DAVID BROOKS HITS THE FJM TRIFECTA

Posted in Rants on September 21st, 2009 by Ed

Thrice. Thrice, David Brooks. It's unprecedented. It's spectacular. It was heretofore inconceivable. First you got the FJM treatment. Then you returned for seconds. It was preposterous even to think of gracing this page a third time. That you actually pulled off the three-peat defies comprehension.

Jimmy Carter asserts that the histrionic opposition to the President, and notably the teabagging "movement", is about race. The ensuing controversy has more how-dare-yous than a mid-90s Harrison Ford movie and is slightly more predictable than an episode of Alf. A divided and confused nation yearned for a bespectacled pantload to step in and resolve this issue once and for all. Thank sweet baby Jesus that David Brooks is willing to step in and resolve things with "No, It's Not About Race." Seriously, that's the title. America thanks you for putting in overtime on that one, DB. Keeping in mind that this is not about race, let's go. David Brooks is both verbose and dull, so stick with me. There is payoff.

You wouldn’t know it to look at me, but I go running several times a week. My favorite route, because it’s so flat, is from the Lincoln Memorial to the U.S. Capitol and back.

Uh oh…..

I was there last Saturday and found myself plodding through tens of thousands of anti-government “tea party” protesters.

Son of a bitch. I knew this was coming, David. I knew it. This opening stanza foreshadows the bread-and-butter of the right wing columnist's trade: the "I saw some shit while at the mall / driving to work / having lunch; let's draw the most ambitious, wildly speculative conclusions one could possibly derive from my anecdotal, selectively remembered evidence" column. Undeterred by Thomas Friedman's utter perfection of this art form, David decides to play along. Every right-winger is contractually obligated to do this at least biannually. For every ten "normal" columns they must write one about how they asked a cab driver about taxes and he said "Taxes are too high!" and thus the public is strongly in favor of tax cuts.

They were carrying “Don’t Tread on Me” flags, “End the Fed” placards and signs condemning big government, Barack Obama, socialist health care and various elite institutions.

This is an overly tame, albeit not inaccurate, description of the kind of batshittery on display at these events. There's a difference between a bunch of people holding signs and this kind of stupid. But OK David. It was a protest.

Then, as I got to where the Smithsonian museums start, I came across another rally, the Black Family Reunion Celebration. Several thousand people had gathered to celebrate African-American culture.

You really don't need to be Magellan to plot the course for the rest of this column, do you?

I noticed that the mostly white tea party protesters were mingling in with the mostly black family reunion celebrants. The tea party people were buying lunch from the family reunion food stands.

This is important, because people with A Black Friend or who willingly speak to black strangers or, most impressive of all, purchase goods or services from a black person cannot be racist.

They had joined the audience of a rap concert.

Let me guess. It was these guys.

Because sociology is more important than fitness, I stopped to watch the interaction. These two groups were from opposite ends of the political and cultural spectrum. They’d both been energized by eloquent speakers.Because sociology is more important than fitness, I stopped to watch the interaction. These two groups were from opposite ends of the political and cultural spectrum. They’d both been energized by eloquent speakers.

Well President Obama is probably one. I give up, DB. Who was the other eloquent speaker? The DC Teabagging keynote speakers on 9/12 were Dick Armey, Stephen Baldwin, Rep. Marsha Blackburn, and Bob Levy of the Cato Institute. In all seriousness David (you being the Seriousest of the Serious) who in the hell gets inspired by listening to that? It might inspire some people to re-assess or end their lives, but inspire to political action? Dick Armey?

Yet I couldn’t discern any tension between them. It was just different groups of people milling about like at any park or sports arena.

"I noted that the coloreds and the whites were not engaged in an open, Mad Max-style pitched battle. If anyone there was racist, wouldn't we have seen some of that? Of course. Of course we would have."

And yet we live in a nation in which some people see every conflict through the prism of race. So over the past few days, many people, from Jimmy Carter on down, have argued that the hostility to President Obama is driven by racism.

I cannot imagine where anyone would get such an idea.

Some have argued that tea party slogans like “I Want My Country Back” are code words for white supremacy. Others say incivility on Capitol Hill is magnified by Obama’s dark skin.

Tell me, David. What does "We need to go take our country back!" mean coming out of Glenn Beck's mouth? Who has had "their" country taken away from them? The message would appear – and remember, I'm not as smart as David Brooks! – to be that creationist rednecks with murderous levels of anger, shitty spelling skills, and no health insurance are the rightful owners of this country and it has been taken away by liberals, coloreds, and colored liberals. That's not too much of a stretch, David, considering that no one "took (their) country" away. The political leadership of the country changed hands. Via the voting booth. Leaving aside the fact that the country doesn't rightfully belong to Glenn Beck's listeners, no one took anything away. If anything, they gave it away by making the 2006 and 2008 elections such a goddamn easy choice for voters.

Well, I don’t have a machine for peering into the souls of Obama’s critics, so I can’t measure how much racism is in there. But my impression is that race is largely beside the point.

My impression is that you saw what you wanted to see. My impression is that your impression means absolutely nothing, being based on anecdotes and pulled directly out of your ass.

There are other, equally important strains in American history that are far more germane to the current conflicts.

