Wednesday, October 26, 2011

If David Brooks Dislikes It...

then it is probably the path you should take.

In his most recent column, David Brooks suggests President Obama should reverse his recent more combative turn and make (more) conciliatory gestures toward Republicans. I think the only reason Mr. Brooks would advise that President Obama's attempts to uphold some Left values (such as increasing the real share--and not just the symbolic/patriotic one--that citizens share in the nation) is "suicide" is because such a strategy will work. Brooks pretends sweet reasonableness when he is actually a partisan unafraid of bending the truth to make his arguments (see his very intentional misquotation of Justice Sotomayor during her confirmation hearings. Attention, Mr. Brooks: "I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life," is absolutely not equivalent to "a wise Latina woman would make better decisions than a white male." The first is a wish; the latter is a statement of fact. And you knew that when you misquoted it).

I have no problem with Brooks's partisanship. I have a problem with his feigned moderation, his pretense toward a (pseudo)scientific objectivity (with all his nonpartisan articles on individual and social psychology). This is not to mention his insistence that his position is always coincident with that of the American people. Now, that's a game I'm sick of from both parties. I could stand for everyone to stop saying "the American people want" or "the American people don't want." How about some truth?: "I believe this is the best course of action because it will have these effects." Or: "I think this is the right thing to do for these reasons." Or, even: "I think this is the right thing to do because it fits these core national values -- or, even better, because it furthers the cause of human rights." 

I know these latter words are not perfect, but at least they offer the possibility for a persuasive argument. We are stuck in an argument about who the American people are. When, in fact, the argument should be over what actions and policies are just and humane. David Brooks contributes very little to that debate. And President Obama's insistence that Congress pass a jobs bill is, finally, a turn in the right direction because it is framed as a question regarding the right thing to do, the responsibility of government to its people. Conservatives can disagree, and I hope they do. But the ensuing debate could be about persuading Americans to go in one direction or another, instead of politicians and pundits claiming (ad nauseam) that the direction they advocate is already what all Americans want.

So... (as a follow-up to my last piece), I suppose we'll see if our black President can represent the working-class underdogs our nation typically imagines as white and move our government to do something to help their plight. (It's too much to hope he'll address the ways that race affects class, so I won't).

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