Saturday, February 20, 2010



"What monstrosities would walk the streets were some people's faces as unfinished as their minds."

-- Eric Hoffer

As the Republic burns and the New Conservative Barbarians caper in the firelight screaming for blood and tax cuts, America’s Greatest Conservative Public Intellectual sits in an empty lot at the edge of the conflagration, desperately sifting the Sands of Derelict Nostalgia, looking for something other than the complete failure of everything he has ever believed in to write about.

Which is a tough beat.

Because no matter where one pokes one’s pen these days, out oozes a radioactive stream of Conservative fraud and failure, and unluckily for him, for all of David Brooks’ stature and influence, in the end he really only knows three or four card tricks. There is the Barely Humorous Anecdote. The 800-word essay on The Last Book I Read. The “Ain’t Modern Life Kooky?” chestnut.

And, most often these days, there is the Ahistorically Nostalgic Melodrama starring nonspecific groups of People.

When you hear this last one, you can be about 99.9% certain that America’s Greatest Conservative Public Intellectual is lying. About something. And like solving a Junior Jumble, it's really not all that hard to dope out once you figure out how each specific, abstract lie interacts with the Overall Conservative Theme.

And these days the Overall Conservative Theme is always the same:
1. Once upon a time (specifically, when Saint Ronald Reagan walked the Earth) everything was better.
2. Then some stuff happened – no one is quite sure what.
3. Then things got worse.
It is the unmistakable spoor of America’s Greatest Conservative Public Intellectual wearing the corners off his thesaurus as he tries to simultaneously claw his way to relevant commentary on the very grim events of the day with one hand, while desperately whitewashing his own culpability for those grim events with the other.

Very sad.

Yesterday the subject of his Ahistorically Nostalgic Melodrama starring nonspecific groups of People was “The Power Elite.” It seems that, once upon a time...
1. Honest working stiffs and rich white people ran things.
2. Then some stuff happened that let the rabble get edumicated.
3. Then things got worse.
Very sad.

Now while we Frist Fisk (thx. KCinDC) a little bit of Mr. Brooks’ execrable column, let us remember that he is not a mental patient who has scribbled this on the wall with his own poo, but rather America’s Greatest Conservative Public Intellectual, who sits unassailably atop the very apex of the Power Elite.
Sixty years ago, the upper echelons were dominated by what E. Digby Baltzell called The Protestant Establishment and C. Wright Mills called The Power Elite.

Since then, we have opened up opportunities for women, African-Americans, Jews, Italians, Poles, Hispanics and members of many other groups. Moreover, we’ve changed the criteria for success. It is less necessary to be clubbable. It is more important to be smart and hard-working.

Yet here’s the funny thing. As we’ve made our institutions more meritocratic, their public standing has plummeted. We’ve increased the diversity and talent level of people at the top of society, yet trust in elites has never been lower.
OK, what “institutions” is he talking about? I mean, as flawed as they may be, it’s hard to believe, for example, that trust in the military has plummeted since it was integrated. Or that fire departments are less respected today because they’re run more professionally than they used to be. Or that cops are more hated now that they can no longer recreationally gun down civil rights activists or club hippies into comas in Grant Park.

So obviously America’s Greatest Conservative Public Intellectual is not talking about those institutions.

So WTF is he going on about?
Fifty years ago, the financial world was dominated by well-connected blue bloods who drank at lunch and played golf in the afternoons. Now financial firms recruit from the cream of the Ivy League. In 2007, 47 percent of Harvard grads went into finance or consulting. Yet would we say that banks are performing more ably than they were a half-century ago?

I get it.


See, although Mr. Brooks says “our institutions” what he means is “Goldman Sachs”.

And it will come as no surprise to you that, although he is talking about bankers, America’s Greatest Conservative Public Intellectual manages to fail to mention the fact that, 50 years ago, Thurston Howell III had to do his drinking and golfing and maid-fucking and minority-hating inside a regulatory cage built for him by Arch Liberal Franklin Roosevelt. Although he may well have wanted to, Thurston was simply not allowed to destroy the global economy in order to make himself and his heirs incrementally wealthier.

Then, 30 years ago, acolytes of Conservatism in both political parties began frantically picking the lock on that cage. They finally succeeded in letting the Beast Capitalism out...and it almost destroyed the world.

True story, which, for painfully obvious reasons, America’s Greatest Conservative Public Intellectual is desperate to now pretend was a failure of meritocracy and not a failure of Conservatism.

America’s Greatest Conservative Public Intellectual continues…
Government used to be staffed by party hacks. Today, it is staffed by people from public policy schools. But does government work better than it did before?

Wrong, wrong, wrong.

So wrong it is actually breathtaking.

So fucking wrong it is hard to know where to begin.

First, I assure you, there are still plenty of party hacks in the gummint, even as there obviously are on the editorial pages of the New York Times.

