The Brooksian insurrection

New York Times columnist David Brooks reacts to the bad news in Washington with a string of clich

By Aaron Kinney
Published October 10, 2005 5:04PM (EDT)

Salon editorial fellow Aaron Kinney watches as David Brooks goes back to the basics.

For a group that has for the past few years been defined by a remarkable degree of uniformity, conservatives have reacted in a variety of ways to the recent troubles of President Bush and the Republican Party. For Bill Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard, the president's nomination of Harriet Miers for the Supreme Court was the occasion first for a bout of refreshing honesty -- he announced that he was "disappointed, depressed and demoralized" -- and second for a period of denial, when he suggested last week that Bush will withdraw the nomination. Michael Barone, however, remains sanguine about Bush's prospects.

For New York Times columnist David Brooks, incidents such as the Tom DeLay imbroglio, which have by now derailed the president's second-term agenda, are an occasion for him to dive deep into the pool of bromides, vague assumptions and illogic that form the basis of his political philosophy.

For Brooks, it is time to put aside the sordid news of the day and return to basics, to the reasons he grew interested in politics in the first place, to "the tradition of Hamilton, Lincoln and the Bull Moose," Teddy Roosevelt. The social mobility these men represented, Brooks wrote in his column Sunday, is why he "love[s] globalization."

"I love the fact that American businesses are going to be improved via competition with Chinese and Indian rivals," Brooks wrote. "I love the fact that to compete we are going to have to reform our lobbyist-written tax code into something flatter and fairer."

That last sentence elicits a flurry of questions, not the least of which are: How will a flatter tax make the U.S. more able to compete internationally? And who is the victim of the tax code's unfairness? The wealthy, after all, have received massive tax breaks under the Bush administration.

Regarding the competition from China, Brooks is in a sunny mood: "Americans are the hardest-working people on earth ... China isn't going to bury us. It's going to make us better and richer; it's going to open more opportunities than it closes."

See, you naysayers out there? It's just that easy! Forget America's mind-boggling trade deficit with China. The U.S. will come out on top through the sheer force of optimism.

Brooks later delivered these two non sequiturs: "I know, having learned it from Lincoln and Roosevelt, that individual initiative should always be tied to national union," and "I know we need to protect the natural heritage that defines us." Aside from an irrelevant reference to the Civil War, we have no idea what the first statement means. As for the second, if Brooks is talking about protecting the environment, then he could start by devoting a column to critiquing the effort by Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Calif., to gut the Endangered Species Act.

Brooks concluded by declaring that it is "time for an insurrection," but against whom and by whom, he doesn't say. For someone who claims Democrats are "completely bereft of ideas," Brooks himself is rather lacking in specific ideas for how the Republican Party is going to shift away from cronyism and rigid ideology toward efficacy and pragmatism. If he thinks the GOP of George W. Bush, Karl Rove and Tom DeLay is going to change its tune or relinquish its grip on power, he is sorely mistaken.

Aaron Kinney

Aaron Kinney is a writer in San Francisco. He has a blog.

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