The Alternate Universe of David Brooks

I’ve take a pleasant break from reading David Brooks, that armpit-sniffing pundit of note for the NYTimes and well-modulated, never angry, almost robotic voice of PBS fame. It’s been nice not having to think much about Bobo because he put on his Green Jacket last week, but duty calls. David Brooks wrote another crapacious column and now he must be punished.

As is always Davy’s style, it contains false choices, weighs them against each other, and then mushily he divides the difference and says that is where The One True Path lies. But what actually lies is David Brooks. And darlings, he does it beautifully.

Today’s topic is living a life that is well-considered. Now aside from the faux Brit-speak, what Brooks says/lies is that everyone has a basic choice in life:

  • You can lead a life well-planned
  • You can lead a life that reacts to your context

He cites an example for the well-planned life, a Xristian conservative, Clayton Christensen. Christensen, who is a professor at the Harvard Business School, writes an essay in the Harvard Business Review that Bobo admires. Christensen is so dedicated to Christ that he during his undergrad years, he would forgo his basketball team’s games on Sundays (he’s the starring center, Bobo tells us breathlessly). And when studying at Oxford (he was a Rhodes Scholar), he dedicated a whole hour each evening to praying and contemplating instead of studying economics. He wanted to understand his place and role in the Universe. A regular Thomas Aquinas, he is.

Christensen claims it helped him plan his life.

Then the fun begins: Bobo compares the real and monastic Christensen, fully grown now with children of his own to a present-day fictional 24 year old:

The person leading the Well-Planned Life emphasizes individual agency, and asks, “What should I do?” The person leading the Summoned Life emphasizes the context, and asks, “What are my circumstances asking me to do?”

Well, Bobo, perhaps the well-planned life also includes the luck of the well-planned birth? Someone who had the luxury and access to better schools, parents who were involved, money, etc., who can then go to Harvard become a Rhodes Scholar and spend an entire hour a day contemplating their role in the Universe while studying economics at Oxford. Because, you know, every good Xristian should be studying economics; I think it is one of the commandments, but I could be mistaken.

Anyway Brooks compares the very real Christensen to a fictional person of another generation in a different time — a classic Brooksian gambit.

Let us consider another 24-year old, a real one, though he remains nameless in The View From Your Recession at The Atlantic:

I’m an American in my early 20s, the ink on my Ivy League diploma not yet dry, plunging into my first job. I’m writing to say that I am doing just fine in the recession. My company is hiring, the economy is still growing at an impressive clip, and the hope and optimism that tomorrow will be even better than today is palpable.

I can say this because I didn’t follow my fellow college grads to Wall Street in search of money that was so abundant and so certain that it seemed too good to be true (as it turned out to be). While my friends went to Manhattan; I went to Mumbai, opting for a management trainee program at an Indian conglomerate that is looking for Americans to bring fresh ideas into the company.

How refreshing! Andrew Sullivan’s correspondent is also abroad, it’s just that there was no opportunity in America, and so he went to India.

I would be lying if I said every day weren’t a challenge in matters corporate, cultural, and even culinary. India is a sea of cultures wildly different from my own, and it is still a developing country that is rife with mind-numbing “Slumdog”-style poverty. Communal and class tensions simmer and occasionally boil over, exploited by greedy politicians for their own short-term gain. And I am getting paid Indian wages; while I live very comfortably here, the US government considers me to be living below the poverty line (which, as it turns out, doesn’t stop my beloved alma mater from asking for money!)

Oh, the joys of living on local wages in the third world. And how amusing that his ivy-league alma mater is hitting him up for spare Rupees.

You see, Bobo, sometimes you can arrange to have a well-considered and planned life, but then reality gets in your way. Something like the Great Recession pops up–you know, the result of the great lie you and your ilk have foisted on the innocent and unsuspecting over the last 30 years that deficits from tax cuts don’t matter and that rising tides lift all yachts–and wipes out those plans, and you find yourself, literally living in the third world on third world wages, because there is no future for you or your generation in the United States. It should also be noted for the record that our unnamed correspondent only got the job through connections, which not everyone is going to have.

David, please explain to me how to split that difference.

The Summoned Self, by David Brooks

Shorter David Brooks:

Clothes make the man, but nothing makes a pundit.

Even for Bobo, today’s column is especially stupid, and that’s saying something. Anyway, Little Davy Brooks imagines what it is like to be a Democrat, and so of course he puts on a green army jacket (get the Vietnam Vet, homeless, drug-addled DFH reference? He’s so edgy!), and he experiences enlightenment, which of course he translates to his faux centrist-speak and shows us the disaster that waits ahead.

