Tuesday, September 20, 2011


As I've mentioned several times before, New York Times columnist David Brooks can, and often does, drive me to distraction.  Well, not so much anymore, not since I stopped reading him.

But when I did read, or listen to him, he got under my skin in a special way because he positioned himself, or perhaps allowed himself to be positioned, as one of those public intellectuals who, while identifying in the main with the conservative cause, nevertheless spend most of their time, spill most of their ink, speak most of their words decrying what is wrong with that cause and its always too-flawed champions.  With friends like these....

But something has happened and in his most recent column Brooks has issued a mea culpa of sorts: "I’m a sap, a specific kind of sap. I’m an Obama Sap."

The "something" that happened is that the Barack Obama of promise has not lived up to  expectations.  In fact, he's governed, and increasingly so, like any other pol, past, present, or future.  Brooks compares himself by allusion to the cartoon character Charlie Brown, you know the one, the "sap", who against his better judgment believes Lucy (Obama) as she places the football on the turf for him to kick, only to pull it away at the last moment...again.

I suppose you could pass this off as yet another case of hopeless naivete, and no doubt that's part of it.  But Brooks is too seasoned for it to be the bulk of it.

The telling part of his column is found at the very end.
The president believes the press corps imposes a false equivalency on American politics. We assign equal blame to both parties for the dysfunctional politics when in reality the Republicans are more rigid and extreme. There’s a lot of truth to that, but at least Republicans respect Americans enough to tell us what they really think. The White House gives moderates little morsels of hope, and then rips them from our mouths. To be an Obama admirer is to toggle from being uplifted to feeling used. 
The White House has decided to wage the campaign as fighting liberals. I guess I understand the choice, but I still believe in the governing style Obama talked about in 2008. I may be the last one. I’m a sap.
First, there he goes again.  Rather than describing Republicans as "more rigid and extreme", might he have written instead that they were "more principled and determined"?  And even if his words are the correct ones, can you think of a time, the stakes currently being so very, very high, when rigidity and extremism were more in order?  No matter, at least he recognizes, belatedly, the more essential integrity that is at the heart of conservatism, an essential integrity that, along with many other important aspects, serves to distinguish it from liberalism.  (Please notice that I wrote "conservatism", not "conservatives".  We have our fair share of scoundrels as well.)

But it is that one little word in the very last paragraph that reveals more about Brooks and his kind than anything else: style.

The very big problem with positioning oneself as a "moderate", aside from the grating habit that alm ost always attends it of preening about one's moral and intellectual superiority (sorry, I just had to get that in), is that one becomes extremely susceptible to focusing almost exclusively on style over substance.  Having forsworn a governing ideology, what else can you focus on?

Well, it would appear that President Obama's slacks have finally lost their crease for David Brooks.

But this is a time for magnanimity, not gloating.  So, I say, "Welcome home Mr. Brooks!  I'm sapped too, but the fight must go on."     

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