Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Lies, Damn Lies and David Brooks

“It's a wicked world, and when a clever man turns his brain to crime it is the worst of all.”
-- Sherlock Holmes
To keep things lively on my end while combing the want ads and sending another batch of resumes out into the abyss, as America's only consulting Brooksologist, I make a little bet with myself every now and then regarding what I believe the theme of the next (and as-yet-unwritten) David Brooks column will be.

Yesterday morning here is what I wrote:
Now that the clear-cut issue of Republican voter suppression is the Beltway's new Fake Centrism chew toy, I wonder how David Brooks is going to split the difference and ride the Beltway Both Siderist express straight down the nonexistent middle.
And I while I was correct in my prediction --
The Mobilization Error
JUNE 9, 2015 
Hillary Rodham Clinton has chosen a campaign strategy that is bad for the nation and probably won’t work.
-- even I, cogitating at the extreme upper limits of my considerable abilities, could not have forseen the sheer scale of the mountain of bullshit which Mr. Brooks' sharted into the op-ed pages of America's Newspaper of Record today.

It is, frankly, such an amazingly brazen display of sheer, cartoonish dishonesty right down to its commas and semicolons that it almost defies criticism and circumnavigation.

For any hardcore literary junkies who may wander by, let me say that, by my count, in just 800 words, Mr. Brooks manages to inflict grievous bodily harm on at least six of the basic rules of honest storytelling as outlined by Mr. Mark Twain in his indispensable essay "Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offenses", and leaves his shiv planted squarely in Rule Nine's kidney after carving it up like a jack-o-lantern:
They require that the personages of a tale shall confine themselves to possibilities and let miracles alone; or, if they venture a miracle, the author must so plausibly set it forth as to make it look possible and reasonable. But these rules are not respected in the "Deerslayer" tale.
So given the scale of the task at hand, and given that you -- the casual but clearly intelligent and sexy reader -- are probably not up for yet another driftglass master's thesis, let me hip you to the One Weird Trick which you can use to reliably traverse any of the gooey, bottomless tar pits of David Brooks' prose.

Always remember that Mr. Brooks' career will collapse and all of his various money-making scams will vanish like fairy gold unless he and his ilk aggressively promote the fairy tale that our political process is broken because of The Extremists On Both Sides.

It really is that simple and if you let that maxim be your GPS and Phial of Galadriel, casting light in the darkest places, it will guide you unerringly through acres of Brooksian smoke and mirrors and ramadoola about morality and character, and back again and again to this one, terrible truth about men like Mr. Brooks: As long they are permitted to get away with promoting the Both Siderist Lie from every media platform at their disposal, they will remain wealthy and powerful and virtually indestructible.   

Conversely, if the Both Siderist Lie is ever cast back into Mount Doom and destroyed, the careers of Mr. Brooks and every one of his fellow travelers would shrivel up and die like so many slugs in a salt mine.

So let us begin at the beginning.  

Say it with me now...

Who ruined the American political system?

America has always had tough partisan politics, but for most of its history, the system worked because it had leaders who could reframe debates, reorganize coalitions, build center-out alliances and reach compromises. Politics is broken today because those sorts of leaders have been replaced by highly polarizing, base-mobilizing politicians who hew to party orthodoxy, ignore the 38 percent of voters who identify as moderates and exacerbate partisanship and gridlock. If Clinton decides to be just another unimaginative base-mobilizing politician, she will make our broken politics even worse.
Because Mr. Brooks must defend the Both Siderist Lie at any cost, he must necessarily also take the patently absurd position that it is somehow wrong!wrong!wrong! for political parties to promote specific policies and principles which appeal to the people who joined that political party because of its policies and principles.
Every serious presidential candidate has to answer a fundamental strategic question: Do I think I can win by expanding my party’s reach, or do I think I can win by mobilizing my party’s base?

Two of the leading Republicans have staked out opposing sides on this issue. Scott Walker is trying to mobilize existing conservative voters. Jeb Bush is trying to expand his party’s reach.

The Democratic Party has no debate on this issue. Hillary Clinton has apparently decided to run as the Democratic Scott Walker.
Because it has become professionally suicidal for America's Most Ubiquitous Conservative Public Intellectual to face the simple, ugly truth about his political party, his lies have to keep getting wilder and ever more completely unmoored from reality.  So while polls show that policies the Clinton campaign has proposed so far -- from raising the minimum wage to immigration reform -- have the broad support of an overwhelming majority of Americans, that does not jibe with today's iteration of Mr. Brooks' Big Lie.  And so... (Mr. Brooks continues):
If Clinton runs on an orthodox left-leaning, paint-by-numbers strategy, she’ll never be able to [create a bipartisan governing majority]...