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For example, for generations schoolchildren studied the long debate between Hamiltonians and Jeffersonians. Hamiltonians stood for urbanism, industrialism and federal power. Jeffersonians were suspicious of urban elites and financial concentration and believed in small-town virtues and limited government. Jefferson advocated “a wise and frugal government” that will keep people from hurting each other, but will otherwise leave them free and “shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned.”

I agree. Black-and-white isn't half as relevant to our contemporary social cleavages as Hamiltonians and Jeffersonians! Sure, rural folk vs. urban folk is an old debate. You know what else is an old debate? Whitey-no-likey-blacky.

Jefferson’s philosophy inspired Andrew Jackson, who led a movement of plain people against the cosmopolitan elites. Jackson dismantled the Second Bank of the United States because he feared the fusion of federal and financial power.

Furthermore, in September 1833 Secretary of the Treasury Roger B. Taney transferred the government's Pennsylvania deposits in the Second Bank of the United States to the Bank of Girard in Philadelphia. This was the successor bank to what in the flying fuck does this have to do with anything David?

This populist tendency continued through the centuries. Sometimes it took right-wing forms, sometimes left-wing ones. Sometimes it was agrarian. Sometimes it was more union-oriented. Often it was extreme, conspiratorial and rude.

This is a great historiography, David. "In the 1830s Andrew Jackson opposed a National Bank. That is why we have teabaggers." In 541 A.D. the Plague of Justinian killed thousands in Constantinople, and that's why Republicans do poorly in New England. Copernicus established the heliocentric view of the universe, which is where babies come from.

The populist tendency has always used the same sort of rhetoric: for the ordinary people and against the fat cats and the educated class; for the small towns and against the financial centers. And it has always had the same morality, which the historian Michael Kazin has called producerism. The idea is that free labor is the essence of Americanism. Hard-working ordinary people, who create wealth in material ways, are the moral backbone of the country. In this free, capitalist nation, people should be held responsible for their own output. Money should not be redistributed to those who do not work, and it should not be sucked off by condescending, manipulative elites.

First of all, this is not the essence of Americanism. It is the essence of the GOP platform. Second, this is very, very far from any definition of populism. Populism is almost exclusively about redistribution. From the overt (Huey Long, FDR) to the Glenn Becks of the world (in what world is demanding reform of the tax code or an end to affirmative action anything but redistributive?) populism is all about Yours becoming Ours.

Barack Obama leads a government of the highly educated…In his first few months, he has fused federal power with Wall Street, the auto industry, the health care industries and the energy sector. Given all of this, it was guaranteed that he would spark a populist backlash, regardless of his skin color.

You do not know what populism is, David. If anything, the man promising Healthcare for All and the handover of the economy from the Few to the Many should be accused of leading a populist backlash. Teabaggers are about themselves. Everything they say amounts to Me, Me, Me. They are solipsists. We could tiptoe toward terms like "selfish" or "greedy" if we were in a mood to impose our values on them. But let me be emphatic: "taking back our country" from a duly elected person because his distributive policies infuriate you is the antithesis of populism.

And it was guaranteed that this backlash would be ill mannered, conspiratorial and over the top — since these movements always are, whether they were led by Huey Long, Father Coughlin or anybody else.

Yes, Huey Long. The great individualist. Scourge of the government handout. And Father Coughlin, champion of individual liberty. Better known as "Live and Let Live" Coughlin.

That's some good populism.

What we’re seeing is the latest iteration of that populist tendency and the militant progressive reaction to it. We now have a populist news media that exaggerates the importance of the Van Jones and Acorn stories to prove the elites are decadent and un-American, and we have a progressive news media that exaggerates stories like the Joe Wilson shout and the opposition to the Obama schools speech to show that small-town folks are dumb wackos.

See, that's where you're wrong, my assheaded friend. Dead wrong. This is not anger directed toward "elites." It is anger directed toward all that which is not like Us. These people are perfectly fine with Elites as long as they're named Cheney or Bush or Our Corporate Overlords. They are the half of the working class that Henry Frick swore he could pay to kill the other half. These "populists" and their ideology are all about fighting for the rights of little guys like Wal-Mart. They fight for a government that will leave agribusiness unregulated so they can eat shit- and ammonia-tainted meat. They fight for Kimberly-Clark's right to dump thousands of gallons of benzene into their drinking water. They fight against safety regulations and enforcement in their own places of work. They fight against unions so that they might win a lower wage, fewer benefits, and the right to see their jobs exported to Indonesia.

These people are populists like loggers are environmentalists. They are blades of grass angrily demanding a visit from the lawnmower. They are, in short, idiots.

“One could argue that this country is on the verge of a crisis of legitimacy,” the economic blogger Arnold Kling writes. “The progressive elite is starting to dismiss rural white America as illegitimate, and vice versa.”

"On the verge" my ass. Yes and yes. Fortunately for the progressive elite, it could not matter less what rural white America thinks. They are far too inarticulate, illiterate, and flat-out stupid to mount a serious challenge. Suburban white America, with their college degrees and high incomes, matters. They swing elections. Rural white America is a carnival sideshow that exists largely for our condescending entertainment.

It’s not race. It’s another type of conflict, equally deep and old.

Right. Hamiltonians vs. Jeffersonians! Except they're Jeffersonians who can barely wait to grab their ankles for their elite betters and will go to any length, up to and including spilling blood, to surrender what little power they might have and call it "freedom" and "liberty."

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