Friday, October 29, 2010


The easy laugh in today's David Brooks column is here:

Over the next two years, Obama will have to show that he is a traditionalist on social matters and a center-left pragmatist on political ones. Culturally, he will have to demonstrate that even though he comes from an unusual background, he is a fervent believer in the old-fashioned bourgeois virtues: order, self-discipline, punctuality and personal responsibility.

The rest of the list is silly enough, but "punctuality"? That's what going to get OBAMA back in the voters' good graces? Hell, if that's the kind of thing he's overlooking, why not proper posture or good penmanship?

But the rest of the column is no less absurd. Brooks follows that up with this:

Politically, he will have to demonstrate that he is data-driven -- that even though he has more faith in government than most Americans, he will relentlessly oppose programs when the evidence shows they don't work.

This is crazy. Obama's party is about to get a drubbing at the polls from people who are defiantly not "data-driven." They have no idea they received a tax cut. They won't accept the notion that the stimulus prevented further suffering. It's understandable that they're upset about the state of the nation -- a lot of them are really hurting -- but that means precisely that they aren't looking at this coldly and rationally. (Few if any of them have any understanding that the medicine wasn't strong enough.) And their fact-aversion isn't limited to monetary issues. The angriest right-wing voters are furious about anti-gun policies on the part of the administration, even though they can't tell you what those policies are, because they don't exist.

Then there's this from Brooks:

The current sour mood is not just caused by high unemployment. It emerges from the fear that America's best days are behind it. The public's real anxiety is about values, not economics: the gnawing sense that Americans have become debt-addicted and self-indulgent; the sense that government undermines individual responsibility; the observation that people who work hard get shafted while people who play influence games get the gravy.

Notice something odd about this? "People ... work hard" but there's a fear that "Americans have become ... self-indulgent." Do the people who work hard not count as Americans?

What's happening is that Brooks is pulling two ready-2-use bits of chattering-class conventional wisdom down off the shelf and is jamming them together without thinking about how they contradict. Chatterers believe that the economic collapse happened because "we" got greedy and flabby, but they also believe that Joe Lunchpail has traditional values and virtues and really puts his back into his work. Brooks makes a combo platter of the two and never grasps that both of these things can't be true.

One more:

... if Obama is to rebound, he is going to have to suppress his natural competitive instincts. If he gets caught up in the Beltway fight club, the Republicans will emerge as the party of limited government and he’ll emerge as the spokesman for big government -- surely a losing proposition.

That's what he thinks we're experiencing: Fight Club. People choosing to fight other people, with all fights taking place on a mutually voluntary basis.

The implication of that is that if Obama just stopped fighting so darn hard -- let's try to restrain our snickering about that -- and just left Fight Club, then Fight Club would just stop. Or go on without him. Republicans really wouldn't just pound him into a bloody pulp.

Or maybe this is just a clever pop-culture variation on that favorite admonition of incompetent teachers: that "it takes two to start a fight." This is usually said to the bullied kid who knows how untrue that really is, as he nurses his bruises. And those are pretty much the circumstances under which it's being said here.

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