April 05, 2005

We Only Write About David Brooks On This Blog

Really though, can you blame us when he writes such purile crap all the time? Big Dave's newest column boldly takes on the belief that it wasn't because the Republicans spent decades putting together a coordinated message machine that they are now enjoying success, it is because they have intra-party arguments all the time that has led to political domination.

The theory is that liberals must create their own version of the conservative pyramid.

Brooks admits that conservatives have created an efficient machine for creating and disseminating the party message, and that liberals are leagues behind in this regard, but dismisses the importance of this without so much as a single argument. I may not be a fancy pants conservative philosopher, but when faced with a really compelling argument about why liberals have been getting kicked around, especially in the media, I would think I'd at least get a sentence about why that's not true. But then again, Brooks has spent a lot of time thinking about philosophy, so deigning to address such sophomoric concerns might be beneath him.

Conservatives have thrived because they are split into feuding factions that squabble incessantly. As these factions have multiplied, more people have come to call themselves conservatives because they've found one faction to agree with.

This reasoning seems a bit circular to me. Conservativism has grown because it represents a wide variety of wildly differing political beliefs and people with wildly different political beliefs end up starting to call themselves conservative because the party is so diverse. Look, taking political power will always involve coalition making. The truth is that personal politics will always be a continuum and not a series of discrete political ideological sets. Parties draw in special interest groups to the fold which themselves have segregated the personal political continuum into discrete groups and this is largely accomplished through framing the Party's message.

The major conservative magazines - The Weekly Standard, National Review, Reason, The American Conservative, The National Interest, Commentary - agree on almost nothing.

The same could be said of many liberal publications from various points on the left side of the continuum. I'm sure that these conservative publications do have a lot of differing ideas about how things should be, but they also probably have a lot more in common with each other than they do with a lot of liberal publications. Rush may not agree with someone at the Cato Institute on a lot of stuff, but they're far more to agree with each other than they would with Al Franken.

This feuding has meant that the meaning of conservatism is always shifting. Once, Republicans were isolationists. Now most Republicans, according to a New York Times poll, believe the U.S. should try to change dictatorships into democracies when it can. Meanwhile, 78 percent of Democrats believe the U.S. should not try to democratize authoritarian regimes.

Well, that's a fine statistic Mr. Brooks! And what a startling revelation that, gasp, the party line changes over time! I wonder why he didn't choose to talk about how the party used to be pro-segregation, but that now they just support policies which effectively, if not officially, segregate the population. And can anybody seriously look at the reletively recent dominance of the DNC Democrats within the party and still insinuate that the party is without change and introspection. Not that I think this change has been a good one for the party, but to insinuate that the right is this big tent party that has led to dynamism while the left is completely homogenous and therefore ideologically stagnant is either purposfully blind or dishonest.

Conservatives fell into the habit of being acutely conscious of their intellectual forebears and had big debates about public philosophy. That turned out to be important: nobody joins a movement because of admiration for its entitlement reform plan. People join up because they think that movement's views about human nature and society are true.

Liberals have not had a comparable public philosophy debate. A year ago I called the head of a prominent liberal think tank to ask him who his favorite philosopher was. If I'd asked about health care, he could have given me four hours of brilliant conversation, but on this subject he stumbled and said he'd call me back. He never did.

Brooks once again makes assertions that he either doesn't support at all or simply uses crappy anecdotal evidence. A) If philosophy and knowledge of intellectual forebears is so important, where is that in the Republican platform. When I see Republicans on the Sunday shows, they're not talking about Thomas Aquinas, they're talking about their reform plan. If all this philosophizing is done behind the scenes, then, isn't this an issue of message? That is, isn't what he's saying the Republicans did that the Democrats haven't done is to craft a cohesive message platform; a single marketable ideology that they can apply to nearly any political scenario. While I think philosophy is great (and I'd happily say that my favorite philosophers are Hume, Kant, Marx, and Mill), I'm not sure there's quite the functional difference that Brooks would like us to believe. Let's say we took two groups, one from the right and the other from the left and put them in separate rooms. The Republicans, ever the scholars, talk about their favorite philosophers for a few hours and hammer out a cohesive message platform based on the writings of those philosophers. The Democrats, on the other hand, spend their time building their message based on principles of social fairness and equity but with no reference to specific intellectual forebears. When we put them on Hardball is there really going to be a difference? Are the Republicans going to support their arguments with quotes from "A Philosophical Inquiry Into The Origin Of Our Ideas Of The Sublime And Beautiful" or are going to be talking policy? In terms of gaining political successes, which we should keep in mind is the basis for this article, is the philosophy that Brooks thinks is so important really getting to the people that the right is courting or is it the cohesive policy platform?

And I'm sure you all thought it too, but what kind of garbage argument is, "I called up this one liberal that I know and he never called me back with his favorite philosopher!"?

In addition, liberal theorists are more influenced by post-modernism, multiculturalism, relativism, value pluralism and all the other influences that dissuade one from relying heavily on dead white guys.

This is my favorite part of the article. Want to know why? Brooks here *admits* that in the conservative view the only philosophers worth studying are dead, white, and male. Yeah, that's a big tent party you got there Dave-o.

If I were a liberal, which I used to be, I wouldn't want message discipline. I'd take this opportunity to have a big debate about the things Thomas Paine, Herbert Croly, Isaiah Berlin, R. H. Tawney and John Dewey were writing about. I'd argue about human nature and the American character.

Firstly, let's all agree that just because Brooks may have changed his mind about some areas of politics it doesn't mean his current ideas are any more valuable. In fact, as we can see, I think his horrible inability to see an issue *explains* why he might have changed his mind, especially to the party that values good tag lines over good arguments. Secondly, sure, I'd love to debate philosophy with my liberal friends. In fact, we do, all the time. Politics, however, must always be grounded in the policies that you are advocating. Government is about people and making their lives better with your policies, not ethereal ideas concocted by some "dead white guys". What Brooks seems to be saying is that Democrats should just give the reigns over to the Republicans for a while so we can go back to our cave and talk a bunch, but you don't win by retreating. Republicans didn't start beating Clinton around by talking a good philosophical game; they got their hands dirty making policy. I may not agree with their policies, but they were talking about concrete concepts, not the music of the spheres.

And all we have to do is look to the beginning of this article to prove Brooks wrong. Republicans have message disipline, Democrats don't. While this philosophical debate may also be beneficial, writing off something the opposition has that we don't is just plain stupid. Even if we decide we need both I don't see any arguments why we can't *do* both.

In disunity there is strength.

It's interesting that Brooks managed to avoid saying the word "diversity" here, choosing "disunity" instead. Firstly, it means he doesn't have to implicate evolution, which is good because, you know, having disunity on an issue is good, but not THAT much disunity. I just know that if he didn't actually type it out, diversity was the word that popped in his head first, which just goes to prove my point; by changing what has to be the most obvious word in order to better conform to the party line Brooks is feeding the unity of the party message. This type message workis exactly what Republicans have gotten so good at and why they are so good at politics.

And next time a part of the party that is cutting funding for kids to get through college tries to tell me I need to get more philosophical I think I might throw up.


Anonymous said...

I wasn't real impressed that David Brooks called an unnamed person who didn't call him back, either.

Anonymous said...

If you meant puerile, you misspelled it. (Unless purile is a word!)