Category Archive 'David Brooks'
21 Jul 2009

Suicide of the Left

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When certain centrist Republican commentators were seen abandoning the defense of George W. Bush and endorsing Obama over John McCain, one cynic observed that it is always nice to be so obviously winning that all the trimmers, conformists, and opportunists are busily scrambling to climb on board your political side.

New York Times token conservative columnist David Brook’s defection last Fall was one of the minor landmarks on the road to Republican defeat. But, now, not even a year later we find David Brooks scurrying down the ropes and right off the good ship Obama, with a column remarking on the decline in public support for the Chosen One’s policies and predicting his thorough and well-deserved comeuppance.

Why, welcome back, David. Save a seat for Peggy Noonan, will you?

In March, only 32 percent of Americans thought Obama was an old-style, tax-and-spend liberal. Now 43 percent do.

We’re only in the early stages of the liberal suicide march, but there already have been three phases. First, there was the stimulus package. You would have thought that a stimulus package would be designed to fight unemployment and stimulate the economy during a recession. But Congressional Democrats used it as a pretext to pay for $787 billion worth of pet programs with borrowed money. Only 11 percent of the money will be spent by the end of the fiscal year — a triumph of ideology over pragmatism.

Then there is the budget. Instead of allaying moderate anxieties about the deficits, the budget is expected to increase the government debt by $11 trillion between 2009 and 2019.

Finally, there is health care. Every cliché Ann Coulter throws at the Democrats is gloriously fulfilled by the Democratic health care bills. The bills do almost nothing to control health care inflation. They are modeled on the Massachusetts health reform law that is currently coming apart at the seams precisely because it doesn’t control costs. They do little to reward efficient providers and reform inefficient ones.

The House bill adds $239 billion to the federal deficit during the first 10 years, according to the Congressional Budget Office. It would pummel small businesses with an 8 percent payroll penalty. It would jack America’s top tax rate above those in Italy and France. Top earners in New York and California would be giving more than 55 percent of earnings to one government entity or another.

Nancy Pelosi has lower approval ratings than Dick Cheney and far lower approval ratings than Sarah Palin. And yet Democrats have allowed her policy values to carry the day — this in an era in which independents dominate the electoral landscape.

11 May 2009

John Ford Westerns, Liberal Lessons?

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Tom Doniphon (John Wayne) tells a few hard truths to Ransom Stoddard (James Stewart) in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence

David Brooks watches John Ford Westerns (apparently only one John Ford Western), and advises us that John Ford movies are all about communitarianism. According to Brooks, John Ford Westerns are paeans to the collectivist statist ideals of Barack Obama and the democrat party.

We Republicans need to register (and then surrender) our sixguns, turn over our poker chips to build a new schoolhouse, hire some government administrators, and then come out to the church social to sing hymns.

Republicans generally like Westerns. They generally admire John Wayne-style heroes who are rugged, individualistic and brave. They like leaders — from Goldwater to Reagan to Bush to Palin — who play up their Western heritage. Republicans like the way Westerns seem to celebrate their core themes — freedom, individualism, opportunity and moral clarity.

But the greatest of all Western directors, John Ford, actually used Westerns to tell a different story. Ford’s movies didn’t really celebrate the rugged individual. They celebrated civic order.

For example, in Ford’s 1946 movie, “My Darling Clementine,” Henry Fonda plays Wyatt Earp, the marshal who tamed Tombstone. But the movie isn’t really about the gunfight and the lone bravery of a heroic man. It’s about how decent people build a town. Much of the movie is about how the townsfolk put up a church, hire a teacher, enjoy Shakespeare, get a surgeon and work to improve their manners.

The movie, in other words, is really about religion, education, science, culture, etiquette and rule of law — the pillars of community. In Ford’s movie, as in real life, the story of Western settlement is the story of community-building. Instead of celebrating untrammeled freedom and the lone pioneer, Ford’s movies dwell affectionately on the social customs that Americans cherish — the gatherings at the local barbershop and the church social, the gossip with the cop and the bartender and the hotel clerk.

Today, if Republicans had learned the right lessons from the Westerns, or at least John Ford Westerns, they would not be the party of untrammeled freedom and maximum individual choice. They would once again be the party of community and civic order.


James Bowman, in a posting titled A Ford Not a Lincoln, rebuts nicely adding another John Ford film to the discussion which illuminates the message Brooks misunderstands much more clearly.

In this movie as in others by Ford, particularly The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962), we see both things: both the community and civilization that people, left in peace, will spontaneously create for themselves and the lone man with the gun, free and solitary, whom the community, often without knowing it, depends on to be left in peace. Without the one, there would not be the other. Ford’s point in both movies is that the community will happily discard and exile and finally forget about the hero, once his work is done. Mr Brooks himself unwittingly illustrates it by forgetting about him, or regarding him as incidental material.