David Brooks grinds one out

I dread Tuesdays. I know what awaits me, and its initials are D-F-B.

Today, we learn, without guile, who Bobo prefers to sit next to at lunch. He calls them Princes. He doesn’t mention the sucking-up portion of the menu, but I think with Davy that’s just a given, and hopefully he has a nice damask napkin to wipe up anything that might spill out of the corner of his mouth. Davy says he prefers to sit next to them because:

They are almost always charming, smart and impressive. They’ve read interesting books. They’ve got well-rehearsed takes on the global situation. They can drop impressive names as they tell you about their visits to the White House, Moscow or Beijing. If you’re having lunch or dinner with a prince, you’re going to have a good time.

Yup, that sounds like Davy’s cup o’ ($300/oz) tea. Anyway, he goes on to talk about who he doesn’t like to sit next to, he calls them Grinds, and he goes on at great length about why you don’t want to sit next to one:

Grinds, on the other hand, tend to have started their own company or their own hedge fund. They’re often too awkward to work in a large organization and too intense to work for anybody but themselves.

Over lunch, they can be socially inert. You try to draw them out by probing for one or two subjects of interest to them. But as often as not, you find yourself playing conversational ping-pong with a master of the monosyllabic response.

Every once in a while you’ll run into one who can’t help but let you know how much smarter he is than you or anybody else in the room. Sitting at this lunch is about as pleasant for him as watching a cockroach crawl up his arm. He’d much rather be back working in front of his computer screen.

So there you have it, Bobo would rather sit with the guys who rake in the cash doing nothing than sit with the worker bees.

But we knew that water seeks its own level.

So after his usual citation from an academic book (contractually required, we wonder?) — of which he’s only read the flap — but that’s more than a grind like you will ever read — he tells us that The recovery has been good for princes and terrible for grinds. Odd that. He seems mystified.

But this is the point where a column by Brooks always goes off the rails, the point in which the GOP talking points enter, and Bobo’s patented, NPR-approved reasonable centrist BS seeps out of his diaper and onto the printed page. Brooks will not tell us why the recovery was good for the Masters of the Universe and terrible for everyone else, it would destroy the narrative he has spent a life time to create, so instead he offers up the usual palliative that Very Serious People are spewing out:

For jobs to recover, the grinds have to recover, but it’s hard to see how that will happen so long as households are still so leveraged, government debt is still so unnerving and the business climate is still so terrible for entrepreneurs.

You see, it’s not the golden boys, the Masters of the Universe fault, it is the little guy. It is you. The little guy who has a mortgage that he probably should never have had. The government debt is too big because the government tried to stimulate the economy.

Bobo does not mention the eight years of letting George Bush, a hung-like-a-bee, dry-drunk, with an Oedipus complex, go on a credit card binge to finance two wars for Halliburton and the most incredible and irresponsible tax cuts and treasury raid since Saint Ronnie did it back in the ’80s. Bush, who would have used a Ouija Board instead of regulators, if he could have found a way, at whose feet lay the most incredible degradation of the environment (natural and fiscal) in our nation’s history. The same Bush who shredded the Constitution and the Bill of Rights at every available opportunity. He goes unmentioned.

Bobo will not tell us that for 30 years we’ve favored the rich-the Princes-in lieu of everyone else. By design, we have not invested in growing a strong economy that promotes high production and a higher standard of living for everybody. Through design and policy of the conservatives, we’ve created a structural problem, a laissez-faire environment for the rich to maximize their profits at the expense of everybody else.

Thirty years of Voodoo economics brought to this point, and Davy wants to blame it on us, the little guys.

I wasn’t going to write about David Brooks today…

…but circumstances beyond my control have forced my hand. You see, the gawd-awful New York Magazine profiled him.

Imagine you are a professional writer and your assignment comes in: Interview Bobo. Do you quit on the spot, defenestrate yourself, or accept the assignment and promise ritual seppuku for later, or perhaps a nice garotting? Well, those are the only choices I can think of, and Christopher Beam bylined the article, so look for his suicide note in the days to come.