If Clinton seems driven by demographics and microtargeting, she will underline the image some have that she is overly calculating and shrewd...

If Clinton comes across as a stereotypical big-spending, big-government Democrat, she will pay a huge cost...
And while everybody's cool with The Gays now, Mr. Brooks' imaginary Moderates still hate The Poors.  Just look at Obamacare! (Mr. Brooks continues):
But they have not drifted left on economic and fiscal issues, as the continued unpopularity of Obamacare makes clear.
The alert reader will note how effortlessly Mr. Brooks' skips right on over the fact that the initial unpopularity of the Affordable Care Act was due almost entirely to exactly the sort of berserk, slash-and-burn partisan slanderbombing on the part of Mr. Brooks's Republican Party which Mr. Brooks pretends to decry. 

And the really, really alert reader will also be aware that the "continued unpopularity of Obamacare" isn't actually continuing any more:  
Obamacare's Rising Popularity Could Sink Republicans in 2016

By Brian Beutler

Two days ago, I observed that the Affordable Care Act remained barely unpopular, with a 2 percent unfavorability margin that could be attributed entirely to elderly people who have little-to-no stake in the law.

A day later, the Kaiser Family Foundation updated its tracking poll numbers and revealed that the margin hasn't merely disappeared: It has reversed.

The law’s changing fortunes confound conservatives in part because the public’s views have polarized along a partisan axis. Obamacare derives nearly all its support from Democrats and liberals; its opposition is almost entirely driven by Republican and conservatives. Conservatives who spend their days surrounded by conservatives find it hard to fathom that more people like than dislike the law—or, more accurately, that the hardened opposition to the law is a minority view.

All of this will bedevil Republicans in their presidential primary and in the general election.

The people who will select the Republican presidential nominee are among the most committed conservatives in the country. By and large they will not tolerate ambivalent candidates who don’t like Obamacare but understand that fanatical opposition to the law is a general election liability.
Well damn your "facts", sir, what about Bill Clinton! And George W. Bush!  And Barack Obama, also too! (Mr. Brooks continues):
It’s worth noting, to start with, that no recent successful first-term presidential campaign has used this approach. In 1992, Bill Clinton firmly grabbed the center. In 2000, George Bush ran as a uniter, not a divider. In 2008, Barack Obama ran as a One Nation candidate who vowed to transcend partisan divides.
OK, who can count the number of different ways this farce on its face?

First, notice how inartfully the sweaty little grifter palms the card:
...no recent successful first-term presidential campaign 
and hopes you will not, y'know, remember that Bill Clinton did not win a majority of the votes in 1992?

Or that Bill Clinton's reward for eight years of compromise and outreach to the GOP was eight years of slander, witch-hunts, sabotage and impeachment at the hands of David Brooks' Republican Party.

Or that George "The Uniter" Bush  lost the popular vote in 2000 and had to be anointed president by five of his daddy's friends.  Of course, Dubya did come back strong and win re-election in 2004 with more votes than anyone had ever garnered before, on the strength of one of the dirtiest campaigns in modern memory, run as a coordinated assault by David Brooks' Republican Party with the theme of, "If those dirty, terrorist-loving hippies win, your kids die will probably die in a terrorist attack! By terrorists!"
Vice President Dick Cheney says the United States will risk another terrorist attack if voters make the wrong choice on Election Day, suggesting Sen. John Kerry would follow a pre-Sept. 11 policy of reacting defensively.

"It's absolutely essential that eight weeks from today, on Nov. 2, we make the right choice, because if we make the wrong choice then the danger is that we'll get hit again and we'll be hit in a way that will be devastating from the standpoint of the United States," Cheney told supporters at a town-hall meeting Tuesday.
Mr. Brooks also conspicuously fails to mention that Barack Obama's candidacy was propelled both by a sincere desire to heal the wounds which Mr. Brooks' Republican Party gleefully inflicted on our country and public revulsion at the treason and ruin which Mr. Brooks' Republican Party had left in its wake.