In both movies, too, the hero is complict in his own marginalization by the community he saves. He prefers to live apart from it, partly because, in order to do what he does, he belongs more to the savage, honor-bound, heroic world that he helps to supplant. In Liberty Valance, John Wayne’s forgotten hero, Tom Doniphon has far more in common with Lee Marvin’s Liberty (significant name) than he does with Jimmy Stewart’s Ransom Stoddard. Stoddard even marries the woman he, Doniphon, loves, which makes his rescue both of Stoddard and of the world of law and civic order he represents even more of a noble renunciation than it would be in any case. Tellingly, Ford also shows how the town wants to tell itself a false story about Doniphon’s act of murder, in order to bring it under the umbrella of law and civic order which that act has made possible. And those who know the true story — that in the end civilization itself depends on the man with the gun — allow the false one to stand. Ford must have foreseen even in 1964 the time nearly half a century on when people like David Brooks would have forgotten that primal act of heroism that makes everything else possible and so come to believe, like the townsfolk of Shinbone in Ford’s movie, that civilization can bring itself to birth and sustain itself without the need for honor and courage.

04 Mar 2009

Brooks and Buckley Experience Buyers’ Remorse

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Jennifer Rubin observes how quickly Barack Obama has persuaded last autumn’s conservative turncoats to reconsider their wardrobes.

It’s not quite LBJ losing Walter Cronkite on the Vietnam War, but the president has lost David Brooks.

Well, well. First Chris Buckley and now Brooks. Usually it takes more than a month for presidents to disappoint those they have bamboozled during the campaign. But, as Brooks points out, Obama threw caution to the winds when he unveiled his monstrous budget.


David Brooks:

[The] Obama budget is more than just the sum of its parts. There is, entailed in it, a promiscuous unwillingness to set priorities and accept trade-offs. There is evidence of a party swept up in its own revolutionary fervor — caught up in the self-flattering belief that history has called upon it to solve all problems at once.

So programs are piled on top of each other and we wind up with a gargantuan $3.6 trillion budget. We end up with deficits that, when considered realistically, are $1 trillion a year and stretch as far as the eye can see. We end up with an agenda that is unexceptional in its parts but that, when taken as a whole, represents a social-engineering experiment that is entirely new.

The U.S. has never been a society riven by class resentment. Yet the Obama budget is predicated on a class divide. The president issued a read-my-lips pledge that no new burdens will fall on 95 percent of the American people. All the costs will be borne by the rich and all benefits redistributed downward. …

Those of us who consider ourselves moderates — moderate-conservative, in my case — are forced to confront the reality that Barack Obama is not who we thought he was. His words are responsible; his character is inspiring. But his actions betray a transformational liberalism that should put every centrist on notice. As Clive Crook, an Obama admirer, wrote in The Financial Times, the Obama budget “contains no trace of compromise. It makes no gesture, however small, however costless to its larger agenda, of a bipartisan approach to the great questions it addresses. It is a liberal’s dream of a new New Deal.”


Chris Buckley:

Hold on—there’s a typo in that paragraph. “$3.6 trillion budget” can’t be right.The entire national debt is—what—about $11 trillion? He can’t actually be proposing to spend nearly one-third of that in one year, surely. Let me check. Hmm. He did. The Wall Street Journal notes that federal outlays in fiscal 2009 will rise to almost 30 percent of the gross national product. In language that even an innumerate English major such as myself can understand: The US government is now spending annually about one-third of what the entire US economy produces. As George Will would say, “Well.”

Now let me say: Unlike Rush Limbaugh, I want President Obama to succeed. I honestly do. We are all in this leaky boat together—did I say “leaky”? I meant “sieve-like”—and it would be counterproductive, if not downright suicidal, to want it to go down just to prove a conservative critique of Keynesian economics. …

One thing is certain, however: Government is getting bigger and will stay bigger. Just remember the apothegm that a government that is big enough to give you everything you want is also big enough to take it all away.And remember what de Tocqueville told us about a bureaucracy that grows so profuse that not even the most original mind can penetrate it.

If this is what the American people want, so be it, but they ought to have no illusions about the perils of this approach. Mr. Obama is proposing among everything else $1 trillion in new entitlements, and entitlement programs never go away, or in the oddly poetic bureaucratic jargon, “sunset.” He is proposing $1.4 trillion in new taxes, an appetite for which was largely was whetted by the shameful excesses of American CEO corporate culture. And finally, he has proposed $5 trillion in new debt, one-half the total accumulated national debt in all US history. All in one fell swoop.

