Tuesday, May 29, 2012


Is David Brooks trying to tell us in today's column that, hlike much of the modern conservative movement, he thinks the twentieth century should be repealed? Or -- and this would be worse, because it's both heartless and gutless -- is he trying to have it both ways, endorsing Gilded Age sink-or-swim economics while seeming not to, because he doesn't want to turn in his nice-guy card and give up his NPR gig and his book signings in politically moderate suburbs?

Brooks starts by praising Alexander Hamilton as a guy who really knew what government ought to be doing: encouraging business and not worrying about whether people are starving. Then he tells us that the Hamiltonian approach has been undermined:

The abandonment came in three phases. First, the progressive era. The progressives were right to increase regulations to protect workers and consumers. But the late progressives had excessive faith in the power of government planners to rationalize national life....

Second, the New Deal. Franklin Roosevelt was right to energetically respond to the Depression. But the New Deal's dictum -- that people don't eat in the long run; they eat every day — was eventually corrosive. Politicians since have paid less attention to long-term structures and more to how many jobs they "create" in a specific month. Americans have been corrupted by the allure of debt, sacrificing future development for the sake of present spending and tax cuts.

Third, the Great Society. Lyndon Johnson was right to use government to do more to protect Americans from the vicissitudes of capitalism. But he made a series of open-ended promises, especially on health care. He tried to bind voters to the Democratic Party with a web of middle-class subsidies.

In each case, a good impulse was taken to excess. A government that was energetic and limited was turned into one that is omnidirectional and fiscally unsustainable.

This sinister process -- a distortion of the Founders' intent that started with the Progressives -- is "omnidirectional." It's got us caught in a "web." We are now "corrupted." It's all "corrosive." Hmmm -- where have I heard that before?

Beck: All right, now, if all of this sounds like a government out of control, go back to the progressive movement. It is not what our founders of this country intended. One hundred years of this movement, and the government growing while our rights are shrinking. I've been saying now for awhile, and it really has clicked in my mind, um, that it is the progressive movement, it is the cancer that is inside both parties. It's why you don't feel like there is a choice. It's why John McCain and Barack Obama, you're going, 'You gotta be kidding me, right?'

Tell me what the difference is. I'm having trouble figuring that out.

Oh, yeah, I'm know: Brooks is upset only at the excess. So how does he define that excess?

A government that was trusted and oriented around long-term visions is now distrusted because it tries to pander to the voters' every momentary desire.

What are some of these "momentary desires," David? The desire not to eat out of dumpsters in your old age, or after being sacked when a venture capital firm buys your company? Is that what you mean?

Brooks won't say. This is how he keeps his nice-guy status while endorsing the Beck line: Oh, I'm just against the bad parts of the Progressive Era and the New Deal and the Great Society. You know what the bad parts are -- they're the parts that are bad!

Or perhaps Brooks's very next sentence is an example of what he means:

A government that devoted its resources toward future innovation and development now devotes its resources to health care for the middle-class elderly.

That's right -- health care for the middle-class elderly is, to Brooks, the moral equivalent of ... what? Having a one-night stand while high on cocaine? That's the kind of thing I think of when a moralizer talks about the evils of "momentary desires." Apparently, wanting Grandma to live her last days with a modicum of dignity is just as sinful.

Hey, Davey -- you know who can afford modern medical care for the elderly without a little financial aid? People like you who can also afford $4 million houses. For us peasants, it's a heavy lift.


Victor said...

Does anyone besides the DC Village's "Village Idiot's" read this inane drone?
And a few Liberal bloggers like you, Steve, and Charles Pierce, and a few others, who do so only to mock this Conservative hiding behind a reaonable Centrist's mask?

Without someone like you pointing out his eminently mock-able columns to read for shit's and giggles, I haven't read a Brooks NY Times piece in probably about a decade.
Why bother?
He doesn't say anything new. EVER!
Ok - that one article criticizing R's last year.
Outside of that, I think he and Thomas Freidman are having some sort of competition to see who can say the same shit over and over again, and still keep their job.

And the reading public's the loser.

Steve M. said...

Friedman, at least, is right about a few things (climate change is a serious and urgent problem caused by humans; we really need to build and repair infrastructure). Brooks, increasingly, isn't right about anything.

Belvoir said...

Brooks: "While European governments in the 19th and early 20th centuries focused on protecting producers and workers, the U.S. government focused more on innovation and education."

Yeah, Victorian England was a workers' paradise. Anyone who compresses European history of over a century this facile and incorrect way is a fucking idiot.

M. Bouffant said...

There are 393 comments at The NYT, so at least a few people read him, 'though my guess would be that no matter how many people read him, he's such a mediocrity & so afraid to jeopardize his position that few can remember whatever he typed an hr. later.

And I'm starting to think that besides his mediocrity, he's dealing w/ some deep-seated psychological issues.

tony in san diego said...

Brooks: "While European governments in the 19th and early 20th centuries focused on protecting producers and workers, the U.S. government focused more on innovation and education."

Hah! European governments in the 19th and early 20th centuries focused on retaining their crowns and maintaining their borders! Tell it to Bismark!

Anonymous said...

When Brooks is talking about "European governments" here, he's actually talking about imperial germany, where noted philanthropist (not) Otto von Bismarck instituted a social safety net because he rightly believed it would make germany stronger in both economic and military terms. And y'know something, it worked.

That's the thing Brooks and rich jerkwads like him refuse to understand: making sure that grandma won't have to eat dogfood and die of bedsores, and that your life (or that of your kids or spouse) won't be destroyed by accident or preventable disease is laying the groundwork for innovation and progress. Because if I've got to come up with $20K a year to to have an entry ticket to the healthcare system, I am not going to be doing the kind of economic risk-taking (or even sensible investment) that makes a country strong.