And because he is a coward and a congenital liar, Mr. Brooks also fails to mention the vast, right-wing conspiracy cooked up by the leaders of Mr. Brooks' Republican Party on the very day President Obama was sworn into office -- a conspiracy which was specifically engineered to relentlessly sabotage President Obama's sincere desire to "transcend partisan divides":
During the dinner, the Republican conspirators vowed to bring Congress to a standstill, regardless of how badly Congressional inaction would hurt the already hurting American economy and people.

In essence, they pledged to each other to obstruct filibuster and block any legislation that might improve the economy, and thus make President Obama look good.

While the meeting at the Caucus Room restaurant was top-secret, Republicans who were there very frank, just months later, about what had transpired.

Congressman Pete Sessions told the National Journal in March of 2009 that the Republican sabotage plan would borrow a page from the tactics of the Taliban terrorists.

He said that, “Taliban Insurgency, we understand perhaps a little bit more because of the Taliban.  Insurgency is the way they went about systematically understanding how to disrupt and change a person's entire processes. And these Taliban -- is an example of how you go about to change a person from their messaging, to their operations, to their frontline message. And we need to understand that Insurgency may be required when [dealing with Democrats on] the other side.”

The Texas Republican went on to say that, “If they [Democrats] do not give us those options or opportunities then we will then become Insurgency...I think Insurgency is a mindset and an attitude…”

At the Caucus Room dinner itself, Robert Draper quoted Congressman Kevin McCarthy as saying, “We’ve gotta challenge them on every single bill. Show united and unyielding opposition to the president’s economic policies.”

Looking back from five years later, we can see that the “united and unyielding opposition” that Congressman McCarthy called for is succeeding in harming America and thus preventing President Obama from having any significant progressive successes. Just ask Democratic Congressman Charlie Rangel.

In an interview with The Daily Beast published this past Friday, the New York Congressman said that Republicans in the House are doing more damage to American competitiveness, and to the American people, than any terrorist organization could.

Rangel told The Daily Beast that, “What is happening is sabotage. Terrorists couldn’t do a better job than the Republicans are doing.”
And because he apparently lacks even a remedial grasp of how the American elections work, to make this ridiculous argument, Mr. Brooks must also leap gazelle-like over a part of the political process which what some pundits refer to as the "primaries".

See, before stomping Jeb Bush to aspic in the "general election", Secretary Clinton must first win enough state-wide elections (known as "primaries" or, in some aboriginal dialects, "caucuses")  to secure the "nomination" of her "political party".

This is usually accomplished by speaking to the members of that "political party" about the issues which are of interest to them.

Historically, at the point in the political process when "candidates" begin running in the "primaries" (like now), Mr. Brooks' imaginary moderates are usually far too invested in the outcome of more important contests of skill and strength like, say, Millionaire Matchmaker or Say 'Yes' To the Dress to fret about what some "candidate" is saying about marginal tax rates and suchlike.  (Statistically, 40% of Mr. Brooks' imaginary moderates begin to notice the presidential campaign approximately four days before the general election, 22% of imaginary moderates -- the so-called "Holy shit, was that today?!  Hey, do I get time offa work for this?" voting block --  get interested in the election about an hour before the polls close, and the remaining 38% of imaginary moderates start to notice the presidential election on inauguration day when a buncha goddamn speeches interrupt Millionaire Matchmaker and Say 'Yes' To the Dress.)

And speaking of specious percentages...

... to further beat his already intellectually DOA horse, Mr. Brooks' pulls this random number out of his ass --
...about 23 percent of the electorate can be swayed by a compelling campaign
-- which he attributes to:
...a range of academic studies.
However when the Washington Post actually started poking around looking for that number -- surprise! -- they couldn't find it.


Then there's the other datapoint, the vaguely-sourced "about 23 percent of the electorate can be swayed by a compelling campaign." I've paid attention to politics for a long time and am pretty familiar with political communications and turnout efforts. I have never heard that stat before. I'll note, too, that it's a lot more vague than it seems. What does "swayed" mean? Convinced to support an issue? The other candidate? Convinced to consider changing support? There are unquestionably degrees of "ability to be swayed" that would be important for a campaign to consider.

There was a study published after the 2004 election that identified 25 percent of the "politically aware," partisan-aligned electorate as "persuadable."  That year, 17 percent of partisans voted for the opposite party's candidate for president, according to exit polls. Close! But in a Gallup poll from June 2004 -- before the campaign started in earnest -- 10 percent of Democrats backed George W. Bush and 8 percent of Republicans backed John Kerry. In other words, the divide didn't really change at all. So who, if anyone, was persuaded?