He tells us that all this is going to work because the economy is going to be growing by 3.2 percent a year from now. Do you believe that? Would you take out a loan based on that? And in the three years following, he predicts that our economy will grow by 4 percent a year.

This is nothing if not audacious hope. If he’s right, then looking back, March 2009 will be the dawn of the Age of Stimulation, or whatever elegant phrase Niall Ferguson comes up with. If he turns out to be wrong, then it will look very different, the entrance ramp to the Road to Serfdom, perhaps, and he will reap the whirlwind that follows, along with the rest of us.


Who could possibly have predicted that a red diaper baby community organizer with a life-long record of radical associations would adopt an ultra-left program of taxing and spending? Messrs. Buckley and Brooks obviously weren’t paying attention when they read Dreams from My Father. Obama explains that he learned as an adolescent that he could get away with doing drugs and raising Cain, simply by mollifying the adults in his life by speaking softly and politely.

DFMF, 94-95:

It was the start of my senior year in high school… and one day she [his mother] marched into my room, wanting to know the details of [his friend’s] arrest. I had given her a reassuring smile and patted her hand and told her not to worry. I wouldn’t do anything stupid. It was usually an effective tactic, one of those tricks I had learned: People were satisfied as long as you were courteous and smiled and made no sudden moves. They were more than satisfied; they were relieved — such a pleasant surprise to find a well-mannered young black man who didn’t seem angry all the time.

16 Jan 2009

Dinner with Obama

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David Brooks shares:

It’s true, I did break bread with Obama. It was amazing. He was carried into the house by cherubs, Bruce Springsteen and Oprah Winfrey spread rose pedals on the carpet where he was about to walk and he very considerately asked me what vintage of wine I wanted my water turned into.

It’s also a sign that Obama can talk to and understand Americans at all social levels. For example, that night with us, he had an elegant dinner filled with sophisticated ideas and complex policy conversation with a bunch of right-leaning commentators. Then the next day, he had a meeting with some liberal commentators where, I presume, he was just as fluid while using much simpler sentences, shorter words and serving Froot Loops and Hostess Twinkies. There are pundits at all levels of cognitive distinction, and Obama has to learn to address all of them.

10 Jan 2009

The Audacity of Obama

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David Brooks looks at Obama’s unprecedented stimulus package plan and predicts that “by this time next year, he’ll either be a great president or a broken one.”

23 Oct 2008

Me-Too Republicans Are Back

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Back in the days of Dwight Eisenhower, we had Me-Too Republicans who were simply too timid to challenge a conventional liberal orthodoxy for fear of being labeled radical. Tony Blankley finds today a new form of Me-Too Republican motivated by snobbery and misplaced loyalty to the community of fashion.

26 Sep 2008

Brooks Evaluating McCain

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David Brooks takes a serious look at John McCain.

What disappoints me about the McCain campaign is it has no central argument. I had hoped that he would create a grand narrative explaining how the United States is fundamentally unprepared for the 21st century and how McCain’s worldview is different.

McCain has not made that sort of all-encompassing argument, so his proposals don’t add up to more than the sum of their parts. Without a groundbreaking argument about why he is different, he’s had to rely on tactical gimmicks to stay afloat. He has no frame to organize his response when financial and other crises pop up.

He has no overarching argument in part because of his Senate training and the tendency to take issues on one at a time — in part, because of the foolish decision to run a traditional right-left campaign against Obama and, in part, because McCain has never really resolved the contradiction between the Barry Goldwater and Teddy Roosevelt sides of his worldview. One day he’s a small-government Western conservative; the next he’s a Bull Moose progressive. The two don’t add up — as we’ve seen in his uneven reaction to the financial crisis.

Nonetheless, when people try to tell me that the McCain on the campaign trail is the real McCain and the one who came before was fake, I just say, baloney. I saw him. A half-century of evidence is there.

If McCain is elected, he will retain his instinct for the hard challenge. With that Greatest Generation style of his, he will run the least partisan administration in recent times. He is not a sophisticated conceptual thinker, but he is a good judge of character. He is not an organized administrator, but he has become a practiced legislative craftsman. He is, above all — and this is completely impossible to convey in the midst of a campaign — a serious man prone to serious things.

30 Aug 2008

My Fellow Americans

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David Brooks wrote the speech that should have been given at recent democrat convention. A must read.


Hat tip to Scott Drum.

19 Aug 2008

McCain Stops Playing Games and Gains Ground

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Says David Brooks.

