I’ve pondered the mystery of why Gail Collins bothers to rise to “civil” in her exchanges with David Brooks, much less why she affords him a dignity he does not deserve – that of treating him as someone capable of sustaining the logic of his own argument long enough to be worth engaging.
I’m guessing she’s either a much nicer person than I ever hope to be — or else she’s running a year-over-year longitudinal experiment to see just how long Brooks can sustain the pretence of independence as he trundles to his pre-selected conclusions. Seriously — has anyone here been suprised by the last couple of grafs of a Brooks column, no matter where each piece began? Anybody?
So, on to today’s text and exegesis. (Hey, it is Sunday, right?)
From the March 3 Brooks – Collins Opinionator column, we learn that both of our pundits think Romney’s turned himself into a joke, a conclusion few of us, I’m guessing, would dispute.
Brooks begins badly as he contemplates the campaign to date, “My first emotion is pity, and the tremendous ocean of it I feel for Mitt Romney.”
Pity? For a man who’s single campaign competence lies in spending his friends’ money on destructive ads, while lying about his own and his opponents’ words?
Brooks too must have reserves of the milk of human kindness I lack; or else a brain softened by years of trying to unlearn that which would make more difficult the task of comforting the comfortable.
Me, I just hope that Romney discovers just enough self-awareness to condemn him in the coming decades of an increasingly irrelevant existence to ponder the degree to which his father would be ashamed of him. I wish Mitt a long life — make no mistake about that. A miserable one, but long.
But I digress…
Brooks goes on to give his man some sage advice:
If I were Romney, I’d spend the next period of the campaign reading the Stoics, maybe Marcus Aurelius: “Misfortune nobly born is good fortune.” Or perhaps Epictetus: “Difficulties show what men are. Therefore when a difficulty falls upon you, remember that God, like a trainer of wrestlers, has matched you with a rough young man. Why? So that you may become an Olympic conqueror; but it is not accomplished without sweat.”
I was going to break in here and call Brooks the intellectual pseud and poser he clearly is, when I realized that perhaps Collins is not quite so forgiving as she appears:
Gail: I do love the way you throw Epictetus in when I’m least expecting it.
I do think that talk of hooking up any GOP candidate with “a rough young man,” is exactly the image a supporter would wish to disseminate in the midst of a gay-and-women-loathing bash fest led by the most prominent Republicans around, but let that slide. I’m just loving the way Collins bursts Brooks’ balloon. Of course she expects her dose of Epictetus; it’s how Brooks rolls. But it does tee up nicely for her, doesn’t it — and no attentive reader will miss that which seems to glide past the glistening carapace of Brooks’ self regard.
It gets better, which is to say worse, when Brooks permits himself to lament the power of rich people within the GOP:
The primary campaign would be over if not for the Citizens United decision. If Gingrich and Santorum didn’t have “super PAC” sugar daddies, they couldn’t afford to run campaigns. They’d have dropped out and Romney would be cruising.
Super PACs empower protest candidates. Super PACs prolong primary campaigns. Super PACs weaken parties. The irony is that Barack Obama is the first beneficiary of the new campaign finance rules.
If Super PAC’s (and their equivalent in the privilege a rich guy like Romney gets to self fund without limitation) did not exist, Romney would be dead in the water right now. As your own newspaper reported two days ago, Romney has been consistently unable to present an affirmative case for his own candidacy — in just about every race he’s ever run, by the way. But he’s been able to edge toward nomination by deploying negative ads with a scorched earth ferocity Stalin could have admired. It’s that money, and only that money that has allowed Romney to overcome this fundamental truth: the more people know Mitt, the more they dislike him.
Brooks might be right, to be fair, that Gingrich’s Super PAC cash is all that made him viable. But the reality is that it is Romney’s access to Citizen’s United-enabled cash in amounts far greater than the amphibian was able to muster is the only source of his “inevitability. Brooks knows this, but he’s got an ulterior motive in asserting that Super PAC corruption tends to elevate only upstarts, whilst handicapping the “legitimate” candidacy of a Very Serious Person.
And that motive would be to fluff the establishment GOP. Romney is their man. Truly, it’s the least surprising turn in journalism that Brooks goes on to tell Collins this:
I don’t know if he’ll be a great nominee, but I still think he’d be a fine president. I keep running into people who worked with him at Bain or when he was governor and they saw he was an awesome manager. Even Democrats say this.
