Civility is a tree with deep roots, and without the roots, it can’t last. So what are those roots? They are failure, sin, weakness and ignorance.
— David Brooks, Jan. 13, The New York Times
Brooks should write speeches for Barack Obama, if he doesn’t already. He specializes in gobbledygook that’s crafted to appear well-meant and thoughtful, but never thoughtful enough to engage readers in a meaningful way with the issue supposedly under discussion. He is the Earnest Weasel, tweaking an imaginary congregation of moral midgets who don’t understand how sinful it is to oppose, in an uncompromising way, those who would destroy not only the social safety net woven from the New Deal but also the political system that put the safety net in place.
Imagine a preacher in the antebellum South, urging the darkies to tend to the earthly tasks that God in his wisdom has assigned them. Except that Brooks is a slick secularist. He speaks to the unwashed masses of all colors and nationalities, to those of us who can’t accept our place in this great oligarchy that America has become. We should have “gratitude for the political process,” especially given the fact that our “individual powers” are so limited. Isn’t it obvious?
Sensible people everywhere feel “redeemed” by others, Brooks writes. They know that their flawed efforts to do good, together with the flawed efforts of others, will, in some mysterious fashion, “move things gradually forward.” Except when they move things backward.
The Earnest Weasel’s moralizing would be easy to ignore if it wasn’t on display twice a week in The New York Times, where he has positioned himself as a moderate conservative, despite ample evidence he’s an unflagging front man for the special interests that have quashed all but a semblance of democracy — i.e., government for and by the people — in Washington, D.C.
Better a reactionary screed than Brooks’s pseudo-mystical claptrap. Better the borderline bigotry of a Pat Buchanan, honestly spelled out, than a Washington insider and right-wing hack who comes on like Jonathan Edwards, chiding us for “sinfulness” and for bucking the grand plans of our masters.
Brooks was born into a Jewish family but is worshipful of WASP-style elitism. Behind the phony appeals for civility and dialogue is a class-conscious prig, educated in the most expensive schools, nurtured by the rich and influential, cocooned in privilege, living in isolation from the commoners he is so eager to lecture.
It’s ironic that he made a name for himself with Bobos In Paradise, which seemed to celebrate the lifestyles of the exurban upper-middle class at the end of the millennium. What he was really celebrating was the old Protestant ethic, which equates the zealous pursuit of wealth with spirituality and lack of wealth with laziness. A believer in the Protestant ethic must make a show of being humble but never doubt the morality of capitalism, any more than a true Christian doubts the divinity of Jesus.
The next time you read one of Brooks’s “convoluted and deceitful” sermons on the state of the nation, consider the source.
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