On Tuesdays, Senate Republicans hold a weekly policy lunch. The party leaders often hand out a Message of the Week that the senators are supposed to repeat at every opportunity. Sometimes there will be a pollster offering data that supposedly demonstrates the brilliance of the message and why it will lead to political nirvana.

John McCain generally spends the lunches at a table with a gang of fellow ne’er-do-wells. He cracks jokes, razzes the speaker and generally ridicules the whole proceeding. Then he takes the paper with the Message of the Week back to his office. He tosses it on the desk of some staffer with a sarcastic comment like: “Here’s your message. Learn it. Love it. Live it.”

This sort of behavior has been part of McCain’s long-running rebellion against the stupidity of modern partisanship. In a thousand ways, he has tried to preserve some sense of self-respect in a sea of pandering pomposity. He’s done it through self-mockery, by talking endlessly about his own embarrassing lapses and by keeping up a running patter on the absurdity all around. He’s done it by breaking frequently from his own party to cut serious deals with people like Ted Kennedy and Russ Feingold. He’s done it with his own frantic and freewheeling style, which was unpredictable, untamed and, at some level, unprofessional.

When McCain and his team set out to win the presidency in 2008, they hoped to run a campaign with this sort of spirit. McCain would venture forth on the back of his bus, going places other Republicans don’t go, saying things politicians don’t say, offering the country the vision of a different kind of politics — free of circus antics — in which serious people sacrifice for serious things.

It hasn’t turned out that way. McCain hasn’t been able to run the campaign he had envisioned. Instead, he and his staff have been given an education by events.

I think Brooks’ analysis of the changing McCain campaign methodology is interesting and enlightening. He’s right that McCain has been gaining good traction at the expense of the Obamessiah.

Brooks, of course is just about as much of a non-meaningfully-conservative RINO as McCain, so he views McCain’s eagerness to double-cross the GOP leadership in favor of his own interest with a sympathy I’m not quite able to muster. I suppose electing a me-too, Eisenhower Republican, in favor of Socialism just like the democrats, only a little less is better than electing an out-and-out Marxist like Barack Hussein Obama, but don’t expect me to vote for him.

20 Jun 2008

David Brooks on Obama

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Brooks wittily identifies the cunning opportunist lurking underneath the pious liberal. He even rates the Obamanation as slicker than Bill Clinton.

God, Republicans are saps. They think that they’re running against some academic liberal who wouldn’t wear flag pins on his lapel, whose wife isn’t proud of America and who went to some liberationist church where the pastor damned his own country. They think they’re running against some naïve university-town dreamer, the second coming of Adlai Stevenson.

But as recent weeks have made clear, Barack Obama is the most split-personality politician in the country today. On the one hand, there is Dr. Barack, the high-minded, Niebuhr-quoting speechifier who spent this past winter thrilling the Scarlett Johansson set and feeling the fierce urgency of now. But then on the other side, there’s Fast Eddie Obama, the promise-breaking, tough-minded Chicago pol who’d throw you under the truck for votes.

This guy is the whole Chicago package: an idealistic, lakefront liberal fronting a sharp-elbowed machine operator. He’s the only politician of our lifetime who is underestimated because he’s too intelligent. He speaks so calmly and polysyllabically that people fail to appreciate the Machiavellian ambition inside.

But he’s been giving us an education, for anybody who cares to pay attention. Just try to imagine Mister Rogers playing the agent Ari in “Entourage” and it all falls into place.

I suspect myself that there is also a wimp and a coward (much like JFK) underneath it all in there, who can be relied upon to back down and cover his own ass in the face of any challenge or tough decision. That’s how I read his 130 “Present” votes.

Read the whole thing.

19 Oct 2007

David Brooks Likes Huckabee

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Brooks thinks that the Republican natives in Iowa and New Hampshire are restless, none of the front-runners is securely in the lead, and they both have some negatives.

Huckabee was good at the debate I watched partially. I certainly like his abolish-the-IRS proposal. There has got to be a cheaper and simpler way of funding the federal government. Personally, I think he is more likely to be a good Vice Presidential nominee, but it is interesting to find that Huckabee has captured the positive attention of the urban bohemian-bourgeoisie demi-Republican Mr. Brooks.

The first thing you notice about Mike Huckabee is that he has a Mayberry name and a Jim Nabors face. But it’s quickly clear that Huckabee is as good a campaigner as anybody running for president this year. And before too long it becomes easy to come up with reasons why he might have a realistic shot at winning the Republican nomination.

Read the whole editorial.

15 Apr 2007

Les Bobos

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French pop singer and social commentator Renaud performs a très witty tribute to David Brooks‘ Bobos (Bourgeois Bohemians).

