Monday, January 21, 2013

David Brooks' little brain

By Frank Moraes 

There was a flurry of writing on Friday about David Brooks' column, "The Next Four Years." Jonathan Chait summed up the column well: "David Brooks Now Totally Pathological." And Ezra Klein asked, "Is the Republican Party Obama's fault?" Answer: no, but a lot of Republicans want to think so.

They are both referring to the second half of Brooks' column where he speculates about what Democrats are really thinking. You see, they are going to propose modest bills like Hurricane Sandy relief. The Republicans will respond as wackos -- but not because they really are wackos. That's what makes the Democratic plan so cunning: by proposing reasonable policies they are making the Republicans seem unreasonable just because the Republicans are devoted to unreasonable policies. I swear, I am not exaggerating; he gives no reason at all for why the Republicans must act crazy; I guess we are supposed to think it is a Pavlovian response: Republicans just can't help it.

He continues on. The Democratic Party will push "wedge issues." Wedge issues like -- wait for it! -- President Bush's comprehensive immigration reform. The other one that Brooks mentions is gun law reform like requiring universe background checks. Traditionally, a wedge issue is one that greatly divides people. You know, things like abortion. These two issues don't even divide the Republicans. The only thing they divide is the Republican elite from the rest of the nation. Man oh man, are those Democrats cunning!

Of course, the New York Times has editorial standards. So Brooks can't come out and say that Democrats are thinking or saying these things. Instead, he piles on the weasel words:

I know there is little chance that today's partisan players are going to adopt this kind of incremental goo-goo approach. It's more likely that today's majority party is going to adopt a different strategy, which you might call Kill the Wounded. It's more likely that today's Democrats are going to tell themselves something like this...

I've highlighted the weasel words. If you take them out, you're left with: I'm making this up. But check out that first sentence. It contradicts his whole argument! He claims that the Democrats are not going to do anything big. They are going to do little things and this will make the Republicans look bad because they are even against the smallest reforms. Brooks can't have it both ways, but he does try.

Look back at Obama's first term. He did everything to get the Republicans to compromise and they would not yield one inch. Okay, Brooks claims that was because these were big proposals that the Republicans hated. Except that when McCain was running for president they didn't hate the exact health-care bill that Obama passed. But okay, politics is politics. What exactly makes Brooks think proposing little incremental bills will cause the Republicans to act any differently. Anyway, isn't requiring universal background checks on gun purchases an incremental reform? I mean, 60% of all gun purchases get background checks now. All universal background checks requires is closing one loophole.

So Brooks is doing nothing more than following a long tradition of conservative writing that involves pretending that liberals say or think something and then complaining about it. But I actually find the first part of his column even more offensive. It is here that he talks around what he really believes. He claims, "I am an earnest, good-government type." But he also says, "Polarization is too deep. Special interests are too strong." What "special interests" could he be talking about? Certainly not the rich who managed to keep the Estate Tax hobbled. Certainly not military companies that get billions in government contracts. No, he's thinking more along the lines of the labor unions and the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence and, you know, that evil AARP.

He also calls the Fiscal Cliff deal a "fiasco." I'm none too happy with that deal, but I don't see how it was a fiasco. Brooks thinks it was one because it didn't end in gutting Social Security and Medicare. But I think Brooks should cheer up: Obama seems determined to do just that.

As with all "reasonable" Republicans, I don't understand why Brooks is a Republican if he really holds the opinions he implies. And that's why I think he is anything but reasonable. But if you dig down deep into his work, what you find is a guy that is mostly a social liberal. It is on economic issues that he is conservative. This is due to an embarrassing debate he had as a young man with Milton Friedman. According to Brooks, he was a liberal then. But Friedman managed to shoot down all of his arguments. This says much more about Brooks' intellectual skills than it says about anything else. And so he's left being a media lackey for conservative ideas that he understands no better than liberal ideas he long ago repudiated. 

Afterword 

It is possible that by providing these easy votes for Republicans, the Democratic Party is doing them a favor. It allows the more reasonable Republicans to vote sensibly. Hopefully, these politicians would be rewarded by the public with re-election while the unreasonable ones would lose. Brooks does not consider this.

(Cross-posted at Frankly Curious.)

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