Second, where America’s Greatest Conservative Public Intellectual sees “party hacks”, the rest of us see a government which used to be staffed with people who knew, at a street-level, that if they didn’t fulfill their end of the social contract by getting the streets paved and the schools open, they’d be tossed out on their asses.

Third, what “government” is America’s Greatest Conservative Public Intellectual talking about? The zoning board? The local school council? Da Mare’s office? In addition to bursting at the seams with Teh Lying, this is also just plain lazy writing Mr. Brooks.

Fourth, and most importantly, to prop up his shabby, bullshit thesis, America’s Greatest Conservative Public Intellectual has to (yet again) resort to deliberately falsifying the historical record by playing "Hide the Salami" with decades of recent American history.

America’s Greatest Conservative Public Intellectual kinda does that a lot.

Because between his teary nostalgia for the Good Old Party Boss Days of yore and the Bad New Days of the well-educated, meritocratically-promoted technocrats, David Brooks desperately hopes that you won't notice that he has dropped people like Messiah College’s most famous graduate -- Monica Goodling -- down the Conservative memory hole.

You remember Monica, don't you Mr. Brooks?

The Wingnut Evangelical who the Bush Administration appointed as the 3rd in command of Alberto Gonzales’ Department of Justice?

The 12-year-old zealot who did not know the difference between rules and laws?

Ringing any bells?

As David Fucking Brooks fucking well knows, the cruel and excruciatingly-well-documented truth is that, in case after case, the Bush Administration filled the federal bureaucracy not with ward bosses or technocrats, but with grotesquely unqualified, anti-gummint Conservative ideologues; stuffing them into the lath and plaster of the United States government like so many wingnut IEDs.

That for eight, long, bloody years -- as David Brooks fucking well knows -- one massive, crippling Conservative catastrophe after another was caused NOT by some non-specific group of People staffing some non-specific Gummint with P-school grads; they were caused by Republicans who deliberately bypassed experts and packed a Republican Gummint with Conservative True Believers.

Thugs like John “Torture Me Elmo” Yoo.

Goofs like the former head of the Arabian Horse Association

who ran in tiny, useless circles while an American city drowned.

Stooges like Monica Goodling’s boss, who found employment in the federal gummint because he got Dubya out of jury duty in Texas (where he’d have had to ‘fess up to a politically embarrassing past) and because he had a positive genius for screwing the gummint up real good

and then forgetting about it.

There were also the armies of True Conservative Believers who were in charge of denying science

and wrecking environmental regulations.

There were outright War Criminals like Scooter Libby, whom David Brooks admired greatly, apparently on the strength of his musky man-smell, manners

and the fact that Scooter paid for his own salmon croquettes at lunch (from "The News Hour"):
DAVID BROOKS: I went to lunch with Scooter Libby twice when he was -- and he told me...

JIM LEHRER: What were the dates of those?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, what struck me was, A, he told me nothing. I didn't even know what he was ordering half the time.

DAVID BROOKS: And he was incredibly discrete.

And the second thing that always struck me is, he would pay in cash. Usually, you can buy somebody lunch if it's up to $20. But he would insist on following the law to the stickler of the detail. He would always put down a $20 bill.
But of course, the havoc wreaked, pain caused and distrust sown by these Conservative political saboteurs was dwarfed into the footnotes of history by architects and executors of the single most catastrophic foreign policy debacle in a generation (From "The New Yorker", with emphasis added):
[Bush] forced a congressional vote on the war just before the 2002 midterm elections. He trumpeted selective and misleading intelligence. He displayed intense devotion to classifying government documents, except when there was political advantage in declassifying them. He fired or sidelined government officials and military officers who told the American public what the Administration didn’t want it to hear. He released forecasts of the war’s cost that quickly became obsolete, and then he ignored the need for massive expenditures until a crucial half year in Iraq had been lost. His communications office in Baghdad issued frequently incredible accounts of the progress of the war and the reconstruction. He staffed the occupation with large numbers of political loyalists who turned out to be incompetent. According to Marine officers and American officials in Iraq, he ordered and then called off critical military operations in Falluja against the wishes of his commanders, with no apparent strategic plan. He made sure that blame for the abuses at Abu Ghraib settled almost entirely on the shoulders of low-ranking troops. And then, in the middle of the election campaign, he changed the subject.
Like every other failure of the Bush Administration's, their Berserker A-Team were emphatically not street-wise political pragmatists, or “public policy school” graduates.

From the Chickenhawk Brownshirts

who replaced sane foreign policy with masturbatory dreams of Neocon Empire... the legions of Republican clusterfuckers who drove my country



the cliff...

...these people were Conservative Fanatics, who ran every policy decision from some one-page, all-purpose Randite checklist cribbed straight out of "Atlas Shrugged" (from the late Steve Gilliard's "The guinea pig state"):
When I read that Viceroy Jerry, by fiat, had imposed a 15 percent flat tax, I thought it was a joke. I simply couldn't believe that Steve Forbes had that kind of influence on Iraqi politics.

