So, life continues to be rough, although ever so slightly smoother than a week ago. Someday I hope to be able to visit South Africa in time to eat the strawberries. That day will not be soon. Unless one of my loyal readers is able to hire me for the all expenses paid position of world traveling seasonal produce taster. Which would be a pretty good gig, I imagine. However, here, in this world, I get the opportunity to offer my thoughts on one of David Brooks’ latest columns
A sensible version of…
David Brooks wants to vote for a political outsider. But not the actual political outsiders that are running, No, they are far too populist, far too crass, far too willing to try and get actual Republican voters to send them money and eventually vote for them. David Brooks has fashioned a Mary Sue political outsider that has all of the opinions and policy preferences of David Brooks, and he’s eager to throw his vote for this being of pure David Brooksian wish fulfillment. So let us play in the ivory tower of David Brooks’ fondest imaginings and track mud all over the carpets.
As a Broderesque windbag from way back, David Brooks has a naive faith in the power of bipartisanship, that would be understandable in a bright ten year old, but is utterly inexcusable in someone who has watched politics in action in the US for more than one election cycle. As he imagines candidate Totally not David Brooks would say:
But I’ve been paying close attention and it seems to me that of all the problems that face the nation, two stand out. The first is that we have a polarized, dysfunctional, semi-corrupt political culture that prevents us from getting anything done. To reverse that gridlock we’ve got to find some policy area where there’s a basis for bipartisan action.
The second big problem is that things are going badly for those in the lower half of the income distribution.
Well, there’s his first problem. He thinks that the two big problems in the US are 1)bipartisanship and 2)tough times for the poorest half of Americans. The big trouble is, no one agrees with him. Republicans variously think the biggest threat to America, is in no particular order: the perfidy of Democrats, secular humanism, socialism, immigration, ISIS and or Muslim terrorism, Obamacare, Social Security and Medicare, etc ad nauseum. Democrats tend to think the biggest problems are in no particular order: the terrible state of education, the terrible state of infrastructure, income inequality, the corruption of Republicans, racism & sexism, maintenance and expansion of the social safety net including the expansion of Medicare, Social Security & Obamacare. David Brooks imagines there is a broad overlap of issues upon which legislators of good will can agree. The biggest mistake of this approach is that he imagines there exists a majority in congress of legislators of good will. Legislators of good will can’t get the time of day from much of the American electorate. There is much less agreement on the issues facing America than he imagines. Hell, even the conservative half of the lower 50% of incomes in America probably think they are a lottery ticket or one oppressive government regulation away from getting rich.
He goes on to say
that getting families out of “bad neighborhoods” and into good ones will improve their incomes. You know what? he says a lot of superficially sensible horseshit. He found a study that says taking people out of bad neighborhoods and putting them in more affluent neighborhoods eventually makes them more prosperous. Which he thinks is some kind of answer to poverty. And it might be if poverty in America was a guy named Doug and his wife and two or three kids. But the poorest half of Americans number over 150 million people, and people live where they do for reasons sometimes they’d be delighted to move to a place with more economic opportunity, sometimes they will cling to their homes with a tenacity that borders on suicidal. What do you suppose David Brooks has to say to convince people to move whose families have been living in the same house for more than a century? What could he offer to induce people to move away from their beloved relatives? People aren’t as mobile as some giant bank’s hedge fund’s investment portfolio. There are non-trivial barriers to moving, and its rare that households can pick up and go on a whim (or on the advice of David Brooks which amounts to even less than a whim). Mr Brooks imagines that there is bipartisan consensus on improving the lot of the poorest Americans when an entire party gets reelected in landslides promising to cut services to that exact same demographic. Has he ever lived in a suburb? Has he ever heard the term ‘block busting’? how does he imagine the wealthy suburbanites will react to the arrival of the very same people their parents and their grandparents fled the cities to avoid?
He spouts more advice:
This will mean doing some things Republicans like. We’ve got to devolve a lot of power from Washington back to local communities. These neighborhoods can’t thrive if they are not responsible for themselves. Then we’ve got to expand charter schools. The best charter schools radiate diverse but strong cultures of achievement. Locally administered social entrepreneurship funds could help churches and other groups expand their influence.
Where the hell does he get this? How does he go from wanting to improve neighborhoods to imagining that charter schools are the answer? And as an atheist, I gotta object to his “empowering churches” crap, churches already get far too many giveaways from the government, and in any kind of benevolent utopia such as David seems to want to construct, they’d be paying income and property tax just like everyone else. If churches want to do things commonly described as charity like feeding the hungry and healing the sick, that’s fine they can get a tax deduction for that, just like everyone else.
I could fisk the whole thing, but I find the thought more than a little depressing. His whole dream could be popped by watching 10 minutes of C-span when they show congress in session, but he can’t be bothered. He’s like professor Harold Hill in the ‘Music Man’ only instead of bewailing the morals of a pool playing public and trying to sell musical instruments, he’s bewailing the fact that society doesn’t mirror the land of frictionless sphere-people of uniform density that live in his head and trying to sell us straw men.
So, play to your strengths David Brooks, go in with a computer game publisher and write sim-suburb where the only way to win is to build the most heteronormative, theocratic, charter-school-attending, gated community, little Galt’s gulch that you can. In the meantime, could you stop telling us how to win the game in your head?