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Mar. 5 2010 - 6:05 am | 679 views | 5 recommendations | 4 comments

Shorter David Brooks: ‘You’re all paranoid idiots’

David Brooks

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In this thrilling issue of the NYT, David Brooks explains how teabaggers are like the New Left because they distrust authority figures and protest in the streets. Of course, this is all very silly and zealous, Bobo explains. But just in case anyone dares accuse him of portraying protesters as cartoonishly simplified lemmings, he clarifies:

There are many differences between the New Left and the Tea Partiers. One was on the left, the other is on the right. One was bohemian, the other is bourgeois. One was motivated by war, and the other is motivated by runaway federal spending. One went to Woodstock, the other is more likely to go to Wal-Mart.

And there you have it. You’re either stoned out of your gourd — probably naked and covered in mud —  in some Hudson Valley field, or you’re a poor redneck who has to buy tube socks in bulk at Wal-Mart. (I smell a sitcom!)

Either way, if you’re protesting, you’re a fucking lunatic.

Members of both movements believe in what you might call mass innocence. Both movements are built on the assumption that the people are pure and virtuous and that evil is introduced into society by corrupt elites and rotten authority structures. “Man is born free, but he is everywhere in chains,” is how Rousseau put it.

Yeah! What’s with protesters holding the authorities responsible for going to war and bailing out Wall Street, while citizens lose their jobs and homes, accountable for those actions?

It’s not like you’re so innocent, protester. I’ll bet you’ve done shady stuff before. Maybe you downloaded a song illegally, or slipped out of work a few minutes early on a Friday evening. Well, that’s stealing, and don’t pretend you didn’t know that! You’re just as bad as the people responsible for killing a million Iraqis, building weapons that burn the flesh off children, sending thousands of US and allied troops to die, and stealing trillions of dollars in taxpayer cash. ”Mass innocence,” my ass. I think Rousseau said that, too.

Because of this assumption, members of both movements go in big for conspiracy theories. The ’60s left developed elaborate theories of how world history was being manipulated by shadowy corporatist/imperialist networks — theories that live on in the works of Noam Chomsky. In its short life, the Tea Party movement has developed a dizzying array of conspiracy theories involving the Fed, the F.B.I., the big banks and corporations and black helicopters.

Yeah!! You guys and your crazy conspiracy theories about corporations holding enormous power and influence within the United States.

I mean, sure, massive mergers and privatization mean that fewer corporations control more aspects of American culture than ever before in the country’s history. For example, around ten conglomerates own pretty much every major media outlet in America, but you have TEN to choose from! Suck on that, Chomsky! Savor the rich differences between an AOL/Time Warner cable service or an AT&T package. (FYI: You may want to go with AOL. AT&T will probably wiretap your phones).

Some paranoid maniacs claim that just because SCOTUS voted in Citizens United that corporations are protected by the First Amendment that those corporations can now spend unlimited funds on electing or defeating candidates. Except, that’s really nothing new. The Supreme Court already opened the flood gates for corporate spending in Wisconsin Right to Life v. FEC (WRTL) circa 2006.

That case held that advertisements capable of an interpretation other than an admonition to vote for or against a candidate are protected under the First Amendment. In other words, even before Citizens United, a corporation could spend all its treasury money on ads days before an election urging listeners to “call Congressman X and tell him his liberal policies are destroying America.”

So there you have it. You’re being paranoid if you think new laws permit corporations to shape politics. It’s been that way all along.

Stop right there. I know what you’re thinking. Yes, the blue dog Democrats received more health industry cash than any other lawmakers, and — surprise, surprise — they’re the ones voting against reform.

Okay, and, look: maybe AT&T spies on you. And maybe corporations pour vast amounts of money into electing politicians who end up shaping policies based on the bribes that got them elected in the first place. And maybe fewer conglomerates control more of your life then ever before. Regardless: quit acting paranoid.

Teabaggers are just as bad. I mean, if you can’t trust the banks that stole trillions of dollars from taxpayers after engaging in a giant Ponzi scheme involving unethical lending and derivative trading, then who CAN you trust? Chomsky?? Fuck that guy.

Because of this assumption, members of the Tea Party right, like the members of the New Left, spend a lot of time worrying about being co-opted. They worry that the corrupt forces of the establishment are perpetually trying to infiltrate the purity of their ranks.

Because of this assumption, members of both movements have a problem with authority. Both have a mostly negative agenda: destroy the corrupt structures; defeat the establishment. Like the New Left, the Tea Party movement has no clear set of plans for what to do beyond the golden moment of personal liberation, when the federal leviathan is brought low.

Quit worrying about being co-opted, crazies. It’s not like front groups try to organize tea party events disguised as grassroots events, or the government has ever infiltrated protest groups in the past. Sure, the NSA spies on everything from landline phones to cell phones, and internet, and has done so since before 9/11, but they’re just keeping us safe. You can stop fretting about “The Man” popping your purity cherry, okay? Yeesh.

