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

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)
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?


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.

BoBo Redux: Who You Gonna Believe

…Bobo, or what the candidates very clearly say they are going to do.

Which is to say: not to disagree w. DougJ, but the signature line in David Brooks latest grotesquerie isn’t the closer. It’s this:

At this stage it’s probably not sensible to get too worked up about the details of any candidate’s plans. They are all wildly unaffordable.  What matters is how a candidate signals priorities.

Umm. David.  We remember George Bush’s plans.  They signaled his priorities just fine…and he proceeded as promised to turn a robust budget surplus into the biggest upwards income redistribution in memory, along with deficits from here to Atlantis.

I had thought to fisk the whole damn column, which is full of low-hanging fruit.  But really why bother?  It’s all there in that don’t “get too worked up” by what alledged “wonks” actually say about the policies they wonkishly espouse.  Because it’s not like they mean it.

Except they do.

And once again we see:  David Brooks is a terrible public figure not because of his politics but because of his character, his willingness to be a loyal apparatchik transcribing whatever counts as pravda in that universe in which Republicans are the natural party of power.


Or to put it another way: he both is and broadcasts a stupid person’s idea of what a smart conservative sounds like.

PS:  Krugthulu agrees.  What I like best about this is the absence of even a shred of collegial courtesy.

Which is as it should be.  If you’re going to opine in public, then it’s your job to do so by saying what you really think.

Image:  Pieter Breughel the Elder, Dutch Proverbs — The Topsy Turvy World. 1559.  I highly recommend checking out the image at the link.  The notes embedded in the picture explain it’s relevance here.  See, e.g. the roses before swine above.


No Wonder He Thinks White Liberals Are Dicks…

Stanford University Professor David Palumbo-Liu wrote a column at Salon about how much white liberals suck, using David Fucking Brooks as an example of a white liberal who sucks:brooks_libtardI’m not familiar with this columnist’s work. I confess I didn’t read the whole thing once I’d ascertained that yes, the author really, really does seem to be operating under the assumption that David Fucking Brooks is a liberal.*

Lord. I hate white liberals too sometimes — have you ever been cornered at a dreary cocktail party by someone who drones on about Monsanto for two hours? We can be a clueless lot on deadly serious, heartbreaking subjects, such as the one the column was written address.

But good Christ, if David Fucking Brooks was among our number, I’m not sure I’d be able to stop punching my own self in the face. For fuck’s sake, Salon! Have you no editors?

Open thread, I guess. Jeebus.

* I think someone hit the prof with a clue-by-four while I was putting this grousey post together — it appears some of the more obvious “Brooks is a liberal” passages have been lightly scrubbed. But the thesis remains so central to the piece that it can’t be completely eradicated. It’s a pity because he’s not altogether wrong…

On The Unbearable Lightness Of David Brooks

I know I’ve been mostly absent, and will continue to be so.  (At least until this makes it through copy editing.)*

I know as well that there’s too much to be talked about to waste much time on the utterly predictable.

And I also know that what I’m about to point out is far less an indictment than, say, today’s column should earn.  I do plan to take a whack at that one sometime soon, unless, as I hope, Charles Pierce eviscerates, and I can just crib.

So this is just a bit of nastiness on my part, some pissed-off snark, on confronting the “look inside” excerpt now available for the divine’ BoBo’s new hacktacular, The Road to Character.  As a matter of substance, I’ll just say that I agree with Driftglass, (via the above-referenced Mr. Pierce), that for David Brooks, such an avenue remains the road not taken.


But as a matter of pure spite, let me just say that nothing I’ve read of Mr. Brooks’ new minimum opus changes my core opinion.  He’s got a gift for glib writing, the prose analogue to your easy-listening adult classics.  But in any attempt to sustain prose over the long haul…the cracks show.

Exhibit A.  The first two sentences of work:

“Recently I’ve been thinking about the difference between the résumé virtues and the eulogy virtues.  The résumé virtues are the ones you list on your résumé, the skills you bring to the job market and that contribute to external success.”

I’m sorry, but what tin ear, what grudge against English prosody, allowed these clunkers to pass? That’s the barker at the door, the first words one encounters while deciding whether to commit precious hours of one’s life into David Brooks’ care!  Such blunt repetition, the rhythmic fail of the second sentence, the parody of explanation — “résumé virtues are the ones you list on your résumé” — forsooth!  I never would have guessed!  Even if Brooks didn’t mind such clumsiness, where in the name of all that’s pasta was his editor?

Trivial, I know, and I’m hardly a without prose sins of my own to regret.  But as I read reviews that praise Brooks depth or countercultural mastery, it’s worth remembering passages like this one.  Brooks is not a great writer, and the reason isn’t that he can’t manipulate words well when he pays attention.  He clearly can.  Rather, it’s that such hack writing hints at the hack thinker putting cursor to phosphor.  Expressing bad thoughts clearly exposes their flaws…which can and hence must be elided in a fog of mediocre prose.  As here you see.

Bonus reading, which has the added benefit of showing what happens when villagers (even genuinely capable ones) review fellow villagers.  See, for example, Pico Iyer in last Sunday’s New York Times book review:

For every blurred piety here (“We are all ultimately saved by grace”), there’s a sentence that shames everything around it (“Philosophy is likely to be a tension between competing half-truths”).

Umm. Iyer sees in that “Philosophy is likely to be…” a stunning epiphany, a sentence that puts mere piety to shame.  I see a nearly content-free assertion that undercuts itself by word three.  Seasoned Brooks’ readers will recognize the gambit:  in order to justify one of his famous and very often risible claimed dichotomies (resume virtues vs. eulogy virtues) he must impose his judgment on possible contradicting authorities.  Here, philosphy is drained of potency as it fights on the dubious ground of half-truths.  And just in case anyone calls him on it — this magisteral dictum is only “likely” — thus granting Brooks his ex cathdra authority while insulating him, just a bit, from any instance of reality failing to acknowledge his infallibility.

In other words:  this is pure Brooks, a seemingly epigrammatic heap of nonsense, structured to give him both the appearance of gnomic wisdom and plausible deniability.  And this his exceptionally friendly critic sees as masterful.

We need a new culture.

*I can make one prediction with a fair degree of confidence.  Shameless self-promotion to come much closer to the day.

Image:   John Constable, The Hay Wain, 1820-1821.