I Have Seen The Light: A Revelation on Reading David Brooks This Morning

David Brooks is Sarah Palin.

You can see what I mean in five minutes with today’s Times op-ed page.  On the one hand, this, from Brooks.  On the other, this from Paul Krugman.

I have to admit to a certain weariness of spirit everytime I pick up Brooks’ “work” (sic — ed.) these days.  How often must one say the same thing in a slightly different context:  that Brooks is a glib hack, too lazy to do even the minimal work required to flesh out his preconceptions with even the most fragile of veneers of fact or experience?  I complained here that he wasn’t even trying anymore, and nothing in today’s effort suggests otherwise.

Of course, given the reach of the pulpit he possesses from which to bully the rest of us, he needs to be stomped as often as he rises on his hind legs. The price of liberty is eternal vigilance (as Sarah Palin reminded us last night explaining why she wants to kill Medicare).*

So here goes.  Today, Brooks argues (a) that because Palin spoke in complete sentences, she met the “survival” test; (b) she was just folks, and though such casual style won’t wash in the elevated circles in which Brooks travels, it could do very well out there in flyover country.

By the way:  I’m not kidding about the disdain for his alledged fellow GOP supporters Brooks displays these days.  Here’s the same notion in his words:

To many ears, her accent, her colloquialisms and her constant invocations of the accoutrements of everyday life will seem cloying. But in the casual parts of the country, I suspect, it went down fine.

Memo to all those casual parts of the country.  Now y’all know what Serious ™ conservatives think of you.

Last, Brooks alleged that Palin had reached debate parity with Biden; that she was a radical alternative to Washington insiders; and that, while no game-changer, her performance was an unexpected, “vibrant and tactically clever” tour de force.

There are of course, problems with this interpretation.  Two big ones.  The first is that the column as a whole is a list of nicely constructed platitudes presented with no clear connection to what actually happened.

In fact, much — really most — of the piece could have and may well have been written before 9 p.m. last night.  Except for the fact of Palin’s black suit, and the fact that she can pronounce the name of the president of Iran, more than half is Brooks waffling on about terrified GOPers hiding behind sofas and the grand significance of casual Fridays to the great scheme of things.

Such airy generalization is the trick that bored college students use to flesh out the last three hundred words of an eight hundred word assignment.  As I’ve said before, if I were surnamed Ochs or Sulzberger, I’d want a refund.

But this same laziness – or worse — caused Brooks to miss the key story he thought he was covering.  The question the post-debate polls asked was simple and obvious:  Did Palin do what was necessary in the debate?  Did the debate persuade the uncertain that Palin was ready for the job she seeks?

Brooks can’t answer that question.  He couldn’t even ask it, because unlike musings on politics as performance, this one could be answered in ways he still does not wish to accept.

And it was:  within the statistical limits of the polls, the answer was no; her numbers on this question were effectively unchanged, at least as a first reaction to the debate.

That fact leads to the conclusion that Brooks is struggling to avoid: The fact that Americans by a notable majority in the context of such a divided electorate see her as unqualified reflects not on her, but on the man with whom those polled disagree:  John McCain.

This blog exists as a defense of empiricism and the use of the analytical methods of science to interpret the raw data of experience.  There are, of course, lots of pundit/hacks who daily commit sins as bad as those of Brooks — willed ignorance, cherrypicking of data, ignoring contrary facts, howling intellectual solecisms and all the duplicitous arsenal of the ideologically blinded right.

But I have to confess that Brooks gets my goat more than most precisely because of his pretention to scientific respectability — his musings on neuroscience, his assertion of soft-science knowledge and authority.  It’s BS — a facade and a fraud.  Today’s offering is the latest of a “what I thought while seated in the smallest room of the  house” tossed off little number.

We deserve better from the New York Times.  Hell — the Right deserves better from somone supposedly representing the view from that side of the debate in the most visible of positions.

And of that David as Sarah reference:  Compare Brooks’ offering today with Krugman’s.  Now, whatever you think of Krugman, he is, like Biden, expert in his area, aware of the ground of experience, deeply knowlegable.  His column today, not about the debate, focuses instead on the financial crisis and its broader economic implications.

It’s not a particularly data-dense column — but it makes reference to facts, it suggests reasonable inferences from those facts; it provides a framework for pursuing some of the top level claims more deeply (and Krugman does, in fact, get you the latest awful numbers for you in his first blog post of today) and so on.

Again — while I’m a Krugman fan, others surely disagree.  But when they do they are forced to engage him on the ground of the data and his argument.

Brooks exerts no such compulsion.  He has his talking points; he is glib and plausible.  Pushed even a little, it becomes painfully obvious that there is no there there.

Isn’t in time the Times had mercy on this out-of-his-depth man and sent him back to the Weekly Standard wading pool in which he can’t hurt himself so easily?

Image:  Artist unknown, “The Swaddled Twins” dated 7 April 1617. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Explore posts in the same categories: bad writing, Biden, Journalism and its discontents, McCain, political follies, Politics, Stupidity

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2 Comments on “I Have Seen The Light: A Revelation on Reading David Brooks This Morning”

  1. JakeR Says:

    I live in the casual part of the country, and our California electoral votes (55) will almost certainly go to Obama and Biden. Eat that, Brooks!


  2. “Brooks is a glib hack, too lazy to do even the minimal work required to flesh out his preconceptions with even the most fragile of veneers of fact or experience”

    You say that as if it were a bug rather than a feature.


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