Friday, November 04, 2016

Whither National Greatness?

It Was (Nearly) 20 Years Ago Today...

David Brooks, March 1997:
A Manifesto for a Lost Creed
MAR 03, 1997 | By DAVID BROOK

Worse, under the influence of the New Left, the personal became political. Private concerns came to eclipse the larger public realm. At a time when a teenager's haircut was a political statement to be adjudicated by the Supreme Court, all the issues of the private realm -- smoking, methods of raising children, sexual preferences -- began to overshadow the traditional subjects of the public realm: subjects like order, justice, and the distribution of wealth. Americans have almost forgotten what the public realm is and how it differs from the sum of private concerns...
And after 20 years of highly-focused, lavishly-funded, unrelenting Conservatism pounding the shit out of the American dream?
The Banality of Change
David Brooks NOV. 4, 2016

A few weeks ago I met a guy in Idaho who was absolutely certain that Donald Trump would win this election. He was wearing tattered, soiled overalls, missing a bunch of teeth and was unnaturally skinny. He was probably about 50, but his haggard face looked 70. He was getting by aimlessly as a handyman.

I pointed to the polls and tried to persuade him that Hillary Clinton might win, but it was like telling him a sea gull could play billiards. Everybody he knows is voting Trump so his entire lived experience points to a Trump landslide...
20 years ago, in a nation at relative peace, enjoying relative prosperity and accruing a healthy national budget surplus after digging out from under crippling Republican deficits, Mr. Brooks could not find a single complementary thing to say about Bill Clinton:
Consider Bill Clinton. He longs to be a great leader, but cultural liberalism has robbed him of any way to realize his dream. The national- greatness ideal of the 19th century was based first on the vigorous virtues, but cultural liberalism mistakes virility for sexism and the oppression of women.

And so, at the end of liberalism, we find Bill Clinton. Longing to personify greatness but too easy on himself, trained to discard the qualities that comprise it, he is the opposite of vigorous, the opposite of reticent, the opposite of self-disciplined.
Now, after 20 years of Limbaugh/Gingrich/Atwater/FoxNews Conservatism being pumped into the groundwater of American politics, Mr. Brooks gets a chance to see what an actual vortex of rapacious egomania looks like:
Now, if you wanted to design a personality type perfectly ill suited to be a change agent in government, you would come up with Donald Trump: solipsistic, impatient, combative, unsubtle and ignorant.
20 years ago, Mr. Brooks didn't care what Gummint did, as long it was ginormous --
It almost doesn't matter what great task government sets for itself, as long as it does some tangible thing with energy and effectiveness. The first task of government is to convey a spirit of confidence and vigor that can then spill across the life of the nation. Stagnant government drains national morale. A government that fails to offer any vision merely feeds public cynicism and disenchantment.

But energetic government is good for its own sake. It raises the sights of the individual. It strengthens common bonds. It boosts national pride. It continues the great national project.
-- and driven by powerful individuals, and not stinky Gummint "collectives":
The national mission can be carried out only by individuals and families -- not by collectives, as in socialism and communism. Instead, individual ambition and willpower are channeled into the cause of national greatness. And by making the nation great, individuals are able to join their narrow concerns to a larger national project.
20 years later, and David Brooks doesn't seem capable of facing the fact that his long-ago prayer to the gods of Conservative Greatness has actually come true.

With a vengeance.

Mr. Brooks' party is now led by a billionaire egomaniac who has indeed promised to do gargantuan things like building a giant wall and blowing up the United States government.  Who has indeed allowed the millions of individual bigots and imbeciles who make up the base of Mr. Brooks' Republican Party to "join their narrow concerns to a larger national project" of jailing his political opponents, bulldozing NATO, banning Muslims and on and on and on.

Hell, even Trump's stupid motto, plastered across every wannabe-klansman's ball-cap and double-wide in the land -- "Make American Great Again" -- is an almost word-for-word answer to Mr. Brooks prayer for a "Return To National Greatness".

