Patterico's Pontifications


David Brooks Goes Crazy

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 7:21 am

David Brooks:

Many people wonder how they too can become Thought Leaders and what the life cycle of one looks like.

In fact, the calling usually starts young. As a college student, the future Thought Leader is bathed in attention. His college application essay, “I Went to Panama to Teach the Natives About Math but They Ended Up Teaching Me About Life,” is widely praised by guidance counselors. On campus he finds himself enmeshed in a new social contract: Young people provide their middle-aged professors with optimism and flattery, and the professors provide them with grade inflation. He is widely recognized for his concern for humanity. (He spends spring break unicycling across Thailand while reading to lepers.)

Not armed with fascinating ideas but with the desire to have some, he launches off into the great struggle for attention. At first his prose is upbeat and smarmy, with a peppy faux sincerity associated with professional cheerleading.

Within a few years, though, his mood has shifted from smarm to snark. There is no writer so obscure as a 26-year-old writer. So he is suddenly consumed by ambition anxiety — the desperate need to prove that he is superior in sensibility to people who are superior to him in status. Soon he will be writing blog posts marked by coruscating contempt for extremely anodyne people: “Kelly Clarkson: Satan or Merely His Spawn?”

SOMEBODY’S pants crease wasn’t very sharp, huh?!

Gosh, I hope my “coruscating contempt for extremely anodyne people” like David Brooks isn’t too obvious in this blog post.

What in the hell is going on here? iowahawk has a theory:

Oh, I didn’t quote you the end of the column yet.

The tragedy of middle-aged fame is that the fullest glare of attention comes just when a person is most acutely aware of his own mediocrity. By his late 50s, the Thought Leader is a lion of his industry, but he is bruised by snarky comments from new versions of his formerly jerkish self. Of course, this is when he utters his cries for civility and good manners, which are really just pleas for mercy to spare his tender spots.

In the end, though, a lifetime of bullet points are replaced by foreboding. Toward the end of his life the Thought Leader is regularly engaging in a phenomenon known as the powerless lunch. He and another formerly prominent person gather to have a portentous conversation of no importance whatsoever. In the fading of the light, he is gravely concerned about the way everything is going to hell.

Still, one rarely finds an octogenarian with status anxiety. He is beyond the battle for attention. Death approaches. Cruelly, it smells like reverence.

To me, it smells like VICTORY.


  1. Just the other day someone criticized me for having coruscating contempt for extremely anodyne people. Hot damn.

    Comment by CrustyB (5a646c) — 12/17/2013 @ 7:25 am

  2. I always knew “anodyne” only as pain-relieving medicine. I never knew the adjective. I looked it up. My word for the day. Thanks, Patterico.

    Comment by nk (dbc370) — 12/17/2013 @ 7:38 am

  3. I think it as the prevous column that was really crazy:

    This is a good moment to advocate greater executive branch power because we’ve just seen a monumental example of executive branch incompetence: the botched Obamacare rollout.

    He explains:

    when the presidency is strong than we are when the rentier groups are strong, or when Congress, which is now completely captured by the rentier groups, is strong.

    His list of the advantages of teh Imperial Presidency: (paraphrased)

    1. The Executive can actually decide on something.

    2. Executive branch officials are more sheltered from interest groups.

    3. They know more details about things than (the more generalized) staffers on Capitol Hill, and have longer memories.

    4. Congress is too partisan.

    5. Executive branch officials, if they were not worried about or bound by rigid Congressional strictures, could deal better with their screw-ups.

    6. You can always take it out on a president’s party when a president’s laws don’t work, but most Congressmen have safe seats.

    Comment by Sammy Finkelman (9fe80b) — 12/17/2013 @ 7:47 am

  4. Sounds like he’s describing himself.

    Comment by jakee308 (e940d5) — 12/17/2013 @ 7:58 am

  5. the prevous column that was really crazy:

    Yea, I agree. David Brook’s support of an imperial, power-hungry presidency (but one that’s presumably of the left) stunned me far more than his column about “Thought Leaders.”

    Speaking of Thought Leaders, Brook is a perfect example of one who has been browbeaten and taken into submission by his underlying liberal instincts, which he formerly tried to conceal or resist.

