even Stephens might be a bit diffident here, but no, that would be to ignore the key aspect of his branding.  He’s the reasonable conservative who is on the merits dubious about the science of climate change, and if he were to admit he were wrong, how much else in the edifice would fall? (All of it Katie.) (And no, I’m not going to bother here to relitigate climate science.  I refer anyone whose interested back to my column of some time ago, and to, well, pretty much the entire research output of the field.)

Wall Street roaring and confidence high? Ladles and Jellyspoons, I give you not so much September 2007 as roughly 2005-6.  It all looks great until it doesn’t, and while all the circumstances of the Great Recession are not (yet?) present, there are a lot of assumptions I wouldn’t be altogether comfortable with lying behind current financial judgments.  I can tell you that in my book-in-progress about the South Sea Bubble, I’m just about up to June, 1720 — and I can tell you it looked just as good from there, so much so that even Isaac Newton was fooled.  I don’t think Bret Stephens is smarter than my man Izzie.

And Neil Gorsuch? Well, Bret, let me just say this. In a column in which Stephens argues that culture and character are vital to the long-term fate of the United States, let me simply say that the fact that Merrick Garland is not now a Supreme Court justice is exhibit [n] that Trump isn’t the cause of any erosion of American political culture.  He’s the symptom of the damage a deranged party chasing power over principle can do.  That would be the party to which you pledge fealty, the Republicans, who blocked Garland in order to pack the court themselves.

Stephens plays on honest conservative broker on the pages of the Times.  He’s actually something less interesting but more revealing:  a case study to show how knowing the answer makes you unable to understand the questions, or reality.

/rant over.  I know that this is all pointless.  Stephens is part of the guild and all of us dirty hippies will never grasp the eternal sunshine of the spotless discourse therein.  But I guess I still want it on the record, some record, that what passes for argument in Stephens’ neighborhood, isn’t.

Image: Facsimile of a miniature from a ms. in the Bibl. de l’Arsenal



There Is More Than One Way To Masturbate In Public…

…and our BoBo is a past master of such self-and-other-abuse.

His column yesterday is sufficiently egregious, I’m going to indulge in way too many words to say that Brooks has written a piece of disengenous crap that ultimately adds up to yet another distraction from the wreck his heroes are making of the nation.

There — just saved you a 3,000 word or so excursion into BoBo-bashing.  That said, let’s set off, shall we?…

The TL:DR of Brooks’ piece, titled “America: The Redeemer Nation” (sic!), is that the US used to have a national narrative that could unify us all: that of an escape from oppression to a new state of grace in a new land.  We’ve lost that story now, Brooks says, but we can solve that  if only we recalled America’s unique role as a place of “redemptions, of injury, suffering and healing fresh starts” — we would reclaim a history that could, if embraced, once again act as a light among the nations.

Yeah, he really writes that.

You’ll be shocked, I’m sure, that to construct this argument, Brooks has to ignore almost all the relevant history.  So, for a few paragraphs I’ll fisk out some of that nonsense, before looking at what he’s really trying to do in this wholly craptastic attempt at myth-making.

Let’s start at the top.  He writes:

We once had a unifying national story, celebrated each Thanksgiving. It was an Exodus story. Americans are the people who escaped oppression, crossed a wilderness and are building a promised land. The Puritans brought this story with them. Each wave of immigrants saw themselves in this story.

No.

Read more



David Brooks Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things

One sentence from today’s column that captures the pure, distilled essence of the alt-hack that is our BoBo:

And yet it has to be confessed that, at least so far, the Whitewater scandal was far more substantive than the Russia-collusion scandal now gripping Washington.

It’s all there.

The disembodied passive voice to give pulled-from-the-ass opinion the aura of ex-cathedra authority:  “it has to be confessed…” Oh yeah? Says who?

The careful weasel phrase, a scurrying for plausible deniability when this infallible dictum falls prey to fact:  “at least so far…”

The statement, presented as general consensus, that is, in fact, false:  “Whitewater…was far more substantial than…’ anything at all is simply false, and Brooks himself was both a driver of that falsehood and was and is perfectly positioned to know better than what he writes here.

The Whitewater “scandal,” as just about every non-interested party now knows, was a steaming heap of bullshit, ginned up by Republican operatives (Ted Olson!) in an attempt to damage the Clintons and the Democratic Party.

Brooks reminds his reader that he was the op-ed editor of The Wall Street Journal at the time his page was running piece after piece about the scandal that he claims was substantive — and yet, in (again) classic BoBo self-protective weasel writing, now writes “I confess I couldn’t follow all the actual allegations made in those essays…”

In other words, don’t blame him if his paper and his page retailed great steaming heaps of bullshit that as he now writes, “in retrospect Whitewater seems overblown….” (Note again the tactical use of the grammar that evades responsibility, that subjunctive “seems.”  Translation: my paper on my watch spread bullshit for partisan ends, and but all that can be said (see what I did there) is that the outcome of our work “seems” … not so great.  Nice obfuscation if you can get (away with) it.) (Yes. I like parentheses. Sue me.)

