Monday, October 11, 2004

This Bobo's A Boob

Beware of David Brooks. The newspaper columnist, author and talking head extraordinaire has been the beneficiary of a presumption of moderation that many have ben led to accept - an image that he no doubt helped to craft by his own meticulous efforts. His tone is calm and non-confrontational (especially when contrasted with other well known conservative pundits like Limbaugh, Hannity, O'Reilly, Coulter, etc.), his demeanor pleasing, his rhetoric toned down, and his arguments are often couched in a folksy common sense, running counter to the wonkish sub-narrative permeating the text. He even holds court in two venues perceived as left of center, or at the very least intellectual: The New York Times and the NewsHour With Jim Lehrer on PBS. In this regard, Brooks is a wolf in sheep's clothing.

Brooks is famous for his frequent analysis of the Red State/Blue State cleavages, and his subtle re-iterations of the "liberals as elites vs. conservatives as everyday Americans mythos" (see: Bobos In Paradise). Brooks disarms the reader by openly acknowledging his own "elitism" in order to lend credence to his dubious conclusion that Americans as a whole fit into two broad categories: elites and common people, with the geographical concentrations contouring perfectly with the political map of Blue States and Red States. The not so subtle implication is that the liberals are the wealthy powerful elites whereas the conservatives are the disempowered, ordinary, authentic Americans - a fallacy that Thomas Frank so eloquently dispels in What's The Matter With Kansas?: How Conservatives Stole The Heart of America. Despite the fact that Brooks also admits to a less than scientific means to gathering his data, he is relentless in his repetition of anecdotes and examples that reinforce the narrative of liberal elitism. But that is just one example of how Brooks disingenuously utilizes his appearance of fair-mindedness to push for decidedly partisan goals.

During the October 8th airing of NewsHour, Brooks was at his worst. Here is an excerpt from the transcript:

JIM LEHRER: And there is, of course, a presidential election underway in this country as well, and that reminder brings us once again to the analysis of Shields and Brooks: Syndicated columnist Mark Shields, New York Times columnist David Brooks. First, today's jobs numbers. What's your political read on them, David?

DAVID BROOKS: For some reason, the consensus seems to be the magic number is 150,000. If you get 150,000 jobs in a month that is it's good for Bush, under that, not so good... [emphasis added]
Here you have Brooks musing that for some seemingly unknown reason, an arbitrary number - 150,000 new jobs - was plucked out of thin air by the media or some other nefarious entity seeking to make Bush's performance seem worse than it was. But that number is far from arbitrary or magic and David Brooks knows it. It is the number needed to keep up with the monthly expansion of the working-age population. Brooks was feigning ignorance in an effort to cloak the bad news in a veil of partisanship. Don't pay attention to those inconvenient facts, they are just politicized figures. These are not the actions of a fair-minded or intellectually honest type. Mark Shields was on the spot to make this point, to his credit:

MARK SHIELDS: It's a big thing, Jim, in the sense that 150,000 is the magic number because that's the number you need just to meet the new number of people coming into the work force.
But Brooks took it one step further. In response to Shields' point, Brooks went all out in his effort to exonerate the miserable performance of the Bush administration in the economic arena - particularly in the realm of job creation:

DAVID BROOKS: I'll send any candidate a box of chocolates who says "the president has no control of this. Presidents don't control these numbers."
Interesting. That's not how I remember President Bush describing his economic package. When advocating his second round of tax cuts, Bush would often repeat the mantra, "if cutting taxes a little creates jobs, cutting taxes more creates more jobs." Every step of the way, Bush has held fast to the claims of the efficacy of his tax cuts as an engine for the creation of jobs - both before they were passed in order to sell them, and after the fact in order to justify them. In fact, the Bush administration even touted the underwhelming, and statistically insufficient, September jobs numbers as a positive achievement of Bush's tax cuts (via Bob Herbert's column in today's Times):

The administration's upbeat public response to the Labor Department report was described in The Times as follows: "The White House hailed it as evidence of continued employment expansion, saying that it validated Mr. Bush's strategy of pursuing tax cuts to support a recovery from the 2001 economic downturn."
There are two possibilities: Either David Brooks is lying to down-play President Bush's dismal record on job creation (the only President since Herbert Hoover to preside over a net loss of jobs during a four year tenure), or he is right and Presidents, and the policies they enact, "don't control" or effect the creation of jobs. If the former is true, then it is one more example of the charade Brooks puts on in terms of his objectivity and reasonableness in order to serve partisan aspirations.

If the latter is true, and policies have little impact on economic performance, then why cut taxes in the first place if that move is going to drive up the deficit and cause the Government to bleed money away financing the debt? Furthermore, if the tax cuts don't impact the economy, why give the lion's share of the money to the wealthiest Americans - those that need it the least - while the middle class is struggling under rising prices, declining wages and an increased tax burden from states and localities which is causing so many hard working Americans to succumb to defaults, bankruptcies and foreclosures at record rates, disrupting lives and spreading hardship?

Maybe Brooks would say it's because the Republicans are the Party of ordinary hard working Americans while the Democrats are the Party of the arrogant wealthy elites - out of touch with the common man. I wouldn't put it past him.

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