The interesting things we learn about David Brooks in the article are small, but legion. He’s as boring as you might suspect. The word beige comes to mind (mental note to self: find a Medium to read Bobo’s aura. We have suspicions), and it is immediately backed up in this passage (emphasis mine):

We’re sitting at the Best Buns Bread Company in the Village at Shirlington, a sort of prefab town square in Arlington, Virginia, designed to be quaint and homey. The streets are fresh red brick. The lampposts are faux antique. The trees are evenly spaced. A color-coded map explains the area’s layout, like a mall. The neighborhood’s culinary diversity—Aladdin’s Eatery abuts Bonsai Restaurant abuts Guapo’s—is matched only by its patrons’ ethnic lack thereof. We are sipping coffees and munching on identical Ginger Crinkle cookies, when it occurs to me: I am in a David Brooks book. We are Bobos. This is Paradise.

Or it could be a white-flight ‘hood that Davy landed in where everything is reasonable and centered, and nothing excites. Actually, the idea of excitement is one that is entirely missing from this profile. Brooks is like someone with Aspergers Syndrome who read Emily Post: no understanding of how people work and yet polite. Another quote:

Another time, he was sitting at an Orioles game with his kids when a bat flew into the stands. “A normal human being, when they get a ball, they go, Aaaah!” He waves his arms around. “Or when they get a bat, they hold it up. I just put it at my feet and sat there.

“I think inside I’m as emotional as anybody,” he says. “I just don’t emote it.”

OK, so we get it: Bobo is beige and he is constipated. What else do we learn? Let’s see, he has four shapeless suits, he sort of stumbled into his writing career while originally writing a humor column (yuks galore there, you can be assured), and allegedly the Obama White House (Rahm) calls him before his column is published to find out if it will be a good day or a bad day for them.

So you see, we learn a lot about Bobo and President Carebear.

One last quote which I think sums up Davy best:

Every column is a failure,” says Brooks. “I always wish I did something different.”

Me too, Davy, me too.

(Driftglass has more, too. Also.)

Bobo Speaks! (and as usual it is agenda-laden nonsense)

David brooks lifted up his right cheek again and stunk up the joint, his newest column which he calls A Little Economic Realism might as well be called Let’s Exhume Saint Ronnie. I don’t have the time or the will-power to take on his weak-tea of a column in total, so I’ll just cherry-pick a few of the more outrageous and stupid claims.

Bobo wants us to feel his pain upon seeing 30 years of Supply Siders washed down into the sewers of history:

The Demand Siders don’t have a good explanation for the past two years. There is no way to know for sure how well the last stimulus worked because we don’t know what would have happened without it.

Davey, the demand siders do know what happened the last two years: A housing crash led to a financial crisis, helped by unregulated Wall Street grifters. Global stimulus efforts helped create a global recovery, which is now threatened by European debt crises and austerity measures that focus on punishing its citizens via debt reduction instead of trying to grow their way to prosperity.

Bobo continues on his Bataan Death March of Logic:

Only 6 percent of Americans believe the last stimulus created jobs, according to a New York Times/CBS News survey.

Are you saying that you are right, Bobo, because the public is confused? The facts, Davey, are that the stimulus warded off a 1930s-style crash and did save or add millions of jobs. Just not enough because the stimulus was actually too small.

But the overall message is: Don’t be arrogant. This year, don’t engage in reckless new borrowing or reckless new cutting.

Arrogant, in Bobo’s dictionary, means anyone who does not agree with his patented genteel and reasonable centrism.

Everything wrong with the media is in Bobo’s lede

The most interesting part of my job is that I get to observe powerful people at close quarters.

It’s all about access, and when that bitchsquealer, David Brooks, talks about interesting people, he’s really talking about his own tribe of self-congratulatory amnesiacs who have not learned from their mistakes, and who continuously grab the wheel of the Great Conservative Clown Car and aim for the cliffs.

Spy Magazine, famous for being hated by all the people that they covered, used to endlessly call Laurence Tisch a churlish dwarf billionaire to the point that one of Tisch’s PR flacks finally got on the case and demanded a retraction. Graydon Carter, the editor at the time, recorded the conversation and published the retraction: “Graydon got a call from P.R. man John Scanlon, who was then working for Tisch: ‘Look, Graydon, you’ve really gone too far this time. To begin with, Larry is not technically a dwarf.’ Graydon jotted that down, and in the next issue Spy ran a clarification in which a CBS spokesman pointed out that Tisch was not ‘technically’ a dwarf.”

We need more Spy and less Bobo in our media.

If It’s Tuesday, It Must Be Tedium: a David Brooks Post

We have another 800-word, sleep-written, reasonable centrist screed from Bobo! Rejoice!

