Threading the Needle (Updated)

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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.

Pieter_Brueghel_the_Elder_-_The_Dutch_Proverbs_-_Google_Art_Project

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.

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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.



Can You Put A Guillotine Inside A Tumbrel?

I mean, it would have to be a pretty large tumbrel to fit the guillotine inside, and you would need a lot of pulling power to drag the thing through the streets and still retain the cutting force necessary, but I’m sure we could be motivated to get to at least the proof-of-concept build phase based on Bobo’s latest crime against reality over body cameras on police.

Putting a camera on someone is a sign that you don’t trust him, or he doesn’t trust you. When a police officer is wearing a camera, the contact between an officer and a civilian is less likely to be like intimate friendship and more likely to be oppositional and transactional. Putting a camera on an officer means she is less likely to cut you some slack, less likely to not write that ticket, or to bend the regulations a little as a sign of mutual care.

Putting a camera on the police officer means that authority resides less in the wisdom and integrity of the officer and more in the videotape. During a trial, if a crime isn’t captured on the tape, it will be presumed to never have happened.

Cop-cams will insult families. It’s worth pointing out that less than 20 percent of police calls involve felonies, and less than 1 percent of police-citizen contacts involve police use of force. Most of the time cops are mediating disputes, helping those in distress, dealing with the mentally ill or going into some home where someone is having a meltdown. When a police officer comes into your home wearing a camera, he’s trampling on the privacy that makes a home a home. He’s recording people on what could be the worst day of their lives, and inhibiting their ability to lean on the officer for care and support.

Cop-cams insult individual dignity because the embarrassing things recorded by them will inevitably get swapped around. The videos of the naked crime victim, the berserk drunk, the screaming maniac will inevitably get posted online — as they are already. With each leak, culture gets a little coarser. The rules designed to keep the videos out of public view will inevitably be eroded and bent.

So, yes, on balance, cop-cams are a good idea. But, as a journalist, I can tell you that when I put a notebook or a camera between me and my subjects, I am creating distance between me and them. Cop-cams strike a blow for truth, but they strike a blow against relationships. Society will be more open and transparent, but less humane and trusting.

The obvious response is “there’s nothing humane and trusting about shooting a guy 8 times in the back, then planting a taser on the ground next to his dead, handcuffed body” but this bulging sack of tepid mammoth crap in glasses here probably wouldn’t get it anyway.  It’s difficult to argue that your right to not feel embarrassed by a body camera recording your drunken rendition of Kanye’s “Flashing Lights” somehow trumps your right not to be shot and killed, but our sacky protagonist, well he goes there, boldly leaving a trail of Santorum behind him.

Anyhoo it’ll be a challenge for the build team, I know.  Let’s get to work.

 



Dr. King Was Seeking Creative Accommodation, You Know

So what have you got for me today, NY Times, from our nation’s best pundits on the situation in Indiana?

David Brooks, you say?

Like a purty girl dancin’ to Both Sides music, and a mess of Mom’s Bobo, mess of Mom’s Bobo, mess of Mom’s Bobo-cue.

If the opponents of that law were arguing that the Indiana statute tightens the federal standards a notch too far, that would be compelling. But that’s not the argument the opponents are making.

Instead, the argument seems to be that the federal act’s concrete case-by-case approach is wrong. The opponents seem to be saying there is no valid tension between religious pluralism and equality. Claims of religious liberty are covers for anti-gay bigotry.

This deviation seems unwise both as a matter of pragmatics and as a matter of principle. In the first place, if there is no attempt to balance religious liberty and civil rights, the cause of gay rights will be associated with coercion, not liberation. Some people have lost their jobs for expressing opposition to gay marriage. There are too many stories like the Oregon bakery that may have to pay a $150,000 fine because it preferred not to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex ceremony. A movement that stands for tolerance does not want to be on the side of a government that compels a photographer who is an evangelical Christian to shoot a same-sex wedding that he would rather avoid.

Furthermore, the evangelical movement is evolving. Many young evangelicals understand that their faith should not be defined by this issue. If orthodox Christians are suddenly written out of polite society as modern-day Bull Connors, this would only halt progress, polarize the debate and lead to a bloody war of all against all.

