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Dec. 4 2009 - 9:45 am | 17 views | 2 recommendations | 6 comments

Learn to love the lie, and other lessons from David Brooks

David Brooks

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Holy shit. I’m not sure where to begin analyzing David Brooks’s latest mini manifesto. It was like Maureen Dowd or Thomas Friedman wagered he couldn’t be a nihilistic Machiavellian douchebag for the span of a column and Brooks was all, “Oh yeah??”

Behold. Future eager reformists should study this op-ed as a model of beltway punditocracy. In just over 800 words, Brooks perfectly describes the soulless, elitist Washingtonian culture that disguises itself in “pragmatism.” He calls this, “The Analytic Mode,” but it could also be titled, “See Spot Learn To Love The Lie.”

For those disillusioned Progressives that miss the days of fiery talk from their community organizer in the White House, Brooks offers these words of wisdom:

[T]he Obama campaign, like all presidential campaigns, was built on a series of fictions. The first fiction was that government is a contest between truth and error. In reality, government is usually a contest between competing, unequal truths.

In Brooks’s world, there is no great battle being waged between ideological opponents in government. Everyone is there fighting, more or less, for the same thing, and there exists only a few minor disagreements — a couple tiny tweeks — before the system is perfect. Those battling for dramatic, radical change are Unserious Outsiders, who don’t know how the real world works. If the government and the president lie to the people, it’s only part of the political game.

Learn to love the lies, kids. It’s all you’re ever going to get from the gubment. No need to hold President Obama accountable for his reversal on state secrets, or his reversal on Guantanamo detainees’ constitutional rights. No need to get angry at Congress or the prez for watering down health care legislation at the behest of the private insurance industry, or throwing taxpayer money at the criminal financial firms that ruined the economy. It’s just how this stuff works, okay? Government is built upon lies, or unequal truths, or whatever David is calling it today.

The second fiction was that to support a policy is to make it happen. In fact, in government power is exercised through other people. It is only by coaxing, prodding and compromise that presidents actually get anything done.

I’m not sure what kind of idiot Democrat Brooks is envisioning here. No one thought government worked like I Dream of Barack, where the president was going to close his eyes, fold his arms, nod, and everyone would have health care and a job. Of course shaping policy means working with other people, but that doesn’t warrant total Democratic surrender under the auspice of securing those elusive Republican votes that never come.

The third fiction was that we can begin the world anew. In fact, all problems and policies have already been worked by a thousand hands and the clay is mostly dry. Presidents are compelled to work with the material they have before them.

Thankfully, revolutionaries and visionaries of the past didn’t have a sniveling David Brooks whispering in their ears. We can only thank some kind of cosmic luck that Brooks wasn’t around to remind the Founding Fathers, who at the time were facing off against the most powerful king and empire in the world, that the “clay is mostly dry,” and they cannot “begin the world anew” with their weird idea of Equality For All.

Let’s all utter a collective, “Thank Goodness!” that Brooks wasn’t there for the civil rights era, or the feminist movement, to suck the air out of the room when brave men and women stood up against impossible odds and overwhelming institutional discrimination and said, “No more” to what was — at the time — conventional wisdom.

History is full of people who “began the world anew,” including presidents like FDR, who launched a successful and ambitious economic program called The New Deal, which was considered extremely radical for its time. But desperate times called for radical measures.

Actually, at the time, FDR was criticized for not thinking radically enough. His leftist opponents said FDR missed a valuable opportunity to reform Capitalism itself. And after examining the current financial crisis, it’s not too difficult to see they were right.

However, this isn’t a successful Brookian argument against radical thinking, but rather proof that the world sometimes must begin anew in order for justice and egalitarianism to flourish. In order to save the world, we must think radically, and envision a very different place if we’re ever to reverse damage to the environment, and end wealth disparity, hunger, and war.

The fourth fiction was that leaders know the path ahead. In fact, they have general goals, but the way ahead is pathless and everything is shrouded by uncertainty.

Okay, I’ll give Brooks this one. I did speak to a couple Obamaniacs, who seemed to think their leader was anointed by some higher creator to lead the people in a time and manner of his choosing, and he “knew the way,” and we were not to question He Who Beat Hillary. I’m not arguing the Progressives are a perfect family. They’re not, but that’s no reason to learn to love government lies, and cease fighting for radical change.

The lack of radical thinking emanating from the White House during one of the country’s worst financial crisis doesn’t surprise Brooks. In fact, as he admits in the print of his op-ed, the only thing that surprised him was how, “enthusiastically [Obama] has made the transition.”

He’s political, like any president, but he seems to vastly prefer the grays of governing to the simplicities of the campaign.

“The grays,” meaning what? It seems people like Brooks consistently confuse surrender for pragmatism. Obama isn’t being shrewd for the sake of his grand ideological vision. In fact, it seems he doesn’t have a “big picture” goal at all, and his supporters have been projecting their hopes for radical reform onto an extremely moderate politician. That’s not my lefty analysis. These are the man’s words:

I serve as a blank screen on which people of vastly different political stripes project their own views.

