Saturday, July 6, 2013

Is David Brooks a Racist?

That's the question being asked throughout the blogosphere (you can start here, here, here) today in the wake of the latest blather from David Brooks of the New York Times. (Google David Brooks + Racist and you get 1,660,000 hits.) What has people so riled up this time is that in his latest column, he shockingly calls into question the "mental capacity" of Egyptians to govern themselves.

I have sometimes wondered why more people haven't constantly and relentlessly called him out for all kinds of bigotry long before this latest effort. The simple answer is until fairly recently, Brooks had been a master of the conservative dog whistle, cleverly disguising the racist and classist message of his political clique within one turgid puddle of scholarly-sounding pablum after another. He is a master of the fine art of concern-trolling for the lesser people. But now, for whatever reason, Brooks seems to be losing his nuanced grip, along with his ability to fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time. 

It's finally even gotten to the point that the Times public editor was forced last week to publicly address the Brooks Problem in a blog-post. There were so many reader complaints about his column on immigration, titled "A Nation of Mutts", that Margaret Sullivan confronted him about it. She forwarded him one particularly scathing email from a mother of two bi-racial, bi-ethnic children, mightily offended that he had likened her offspring to mixed-breed dogs.

This confrontation is actually kind of a big deal. It is apparently a rule at the Times that a colleague never, ever publicly criticizes the work of another colleague -- particularly if the colleague in question is ensconced in the rarefied realm of the Times opinion pages.  Sullivan acknowledged as much herself.  But, since she has rapidly established herself as a public editor who thinks independently and is not afraid to take on the poobahs hiding beneath the Gray Lady's skirts, she challenged Brooks. And he responded, not only with utterly predictable disingenuity, but with such alacrity that he no doubt knew exactly what he'd been doing as he wrote his drivel, and had his self-serving defense all ready to copy and paste:
In that column, I was trying to embrace and celebrate a more ethnically intermingled America. I conclude with this sentence: “On the whole, this future is exciting.” To read this column as racist requires either a misreading or a strong desire to be offended, no matter what is on the page.
As for the use of the word “mutts,” history is filled with examples of groups who have taken derogatory terms and embraced them as sources of pride. To take the word “mutt” as a derogatory term, you have to believe that purebred things are superior to mixed-breed things, whether it is dogs or people. But if you don’t believe that, there is nothing to be ashamed of in the word mutt.
I seized on the headline after I was in a group of people talking about the future demography of the country and one participant said proudly, “We’re mutts.” That seemed to capture the message I was trying to convey, so I used it in the headline and the piece.
Translation: "I said mixed-breed folks are exciting, didn't I? So if you are offended, it's your own damned fault. Besides, if the marginalized can self-deprecate, where do they get off saying I can't deprecate them? And for your information, I got the whole idea for my terminology in an elite group of my own kind of people. Probably at one of the incestuous cocktail parties Washington is so famous for. So shut up."

To Margaret Sullivan's credit, she was having none of it. But she diplomatically wrote: "I believe Mr. Brooks when he says he didn’t mean to offend. But comparing people to animals is always tricky, and 'mutts' is a loaded term. There must have been a better way to say this, especially in the headline. I wish he had found it himself or that an editor had insisted on it."

That's the whole trouble. Brooks is his own editor and fact-checker. Look over any random sampling of his columns, and chances are good you will find factual corrections appended to some of them. His excuse? He was on deadline. His intern got confused. He is a Very Important Person.

Brooks should be fired. But he won't be. Like the equally odious Thomas Friedman, he is a brand, the public face of an establishment newspaper, widely read by the well-connected, a personality who appears on the corporate Sunday talk shows and hangs out at "ideas festivals" and rakes in the big, big bucks for his employer.

David Brooks has been denying racism in both himself and others for years. In David Brooks's world, racism simply doesn't exist. In his usual fake-amazed fashion, he once magically "came across" some black people getting along with some Tea Partiers:
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. They had joined the audience of a rap concert.
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. 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.
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. 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.
Then he blah-blah-blahs about the real problems in his insular little world: Jacksonianism vs. Jeffersonianism, Urban Vs. Rural, stagnation vs dynamism, data vs. ideology, blah-blah retch blah.

Is David Brooks a racist? The Magic 8 Ball says Concentrate and ask again.

Is David Brooks a giant dickweed? You may rely on it.


James F Traynor said...

What is wrong with a mutt!? I have two 16 lb. mutts (shitzu, pekingese, poodle). Before that we had a 15 lb. schnauzer - poodle mix (a stray). We downsized from Chesapeakes (after they died) - a difficult transition for me, not for my wife. But I came around. Viva la mutt! Though I still long for my Chessies, but I, alas, am too old and condo-ed.

As for David Brooks. Well, the name is enough. Uriah Heep by whatever name ...

Denis Neville said...

David Brooks once praised Charles Murray’s book “Coming Apart,” which argued that wealthy people are wealthy because they are genetically superior to the poor due to interbreeding [nation of mutts]. “I’ll be shocked if there’s another book this year as important; that so compellingly describes the most important trends in American society.”

Brooks expanded:

“It’s wrong to describe an America in which the salt of the earth common people are preyed upon by this or that nefarious elite. It’s wrong to tell the familiar underdog morality tale in which the problems of the masses are caused by the elites.

