I don’t usually write about David Brooks, because it’s sort of pointless. He’s an awful writer and a fourth-rate thinker, a relentless establishmentarian and spewer of conventional wisdom. He’s also a neoconservative, which means that engaging with any point he makes is pointless because neoconservatism holds as a sacred value that the public is inferior to our philosopher-king leaders, and that feeding the public nice-sounding bullshit is not a necessary evil, but positive and important in keeping us from chaos. Lest you think I’m engaging in some sort of overheated rhetoric, this is stuff they actually believe and say, though usually in philosopher-speak with twelve allusions to Plato and Strauss stuck in there. So, arguing with a neocon is silly because you are arguing with someone who thinks you as someone who can’t handle the truth, and doesn’t bother to give it to you. This explains why Brooks’s arguments are often completely uncompelling, incidentally, which is because he’s writing stuff that’s just smart enough for the average person to nod along by design. That’s his task, and that he’s accepted it willingly tells you everything you need to know about him: who chooses to be an elite propagandist? David Brooks.

However, every so often, he goes overboard with the stupidity in a way that I just have to respond by venting. And today’s column is such an occasion. Though, credit where it is due, this point is correct:

He talks about fundamental tax reform, but I keep forgetting that he has promised never to raise taxes on people in the bottom 98 percent of the income scale.

That means when he talks about raising revenue, which he is right to do, he can’t really talk about anything substantive. He can’t tax gasoline. He can’t tax consumption. He can’t do a comprehensive tax reform. He has to restrict his tax policy changes to the top 2 percent, and to get any real revenue he’s got to hit them in every which way.

That is literally the only sensible observation in the article. The rest is nonsense, starting with this:

Yes, I’m a sap. I believed Obama when he said he wanted to move beyond the stale ideological debates that have paralyzed this country. I always believe that Obama is on the verge of breaking out of the conventional categories and embracing one of the many bipartisan reform packages that are floating around.

You mean the 6-to-1 spending cuts-to-revenue package that Obama offered Boehner? You know, the one that was rejected because Republicans refused even a penny of new revenues? I fail to see what the point of pushing, say, the Simpson-Bowles plan would be since Republicans refused a plan even more stacked to their priorities on cuts (and contained no stimulus). That would be like if Brooks offered me a brand-new Mercedes for $30,000, and I said no, that is too much. Then Brooks offered me a Mercedes with fewer options for $50,000. Why on Earth would I say yes to that? And yet, in Brooks’s mind, that makes sense. And, if not Simpson-Bowles, why not Domenici-Rivlin, which is vastly more stimulative and progressive than the other two? How about a used Mercedes for $100,000? You get the idea, the man is a fool.

Brooks then goes for unintentional irony: “I keep thinking he’s a few weeks away from proposing serious tax reform and entitlement reform. But each time he gets close, he rips the football away.” Is he unaware that this is a pervasive analogy in the leftosphere for Republican support for Obama’s policies? You know, how Republicans would hint that they might support a health care plan without a public option, and after it was gone none voted for it. It’s only happened a billion times, most recently with the debt ceiling negotiations. Ironically, the point he’s making makes perfect sense if the antecedent of he is meant to refer to Republican leaders. Still, nothing compares to this amazing sentence:

The president believes the press corps imposes a false equivalency on American politics. We assign equal blame to both parties for the dysfunctional politics when in reality the Republicans are more rigid and extreme. There’s a lot of truth to that, but at least Republicans respect Americans enough to tell us what they really think.

No they do not. Can you honestly say that Republicans who believed fervently in stimulus during the Bush years decided it didn’t work as soon as a Democrat took office? That Dick Cheney really never said, as he now claims, that deficits don’t matter? That Mitt Romney tells us what he really thinks about anything? And then there’s FOX News, a monument to bad faith. Brooks is dusting off the old line about George W. Bush, you know, about how you might not always agree with him, but you’ll always know where they stand. As if that’s a compelling defense.

But the sad fact is that Brooks doesn’t land a solid blow anywhere in the article, and in a way, that’s the most annoying part of his writing. He’s not a genius, but he’s not an idiot either, to be fair. He is, however, completely dedicated to the usual Washington elite palaver for his own ideological reasons. Neocons believe that you have to work with the system you have, and that elites are the only thing holding up the social order. So, Brooks naturally favors the centrist/establishment arguments without exception and can never entirely pull back from them. He wants the parties to be nice to each other and to agree, and this shows in his writing. He can never make a really penetrating critique because he will pull his punches for the sake of upholding the system as it is now. He sorta makes an attack against the GOP, then pulls back by saying that at least you know where they stand. He takes aim at Obama, but he holds back and just whines about how bad raising taxes on the rich would be. He pulls punches against Republicans, Democrats, Obama, Bush, whoever is in power, because he views the propagation of the current establishment as paramount and smashing one party or other too hard would detract from that objective. So when he tries to hit Obama and the Democrats (as in this article), it winds up being not only dumb to informed readers, but not even powerful to the average reader. Is the typical reader going to be persuaded by digs against Ted Kennedy in freaking 2011? Is the typical reader going to respond to cries of pity toward the wealthy suffering from higher taxes? Polls after the debt ceiling debate showed vast support for a more confrontational approach from Obama, not more hapless surrenderism. Brooks’s article is nothing less than Brooks revealing that he’s got nothing left in his arsenal when it comes to defending the ways of Washington. The desire is still there, but he can’t even articulate a reason why a many times-stung Obama ought to trust Republicans and work with them. It’s a good thing that the Times seems to have a Supreme Court-esque retirement policy. And, incidentally, Brooks has been so mistaken about the public so often–we can go all the way back to Iraq if you like–that his disapproval is arguably a good sign.


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