What is this, number four for Mr. Very Serious Brooks? It may seem like he is given the Treatment far too often, but in reality I applaud myself for showing almost superhuman restraint in featuring him in this format as rarely as I do. Every word he writes begs for this kind of response. Every New York Times column, not to mention every television bobblehead appearance, is like a massive nuclear explosion producing a giant cloud spelling out "Ed! FJM me!" It is so tempting to comply. His web archive makes me feel like a kid in a candy store whereas actually trudging through his columns makes me feel like a diabetic kid in a candy store…I can see all kinds of treats on the Times website but I can't have any of them. I have to read goddamn David Brooks.
Being the good Sensible, Adult Moderate that he is, Mr. Brooks must take the occasional stab at liberal cred, which is as difficult as you might expect for someone who is basically a less hirsute Mitt Romney. But DB sure does try, most recently in last week's excruciating "The Long Strategy." The nondescript title does not betray how bad the ensuing column really is. Let me put it this way: if you ever wanted to meet David Brooks in his high school years, this is as close as you can get. Now that I've really sold it, buckle up. This FJM is made possible through the generous support of the Sanctimonious Pud Foundation.
I was a liberal Democrat when I was young. I used to wear a green Army jacket with political buttons on it — for Hubert Humphrey, Birch Bayh, John F. Kennedy and Franklin Roosevelt.
"Don't you think I'm cool now? I was also into Foghat. I knew Timothy Leary. I played tambourine for Country Joe & the Fish for a couple of years. I banged Squeaky Fromme. Ever hear of the Baader-Meinhoff group? I was Baader."
I even wore that jacket in my high school yearbook photo.
PICS OR IT DIDN'T HAPPEN.
It’s a magic green jacket.
Holy shit! Can we call it the Dream Coat from now on? Oh. I guess that's taken.
But the moral of the story is that no one F'ed with DB in high school, not with his Cloak of Invisibility and +3 Bag of Holding.
I can put it on today and, suddenly, my mind shifts back to the left. I start thinking like a Democrat, feeling a strange accompanying hunger for brown rice.
Ha ha! He knows 1960s liberal stereotypes! Oh, that's rich.
When I put on that magic jacket today, I feel beleaguered but kind of satisfied.
"Not unlike that time I barfed in Morley Safer's bathroom but mostly missed the toilet. He's a dick. God, we drank so much Keystone Light. You wouldn't tell by looking at him, but Ed Bradlee turns into Wolverine after a sixer."
I feel beleaguered because the political winds are blowing so ferociously against “my” party. But I feel satisfied because the Democrats have overseen a bunch of programs that, while unappreciated now, are probably going to do a lot of good in the long run.
Wait…they did things right? Things that David argued against when proposed?
For example, everybody now hates the bank bailouts and the stress tests. But, the fact is, these are some of the most successful programs in recent memory. They stabilized the financial system without costing much money.
Brooks on Charlie Rose, 2/9/09: Bank bailouts = bad.
The auto bailout was criticized at the time, but it’s looking pretty good now that General Motors is recovering.
Nov. 2008: "Bailout to Nowhere." Auto industry bailout = bad.
But the magic jacket-wearing me is nervous about the next few years.
Regular jacket-wearing you was nervous about the last few, too. Good thing the government didn't listen to him.
I’m afraid my party is going to get stuck in the same old debates that we always lose. First, we’re going to have the same old tax debate. We’re going to not extend the Bush tax cuts on the rich. The Republicans will blast us for killing growth and raising taxes as they did in 2000 and 2004.
"And I'm certain of it, because those will be my next three columns as soon as I take off the Magic Jacket and replace it with my Dickhead Sportcoat, Smug Slacks, and a size 10 pair of Platitude Shoes."
Then we’ll get stuck in the same old spending debate. We’ll point to high unemployment and propose spending programs too small to make much difference.
Right, we will settle on spending programs too small to make a difference after people like non-Jacket David Brooks rail endlessly about how the proposal is too expensive.
The Republicans will blast us for bankrupting the country with ineffective programs, and the voters are so distrustful of government these days that they’ll side with the Republicans on that one, too.
Have to go with DB here; they pretty much have this one down to a science. Run the government into the ground, campaign on "small government", and assume that people aren't paying enough attention to figure it out. Brilliant.
So I sit there in my magic green jacket and I wonder: What can my party do to avoid the big government tag that always leads to catastrophe?
