Well, Brooks has gone and done me in.
David Brooks says that there are two visions in the country, one held by liberals and Barack Obama and one held by conservatives and Mitt Romney. Brooks does Obama the service of actually waving in the direction of what he actually thinks. He then does Obama the disservice of inventing a position for the other side. I don’t exaggerate; this is an act of pure creation. He cites nothing, or nothing verifiable; he refers only to “Republicans he speaks to,” as instrumentalized and anthropological a creation as Thomas Friedman’s third world taxi drivers. In fact, in an act of almost impossible ballsiness, he admits that the alternative that he’s projecting onto Romney is not one he’s articulated. No, Romney’s regard for this worldview that he hasn’t articulated is shown because “this worldview is implied in his (extremely vague) proposals.”
Well: accusations of hypocrisy aren’t much, when we’re talking about the future of our country. But for Brooks to accuse Romney of being vague in this piece is just too much. Because what Brooks articulates for a Republican philosophy– and let’s be clear, we’re talking about the course of our country, the well-being of millions of people, and the creation or prevention of enormous suffering– what Brooks lays out is utterly empty. There’s nothing there.
What’s his plan?
“He would structurally reform the health care system, moving toward a more market-based system.”
That means nothing. “A more market-based system” means nothing. It articulates no endpoint, nor does it suggest how a president is supposed to “structurally reform” a health care system that is under the purview of Congress, states, hospitals, insurance companies, doctors….
“He would simplify the tax code.”
In what way would he simplify it? How would American taxation change? How can a president simplify the tax code, which is under the purview of Congress?
“He would reverse 30 years of education policy, decentralizing power and increasing parental choice.”
How would he reverse it? What does “reversing” years of education policy mean? What does decentralizing power mean in this context? How can you claim to be decentralizing power when you’re talking about a presidential takeover of our vast education system? What does “increasing parental choice” mean beyond a sop to privatization schemes that decades of empirical evidence demonstrate don’t work? What authority does the president have to take control of education away from districts, municipalities, and states?
“The intention is the same, to create a model that will spark an efficiency explosion, laying the groundwork for an economic revival.”
This means nothing. It’s an utterance in a language I speak, and yet it is utterly without content. There is nothing there. What is an efficiency explosion, beyond the most trite feint at corporatese this side of a shitty MBA paper? How could an efficiency explosion mean nearly the same thing in health care, the tax code, our education system? How and why do any of these things lead necessarily to an economic revival? There is nothing here. In my nightmares I am buffeted by this kind of jargon-ridden empty bullshit; demons sneak into my room and whisper “efficiency explosions of dynamic risk that cause creative destruction and facilitate innovation.”
Now, if you wanted me to climb into my Bobo suit and perform a mindmeld with members of the Tea Party– the type of people who, let’s be clear, David Brooks wouldn’t invite into his fabulous mansion in a million years– I’d say that they are just generally angry and afraid and weak and self-injurious. No, not crazy, not mentally ill. Just angry, because they’ve been sold out by an economic philosophy that has totally undermined their ability to provide for their families or secure a better life, the economic philosophy espoused by Brooks and the rest of the thought leaders that control our society. Afraid, because three decades of economic policy designed to punish workers have left them totally insecure, not knowing from day to day if they can trust their present condition. Weak, because they fall for a ruthlessly efficient propaganda machine that teaches Republican to take their fear and direct it out at the people that don’t look like them, especially the black Kenyan Marxist socialist who occupies the White House. Self-injurious, because they could benefit from a stronger redistributive system as much as anyone else.
Hannah Arendt said that cruelty has everything to do with abstraction. David Brooks resides in that abstraction and embodies that cruelty. In Brooks’s work, there’s nobody who goes hungry at night; there’s just the dynamism that animates capitalism. There’s nobody dying of a preventable disease; there’s the necessity of risk. There’s nobody despairing because there aren’t any jobs; there’s just creative destruction. Think of any human misery you prefer and I’m sure Mr. Brooks has an Aspen-approved euphemism that can cover it up. What a privilege all that money can buy: to live in a world without victims.
I could deal with the horrible vulgarity of a millionaire saying that things have got to get worse for those with nothing, while he hides behind big ideas and empty words. I could live with it, if I didn’t know that the whole system was predicated on just this mechanism, on the separation of ideas and their consequences. I’ve been reading a lot about Chris Hayes’s Twilight of the Elites. And when I read the discussion out there, the excerpts and reviews and interviews, I can understand why some reviewers say that the least convincing part of the book is Hayes’s solutions. I don’t think there are any solutions. Who could be a clearer example of the failure of our meritocracy than David Brooks? He’s a man who holds a position in the most prominent, respected news organization in the world. His work is a weekly exercise in unsupported claims, in vague jargon, in narrative that means nothing and achieves nothing. And no one is ever going to take that position away from him; how could they? There is no accountability for him whatsoever. He calls for dynamism and change, and he’s buried in like a tick.
I know giving up is a luxury most people don’t have, but for now, I’m just spent, exhausted by the effort of running up the slippery walls of this kind of empty argument. Congratulations, David Brooks, I give up.