“The truth is, members of the upper tribe have made themselves phenomenally productive. They may mimic bohemian manners, but they have returned to 1950s traditionalist values and practices. They have low divorce rates, arduous work ethics and strict codes to regulate their kids.

“Members of the lower tribe work hard and dream big, but are more removed from traditional bourgeois norms. They live in disorganized, postmodern neighborhoods in which it is much harder to be self-disciplined and productive.

“If we could jam the tribes together, we’d have a better elite and a better mass.”
- David Brooks, The Great Divorce

As Charlie Pierce said, “Brooks tosses out tinpot sociology like a dime to a beggar on a steam grate.”

“Then there is our fervent devotion to equality, to the notion that all people are equal and deserve equal recognition and respect. It’s hard in this frame of mind to define and celebrate greatness, to hold up others who are immeasurably superior to ourselves.” – David Brooks

Freddie deBoer nails Brooks: “Hannah Arendt said that cruelty has everything to do with abstraction. David Brooks resides in that abstraction and embodies that cruelty. In Brooks’s work, there’s nobody who goes hungry at night; there’s just the dynamism that animates capitalism. There’s nobody dying of a preventable disease; there’s the necessity of risk. There’s nobody despairing because there aren’t any jobs; there’s just creative destruction. Think of any human misery you prefer and I’m sure Mr. Brooks has an Aspen-approved euphemism that can cover it up. What a privilege all that money can buy: to live in a world without victims.”

James F Traynor said...

Oh God, will no one rid me of this ridiculous little shit! I'd happily shoot and dress out this little pissant and feed him to the vultures, but it is illegal, and I'm not at all sure the vultures would accept him. Nobody but the NYT pays attention to Friedman anymore. Why, oh why should we indulge this little man?

And Denis, Charles Murray for Christ's sake? May God (if there is one, which I extremely doubt, and offer the existence of Brooks as evidence) have mercy!

ste-vo said...

Thanks for bringing this to my attention. There is something to be said for living in the woods, on a lake, and in Vermont. I peruse the paper-of-record everyday; but have stopped reading both Brooks and Friedman. I want to preserve my sense of sanity in a world that is fast becoming what James Howard Kunstler refers to a Clusterfuck Nation. The occasional times I do read Brooks, it is only the comments, the shorter the better. Some are so spot-on on calling out the dickhead that I post them on my status update - giving due credit to the commenter. It gives me a sense of completeness to know that there are others who see him for the corporate shill that he is.

Denis Neville said...

David Brooks likes to speak “truth” to those with no power.

“Bad choices are becoming common across the Arab world. Democratic success depends on democratic voters and leaders, but those voters and leaders can't be created amid tyrants and terrorists. Under these conditions, the transition to democracy is like building a plane during takeoff.”

Brooks, on the unique evil that one finds in the “fringes of the Muslim world,”

“Most people select stories that lead toward cooperation and goodness. But over the past few decades a malevolent narrative has emerged. It is a narrative that sees human history as a war between Islam on the one side and Christianity and Judaism on the other. This narrative causes its adherents to shrink their circle of concern. They don’t see others as fully human. They come to believe others can be blamelessly murdered and that, in fact, it is admirable to do so.”

[Shades of General William Westmoreland’s “the Oriental doesn’t put the same high price on life as does a Westerner; life is plentiful, life is cheap in the Orient, and as the philosophy of the Orient expresses it, life is not important.”]

Brooks decried the Islamic disregard for human life, yet he supported four wars on Muslims!

He no doubt shares the "midwife" views of his evil twin at the NYT, Thomas Friedman:

“For me, the lesson of Iraq is quite simple: You can’t go from Saddam to Switzerland without getting stuck in Hobbes — a war of all against all — unless you have a well-armed external midwife, whom everyone on the ground both fears and trusts to manage the transition. In Iraq, that was America. The kind of low-cost, remote-control, U.S./NATO midwifery that ousted Qaddafi and gave birth to a new Libya …”

“What happens in Iraq after the U.S. midwife leaves? Thanks to the Sunni Awakening movement in Iraq, and the surge, America and its allies defeated them and laid the groundwork for the most important product of the Iraq war: the first ever voluntary social contract between Sunnis, Kurds and Shiites for how to share power and resources in an Arab country and to govern themselves in a democratic fashion.” America helped to midwife that contract in Iraq, and now every other Arab democracy movement is trying to replicate it — without a U.S. midwife. You see how hard it is.”

We live in a David Brooks/Thomas Friedman world, punditry of banal authoritarianism.

E. Roosevelt said...

"Great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, small minds discuss people."

Patricia said...

Yes, He's a racist. Every time I hear him on N.P.R. I have to turn the radio off. He's an old white guy who loves yesteryear and wants it back. What's even more sdisturbing is that he writes for the NYT and you don't.

Anonymous said...

Great post. Haha, that article on the Tea Party/Black family reunion was so wonderfully clueless. "Wow cool, race riots don't break out every time black and white people see each other, I guess everything must be fine!" Tea Partiers aren't necessarily upset at the mere existence of black people, especially if they stick to their own kind. They do tend to object when black people vote, become president, or disagree with them. (David Brooks does too, but he expresses it in a more decorous way.)