Davy Brooks read another reasonable book from another reasonable political economist (there must be a book of the month club for reasonable people), Ian Bremmer. Bobo fails to mention that Bremmer is on the Faculty at the Hoover Institute (the hard right think tank at Stanford University) “where, at 25, he became the Institution’s youngest ever National Fellow.” In other words, Bremmer is a fellow traveler in the fine Brooksian tradition of wrapping hard right philosophy with a tasty chocolate coating. To make it more palatable.

Anyway, the theme today is that Capitalism is good. Statist Capitalism is bad. It seems to be an attempt to get us all to forgive BP for the gulf oil gusher, because, well, at least it was not Hugo Chavez.

But here is the key line that unfolds the whole origami swan covered in oil:

“Under state capitalism, market enterprises exist to earn money to finance the ruling class.”

Of course Bobo doesn’t mention that this is exactly what goes on under democratic capitalism. And I dare him to deny it.

So here in the US with our exceptional form of Capitalism, the schools are all failing, our infrastructure is crumbling, we have the slowest internet speeds in the developed world, most of our population is without healthcare (today), and we have officially about 10% unemployed and unofficially about 20% and above if you count underemployed. But thank god we give all our mineral rights to the extraction companies.

So, Davy, while the 2Big2Fail banks are all given bailouts (and giving themselves bonuses), Industrial Ag is kept alive with taxpayer subsidies, the Military-Industrial Complex gets as much of our taxpayer money as it wants while we slash benefits for our poorest and most fragile citizens, you want to lecture us that Venezuela, China, et al, who are using their economies to lift all boats are somehow evil?

You want to tell us that BP, who is only beholden to its shareholders, while the government is beholden to it’s citizens is a better model? Good luck with that.

The Larger Struggle, by David Brooks

Bobo: “Some Good, Some Bad, Some Say”

Little Davey Brooks recovered from his bad acid trip with The Big Shaggy, but continues down the psycho rabbit hole, screaming that it is time for deficit reduction, in the middle of the Great Recession. And of course, being the driver of the Reasonable Centrist Clown Car, Brooks continues on with his delusional crap of that is is imperative to reduce middle-class entitlement programs, you know, for the good of the middle class.

So, to back up his thesis, Bobo gets out his favorite three-legged orchard ladder and picks some cherries. His first stop is his NYTimes colleague, Edward L. Glaeser, who received his degree from the University of Chicago (i.e., Milton Friedman disciple; think Shock Doctrine) who finds only a slight correlation between deficit spending and job growth. Notably, Brooks does NOT consult his other NYTimes colleague, the Nobel Prize winning one, Paul Krugman. Most assuredly an oversight.

Brooks also cites an economist from Harvard, Alberto Alesina, who wrote a paper that basically says that politicians who go into deficit reduction mode do not always get voted out at the next election. The paper, while it does boost the consequences of deficit reductions is really focused on the politicians, not on the economy.

This leads Stuck in the Middle Brooks to saying that economists are divided on the issue, which is a place where he usually finds succor and comfort. But not today. Brooks could have talked to Mark Zandi, chief economist for Moody’s Economy.com, who testified during a congressional hearing that preserving jobless aid is more important than deficit reduction in the short term, but that would disrupt his own thesis, which is that we need to tighten our belts for the good of everyone.

Bobo notes that “high-skill sectors saw no net loss of jobs during the recession. Middle-skill sectors like sales saw an 8 percent employment decline. Blue-collar jobs fell by 16 percent.” Davey, can you define high-skills sectors?

In other words, the recession exacerbated the inequalities we’ve been seeing for decades.

Yes, Davey, for 30-long, hard years. No where in his obligatory 800 words belched out twice weekly does Brooks mention how we got in this jam, there is no mention of the 30 years of unabated piss-on or voodoo economics started by Saint Ronnie that set us hurling down this path towards the abyss.

As wonky Ezra Klein tells us, “There has been zero net job creation since December 1999. No previous decade going back to the 1940s had job growth of less than 20 percent. Economic output rose at its slowest rate of any decade since the 1930s as well.

This was the first business cycle where a working-age household ended up worse at the end of it than the beginning, and this in spite of substantial growth in productivity, which should have been able to improve everyone’s well-being.

– Lawrence Mishel, president of the Economic Policy Institute, a liberal think tank.

So how did the CEO and donor class do during the recession, Bobo? Can you tell us?

Prune and Grow, by David Brooks

Bobo has started drinkin’ early!

