Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Oy, Brooks

Apparently there's something in the Official Blog Contract that once in a while we just all have to react to whatever David Brooks is saying that day. I think I'm going to mostly be a slacker on this one...if you want to know what I agree with, see what Jamelle Bouie had to say (hmmm...guess I should actually read it instead of just relying on the tweet version...checking...yeah, I mostly agree); if you want a smart opposing viewpoint (that is, opposing what I think is correct), check what Matt Yglesias says. I'm usually up for arguing political institutions with Yglesias, but I'll pass on it today...meanwhile, I haven't read what everyone else has said, but I'm still gobsmacked at the idea (leading off the Brooks column) that anyone could think of the British political system of 1900-1920 as a success, given that those years would include the greatest political failure of the modern world, the Great War.

To be fair, the Brits only deserve part of the blame for WWI, but really...you know, I could go on, but it's just not worth it. I'm sure there are more foolish things one could say about 1900-1920, but it would take some doing, and it's plenty enough to remind me why I don't read Brooks except when these Official Brooks Commenting Periods come around.



  1. just read the 2nd and last paras that Jamelle Bouie quotes from Brooks, and see if the points sit better for you as they do for me:
    But the plusses outweigh the minuses. The big newspapers still set the agenda, not cable TV or talk radio. If the quintessential American pol is standing in his sandbox screaming affirmations to members of his own tribe, the quintessential British pol is standing across a table arguing face to face with his opponents.

    British leaders and pundits know their counterparts better. They are less likely to get away with distortions and factual howlers. They are less likely to believe the other party is homogenously evil. They are more likely to learn from a wide range of people. When they do hate, their hatreds are more likely to be personal and less likely to take on the tenor of a holy war.

  2. David Brooks is the living embodiment of the conservative critique of Affirmative Action.

    "They get by on the basis of identity politics, they don't do the work to learn real history, they are permitted to fail upward, they wind up being a drag on their institutions without knowing why-- or even that-- they are."

    I'm pretty sure that the data shows otherwise re: beneficiaries of actual Affirmative Action. But damn if Brooks doesn't evince all those characteristics. He plays the role of the genial, rational conservative, so he gets jobs.

    But what kind of parallel universe must he have been inhabiting, to imagine that chummy, centrist ideas of the past decade-plus-- like deregulation of banks, invading Iraq, and (ask the Brits about this one) prioritizing deficit reduction at a time of mass unemployment-- were good things that we need more of?

    This column actually helped me understand where he's coming from. His worldview isn't about ever being right about anything, it's about his preference for aristocracy, which no rational argument could ever dislodge.

  3. To be fair, if we’re going to judge societies entirely by their propensity to unnecessary wars, then it would be hard to say anything nice about many of them, including our own. But WWI probably does take the cake when it comes to military misadventure…

  4. Just hold on a minute and recall a little history from a perspective other than yours.

    The Liberal Government from 1905 to the war enacted the basic framework of a welfare state with pensions and national insurance for unemployment and injury at work; they started the reform of the political system with the curtailing of the power of the Lords, agreed Home Rule for Ireland (which got postponed by the War and by the Conservatives encouraging mutiny amongst reactionary elements in the army) and started progressive taxation. Now maybe to you in the USA all this looks like socialism and would be anathema but to us that government was one of the reforming administrations of our history.

    Now as for WW1, the Uk went in to maintain its treaty obligations to Belgium to prevent an agressive german takeover of Europe and the likely destruction of the French Third Republic. Doubtless the UK might have been better off staying out but at what cost to a free Europe? That's not to say that the British high command were nothing more than butchering donkeys.


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