Two things: 1) See Charlie Pierce for a taste of what folks say who actually watched Romney up close in Massachusetts. As someone who was in fact conscious at the time and living not that far from the state house of our beloved Commonwealth, I can tell you that he is remembered as a guy who bailed on the state within two years, and ended his single term with such low approval ratings that it was even odds whether he’d leave town by air or on a rail.
2) Note a classic instance of the Brooks double tuck inverted weasel: “I keep running into people…Even Democrats.”
Oh yeah, tough guy? Name them.
Brooks has risen as he has because he’s been careful in ways that fellow conservative hacks have not (broken calculators, anyone?) not to give critics any specific claim of fact to test — at least not since this debacle. So it is here. His taxi driver tells him what a great guy Mitt was. (A beautiful dancer, perhaps.) And…you get the point.
Oh, and our weapons are 3) Collins nails him on the obvious solecism in the chain of “reasoning” Brooks offers here. He claims good managers make good presidents. Uh…assumption not in evidence, or, as Collins says,
I cannot stress too often that running the country is not the same as running a business. Not even remotely.
Brooks doesn’t even try to respond to this; I’m guessing he knows he can’t. Instead, he tries to rally just a bit more sympathy for his man:
One way to think about Romney is this: Are his troubles mostly a result of his weaknesses as a candidate or the oddities of the Republican electorate this year? I’d say it’s 30 percent Romney’s fault and 70 percent that large parts of the Republican electorate want someone who either is a joke (Cain) or can’t possibly win or govern (Santorum).
You know, I could almost go so far as to give this a “maybe.”
The either/or here is an example of a classic fallacy, the problem of the non-excluded middle — not to mention a failure to analyze the direction of causality here. On the one hand, the disaster could be overdetermined: Romney could be both loathesome and confronting maniacs — but here I have to stand up for the poor Republican voter. He or (increasingly rarely) she is not simply crazy in a vacuum. These voters have become crazier in part because Romney makes them so, because he is so wretched as a candidate and evidently so hollow as a human being.
All of which is to say that Brooks is in his I/My-Candidate-cannot fail-I/he-are-being-failed territory here. It’s not surprising to see him land in such a hole, though it ain’t pretty. This is what happens when cheerleaders for oligarchy start to fear the mob.*
That said, I have to admit to a moment’s total agreement with our man BoBo. He says:
Here’s what I think may happen. Romney gets the nomination and is defeated. Republicans decide they are sick of nominating “moderates” and next time they go haywire. Then the party gets really crushed…
To which I (and Collins) say, in essence, “from your lips to the FSM’s ear.”
But then, Brooks being Brooks, he has to go and botch the blow-off:
and sanity returns.
Good luck with that my friend.
*Oh, and can I vomit in my mouth at this little bit of Brooksiana?
Personally, I love the caucus process, while acknowledging its flaws. I remember once going to a Democratic caucus in Iowa where the supporters of John Edwards tried to lure away the vegan supporters of Dennis Kucinich by offering them steaks. It’s the sort of quirky artifact that us Burkeans love.
Now I get it: the criteria for assessing the institutions of representative government are to be what what pisses off the kind of folks “Burkeans” disdain. I don’t doubt that Burke might have defended the caucus as a “prescriptive” institution, one whose reason for being was that it had been for a long time, and thus constitutes an accepted element of the system of governance. (That this Burkean argument rests on assumptions that American democracy has explicitly rejected is a separate matter.) But Edmund Burke, for all his traditionalism, was not an asshole. And that is a fact his self-proclaimed heirs may wish to ponder.
Image: Eduardo Zamacois y Zabala, Court jesters playing bowls, 1868.
William Hogarth, An Election Entertainment, c. 1755
I usually don’t read Brooks except duress, but reading that I guess I can see why he’s fooled so many people.
Still, if we had strong truth-in-advertising laws, that series would be renamed “Gail Collins sits back and watches David Brooks make a fool of himself, occasionally slapping him around a bit.”
“I wish Mitt a long life—make no mistake about that. A miserable one, but long.”
So long as he doesn’t export his misery to us, I’m cool with that.
Krugman may have said this about Newt, but it works equally well here: Bobo is a stupid man’s idea of what a smart man sounds like
You know, when I read that, I can see what Republicans mean when they rail against stuffy East Coast elites.
You don’t know the people Brooks keeps running into? Even the Democrats? That’s because you don’t hang out at the Applebee’s salad bar.