In July 2012, our polling suggested that only 6 percent of Americans had a good chance of changing their minds about who they were planning to vote for. Another 13 percent said it was possible. On the day we published that article, 538's polling average estimated 50.7 percent support for Obama and 48.3 for Romney. The final tally? Obama was 0.4 percent higher; Romney, 1.1 percent lower. If much of that six percent changed their mind, they either changed back or the net effect was a wash...
You know, I'm sure there are several thousand more words I could wring out of this train-wreck, but honestly, why bother?

I mean, it's not as if this drivel represents some brilliant new angle on how to sell the same old Conservative sludge ("It's Toasted!") which just came down to Mr. Brooks from the great Burkean Beyond.   No, the truth is, regardless of prevailing conditions or objective, factual reality, over the years Mr. Brooks has been remarkably consistent in running this same, insipid con over -- 
The Fighter Fallacy
OCT. 24, 2011

David Brooks
This is a problem for Democrats. But Democrats can win elections in this climate if they defuse the Big Government/Small Government ideological debate. With his Third Way approach, Bill Clinton established that he was not a Big Government liberal.
Democrats do not have that luxury. The party of government cannot win an orthodox vs. orthodox campaign when 15 percent of Americans trust government. It certainly can’t do it presiding over 9 percent unemployment. It’s suicide.

Yet this is the course the Obama campaign has chosen. He’s campaigning these days as the populist fighter, the scourge of the privileged class.

Obama, who sounded so fresh in 2008, now sometimes sounds a bit like Al Gore and Nancy Pelosi. Obama, who inspired the country, now threatens to run a campaign that is viciously negative. Obama, who is still widely admired because he is reasonable and calm, is in danger of squandering his best asset by pretending to be someone he is not. Obama, a natural unifier and conciliator, seems on the verge of running as a divisive populist while accusing Mitt Romney, his possible opponent, of being inauthentic.

It’s misguided. It raises the ideological temperature and arouses the Big Government/Small Government debate. It repels independents, who don’t like the finance majors who went to Wall Street but trust the history majors who went to Washington even less.

Obama would be wiser to champion a Grand Bargain strategy...
and over --
Party No. 3
Published: August 10, 2006

There are two major parties on the ballot, but there are three major parties in America. There is the Democratic Party, the Republican Party and the McCain-Lieberman Party.

All were on display Tuesday night.

The Democratic Party was represented by its rising force — Ned Lamont on a victory platform with the net roots exulting before him and Al Sharpton smiling just behind. The Republican Party was represented by its collapsing old guard — scandal-tainted Tom DeLay trying to get his name removed from the November ballot. And the McCain-Lieberman Party was represented by Joe Lieberman himself, giving a concession speech that explained why polarized primary voters shouldn’t be allowed to define the choices in American politics.

The McCain-Lieberman Party begins with a rejection of the Sunni-Shiite style of politics itself. It rejects those whose emotional attachment to their party is so all-consuming it becomes a form of tribalism, and who believe the only way to get American voters to respond is through aggression and stridency.

The flamers in the established parties tell themselves that their enemies are so vicious they have to be vicious too...
-- and over again:
What Independents Want
Published: November 5, 2009

Liberals and conservatives each have their own intellectual food chains. They have their own think tanks to provide arguments, politicians and pundits to amplify them, and news media outlets to deliver streams of prejudice-affirming stories.

Independents, who are the largest group in the electorate, don’t have any of this. They don’t have institutional affiliations. They don’t look to certain activist lobbies for guidance. There aren’t many commentators who come from an independent perspective.
And, as longtime readers know, over that same stretch of time, I have been remarkably consistent in explaining exactly how Mr. Brooks is lying to his readers and why his fellow travelers in the mainstream media consistently let him get away with it.

So now that I've put another one in the book, Mr. Brooks and I can retire to our separate corners of the professional universe:  I'll return to combing the want ads and sending another Lost Patrol of resumes into the abyss, and he'll go back to blithely ignoring any such picayune criticism from nobodies and hauling in shit-tons of money lecturing princes, potentates and the leaders of tomorrow on the importance of honesty, integrity and good character.  