Bobo and I know you guys are worried about authority figures. You’re probably thinking: How do I know I can trust the people who led my country into unwinnable quagmires with two Muslim countries, want to nuke Iran, spy on me, refuse to give my good healthcare, and brought the world’s economies to the brink of extinction?

Just believe, you guys. Just believe. Bobo says everything is going to be alright, and you can trust the Very Serious People In Control. Bobo’s never been wrong about anything, ever…except maybe all the times he was horrifically, horribly wrong.

That “wrong” stuff is in the past, though. Protesters need to believe that the government is in control, and elected officials are their intellectual and spiritual betters. A long time ago, a bunch of old white dudes got together and decided the hysterical herd couldn’t be trusted with any kind of decision-making.

To remedy our fallen condition, conservatives believe in civilization — in social structures, permanent institutions and just authorities, which embody the accumulated wisdom of the ages and structure individual longings.

That idea was rejected in the 1960s by people who put their faith in unrestrained passion and zealotry. The New Left then, like the Tea Partiers now, had a legitimate point about the failure of the ruling class. But they ruined it through their own imprudence, self-righteousness and naïve radicalism.

You see, liberals don’t believe in civilization. After electing a Democratic president and Democratically-controlled Congress, I’m honestly surprised America hasn’t deteriorated into a scene from 28 Days Later. Somehow, the buses are all still running on time. Water still comes out of the faucets. Weird. There must be an apocalypse delay, or something.

As for you smug, aging hippies, just answer me this: what did the lunatics from the 60s — the ones filled with that “unrestrained passion and zealotry” — get us?

I mean… other than the African-American civil rights movement…and the feminist movement…and the gay liberation movement.

…Fine, maybe you guys got some stuff done, but then you ruined it by pointing out the fact that you were right all along, and The Man was wrong. Way to be a bunch of egotistical showoffs!

Do us a favor, the next time you’re right about everything with all your “outrage” and “political protest,” keep it to yourself, okay? You’re upsetting Bobo.


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  1. collapse expand

    Three days off his meds and see what happens?

  2. collapse expand

    This is one of your better articles, and I’d like to see you explore themes like this more often. David Brooks is loathsome, possibly only surpassed in pompous assery by Tom Friedman.

    However his topic in this piece was interesting. I would suggest that much of the confusion about these different political tendencies today could be sorted out if one analyzed political movements by looking at their class base, and perspective.

    Why does the Tea Party movement seem to be asking the right questions about some problems, but not others, or providing the wrong answers to the right questions? Why does some of its outraged anti-establishment sentiment seem appropriate, while some of the rest of its attitudes seem confused, wrong, and backwards? How can a movement be right-wing, and anti-establishment at the same time?

    I feel answers to this might lay in the fact that the Tea party group, at least the grassroots part of it(it has slowly become fairly co-opted already by this point)are what you could label a ‘middle-class’ right-wing movement. While you can still loosely group politics into left vs. right, other dimensions have to be added to more fully understand the range of the political spectrum, and class base is probably one of them. (On top of that, I think our understanding of class needs to expand beyond just ‘the rich, and ‘the poor’. There’s actually complex strata of social classes in existence. The elite/ruling class, the working-class, and between them the middle-class. One could sub-divide even further but let’s keep it simple for now.) Just because a movement or party doesn’t have a ruling class base, doesn’t mean it stands for the interests of the working-class. The Tea Party movement seems to be a clear example of that, while it has dragged along alot of confused working-class people who have no other political outlet, it seems to be a pretty classic example of a middle-class populist movement, equally angry, and scared of working-class people below them who might want social services, or better wages through union organization, AND suspicious of the ruling-class above them getting bailouts, and striking secret deals in high places, and running the economy at their expense too. Stuck in this inbetween position, the middle-class moves back and forth, all over the place, sometimes on the side of the working-class, sometimes aligned with the elite, sometimes going off on its own. It’s middle-class-ness allows it to be critical of the elite, while still often having an anti-worker, or fuck-the-poor type attitude.

    David Brooks, meanwhile is VERY much an establishment voice for the ruling-class. Middle-class movements are ripe for, and are often manipulated by the elite, so they’re kind of right to worry about being co-opted. Sections of the ruling-class salivate at the idea of having an army of shock troops, figuratively speaking, in a middle-class movement that fancies itself populist, but can easily manipulated for their ends. Others, though are made uncomfortable, and uneasy by any populist rhetoric, and want people to just believe in mainstream politicians, and instiutions, or better yet just shut up and stop having opinions. “Intellectuals who work at the NYTimes are speaking, why do you rabble even think you have a place in this debate”?

    David Brooks obviously falls in the latter category. What’s interesting, and hyproctirical of him, is that while he makes this grand posture as some kind of Edmund Burkean traditional conservative defender of civilzations and institutions, he simultaneously defends free-market capitalism, or at least what passes as the free-market in mainstream politics. It’s precisely capitalism that gets into everything, and coarsely reduces everything to the bottom line, and profiteering, and erodes all these supposed just, eternal institutions, whether you agree with his description of them or not.

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