The neo-cons are going to impose every half-wit idea in Iraq they can dig up. Illegally, without Iraqi consultation or any understanding of the Iraqi government or economy, he's going to change the rules of the game.

People have died for less.
Finally, America’s Greatest Conservative Public Intellectual turns his beady eyes to his own profession:
Journalism used to be the preserve of working-class stiffs who filed stories and hit the bars. Now it is the preserve of cultured analysts who file stories and hit the water bottles. Is the media overall more reputable now than it was then?
The idea that David Brooks can seriously reference the words “journalism” and “meritocracy” in the same paragraph without the topic sentence of that paragraph being “My presence in the field of journalism proves beyond any doubt that it is anything but a meritocracy is enough to make H. L. Menken laugh himself out of his unquiet grave.

No, Mr. Brooks, journalism used to be the preserve of smart, working class stiffs who were unafraid to tell the truth. Who believed it was their mission to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” To the throw the first punch.

Now it is the preserve of rich, pudding-soft, establismentarian careerists who think missing blonds and adulterous golfers are Important!Breaking!News! but who wouldn’t call out the Devil for reeking of brimstone if you put a gun to their heads.

Journalism lost its good name and died a whore the day it was moved into the Entertainment division and told that it had to turn tricks to make a profit.

Or, as Jim Sleeper at TPM succinctly expressed it ("Where the Power Elite Gets Its Power") after slogging his way through this same, dreary mess
...Brooks will keep on dancing around that mirror, holding it up to others to make them feel guilty. He'll dispense barbed apercus while careening from Ivy envy to Ivy ingratiation and plucking those same chords in his fans. "[O]ur system of promotion has grown some pretty serious problems," he'll fret. But he won't name those problems' causes; he'll point fingers at their carriers, at least on the days he's resenting the carriers rather than courting them.


Anonymous said...

This fantastic. Spot on.

My God.

You rock, driftglass.

KCinDC said...

"Frist"? Did you mean "fisk"?

gruaud said...

The term 'grand slam' doesn't begin to do this justice.

porogra said...

Words fail me. Thank Dog, this isn't so for you, Driftglass. I am not one to do this, but I will be sending this to everyone on my mailing list - including those asshole relatives we all have who insist on sending their conservative dreck, which we try to ignore, and generally refuse to respond to.

One minute later: I just read this for a second time. Goosebumps.

Cirze said...

Straight to the New York Times, WaPo and Harpers.

Someone's got to run this for the whole country's enjoyment.

It's hard, I know, but you've outdone yourself.



Anonymous said...

Out Fucking Standing. Thanks for that.


Anonymous said...

This! 1000 times This! Thanks, Drifty. You are a treasure!

Fran / Blue Gal said...

Tomorrow is the LAST Monday of the month and all of us are expecting a paypal button to accompany Sunday Morning Coming Down. Don't let us down, Dude.

Phil said...

Fuckin' A dude. I have one quibble with what thathistory forgetting bastard said though,
". It is less necessary to be clubbable. "
On the contrary, David Brooks is a ripe target for a good clubbing.

tsisageya said...

Driftglass, you're a national treasure.

Gay Veteran said...

" massive, crippling Conservative catastrophe after another was like John “Torture Me Elmo” Yoo...."

And even sicker is the fact that a "progressive" like Obama REFUSES to bring the war criminals to justice.

This is a deeply immoral country, and it has little to do with genitalia.

Like all empires we will end up on the garbage heap of history.

Anonymous said...

The Republican Campaign Song
(If they were being honest)

We are rich, You are poor,
You shiftless, lazy clown.
So, Suck it up and work three jobs,
Or we'll shut your utilities down.

You say you can't afford your pills
We don't care one bit.
According to Charles Darwin,
You're clearly most unfit.

So Medicare's been privatized
And left you in the lurch.
We all know government doesn't work
So see your local church.

And gasoline has doubled
Several times this year.
Hey, that's the global economy.
You should stand up and cheer.

So vote for Bush and never bitch
Because we own your town.
Support more tax breaks for the rich,
And wait for trickle down.

And hang those liberals from the trees.
They get all the blame.
And even if you are on your knees,
You had better play our game!

Anonymous said...

I thought, at first, that this was going to more Brooks-bashing (not that there's anything wrong with that) along the lines of Matt Taibbi's royal, and wonderfully unmerciless slap-down of Bobo on 27 January (

Then it became oh, so much more! A smack-down of conservatism. One, methodical, cock-punch after the other. So well done, sir, so well done.

I've always thought conservative governing should have been brought up more during the last election, and even more today. Conservative philosophy and governing has proven to be a total failure, and they should never have the reigns of power ever again.

Anonymous said...

I missed this first time around, thank god it was linked today over at Balloon Juice. I have to tell you that was one of the greatest pieces of writing on this subject ever. Ever.


Batocchio said...

One of your best. It's a valuable recap of the key insanities and lies, and the current game. (Douthat was whining about how unfair it was to say Bush lied the other day.)

Anonymous said...

David Seaton

Anonymous said...


Nancy Irving

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