Trump is exactly to sort of whirlwind of wild, world-stomping power and insatiable ambition for which Young David Brooks beseeched the heavens 20 years ago.

How hilarious, then, that 20 years later -- without ever once admitting that those dirty Liberals have been right all along -- Mr. Brooks now offers his readers a punch list for the effective administration of a complex advanced democracy that sure looks a helluva lot like the resume of every competent Liberal public official I have ever met:
Let’s start with what “change” actually means. In our system, change means legislation. It starts with the ability to gather a team of policy experts who can craft complex bills. These days, bills often run to thousands of pages, and every bad rookie decision can lead things astray.

Then it requires political deftness...

Craftsmanship in government is not like craftsmanship in business. You can’t win people with money and you can’t order people around. Governance requires enormous patience, a capacity to tolerate boredom and the skill of quiet herding...

Change in government is a team sport. Public opinion is mobilized through institutions — through interest groups, activist organizations, think tanks and political parties...

In the real world, the process of driving change is usually boring, remorseless and detail oriented...
You know, if Mr. Brooks had actually learned a single fucking thing from being horribly wrong about everything for the last two decades and had applied what he had learned in the service of his readers, then I would happily put down my pen and never speak of him again.

But he hasn't.

He simply slithered from one, highly-profitable Beltway media scam -- Liberal Idiots Are Destroying Murrica! -- to another, even-more-highly-profitable Beltway media scam -- Why Oh Why Can't Both Sides Something Something! -- when he saw which way the wind was shifting.

And now, once again Mr. Brooks is doing his part to advance the Conservative cause by making sure he gets it on the record that, should she be elected, Hillary Clinton will be responsible for "gathering majorities" --
Passing legislation next year is going to be hard, but if Clinton can be dull and pragmatic, and operate at a level below the cable TV ideology wars, it’s possible to imagine her gathering majorities behind laws that would help people like that guy in Idaho: an infrastructure push, criminal justice reform, a college tuition program, an apprenticeship and skills program, an expanded earned-income tax credit and a bill to secure the border and shift from low-skill to high-skill immigration.
-- from a Republican Party (his Republican Party) that has already spent the last eight years ruthlessly and single-mindedly sabotaging Obama Administration at every turn, and have now begun openly laying plans to use whatever legislative power they can lay their filthy hands on to block Clinton Supreme Court nominations forever, witch-hunt her to extinction and begin impeachment proceedings almost before she has finished her inaugural address.

You know, it's almost like David Fucking Brooks doesn't even read Paul Krugman :-)
Who Broke Politics?

Paul Krugman NOV. 4, 2016

As far as anyone can tell, Paul Ryan, the speaker of the House — and the leader of what’s left of the Republican establishment — isn’t racist or authoritarian. He is, however, doing all he can to make a racist authoritarian the most powerful man in the world. Why? Because then he could privatize Medicare and slash taxes on the wealthy.

And that, in brief, tells you what has happened to the Republican Party, and to America...

So how did all our political norms get destroyed? Hint: It started long before Donald Trump.

On one side, Republicans decided long ago that anything went in the effort to delegitimize and destroy Democrats. Those of us old enough to remember the 1990s also remember the endless series of accusations hurled against the Clintons.

Nothing was too implausible to get on talk radio and get favorable mention in Congress and in conservative media: Hillary killed Vince Foster! Bill was a drug smuggler!

Nothing was too trivial to trigger congressional hearings: 140 hours of testimony on potential abuse of the White House Christmas card list. And, of course, seven years of investigations into a failed real estate deal. And, of course, seven years of investigations into a failed real estate deal.

When Mrs. Clinton famously spoke of a “vast right-wing conspiracy” out to undermine her husband’s presidency, she wasn’t being hyperbolic; she was simply describing the obvious reality...


Unknown said...

I think it's a real shame that no one will ever understand or admit that you have been a Cassandra out there in the wilderness screaming about the coming of the Rough Beast, but you are, after all, a filthy hippe libtard democRAT, and therefore beneath notice.

Shame you couldn't have been born a nice White Conservative Pundit like David Brooks. He makes a lot of money for being wrong all the time.

