DougJ is probably my favorite Professional Left David Brooks hater, although it is indeed a crowded field; but in response to Bobo’s most recent piece, I think he’s guilty of over-thinking things and giving the man more credit than he deserves:
Bobo—if I’m reading him right—says that the problem is that there’s too many non-college-educated fly-over country people and that they’re not eating right or raising their kids right. Isn’t this a natural place for government to expand access to education, health-care, and programs like Head Start? And isn’t it reasonable to ask that the wealthiest Americans, who surely make a lot of their money off these oh-so-tragically dumb, fat, poorly raised fucks, help foot the bill for it?
Also too, I can no longer understand who the real heroes and villains are for conservatives anymore. I gave up long ago with foreign policy, I can’t tell who’s Hitler and who’s a brave Churchillian protector of freedom, but I thought I knew a hawk from a handsaw within the confines of Our Republic. I can’t tell anymore. I know that college graduates from “blue states” are lazy, trustafarian slime, but now I know that non-college graduates from “red states” are fat, lazy, chain-smoking slime.
These would all be good points if the Brooks piece actually had a coherent argument at its center. But it doesn’t.
What I’ve noticed in Brooks’s work as of late — especially since Occupy got going — is that his usually unconvincing attempts to portray himself as anything other than a Republican propagandist have become even more meager and half-hearted. His first column in response to Occupy was the most obvious example of slippage, a piece of such thoroughly sniveling disinformation that even my not-especially-political father was compelled to email and ask if I’d read it before subsequently calling Brooks an [expletive deleted] [expletive deleted].
In all seriousness, how could anyone read the following, from that piece, and doubt that Brooks was trying his damnedest to give us a high-brow, Upper East Side-ready version of the Turd Blossom treatment:
Take the Occupy Wall Street movement. This uprising was sparked by the magazine Adbusters, previously best known for the 2004 essay, “Why Won’t Anyone Say They Are Jewish?” — an investigative report that identified some of the most influential Jews in America and their nefarious grip on policy.
If there is a core theme to the Occupy Wall Street movement, it is that the virtuous 99 percent of society is being cheated by the richest and greediest 1 percent.
This is a theme that allows the people in the 99 percent to think very highly of themselves. All their problems are caused by the nefarious elite.
Unfortunately, almost no problem can be productively conceived in this way. A group that divides the world between the pure 99 percent and the evil 1 percent will have nothing to say about education reform, Medicare reform, tax reform, wage stagnation or polarization. They will have nothing to say about the way Americans have overconsumed and overborrowed. These are problems that implicate a much broader swath of society than the top 1 percent.
They will have no realistic proposal to reduce the debt or sustain the welfare state. Even if you tax away 50 percent of the income of those making between $1 million and $10 million, you only reduce the national debt by 1 percent, according to the Tax Foundation. If you confiscate all the income of those making more than $10 million, you reduce the debt by 2 percent. You would still be nibbling only meekly around the edges.
If the above got your spider-sense tingling, but you’re not sure exactly why, try this and this. Or you could save yourself the trouble and remember this is David Brooks we’re talking about here — it’s bull one way or the other, the details are nothing but.
Turning back to the piece DougJ’s referencing, though, we see Brooks, in his attempts to smear the Occupiers, has already stuck his hand through the bottom of his rather thin grab-bag of parlor tricks. He’s thus forced to reach back into his repertoire and unearth a riff of his that was grubby and stale — if now perhaps almost nostalgia-producingly well-executed — from the start: the division of America into two color-coded camps, the Real and the Not So:
If you live in [America's] big cities, you see people similar to yourself, who may have gone to the same college, who are earning much more while benefiting from low tax rates, wielding disproportionate political power, gaining in prestige and contributing seemingly little to the social good. That is the experience of Blue Inequality
Then there is what you might call Red Inequality. This is the kind experienced in Scranton, Des Moines, Naperville, Macon, Fresno, and almost everywhere else. In these places, the crucial inequality is not between the top 1 percent and the bottom 99 percent. It’s between those with a college degree and those without…
These two forms of inequality exist in modern America. They are related but different. Over the past few months, attention has shifted almost exclusively to Blue Inequality.
That’s because the protesters and media people who cover them tend to live in or near the big cities, where the top 1 percent is so evident. That’s because the liberal arts majors like to express their disdain for the shallow business and finance majors who make all the money. That’s because it is easier to talk about the inequality of stock options than it is to talk about inequalities of family structure, child rearing patterns and educational attainment…
But the fact is that Red Inequality is much more important. The zooming wealth of the top 1 percent is a problem, but it’s not nearly as big a problem as the tens of millions of Americans who have dropped out of high school or college…If your ultimate goal is to reduce inequality, then you should be furious at the doctors, bankers and C.E.O.’s. If your goal is to expand opportunity, then you have a much bigger and different agenda.
Contra DougJ’s guess, I don’t think Brooks is trying to take a swing at slothful or stupid Real Americans. He’s just desperate — as it was always evident the GOP would be — to turn Occupy into humdrum representatives of the liberal elite, alighting the fireworks of culture war in a ham-fisted attempt to distract the nation from its ongoing class-based strife. The representatives of “Red Inequality,” then, are merely collateral damage, their struggles are cited by Brooks in a cynical attempt to claim the moral high ground and implicitly damn Occupiers and the like as petty, envious, and above all narcissistic.
It’s the same damn song Brooks has been singing ever since his days at the Weekly Standard whenever it looked like the masses were on the verge of disobeying their betters. The neoconservative Brooks used the threat of global terrorism then; he’ll have to settle for a menacing academic achievement gap now. But here’s the thing about propaganda — it doesn’t work if you can see its gears turning. And Brooks’s are spinning faster than The Tramp’s.