"Now that we all agree that big government is bad, how can the party accused of favoring it run against the party that consistently implements it?"
Then I remember President Obama’s vow to move us beyond the stale old debates. Maybe he couldn’t really do that in the first phase of his presidency when he was busy responding to the economic crisis, but perhaps he can do it now in the second phase.
Oh crap. You all know what's coming, right? You've seen this before, right?
It occurs to me that the Obama administration has done a number of (widely neglected) things that scramble the conventional categories and that are good policy besides. The administration has championed some potentially revolutionary education reforms. It has significantly increased investments in basic research. It has promoted energy innovation and helped entrepreneurs find new battery technologies. It has invested in infrastructure — not only roads and bridges, but also information-age infrastructure like the broadband spectrum.
Well, that's all pretty tame. But yeah, most sane people would think those are good ideas – meaning that about 60% of the American public does.
These accomplishments aren’t big government versus small government; they’re using government to help set a context for private sector risk-taking and community initiative.
No, they're SOCIALISM!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Where have you been, David? Liberal fascism! Hitler! Stalin! Neville Chamberlain! FEMA internment camps in the desert! Sharia law! Death panels! Reparations! My precious fluids!
They cut through the culture war that is now brewing between the Obama administration and the business community. They also address the core anxiety now afflicting the public. It’s not only short-term unemployment that bothers people. What really scares people is the sense that we’re frittering away our wealth. Americans fear we’re a nation in decline.
Well, for once, Americans are fuckin'-A right.
So I sit there in my green jacket, happily chewing on a Twizzler that I probably left in a pocket in 1979,
"Probably?" That's the kind of thing you would know, David. You'd know. Also, how many times are you going to bring up this jacket?
and I think: What would happen if Obama sidestepped the fruitless and short-term stimulus debate and instead focused on the long term? He could explain that we’re facing deep fundamental problems: an aging population, overleveraged consumers, exploding government debt, state and local bankruptcies, declining human capital, widening inequality, a pattern of jobless recoveries, deteriorating trade imbalances and so on.
Yes, those are our problems. Also bear attacks, and those two astronomically expensive wars.
These long-term problems, Obama could say, won’t be solved either with centralized government or free market laissez-faire. Just as government laid railroads and built land grant colleges in the 19th century to foster deep growth, the government today should be doing the modern equivalents.
That sounds like a good idea. What is the modern equivalent of a system of enormous, well-funded state universities and a nationwide network of railroads?
Not much is going to get passed in the next two years anyway, but the president could lay the groundwork for a whopping second-term agenda: tax simplification, entitlement reform, a new wave of regional innovation clusters, a new wave of marriage-friendly tax policies.
David, even for you this is pathetic.
Some kind of regressive flat tax, privatizing and/or slashing Social Security, gutting Medicare, and coming up with some new tax breaks to reward people for…getting married, I guess? Which one of those is like the railroads, David?
If the president is looking for a long-term growth agenda, he could read “Path to Prosperity,” co-edited by Jason Furman and Jason Bordoff, or “The Pro-Growth Progressive” written by Gene Sperling. Some of these guys already are on his staff.
Yes, he needs to listen to even more people telling him that the key to succeeding as Democrats is to support all of the policies of the Republicans. Because what the American public really wants is a Republican Party with some sort of different name.
Eventually, I see a party breaking out of old stereotypes, appealing to entrepreneurs and suburbanites again, and I start feeling good about the future. Then I take off the magic green jacket and return to my old center-right self. A chill sweeps over me: Gosh, what if the Democrats really did change in that way?
Well, then we'd have a one-party system like the Soviet boogeyman that you and your kind can't stop bringing up even though it means almost nothing (at least nothing accurate) to most of the country. Is this really your dream, David? Is this the Big Change you want to see in the world? The Revolution According to Brooks: a Democratic Party that completely buys into Alan Greenspan economic theories but is a little more liberal than Tom Tancredo on social issues.
As a small child, David also dreamed of being an average player on a 4th-place baseball team. Of joining NASA and being the guy who greased the gimbel joints on the Saturn V. Of moving out to Hollywood and being a grip. Of being the soundman for a mediocre band. Of writing the Decent American Novel. Of winning a Bronze medal…at the Pan-American Games. Of someday living in Kearney, Nebraska. Of winning honorable mention in a pie-eating contest.
David Brooks: always dreaming big. And insisting that if only the Democratic Party was more conservative its success would know no limits.