Here is an Epictetus quote I would recommend to the GOP:
‘ The first and most necessary topic in philosophy is that of the use of moral theorems, such as, “We ought not to lie;” ‘
I guess that one did not catch Brooks’ eye. Guess these didn’t either:
‘ Reason is not measured by size or height, but by principle. ‘
‘ Since it is Reason which shapes and regulates all other things, it ought not itself to be left in disorder. ‘
First of all, Mittens is more Commodus than he is Marcus Aurelius. Second, David Brooks has been a bit off his game lately. I didn’t hear it, but my mother was very excited to tell me that on NPR last week Bobo was struggling to come up with a coherent excuse for Limbaugh’s attacks on Sandra Fluke. The best our master contortionist pundit could do was dismiss Limbaugh as an “entertainer” in the most unconvincing terms possible.
Except for the usual Ron Paul supporters, none of my Republican neighbors have lawn signs out for the primary this year. I wonder if this is due to shame or despair.
Wikiquotes, huh? I wonder if that’s where Bobo reads up on his ancient philosophers.
Spaghetti Lee @2:
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. David Brooks has “the Innsmouth Look.” I think the reason he always wears a starched collar shirt is so we can’t see his gill slits.
@Delia: You have more faith in him than he deserves. I think his entire knowledge of ancient philosophers was gleaned from watching an episode or two of I Claudius back when he was in junior high school.
Culture of Truth
I’m surprised anyone has ever read to the end.
Isn’t it “we Burkeans”?
@efgoldman: Exactly what I came here to say. Yuck. Glad I can see this stuff given the treatment it deserves.
He really is beyond parody with the Burkean shit, isn’t he?
Naww… I’m pretty sure Epictetus was never mentioned in I, Claudius. My theory is Bobo was at a cocktail party with George Will, who told him it would be really cool and convince everybody that he really was smart after all, if he could quote Epictetus in a column. Because, of course, that’s the sort of crap George pulls all the time. They both just completely forgot about Gail Collins being around to make fun of him.
God it’s hilarious when candy-ass armchair warriors like Brooks don the mantle of steely eyed Stoicicm.
Everything he knows about endurance of life’s tragedy comes from his bitter memory of not finding any brie at the Applebee’s salad bar.
Epictetus was too late: 2nd cen. CE, if memory serves.
Hey, I sound smart enough to take over for Bobo, right?
I would pay good money to watch her say, “David, you ignorant slut…”
Tom, thanks for doing this — I keep trying to write about the Collins/Brooks ‘exchanges’, because I really think Collins deserves more credit for her jabs, but my every attempt descends into incoherent screaming about “Possum” Brooks.
I suspect Collins’ weekly baby-sitting stints are an example of what feminists used to call “the double-XX tax”… somebody has to do the nasty housekeeping jobs, and if you’re a woman in a male-dominated environment, well, everybody knows women are just better at stuff like that, amirite? You don’t even have to spell it out in her employment contract, because teh ladiez have done such a good job at internalizing the ‘bargain’!
In a whole host of errors, the one I find most telling is Brooks’ implicit assumption that what he calls “the peculiarities of the Republican electorate” are a temporary phenomenon.
Umm, no, David. That is the New Face of Republican America, and it’s here to stay. You and yours are dead men walking in terms of your place in the right-wing coalition.
It’s been a long time coming. See, e.g., Perlstein, Before the Storm; Kabaservice, Rule and Ruin. You and yours thought you could keep the beast from turning on you. Hasn’t quite worked out that way, has it?
Would have been a neat trick. Claudius ate the Big One (via a mushroom) in 54 AD and Epictetus was born in 55 AD.
@Anne Laurie: My pleasure, if that’s the word.
I really enjoyed “When Everything Changed”. Collins didn’t pull any punches there. So if she appears to be humoring Brooks, it’s only for the sake of appearances.
So, it’s ironic, is it? Doesn’t that rather presuppose, not to mention reveal, that said situation is not the intended consequence?
I am, of course, assuming that devotees of Epictetus and the sainted Burk would toss off feats of situational irony with their R-brain while in REM sleep.
Pity for Mitt Romney?
So he’s not very good at politics. Boo-fucking-hoo.
I guess he’ll just have to content himself with having a net worth around $250 million, and a full head of hair at 65 years old.
$250 million is the fortune he was born with. He’s worth a helluva lot more than that now.