    Comment by Mark (58ea35) — 12/17/2013 @ 7:59 am

  6. I read his book Bobos in Paradise. This sounds to me like a chapter for a new book–probably about types wandering Washington or some such. Brooks fancies himself to be quite an observer of the milieu. Self obsessed people there and in the media halls will be driving themselves crazy trying to figure out who he’s specifically dissing using code and fancy words. (Remember that song “You’re So Vain”?)

    Comment by elissa (8a28dd) — 12/17/2013 @ 8:24 am

  7. elissa, I thought David Brooks fancies himself to be quite the observer of pants creases.

    Or is that just part of the milieu?

    Comment by Steve57 (e607ae) — 12/17/2013 @ 8:28 am

  8. He wrote basically the same column in 1995:

    Comment by Steve M. (370bbd) — 12/17/2013 @ 8:35 am

  9. The NYT’s version of a “conservative”. Say no more, nudge, nudge…

    Comment by Colonel Haiku (87ba2e) — 12/17/2013 @ 8:37 am

  10. Brooks is one of the many reasons I can’t take the New York Times seriously.

    Comment by daleyrocks (bf33e9) — 12/17/2013 @ 8:44 am

  11. Love the IowaHawk Ezra dig.

    Comment by elissa (8a28dd) — 12/17/2013 @ 9:01 am

  12. Davey’s just dying to come out of the closet. Unburden yourself, Davey! I read somewhere that IT gets better.

    Comment by Amalgamated Cliff Divers, Local 157 (f7d5ba) — 12/17/2013 @ 9:05 am

  13. For more then a glimpse of understanding;

    Comment by narciso (3fec35) — 12/17/2013 @ 9:28 am

  14. Someone needs serious treatment and medication.

    Comment by rochf (f3fbb0) — 12/17/2013 @ 9:40 am

  15. Heh… love that video. :D

    Comment by Patrick in Michigan (f5b7f9) — 12/17/2013 @ 10:07 am

  16. America used to be a nation of people who wanted to grow up and do good. Now we’re a nation of people who want to grow up and be someone. It may sound like the same thing but it isn’t, because you need fame or celebrity to ‘be someone,’ and fame becomes an end in itself. Ask David Brooks. That’s what he craves.

    Comment by DRJ (a83b8b) — 12/17/2013 @ 10:22 am

  17. Brooks’ descent into madness isn’t any fun to witness. Was this auto-biographical, about Ezra, or Matty Yglesias?

    To his credit, this was less stupid that his appeal for Obama to have an imperial unitary executive.

    Comment by JD (69e876) — 12/17/2013 @ 10:31 am

  18. He lost me way back at pressed pants. I figured he had to be a touch off and it only gets worse from there.

    Comment by Sarahw (b0e533) — 12/17/2013 @ 10:38 am

  19. “Ask David Brooks. That’s what he craves.”

    DRJ – He’s got a bad case of “DON’T YOU KNOW WHO I THINK I AM!!!!!!!

    Comment by daleyrocks (bf33e9) — 12/17/2013 @ 10:50 am

  20. a portentous conversation of no importance whatsoever

    David’s having lunch with Peggy!

    Comment by askeptic (b8ab92) — 12/17/2013 @ 1:32 pm

  21. Well said, daley.

    Comment by DRJ (a83b8b) — 12/17/2013 @ 1:34 pm

  22. They really do live in a bubble, don’t they?

    Comment by Ag80 (eb6ffa) — 12/17/2013 @ 5:09 pm

  23. David Brooks has a crease in his brain.

    Comment by Elephant Stone (6a6f37) — 12/17/2013 @ 5:12 pm

  24. Speaking of whacked here’s what the anencephalic variety think:

    Comment by gary gulrud (dd7d4e) — 12/17/2013 @ 5:21 pm

  25. What’s anodyne?

    Comment by Gerald A (bfbd30) — 12/17/2013 @ 6:52 pm

  26. Our betters somehow don’t get it;

    Comment by narciso (3fec35) — 12/17/2013 @ 6:57 pm

  27. Those words he is using. . .

    Comment by narciso (3fec35) — 12/17/2013 @ 6:58 pm

  28. Even though we’ve known for decades that the media houses and most of the on air personalities are east coast liberals, the fact that they were so completely snookered by a lighter than air poseur never ceases to amaze.

