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Print view: As her nation slid toward the sea, Maureen Dowd got in the zone
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DOWD IN THE ZONE! As her nation slid toward the sea, Maureen Dowd got in the zone: // link // print // previous // next //

What have they done with the real David Brooks: Many people have commented on David Brooks’ remarkable and puzzling column in Tuesday’s New York Times (click here). These are just a few of the things Brooks has now suddenly said:

“The Republican Party may no longer be a normal party. Over the past few years, it has been infected by a faction that is more of a psychological protest than a practical, governing alternative.”

“The members of this movement do not accept the logic of compromise, no matter how sweet the terms.”

“The members of this movement do not accept the legitimacy of scholars and intellectual authorities.”

“The members of this movement have no sense of moral decency.”

“The members of this movement have no economic theory worthy of the name…Members of this tendency [sic?] have taken a small piece of economic policy and turned it into a sacred fixation.”

These comments don’t seem to be typos. Near the end of his column, Brooks says the GOP may now be “an odd protest movement that has separated itself from normal governance, the normal rules of evidence and the ancient habits of our nation.”

These are not flattering comments.

Understandably, liberals and progressives have tended to second Brook’s all-new remarks; Paul Krugman takes a victory lap in this short post. For our money, some of Brooks’ assessments are in fact a bit shrill. But most of all, his new remarks raise an obvious question:

Will the real David Brooks please stand up? Or perhaps the actual question is this:

What have they done with the real David Brooks, the one whose previous columns are hard to square with these all-new thoughts?

Good lord! In recent months, Brooks has pounded away at those who made similar observations about the oddness of Republican conduct and proposals. Now, in a fiery reversal, he hammers away at the GOP in ways which would have seemed unacceptably shrill if they had come from Krugman. Can this be the same David Brooks who wrote all those Ryan Plan-lovin’ columns? If it is, does this perhaps suggest that Brooks doesn’t know what he’s talking about?

Does David Brooks know what he’s talking about? Here’s the way he started this column, in which he trashes the GOP for rejecting Democratic proposals:

BROOKS (7/5/11): The Republicans have changed American politics since they took control of the House of Representatives. They have put spending restraint and debt reduction at the top of the national agenda. They have sparked a discussion on entitlement reform. They have turned a bill to raise the debt limit into an opportunity to put the U.S. on a stable fiscal course.

Republican leaders have also proved to be effective negotiators. They have been tough and inflexible and forced the Democrats to come to them. The Democrats have agreed to tie budget cuts to the debt ceiling bill. They have agreed not to raise tax rates. They have agreed to a roughly 3-to-1 rate of spending cuts to revenue increases, an astonishing concession.

Moreover, many important Democrats are open to a truly large budget deal. President Obama has a strong incentive to reach a deal so he can campaign in 2012 as a moderate. The Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, has talked about supporting a debt reduction measure of $3 trillion or even $4 trillion if the Republicans meet him part way. There are Democrats in the White House and elsewhere who would be willing to accept Medicare cuts if the Republicans would be willing to increase revenues.

If the Republican Party were a normal party, it would take advantage of this amazing moment. It is being offered the deal of the century: trillions of dollars in spending cuts in exchange for a few hundred million dollars of revenue increases.

On-line, the Times has made a formal correction, changing “a few hundred million dollars” to “a few hundred billion.” Anyone can make that mistake, we suppose. But what makes Brooks say that Dems have agreed to “a roughly 3-to-1 rate of spending cuts to revenue increases,” which he calls “an astonishing concession?” There may be an answer to our question. But recent reporting had seemed to say that the Dems were proposing 83 percent in spending cuts as compared to 17 percent in new revenue. That would be a 5-to-1 ratio—but Republicans won’t do that either.

Forget about that 3-to-1 crap! Republican leaders are still saying they won’t permit any new revenues, in line with that “sacred fixation.”

Presumably, no one really knows what has been proposed or agreed to in the ongoing talks. But does David Brooks know what he’s talking about when he talks about these matters? In this column from last week, Brooks pontificated about the appropriate role of testing in public and charter schools. In this case, he typed from the Aspen Ideas Festival—the festival named for the type of thing you’re least likely to encounter if you attend. Can we talk? Despite the lofty setting, we got no sense that Brooks knew what he was talking about in that column either. He did seem skilled, as pundits are, at repeating various types of congenial conventional wisdom.

The Times appended a correction to that column too. Brooks misspelled the name of Caroline Hoxby, one of the conservative-leaning experts whose wisdom he had channeled.

Does David Brooks know what’s he talking about? More scarily: Did the real David Brooks type yesterday’s column? Funny things can happen in Aspen. Did one David Brooks attend the fair, a different Brooks return?

Special report: Sargent’s portrait!

PART 2—DOWD IN THE ZONE (permalink): Frank Bruni was back, with a large Sunday platform, and the gentleman was upset. What had him concerned as he looked at the world?


Rick Santorum had “mentioned his seven children” at the first major GOP debate! And no, it wasn’t just Santorum! “Jon Huntsman wasn’t on hand,” Bruni wrote, “but a week later he…and his wife rounded up six of their seven children for an endless trek across a verdant lawn to the podium set up for his presidential announcement.” Meanwhile, Michelle Obama had allowed her daughters to read a book to some South African kids on a recent visit to that country.