Never heard of Epictetus but I looked him up. According to Wiki:
“To Epictetus, all external events are determined by fate, and are thus beyond our control, but we can accept whatever happens calmly and dispassionately. Individuals, however, are responsible for their own actions, which they can examine and control through rigorous self-discipline.”
This is interesting because this is the philosophy taught by the hillbilly holy roller fundamentalist Christianity I was exposed to as a child. Maybe those folks, trying to find meaning and worth in a difficult life, were more sophisticated than I’ve given them credit for.
But of course, savoir faire is everywhere. :-)
People pay him to write claptrap like this.
Just went and looked at the original Burkean Bells column, now almost exactly three years old. To wit:
He was fearful in February, 2009! The Obama people were refusing to hire registered lobbyists. They were in over their heads.
He couldn’t discriminate between the stupid economists and the smart ones, and he knew that the Rs were never going to raise taxes no matter what. Cutting benefits turned out to be another matter.
Now that the markets have regained all their glorious stature, what does Brooks have to say? Will he admit that highly trained experts have indeed shown themselves to be capable?
Our nation turns its lonely eyes to you, Mr. Brooks. Enlighten us already.
I’m guessing he has interns that look them up for him. The only philosophy Bobo reads are those pithy bits on the inside of a Dove wrapper.
BTW – from now on when ever I read about Our Ms Brooks the phrase “peals of Burkean laughter” will echo in my head. It will help get me in the right frame of intellectual pursuit for his sludge.
No one expects the Stoic Imposition.
Anybody remember the last time Epictetus was pumped into the discourse (some wingnut riffing off of “A Man in Full”)? In short order the neocons denounced it as antisemitism and the whole issue shuffled off into incoherence. It was news to me that Zeus was a Semitic god, but there you go.
@Anoniminous: I believe that’s a win.
Thats the main weapon of the Stoic Imposition – surprise and er AMONGST the weapons of the Stoic Imposition . . .
I second your award
Okay, you win the internets for the day.
The case can be made that Cain “(a joke)” has better management experience than Romney. Romney’s just a vulture capitalist, but as a Pillsbury VP, Cain turned around the failing Godfather Pizza division and made it a success.
I’ve never actually seen a Godfather Pizza joint. I wonder if Cain added salad bars.
Marcellus Shale, Public Dick
i think the mess that the gop is in does have something to do with citizens united. its more than none of the final four bothered to build out financially. they liked the idea of large sums of quick cash that gives them more autonomy, but leaves them having to make shit up as they go on issues they barely care about.
hence teh crazy.
‘God has matched you with a rough young man’? I’m surprised Republicans aren’t quoting Epictetus more often. Though according to Ed Morrissey, this quote means Brooks has injected his sex life into the discussion.
Let us never speak of this again.
What Krugman wants to say, but can’t because of NYT’s play-nice house rule:
Bobo is a stupid man
’s idea of what a smart man sounds like
If the word “Burkean” were excised from existence, I don’t think this clown could write another column.
Burke was kind of an asshole. If David Brooks were alive in the 18th century the “It is now sixteen or seventeen years since I saw the queen of France” bit from ‘Reflections’ could have been one of his columns.
Why stop with Epictetus? Wherefore not good Phlebitis or doughty Peristalsis? What an asshole.
And somebody better let Brooks know that Republican politicians prefer their rough young men in bathroom stalls, not Olympic arenas.
Brooks can only be for read for snark fodder. Collins is not much better, since she’s always so bored with real issues and has become obsessed with Romney’s dog incident. These two are made for each other.
Politifact has a job waiting for you.
@Anoniminous: I think the point of the mention was that the entire ‘I, Claudius’ was fictional. Thus, anachronisms would be highly suitable.
Also, more likely to have watched on PBS Masterpiece Theatre,
where it was extremely racy for the time, than to have read the book.
@hitchhiker: “then the epistemological skepticism natural to conservatives will have been discredited.”
Tell me again how the doomsayings of the GOP in 1994, on the Clinton tax bill, were discredited. So all the important people in Washington ignored them when they said the same things every year after Obama was elected.
Your ears you keep, and I’ll tell you why: so that every shriek of every child at seeing your hideousness will be yours to cherish. Every babe that weeps at your approach, every woman who cries out, “Dear God! What is that thing,” will echo in your perfect ears. That is what to the pain means. It means I leave you in anguish, wallowing in freakish misery forever.