Tuesday, March 26, 2019


In this column, David Brooks discovers new vistas in bothsidesism:
The sad fact is that Watergate introduced a poison into the American body politic. Richard Nixon’s downfall was just and important, but it opened up the mouthwatering possibility that you don’t need to do the hard work of persuading people to join your side. Instead, you can destroy your foes all at once through scandal.

Politics since Watergate has been defined by a long string of scandals and pseudo-scandals — Iran-contra, Whitewater, Valerie Plame, Benghazi, Solyndra, swift-boating. Politico last year compiled a list of 46 scandals that were at one time or another deemed “worse than Watergate.”

The nation’s underlying divides are still ideological, but we rarely fight them honestly as philosophical differences. We just accuse the other side of corruption. Politics is no longer a debate; it’s an attempt to destroy lives through accusation.

The political media, especially on TV, now has a template it can apply whenever a scandal looms into view, to hook viewers into the speculative story line....

All the players slip into their assigned roles.
I'll stop there. Brooks tells us that in the post-Watergate era we've had "scandals and pseudo-scandals," which suggests that he believes some of the scandals are phony and some are legitimately troubling. But then he goes all pox-on-both-your-houses: Paying attention to even a legitimate scandal is attempting to "destroy your foes all at once through scandal" rather than "do[ing] the hard work of persuading people to join your side" (which, in any case, isn't how change happens in American politics anymore -- you make change by getting your side to outvote the other side, after which you pass your agenda with the resultant majorities).

Brooks flattens the distinction between Swiftboating and Iran-contra (or Russiagate), as if they're all little more than excuses for people to posture and play the politics of personal destructiom. (Sometimes they are just that -- Swiftboating certainly was -- and sometimes they're partly that, but also a response to legitimate wrongdoing. But to Brooks, it doesn't matter -- in every case, we're just being mean to one another.)
The accused’s political opponents assume maximum guilt.
In the case of Russiagate, I didn't assume maximum guilt. I assumed guilt. In fact, I still assume guilt.
It’s all a wonderful game. You don’t have to know anything about a boring policy subject like economics, poverty or foreign affairs. You can have a long career in politics and media by simply treating public life as an arena of life-or-death gossip.
And if you're David Brooks, you don't have to know anything about a boring policy subject like the specific details of any of these scandals. You don't have to discriminate between the ones that were truly phony and the ones that revealed real political and moral rot. You just have to condemn everyone who took any of the scandals seriously and say, "I'm a morally superior person! You're a terrible person who's destroying America!"

So given that Brooks is the great mystic who's always in search of ways for America to heal its collective soul, what are his spiritual remedies in this case?
Democrats might approach this moment with an attitude of humility and honest self-examination. It’s clear that many Democrats made grievous accusations against the president that are not supported by the evidence. It’s clear that people like Beto O’Rourke and John Brennan owe Donald Trump a public apology. If you call someone a traitor and it turns out you lacked the evidence for that charge, then the only decent thing to do is apologize.
Republicans and the Sean Hannity-style Trumpians might also approach this moment with an attitude of humility and honest self-examination. For two years they’ve been calling the Mueller investigation a witch hunt. For two years they’ve been spreading the libel that there are no honest brokers in Washington. It’s all a deep-state conspiracy, a swamp. They should apologize for peddling the sort of deep cynicism that undermines our country’s institutions.
Oh sure, that'll happen.


AND: Yastreblyansky has much more. In response to bothsidesism:
In point of fact, there's one party that has endlessly produced scandals out of nothing as a political weapon since Watergate (from Billy Beer to Whitewater, from Benghazi to the private server) and one that doesn't (actual serious laws were broken and the will of Congress thwarted in the moving of weapons from Iran to the Nicaraguan Contras, enormous problems began when the intelligence committee began reproducing the views of the Project for a New American Century instead of actual intelligence product on the way to Iraq). Both sides don't do it.


ALSO: Driftglass digs deep into Brooks's Bush-era oeuvre in which he was spectacularly wrong about the Iraq War and sneeringly dismissive of its critics. Apologies for spoiling the ending, but no "humility and honest self-examination" was forthcoming. To put it mildly.

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