Back to Brooks’s awful column:

The election revolved around passionate rallies. The Obama White House revolves around a culture of debate. He leads long, analytic discussions, which bring competing arguments to the fore. He sometimes seems to preside over the arguments like a judge settling a lawsuit.

The members of these analytic discussions were primarily other moderate politicians, generals, and Wall Street and corporate representatives, the people who stand to gain the most from upholding the system exactly as it currently exists. Real lefty politicians, and anti-war representatives are rarely given a fair hearing. After all, if the goal is war and continuing Capitalism, why hear from the anti-war hippies and Socialists?

Total withdraw from Afghanistan was never a serious option, and so Obama didn’t waste time including those voices in his “analytic discussions.” In fact, one of the only officials to publicly oppose the Afghanistan war, Matthew Hoh, felt the need to resign. “I’m not some peacenik, pot-smoking hippie who wants everyone to be in love,” Hoh said, but he could no longer support a plan in which America”[l]ike the Soviets” continued “to secure and bolster a failing state, while encouraging an ideology and system of government unknown and unwanted by its people.”

Without voices like Hoh, the analytic discussion among the supposed great Lincolnian Team of Rivals fizzled to a quiet disagreement between pro-war peers. Should we send 30,000 or 50,000 more people to kill innocents and then possibly die themselves?

Most of us will never heard these insider discussions, but luckily we have our great Armchair General, David Brooks, to give us the 411 as he pleasures himself to Obama’s hot decisiveness.

Despite the ambivalence, he did act. This is not mishmash. With his two surges, Obama will more than double the number of American troops in Afghanistan. As Andrew Ferguson of The Weekly Standard pointed out, he is the first Democratic president in 40 years to deploy a significant number of troops into a war zone.

Those new troops are not themselves a strategy; they are enablers of an evolving strategy. Over the next year, there will be disasters, errors and surprises — as in all wars. But the generals will have more resources with which to cope and respond.

YES WE CAN! We did it, you guys! Obama and Democrats have indefinitely committed 55,000 additional US troops to Afghanistan (when counting the 21,000 he dispatched last winter shortly after his inauguration.) After this new escalation, more than half of the 100,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan will have been sent by Obama.

This doesn’t include private contractors, which currently outnumber US troops. The latest DOD figure contractors in the country is 104,100, a spokesman for U.S. Central Command tells TPM. That figure is expected to grow, but it’s already greater than the 98,000 U.S. troops that will be in the country after the new deployments.

This is now officially and unequivocally Obama’s war.

And the best part is, Armchair General Brooks tells us, it’s going to get worse! There will be disasters, errors, AND surprises. Innocent people will die! Vast destruction shall occur! It’s enough to make a spineless columnist nestled seven thousand miles away from the nearest war zone shiver from excitement.

Brooks closes with this advice, “learn to live with the dispassion.” Clearly, he means dispassion for radical governmental and economic change. You can continue passionately loving the status quo and war.


6 Total Comments
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  1. collapse expand

    Thankfully, revolutionaries and visionaries of the past didn’t have a sniveling David Brooks whispering in their ears.

    AMEN – Excellent article.

    David Brooks: candy ass douche nozzle separated from reality? or, professional status quo maintenance man?

  2. collapse expand

    “In Brooks’s world, there is no great battle being waged between ideological opponents in government. Everyone is there fighting, more or less, for the same thing, and there exists only a few minor disagreements”

    Well that part is at least true. Let me just frame it in Chomsky’s words: “In the United States, the political system is a very marginal affair. There are two parties, so-called, but they’re really factions of the same party, the Business Party. Both represent some range of business interests. In fact, they can change their positions 180 degrees, and nobody even notices. In the 1984 election, for example, there was actually an issue, which often there isn’t. The issue was Keynesian growth versus fiscal conservatism. The Republicans were the party of Keynesian growth: big spending, deficits, and so on. The Democrats were the party of fiscal conservatism: watch the money supply, worry about the deficits, et cetera. Now, I didn’t see a single comment pointing out that the two parties had completely reversed their traditional positions. Traditionally, the Democrats are the party of Keynesian growth, and the Republicans the party of fiscal conservatism. So doesn’t it strike you that something must have happened? Well, actually, it makes sense. Both parties are essentially the same party. The only question is how coalitions of investors have shifted around on tactical issues now and then. As they do, the parties shift to opposite positions, within a narrow spectrum.”

  3. collapse expand

    RE:We can only thank some kind of cosmic luck that Brooks wasn’t around to remind the Founding Fathers, who at the time were facing off against the most powerful king and empire in the world

    Well let’s be thankful obama pelosi reid weren’t around for the Revolution….i guarantee you they whould have sold out the Founding Fathers to the British and we would still be an overtaxed Brit colony

  4. collapse expand

    I pretty much despise cynical champions of the status quo like David Brooks, but I have to admit, as a description of objective reality, there’s not much to argue with here. Anybody pushing for radical change is and always will be an outsider. You don’t get elected president if you’re in any way a threat to the system. As Emma Goldman put it, “If voting changed anything, they’d make it illegal.”

    The problem with progressives isn’t that they get outraged by what the government does, it’s that they think it could possibly be any other way.

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