Where was I?  Oh yeah:  don’t contemn Brooks for that overblown false scandal, but take his word for it that that steaming heap of bullshit was nonetheless more real than the Russian allegations.

Oh?

No.

I don’t think I have to go into detail for this crowd about the depth and range of the Trump-Russia nexus. It may be that Brooks is trying to be clever here, and define the scandal purely as a question of whether Trump himself (and or his campaign) directly conspired with agents of Putin’s government to affect the election.

That would make that sentence yet more carefully parsed to give him cover as things like money laundering and influence peddling details accumulate.  In that, we may be seeing a preview of the approach Republican opinion-framers will attempt later on: Trump’s corrupt, but not a traitor.  But even allowing for such fine dissection of the growing scandal, there’s plenty of confirmed evidence of interaction between Trump’s campaign and significant Russian folks (see, e.g., Sessions and Kislyak).  In other words: Whitewater ended as it began with no evidence of Clinton wrongdoing.  Trump-Russia already has on public record significant and troubling revelations.

There’s a pattern here. The New York Times has given prime opinion acreage to now two partisan hack/WSJ refugees in Brooks and Bret Stephens. Both employ a more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger voice to construct in the language of rueful reason narratives that directly bolster Republican positions and personalities. Both use that seeming reasonableness, the above-the-fray tone of impartial and unchallenged judgment, to say things that are clearly not true.  Those lies directly undercut reporting happening within the Grey Lady’s newsroom put out.  Op-ed editor Bennett, executive editor Baquet and publisher Sulzberger are all OK with that, it seems.

David Brooks tells plausible falsehoods in defense of some of the worst people in the history of American politics. The Times lets him; more, it has done so for decades promoting a career hack/flack to a position of influence far beyond anything his lack of rigor and intellectual dishonesty should ever have earned.

This is a big problem.

Update: I just trashed a comment on how Brook’ wife  should interact with his wife. Using the term the comment did for a woman one may dislike or disapprove of is unacceptable, for all the obvious reasons.  No banhammer yet, but a repeat will earn a time out.

Update 2: Charles Pierce, on much the same passage, with much the same reaction, only more so.

Image: Frits van den Berghe, The Idiot By The Pond1926



David Brooks, American Patriot

Time for some tragi-comic relief.  The man whose serial fabulism in his breakthrough book should have sunk his career is back, with some advice for African American high school athletes inspired — tempted! — by Colin Kaepernick’s protest during the national anthem.

The whole thing is as grotesque as you’d expect, David Brooks’ paean to the soaring spiritual ambition of the pilgrim fathers, and a curious omission of the role involuntary servitude played in keeping that ambition comfortable.  I was going to fisk the fishwrap, but I just couldn’t bring myself to take our David seriously enough to expend that much effort. And anyway, after you read this closing line…

We have a crisis of solidarity. That makes it hard to solve every other problem we have. When you stand and sing the national anthem, you are building a little solidarity, and you’re singing a radical song about a radical place.

…and then recall this passage in that “radical song”:

No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave,
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

What else is there to do but point and laugh?…

Then weep.



I don’t have to tell you fucking anything …

Sit down to write post on election polling. Read comments in Tuesday Morning Open Thread. Say fuck it – let the punters field this one. Cut, paste. Wander off to search out another drink.

dm says:
August 9, 2016 at 7:39 am

I see these polls and I think: Bradley Effect Bradley Effect Bradley Effect. Who wants to admit to a pollster that they’re voting for an idiot? So… expect Trump to do better at the ballot box than he does in polls.

one_particular_harbour, fka Botsplainer says:
August 9, 2016 at 7:46 am
@dm:

My prediction all along has been that Hill is actually underpolling, that conservative women aged 50+ will go ahead and vote for her in the privacy of the voting booth. They’re polling differently because they’re worried about people overhearing, return calls, direct mail, etc.

Trump reminds them too much of their husbands.

It’s gonna play hell with exit polls, while leading to squealing accusations of rampant fraud.

Expect big surprises, maybe even in the plains.

Amir Khalid says:
August 9, 2016 at 8:02 am

My own suspicion about the polling is that I don’t know if the Trump campaign is capable of performing to its candidate’s polling. He might poll at x% in such-and-such state, and fall short of that number on election day because he didn’t have the organisation to get the vote out for him.

Shalimar says:
August 9, 2016 at 8:28 am

@Amir Khalid: I am not sure a major American party has ever had a candidate who thought his supporters would all go to the polls on their own because he was so awesome. If great organization was really a big difference between Obama and Romney/McCain, then it should mean Trump gets at least 5% below his projections. And his projections are beginning to look really horrible.