As a matter of principle, it is simply the case that religious liberty is a value deserving our deepest respect, even in cases where it leads to disagreements as fundamental as the definition of marriage.

Morality is a politeness of the soul. Deep politeness means we make accommodations. Certain basic truths are inalienable. Discrimination is always wrong. In cases of actual bigotry, the hammer comes down. But as neighbors in a pluralistic society we try to turn philosophic clashes (about right and wrong) into neighborly problems in which different people are given space to have different lanes to lead lives. In cases where people with different values disagree, we seek a creative accommodation.

Because of course the history of various civil rights movements in America is filled with “neighborly problems” solved with “creative accommodations” like fire hoses, billy clubs, dogs, armed National Guardsmen firing into crowds of students, firebombings, lynchings, and assassinations.

At no point is anyone trying to “write Orthodox Christians out of history” here, but it’s a nice little fantasy necessary for justification of “Hey you know what, gay people?  You should probably be nicer to Republicans making laws to be used against you, and they would probably stop it, just like Malcolm X played a friendly game of Parcheesi with the Dixiecrats to end Jim Crow in the South.”

I mean come on, history is replete, if not goddamn gravid with examples of the ruling class happily giving rights to oppressed minorities when asked really nicely. You guys, people have lost their jobs being mean to gay people. When will the madness end?

Puppies and rainbows can live in harmony and crap before it turns into a bloody war or something. Suck it up and accept some structural discrimination for a while and eventually it’ll stop, because it’s hard being a white Christian guy in a state like Indiana, you know.

Just get you some of that there respectability politics and a mess of Mom’s Bobo-cue.



David Brooks Auditions For Graham Greene

 The Quiet American  is a marvelous book, or rather, it is one in which Greene’s utter disdain for the reckless incompetence of power gets a near perfect expression.  Take this snippet from near the end of the work:

Pyle said, “It’s awful.” He looked at the wet on his shoes and said in a sick voice, “What’s that?” “Blood,” I said. “Haven’t you ever seen it before?” He said, “I must get them cleaned before I see the Minister.” I don’t think he knew what he was saying. He was seeing a real war for the first time: he had punted down into Phat Diem in a kind of schoolboy dream, and anyway in his eyes soldiers didn’t count.

“You see what a drum of Diolacton can do,” I said, “in the wrong hands.” I forced him, with my hand on his shoulder, to look around. I said, “This is the hour when the place is always full of women and children-it’s the shopping hour. Why choose that of all hours?” He said weakly, “There was to have been a parade.” “And you hoped to catch a few colonels. But the parade was cancelled yesterday, Pyle.” “I didn’t know.”

“Didn’t know!” I pushed him into a patch of blood where a stretcher had lain. “You ought to be better informed.”

“I was out of town,” he said, looking down at his shoes. “They should have called it off.”

“And missed the fun?” I asked him. “Do you expect General The to lose his demonstration? This is better than a parade. Women and children are news, and soldiers aren’t, in a war. This will hit the world’s press. You’ve put General The on the map all right, Pyle. You’ve got the Third Force and National Democracy all over your right shoe. Go home to Phuong and tell her about your heroic deed-there are a few dozen less of her country people to worry about.”

A small fat priest scampered by, carrying something on a dish under a napkin. Pyle had been silent a long while, and I had nothing more to say. Indeed I had said too much. He looked white and beaten and ready to faint, and I thought, ‘What’s the good? he’ll always he innocent, you can’t blame the innocent, they are always guiltless. Ail you can do is control them or eliminate them. Innocence is a kind of insanity.’

He said, “The wouldn’t have done this. I’m sure he wouldn’t. Somebody deceived him. The Communists…”

He was impregnably armoured by his good intentions and his ignorance…

Peter_Paul_Rubens_Massacre_of_the_Innocents

“Impregnable armoured by good intentions and ignorance.”  That is what will — or at least should be — engraved on David Brooks’ tombstone.  And I’m only giving him the props for his intent there out of whatever residual nil nisi bonum remains to me.

Why the vitriol, and memory of stupid wars, with the overwhelming weight of the violence reserved for far away others who don’t look like “us”?

Today’s column.

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