3:42 video

Comment on the songs appearance last August by Charles Bremner in the London Times.

On les appelle bourgeois bohêmes
Ou bien bobos pour les intimes
Dans les chanson d’Vincent Delerm
On les retrouve à chaque rime
Ils sont une nouvelle classe
Après les bourges et les prolos
Pas loin des beaufs, quoique plus classe
Je vais vous en dresser le tableau
Sont un peu artistes c’est déjà ça
Mais leur passion c’est leur boulot
Dans l’informatique, les médias
Sont fier d’payer beaucoup d’impôts

Les bobos, les bobos
Les bobos, les bobos

Ils vivent dans les beaux quartiers
ou en banlieue mais dans un loft
Ateliers d’artistes branchés,
Bien plus tendance que l’avenue Foch
ont des enfants bien élevés,
qui ont lu le Petit Prince à 6 ans
Qui vont dans des écoles privées
Privées de racaille, je me comprends

ils fument un joint de temps en temps,
font leurs courses dans les marchés bios
Roulent en 4×4, mais l’plus souvent,
préfèrent s’déplacer à vélo

Les bobos, les bobos
Les bobos, les bobos

Ils lisent Houellebecq ou philippe Djian,
Les Inrocks et Télérama,
Leur livre de chevet c’est surand
Près du catalogue Ikea.
Ils aiment les restos japonais et le cinéma coréen
passent leurs vacances au cap Ferrat
La côte d’azur, franchement ça craint
Ils regardent surtout ARTE
Canal plus, c’est pour les blaireaux
Sauf pour les matchs du PSG
et d’temps en temps un p’tit porno

Les bobos, les bobos
Les bobos, les bobos

Ils écoutent sur leur chaîne hi fi
France-info toute la journée
Alain Bashung Françoise Hardy
Et forcement Gérard Manset
Ils aiment Desproges sans même savoir
que Desproges les détestait
Bedos et Jean Marie Bigard,
même s’ils ont honte de l’avouer
Ils aiment Jack Lang et Sarkozy
Mais votent toujours Ecolo
Ils adorent le Maire de Paris,
Ardisson et son pote Marco

Les bobos, les bobos
Les bobos, les bobos

La femme se fringue chez Diesel
Lui c’est Armani ou Kenzo
Pour leur cachemire toujours nickel
Zadig & Voltaire je dis bravo
Ils fréquentent beaucoup les musées,
les galeries d’art, les vieux bistrots
boivent de la manzana glacée en écoutant Manu chao
Ma plume est un peu assassine
Pour ces gens que je n’aime pas trop
par certains côtés, j’imagine…
Que j’fais aussi partie du lot

Les bobos, les bobos
Les bobos, les bobos

(translation by Frank Dobbs:)

They call them bourgeois bohemians
But their close friends call them bobos
You find them in every rhyme
In the songs of Vincent Delerm
They are a new class
After the mids and the prolos
Like the rednecks, but with more class,
I will set up their picture for you.
They are a little bit artistic by this time
But their passion is their job
In MIS or the media
They’re proud they pay so many taxes.

They live in the best neighborhoods,
Or in the suburbs, but in a loft,
Workshop of an artists’ commune,
Is much more likely than on the Avenue Foch
have children well brought up
who read the Petit Prince when they were six,
who go to private schools,
deprived of “scum,” I understand

They smoke a joint from time to time
And then work out in health food stores
They drive an SUV, but much prefer
To make their round on bicycles.

They read Houellebecq ou Philippe Djian,
Les Inrocks et Télérama
Their bedtime reading is Surand
Next to the IKEA catalog.
They like Japanese joints and Korean films
They spend their vacations at Cap Ferrat
The Riviera gives them the willies.
They mostly watch ARTE
Canal Plus is for the armadillos (lit. badgers)
Except for the occasional PSG matches
And, from time to time, a little porno.

They listen on their hi-fi system
To France-Info all day long
Alain Bashung Françoise Hardy
And of course Gérard Manset
They love Desproges but unaware
That Desproges could not stand them
Bedos and Jean Marie Bigard,
Even if they can’t admit it
They love Jack Lang and Sarkozy
But always vote Green
They adore the Mayor of Paris
Ardisson and his pal Marco.

She dolls up at Diesel
He at Armani or Kenzo
For cashmere its always Nickel
I say hurray for Zadig and Voltaire
They frequent the museums
Art galleries and old bistrots,
They drink iced manzana
While listening to Manu Chao
My pen I fear has taken aim
At these guys I don’t like so well
In certain ways, I must suspect
It is my lot to be like them.

Hat tip to Frank A. Dobbs.

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