My therapist said to stop reading Bobo (she said he’s like a disease without any cure), but sometimes you sick bastards send me links to his columns and I can’t help myself. Here’s a bit of his latest anti-partisanship screed:
Now most TV and radio talk is minute political analysis, while talk of culture has shriveled. This change is driven by people who, absent other attachments, have fallen upon partisanship to give them a sense of righteousness and belonging.
This emotional addiction can lead to auto-hysteria.
I’m not quite sure what he’s talking about since there are numerous late night talk shows (e.g. Letterman, Leno) that rarely discuss minute political analysis. Moreover, Bobo’s many mash notes to W in the early 2000s sound an awful lot like the writing some of someone who has fallen upon partisanship to give him a sense of righteousness and belonging.
But that’s not my point here. What I’d like to know is this: why is it better when someone falls upon very serious independent non-partisanship to give them a sense of righteousness and belonging, as Brooks does now that he’s playing Moderate Man?
People as a group are self-righteous and predictable. This is doubly true of pundits, who, whether they admit it or not, are almost always easily described. Could be loyal conservative. Less often it’s loyal liberal. Increasingly often, it’s Slate pitchesque: gay but conservative, nominally supportive of Democrats but pro-austerity and pro-war (this last one covers a wide swath of contemporary pundits). There seems to be a new development where pundits simply throw out a seemingly randomly generated stream of Slate pitches, unmoored from any political philosophy or school of thought.
And of course, many media elites adopt what Jay Rosen calls “The View From Nowhere”:
In pro journalism, American style, the View from Nowhere is a bid for trust that advertises the viewlessness of the news producer. Frequently it places the journalist between polarized extremes, and calls that neither-nor position “impartial.” Second, it’s a means of defense against a style of criticism that is fully anticipated: charges of bias originating in partisan politics and the two-party system. Third: it’s an attempt to secure a kind of universal legitimacy that is implicitly denied to those who stake out positions or betray a point of view. American journalists have almost a lust for the View from Nowhere because they think it has more authority than any other possible stance
In the view from nowhere, both sides do it…by definition.
The Slate-pitchers and moderate independent non-partisans like to portray themselves as of no party or clique and therefore superior to those who are of a party of clique. But it’s silly: David Brooks is just as predicable (if not more predictable) than E. J. Dionne or Charles Krauthammer. Charles Lane (a self-proclaimed “ostensibly nonpartisan pundit”) is even more predictable. Say what you what will about the tenets of overt wingnuts, they don’t involve writing fifteen articles a year about electric cars. Of course, Lane and much of the rest of the former-TNR crowd mostly criticizes what they sees as the excesses of liberalism because…that’s what Marty Peretz wanted at TNR back in the day. How is that in any way interesting or unexpected?
The way modern punditry works is this: the pundit choose a respectable box for him (almost always) or her self. Could be a Slate pitch special snowflake box (think Megan McArdle, Gregg Easterbrook, Sully, etc.) or it could be one of the standards, such as the view from nowhere or even-the-liberal-New-Republic. Then whatever dumb shit they have to say — John Kerry will run in 2016, the Dolphins will go 12-4, protesters should be beaten with 2x4s — is delivered in this respectable box and therefore demands to be taken seriously. Angry partisans like you and me should never be taken seriously, even if we’re usually right about things.