It's about Michael Ignatieff, who entered politics late, did soul-crushing things to win, eventually lost in a landslide, and then wrote a book about it.
Like a lot of his columns, this one reeks strongly of Brooks obliquely writing about himself. Or about how he sees himself: a noble man who got caught up in an unsavory profession for the very best of reasons and now is trying to cut a different trail for himself (without actually changing or taking responsibility for anything.)
Which is bunkum, of course.
Mr. Brooks dove into the business of slagging Liberals and touting terrible Conservative ideas with all of the of a young Henry Hill --
-- and only got kittenish about it once the entire Conservative movement blew up in his face.
And so we get a book report.
Except for the hilariously wrong, college-brochure language Mr. Brooks -- Professor of Humility at Yale -- uses to describe the ivied life within academe:
...I have worked within the Hallowed Halls, and have many friends and colleagues who have worked there too. And other than describing a tiny percentage of The Academic Elect -- the tenaciously tenured few who occupying the ippy, tippy, top to the university food chain and who, like Mr. Brooks, enjoy professional lives completely insulated from the consequences of saying and doing very stupid things -- I have no idea what the fuck Mr. Brooks is talking about.
In academia, you use words to persuade or discover; in politics, you use words to establish a connection. Academia is a cerebral enterprise, but politics is a physical enterprise, a charismatic form of athletics in which you touch people to show you care.
In academia, the goal is to come up with a timeless truth. In politics, timing is everything, knowing when the time is ripe for a certain proposal. In academia, the idea is to take a stand based on what you believe; in politics, the idea is to position yourself along a left-right axis in a way that will differentiate you from your opponents and help you win a majority.
In academia, a certain false modesty is encouraged; in politics, you have to self-dramatize a fable about yourself — concoct a story to show how your life connects to certain policies. In academia, you are rewarded for candor, intellectual rigor and a willingness to follow an idea to its logical conclusion. In politics, all of these traits are ruinous.
The overwhelming majority of jobs in the academia are just like any other job: tenuous.
Which segues nicely into the sweetest insight to be found within Mr. Brooks' entire, dull book report. It comes when Mr. Brooks -- through the vessel of Michael Ignatieff -- describes his own worst-case scenario: a nightmare world in which his livelihood suddenly becomes dependent on other people judging his actual performance:
He went through each day completely dependent on the reaction of other people, minute by minute, second by second, to validate his performance.Yes, ladies and gentlemen: David Brooks' moment of maximum pantsless-in-public horror is what the rest of us call, "Having a job":
See you at the bar.