Update:  The Rude Pundit weighs in saltily

Update:  Jonathan Chait is confused as to why David Brooks and Ron Fournier could be such clueless dumbasses:
Centrist pundits like Ron Fournier and David Brooks have loaded Martin and Haberman’s analysis with moral connotations, producing columns that excoriate Clinton as divisive, partisan, liberal, and bad for America. The meme is powerful because it appeals to deep-seated emotions that animate centrists like Fournier and Brooks. But it is based on a series of misapprehensions about American politics piled atop each other, producing a conclusion that is bizarre and incoherent.
Because they're lying Jon,  They lie all the time.  The real story here is how the majority of your colleagues cover for them over and over again.  Why is that, Jon?  I'd love to read that story.

Update:  Brother Charlie Pierce rolls in the artillery:
Last week, HRC gave a thwacking good speech on the efforts by the Republican party, and by various foundation-fattened "independent" political groups, to restrict the franchise of people who are unlikely to vote for Republicans. She called people out. She named names. Suddenly, the respectable political class is horrified by her "base mobilizing." Since when did support for every individual's right to vote become nothing more than a way to charge up your liberal base? (If you answered, "For the Republicans? About a day after the Voting Rights Act was signed in 1965," you win today's grand prize.) Apparently, calling out the new Jim Crow for what it is may wake the children and disturb the horses. Since when did expanding the franchise become a threat to the "center-out" politics over which slobbers David Brooks, who spent his formative years cheering on the destruction of those politics on behalf of wolvering conservatism?


Sandman said...

The Rude Pundit went "full Driftglass" today on this very same topic:

steeve said...

W Bush of course lost the electoral vote in 2000 as well as the popular. After he was installed, the number of opinion pieces from "centrists" begging Bush to govern politely from the center and not do anything for his base was zero.

The number of "centrists" begging Obama to ignore his base after he won handily and for realz in 2008 was all of them.

zombie rotten mcdonald said...

SLOW ZOMBIE GOLF CLAPS. such a great takedown.

Mike Lumish said...

If I may add a twig to this bonfire of righteous indignation, Bush ran in 2000 as a uniter not a divider but immediately in 2001 scrambled hard right and governed as if he had won in a landslide and there were literally no Democrats in Congress to oppose him. I, for instance, am still annoyed that the tax holiday passed in a fifty-fifty tie that was broken by Dick "Fourth Branch" Cheney in his capacity as legislator. Back in those relatively innocent days, it was thought Not Proper to invoke the filibuster except for issues of Great National Importance. The day-in day-out use of the filibuster to block anything more significant than the ceremonial naming of doghouses - to the point where innocent simpletons would in all seriousness burble of the Constitutional requirement for a 60-vote supermajority to pass legislation of any sort - would have to wait for the installation of the Black Man in the White House and the theft of the Senate by the dirty fucking hippies who so vexed Brooks in 2004.

Unknown said...

No one eviscerates the bizarro house of horrors universe like you, DG. You don't go for the low hanging fruit of Fox or CNN. You go right to the sacred "middle" and the "mainstream", which are the venues for acceptance of the Fox/CNN spew stew. Bravo, yet again.

Have you ever considered writing a comic novel along the lines of Swift's Modest Proposal, as a graphic sci fi novel? You have the chops for it. And it has the potential to be lucrative. Just sayin'.

Dave McCarthy said...

Our Mr Brooks: "Politics is broken today because those sorts of leaders have been replaced by highly polarizing, base-mobilizing politicians who hew to party orthodoxy, ignore the 38 percent of voters who identify as moderates and exacerbate partisanship and gridlock."

Well, I'd say he's half right! :-D

bowtiejack said...

Brother Chait says "centrists like Fournier and Brooks."

Excuse me, but calling a goat a cow does not make it a cow.
Calling right-wing apparatchiks "centrists" fails the same test.

Ivory Bill Woodpecker said...

"Why is that, Jon? I'd love to read that story."

This must be a rhetorical question, as surely Drifty knows the answer already. The Jons of the world want to keep their chubby-cat, or at least upper-middle-class, lifestyles. To keep those, they need to keep their jobs, which consist of deflecting the wrath of the masses away from plutocracy. Any truly informative criticism of the Brookses of the world would necessarily involve criticism of plutocracy, which might make us natives a bit too restless.

I just coined the term "chubby cat" to mean the lower level of being rich, not quite a "fat cat", although it would not surprise me if a thousand other people thought of it independently before I did.

Professional Left Podcast #602

“Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.” -- Zen saying Don't forge...