Bruni spent his last five paragraphs helping us see that Bristol Palin is a general mess. So it went as the Times’ new op-ed star gazed out on the firmament. (See THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/5/11.)

Bruni’s focus might have seemed a bit odd at a time of peace and prosperity. To us, his topic selection really stood out at a time when his floundering nation is sliding toward the sea. But then, the Times op-ed page has long been a place where the nation learns to be fatuous.

This morning, the queen of that page made Bruni seem like the world’s most serious man.

What’s on the mind of Maureen Dowd as her nation slides toward the sea? In today’s column, the Pulitzer-winner explains how she spent her long weekend. Surprise! Dowd propped herself near her TV set and she watched Twilight Zone reruns:

DOWD (7/6/11): I knew I should have been out eating charred meat or watching a bad Michael Bay movie.

But I couldn’t help myself. Every July Fourth weekend, I get sucked into the spooky little dimension of “The Twilight Zone.” As the annual Syfy marathon proves, Rod Serling’s hypnotic show is as relevant as ever.

If Anthony Weiner had watched it, he might have been more aware of how swiftly, and chillingly, our technology can turn on us. Prosecutors and reporters, dumbfounded by dramatic reversals in the cases of tabloid villains D.S.K. and Casey Anthony, might do well to keep in mind Serling’s postmodern mantra: Nothing is what it seems.

Dowd watched Twilight Zone reruns all weekend. Inevitably, they made her think about Anthony Weiner and two other tabloid events.

In the end, Dowd produced a pointless column about the “endlessly inventive” Rod Serling, who of course can’t be blamed for this.

Is it true? Is the Twilight Zone “as relevant as ever?” If memory serves, the endless sameness of Serling’s scripts began to wear on our 11-year-old set during the program’s first run. When we watch the occasional rerun today, we are constantly struck by how formulaic the various episodes were. How did we 11-year-olds remain enthralled for as long as we did? That’s what we find ourselves asking.

For Dowd, the enthrallment continues. How far ahead of his time was Rod Serling? His brilliance has even been “ripped off” “in a popular new Samsung ad,” Dowd reports. Without the slightest hint of irony, the prize-winner even types this:

DOWD: Looking at this summer’s lame crop of movies and previews you can appreciate Serling’s upbraiding of the entertainment industry for “our mediocrity, our imitativeness, our commercialism and, all too frequently, our deadening and deadly lack of creativity and courage.”

Fiddling dumbly as Washington burns, Dowd praised Serling for his timeless attack on mediocrity.

Dowd has been like this forever, of course. The republic is lucky when she tackles topics like this; the problem starts when she tries to discuss real politicians and real issues. But make no mistake: Over the past twenty-five years, Dowd has been your nation’s most influential print journalist. As a reporter and then as a columnist, she has spread the press corps’ fatuous culture like no one else has.

Question: How has Dowd’s nonsense persisted for so many years with so little liberal complaining? Why have so few of our top career liberals complained as Dowd has made a joke of our discourse? It’s possible to complain about Dowd, as at least two professional journalists have shown. It’s possible to complain about The Culture Dowd Built, but few career liberals have.

Which professional journalists have dared take the measure of Dowd? Again, we’ll recommended that you revisit Greg Sargent’s work in 2008, when he did something quite thrilling—when he routinely named the names of the mainstream scribes who were making a mess of our discourse. Every liberal knows how to rail against the clowning of Rush and Sean. But Sargent routinely challenged Dowd and Rich and others who aren’t in that camp.

Darlings! It just isn’t done! For the results, look around you.

A second journalist took Dowd’s measure in that same election year. That was Times public editor Clark Hoyt, who savaged Dowd’s appalling campaign work in this column on June 22. No one could cover all Dowd’s sins in a single effort, of course. But like Sargent, Hoyt established a basic principle: It’s possible to tell the truth about Dowd and her gruesome work.

(For our own reaction to Hoyt’s column, see the DAILY HOWLER, 6/23/08. And people, Clark Hoyt got results! See THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/25/08.)

Today, your nation is sliding toward the sea—and Dowd is discussing Twilight Zone reruns. She’s telephoning Serling’s friends to ask if he trusted in God. Last Sunday, she walked her way through a cut-and paste column about—what else?—the DSK sex assault case. (Understandably! The Twilight Zone was on!) But then, during her tenure at the Times, Dowd has helped create an utterly fatuous press corps culture. The nation is lucky when she doesn’t pretend to discuss our major events.

Dowd has been a nightmare. This dates to her days as a front-page presence, when she introduced The Snark and The Snide into this nation’s White House “reporting.” But have you ever seen career liberal leaders complain about Dowd or this fatuous culture? Have you ever seen big career liberals complain about where this all leads?

Tomorrow, we’ll look at a bit of the technical incompetence which is now assumed in this fatuous culture. But as your nation slides toward the sea, we ask you to ponder a basic question:

Why have so few major liberals complained about this fatuous press corps culture? Its effects can be seen all around. Why did so few folk complain?