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.