Today Bobo laments the decline of the liberal arts major and the rise of the technology students, who are thinking pragmatically that getting a job might require having a skill set that might make them employable; such are the consequences of college during a Depression, one which Bobo helped to create through his advocacy of certain pernicious policies that transferred wealth from the bottom of the heap to the top (which you can learn about in the Liberal Arts colleges, by the way). Bobo wants students to learn analogies to help them to learn to think (like he does):

Studying the humanities will give you a wealth of analogies. People think by comparison — Iraq is either like Vietnam or Bosnia; your boss is like Narcissus or Solon. People who have a wealth of analogies in their minds can think more precisely than those with few analogies. If you go through college without reading Thucydides, Herodotus and Gibbon, you’ll have been cheated out of a great repertoire of comparisons.

And I suppose if your thinking is very shallow, you see Bobo’s point, and if you read Bobo for long you realize that indeed his thinking is that shallow.

But then he takes a big swig of sumpin’ Chimpy McStagger left in the Club House, and immediately, the wheels come off the bus:

Finally, and most importantly, studying the humanities helps you befriend The Big Shaggy.

Let me try to explain. Over the past century or so, people have built various systems to help them understand human behavior: economics, political science, game theory and evolutionary psychology. These systems are useful in many circumstances. But none completely explain behavior because deep down people have passions and drives that don’t lend themselves to systemic modeling. They have yearnings and fears that reside in an inner beast you could call The Big Shaggy.

Jeebus, Bobo is hallucinating and he sees Furries. Whatever. Anyway, the rest of his column is some sort of homage to a GOP version of Elwood P. Dowd and Harvey:

Few of us are hewers of wood. We navigate social environments. If you’re dumb about The Big Shaggy, you’ll probably get eaten by it.

Srsly, Dude, seek some help – use the NYTimes Employee Assistance councilor for psychiatric help or substance abuse. You are embarrassing yourself.

David Brooks’ syllabus

Good Grief, Charlie Brown! For farts and giggles I read Bobo’s column today and immediately had a flashback to Poli-sci 101 (which we used to call “nap time”) and burst into a cold sweat; could there be a quiz coming?

Anyway, for reasons unexplained, Bobo decides to compare and contrast the French and the British versions of the Age of Enlightenment. Yes, that magical period following The Age of Reasoning and preceding Modernity; do you see why I was having cold sweats?

Now, because it is a Bobo column, you can rest assured that after 700 words or so of mental masturbation and pedantry, he comes to his point. Professional journalists call this burying your lead, but in Bobo’s world it is essential to prove to everyone he is the smartest person reading his column. Plus he needed 700 words of foreplay first.

Today, if you look around American politics you see self-described conservative radicals who seek to sweep away 100 years of history and return government to its preindustrial role. You see self-confident Democratic technocrats who have tremendous faith in the power of government officials to use reason to control and reorganize complex systems. You see polemicists of the left and right practicing a highly abstract and ideological Jacobin style of politics.

This is just his round-about way of saying that isn’t it a shame that we’re so politicized.

And yes, Bobo, it is. And you have a lot to do with it.

It is amazing to me how week after week, David Brooks writes basically the same column, ever since Saint Ronnie’s Big Lie started to fall apart. The rising tide lifted all the yachts, but the little guys in the life rafts were cut loose and allowed to drift off to sea, the infrastructure was burned down like some sort of Roman warfare strategy to avoid retreats, and the Wall Street jackals were let loose to feast on whatever they wanted. Thirty years later, we are sitting jobless on the edge of a world-wide depression, we’re in Peak Oil and there’s a gushing, giant oil blob floating off the coast threatening a different kind of calamity that no one knows what to do about, and our government is having a commission that is discussing how to cut Social Security and Medicare benefits because we can no longer afford the social safety net; meanwhile across the globe we are fighting two wars that some would say are baseless, and others would say are religious, and we don’t have a clear understanding of why we are there or how to get out.

And David Brooks wants to know how we got to be so polarized? As the kneepad-wearing head cheerleader for the Visigoths, he can look in the mirror for answers.

(Two Theories of Change, by David Brooks)

UPDATE 1:Doughy Pantload, pontificating poltroon that he is, has had it with Brooks’ column, too -

What’s David Brooks Trying To Say? [Jonah Goldberg]
I liked Brook’s column, even if I have some objections (Jacobin, moi?) and despite the fact that it’s a fairly familiar Brooksian lament. But I have to wonder is this a continuation of the Obama must be a Burkean stuff? I have to assume that’s the case, but Brooks just doesn’t make it clear.