You are much more skilled than he is, but you have that handicap. Yep, real shame...

Green Eagle said...

"It almost doesn't matter what great task government sets for itself, as long as it does some tangible thing with energy and effectiveness."

Right. See how that two-front war worked out for Germany in 1939.

dinthebeast said...

So my question for DFB is whether his Idaho Trump supporter is patriotic enough to use American made meth, or if he, like most of them, gets his from Mexico.

-Doug in Oakland

trgahan said...

"...that would help people like that guy in Idaho...."

Actually living where Brooks just rolled down the window on the way to some Teton Valley mansion on a absentee landlord "ranch," I think I need to respond to this specific line of tripe.

Since FDR the Federal government has spent billions on these guys in Idaho. Like the right wing, skull fucked, state government he votes for every election, he cashes all the checks while spitting back in the governments face and tells us its all "boot straps" and "rugged individualism."

Bruce.desertrat said...

Dr. Krugman is made of far, far sterner stuff than I. If I held a peer position like his to Brooks, I would be unbelievably stabby if that Bothsides fraud ever came upon me in the hallway.

Then again, one wonders the kind of fantastically choreographed minuet the poor staff of the Times must perform on days when both men must be physically there at the same time...

Jimbo said...

So, I see that 20 years ago he was also writing the kind of treacly, maudlin mush that he is still writing today. And Green Eagle you could also say: "See how that two-war front worked out for America in 2003."

Neo Tuxedo said...

"It started long before Donald Trump." It started no later than 1961, when Ronald Reagan went on the electric teevee machine to warn Wethepeople that if the King-Anderson bill (the beta version of Medicare) passed, "you and I are going to spend our sunset years telling our children, and our children's children, what it was once like in America when men were free."

bluicebank said...

See, Drift? This is why I send spare change to you when I can. Because you do the heavy lifting of reading the painful, and badly worded, tossed pretzel-logic of David Brooks.

I can't begin to imagine how you get through his first paragraph without breaking the flatware against the wall.

"He was getting by aimlessly as a handyman." -- DFB

Of all the negative things you can say about a Trump supporter, Brooks chooses to denigrate the man for being a jobber. But isn't that what David Brooks does, is get paid (enormous sums of money) as he aimlessly takes on odd jobs of defending Conservatism, whether it be to fix a leaky pipe or slap some aluminum siding on its facade?

Yastreblyansky said...

Don't forget Brooksy's always had that other agenda too, where the government just does these nice and modest little muddly things, because Burke and Oakeshott, and the one where the president doesn't do anything but radiate love and compassion inspiring us all to be good to one another, and the one... I forget. But it's basically 16 different agendas available 24/7 depending on who he wants to attack at a given moment, just as long as you cut those rich people taxes and deregulate the companies.

Cinesias said...

Another brilliant post, DG.

RUKidding said...

Q: does DFB plagiarize Dame Nooningtonhampshire? Or is it vice versa?

The totes obvs meth head that DFB "met" in "Idaho" sounds suspiciously like the random cab drivers that slow down on 5th Ave to toss out pearls of homespun wisdom before swinish Peggers.

As IF DFB would "talk" to some lowly toothless meth peon, particularly to "exchange views" about the Presidential election.

Sheesh. And the "moral" of the story is that Clinton better get offa her ass & git down to legislating Stat! Like DFB is oblivious to "his" precious GOP already publicly notifying hapless US citizens to expect nada zip zilch bupkiss to happen in DC except millions upon millions of our tax dollars to be wasted on yet more useless Clinton witch hunts & impeachments. No doubt the Idaho meth head will clap & cheer for that money waste. That's apparently what Trump fans have been propagandized into believing they "want." And DFB can endlessly whine about Both Sides something something.

Belvoir said...

This was magnificent, Drifty. Thank you.

Fascinating to me was that in 1997 was calling an essential part of gay peoples' lives and identities a "sexual preference". Like it was a decadent whim. I know that was the preferred right-wing framing of the time. Just, reading it now, it seems positively Victorian.