Have at it.

ETA: The discussion in the comment thread is wonderful. I love you all. rikyrah wins though.

rikyrah says:
August 9, 2016 at 10:08 am (Edit)
GET.OUT.THE.VOTE.
Pound these muthaphuckas INTO THE GROUND!!!!



An Exercise For The Reader

It’s too nice a Friday afternoon to waste time fisking another of the exercises in bathos that is a David Brooks column.  So, to offload the pleasure to the friendliest snarling pack of jackals you’ll ever meet, here’s an amuse bouche for you to masticate.

The left is nostalgic for the relative economic equality of that era. The right is nostalgic for the cultural cohesion.

The exercise:  in how many ways is this brief passage a steaming pile of horse-shit?

Richard_Waitt_-_The_Cromartie_Fool_-_Google_Art_Project

There’s much more at the link, though none of it truly worth minutes you could use usefully — say reorganizing your socks.*

So bash a way on our BeauBaux, and anything else that catches your fancy.

*I’ll say this — Brooks does make an awkward nod toward reality at the end of the column — but from a foundation of argument so desperately avoiding the actual matters at hand as to be both incomprehensible and utterly unpersuasive.  Such is life, when the entire edifice on which you’ve built a public persona as collapsed around you.

Image: Richard Waitt, The Cromartie Fool, 1731



Threading the Needle (Updated)

Created with Microsoft Fresh Paint

It’s instructive in a “compare and contrast” sense to read today’s NYT columns from David Brooks and Paul Krugman. Brooks is contemplating the Trumpocalypse and what it all means for professional plutocracy apologists like himself. He warns us to gird ourselves for more Applebees salad bar stories, as Doug points out downstairs, dog help us.

Brooks attributes Trump’s rise — and Sanders’ too — to a broad sense of American decline:

This election — not only the Trump phenomenon but the rise of Bernie Sanders, also — has reminded us how much pain there is in this country. According to a Pew Research poll, 75 percent of Trump voters say that life has gotten worse for people like them over the last half century.

In the morning thread, sharp-eyed commenter Jeffro noticed Brooks’ rhetorical switcheroo there, speaking of Sanders and Trump voters and then citing a poll result exclusive to the Trumpenproletariat, as if Sanders voters share the exact same concerns. And it is a sly form of both-sides-do-it-ism.

Krugman has a different take on why the Trumpites are angry as well as an explanation for why the GOP establishment candidates went down to humiliating defeat while Clinton is prevailing on the Dem side:

Both parties make promises to their bases. But while the Democratic establishment more or less tries to make good on those promises, the Republican establishment has essentially been playing bait-­and-­switch for decades. And voters finally rebelled against the con.

Krugman is right. But Brooks isn’t 100% wrong when he says there is pain on both sides of the political divide, even if he is dishonest in how he frames it. There is real pain out there, and it’s not all attributable to aggrieved white men who are finally getting a taste of the economic insecurity the rest of the world has been swallowing for decades.

Ostensibly middle-class families are one outpatient surgery deductible away from financial catastrophe. Students are graduating with crushing debt. Parents have no idea how they’ll ever retire. The unemployment rate is at a 40-year low, but try finding a decent job if you’re a 50-something woman or a 17-year-old black kid.

These things are real. And what Hillary Clinton is going to have to do is thread that needle – highlighting, protecting and expanding what President Obama and his Democratic predecessors have accomplished on the one hand while at the same time communicating that she understands how much further we have to go. It won’t be an easy task.

Yesterday, Bernie Sanders gave a speech in which he allegedly dialed back the criticism of Hillary Clinton a bit but lambasted the Democratic Party instead:

“The Democratic Party has to reach a fundamental conclusion: Are we on the side of working people or big-­money interests? Do we stand with the elderly, the children, the sick and the poor? Or do we stand with Wall Street speculators and the drug companies and the insurance companies?”

When I heard that, my first thought was, gosh, that’s not particularly helpful. How about at least acknowledging that there’s exactly one party that recently expanded healthcare coverage to 20 million people, passed Medicare, Social Security and CHIP and imposed any regulation at all on Wall Street and Big Pharma? And over the screaming intransigence of the only other party that is relevant in US elections?

But aren’t Sanders’ remarks a perfect segue for Clinton to deliver the message she must communicate? I still think Sanders will come around to endorsing Clinton and urging his supporters to support her and elect the Democratic Congressional majority she’ll need to get shit done. But in the meantime, maybe starting this conversation will do. If Hillary is going to sew it up, it’s time to thread that needle.

ETA: A piping hot new version of Cleek’s pie filter has just come out of the oven. Lay claim to your slice here.