    Comment by elissa (57f24f) — 12/17/2013 @ 7:11 pm

  29. 25: Anodyne is this red antiseptic that my mother used to put on cuts. It burned like hell.

    Comment by Ag80 (eb6ffa) — 12/17/2013 @ 7:14 pm

  30. Well then it fits, I think that’s iodine;

    Comment by narciso (3fec35) — 12/17/2013 @ 7:17 pm

  31. What is anodyne?

    Sometimes I don’t know why Google even bothers.

    Comment by nk (dbc370) — 12/17/2013 @ 7:18 pm

  32. Anodyne, iodine, Mercurochrome, whatever. Man, try to make a joke around here…

    Comment by Ag80 (eb6ffa) — 12/17/2013 @ 7:24 pm

  33. Literally, it translates “not anguish”. An (αν) – not + odyne (οδυνη) – anguish.

    Comment by nk (dbc370) — 12/17/2013 @ 7:24 pm

  34. Burning sensation, Brooks, makes sense.

    Comment by narciso (3fec35) — 12/17/2013 @ 7:28 pm

  35. From link at:
    Comment by narciso (3fec35) — 12/17/2013 @ 6:57 pm

    He made so many promises. We thought that he was going to be – I shouldn’t say this at Christmastime – but the next messiah.

    Somebody thought a person was going to be the next messiah because he made so many promises?!?!?!?
    Infomercial spokespersons, lying spouses, children who chronically lie also make many promises…
    And the difference between Obama and the typical politician was…that he told more promises than usual???

    Speaking of Christmastime Messiahs, the first one didn’t make many promises, except ones that were often unpopular, and that he actually did heal the sick and calm the stormy seas.

    My goodness!?!?!?
    “Thinking they were wise, they became fools…”
    Big time.

    Comment by MD in Philly (f9371b) — 12/17/2013 @ 7:30 pm

  36. Romans 1;21, is so apt sometimes MD, but this is ‘if you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be,’ so
    expectations are muted, which made the sage of the View,

    Comment by narciso (3fec35) — 12/17/2013 @ 7:38 pm

  37. Still.
    To think that people who were respected as prominent truth tellers of the last half of the 20th century, Walter Cronkite and Barbara Walters, were either covertly partisan or too intoxicated with personality to have helpful perspective…
    maybe it should be seen as good news, things actually have been much worse than I had imagined for a very long while, and we’re still here, for the moment.

    Comment by MD in Philly (f9371b) — 12/17/2013 @ 7:43 pm

  38. MD #35,

    It’s the difference between doing anonymous good and being someone important. We have too much of the latter and not enough of the former.

    Comment by DRJ (a83b8b) — 12/17/2013 @ 8:14 pm

  39. Walter Cronkite

    I was stunned when I learned just how ultra-liberal “Uncle Walter” really was, years after he had retired from CBS News. Perhaps his Midwestern origins and avuncular qualities — and narration of well-crafted documentaries on scientific topics — made him seem like a person who, while he leaned left, was at least somewhat mainstream. But he wasn’t. He was a full-blown leftwinger.

    Scientists really need to do a study on the underlying causes of extremist political views, which probably are tied to innate, intrinsic biases, meaning that certain people’s opinions are hard, if not impossible, to change.

    Comment by Mark (58ea35) — 12/17/2013 @ 8:27 pm

  40. did someone say “burning sensation”?

    (link is SFW)

    Comment by redc1c4 (abd49e) — 12/17/2013 @ 9:17 pm

  41. Have you seen the Branco cartoon at Legal Insurrection? It’s called Merry Me-mas and depicts the Me-tivity scene. Yeah, it was bound to happen.

    Comment by elissa (78bee9) — 12/17/2013 @ 10:13 pm

  42. 35. “Comment by MD in Philly (f9371b) — 12/17/2013 @ 7:30 pm

    And the difference between Obama and the typical politician was…that he told more promises than usual???

    It might be he conveyed a spirit of goodwill to some people. No blue states, no red states, only the United States. Totally ignores the fact there are real controversies, and real questions to deal with, with the validity and results of various proposals not universally accepted.

    All that Barbara Walters saw, maybe, that politicians were arguing with each other too harshly. He made promises to get along better, which, you would think, somebody could keep.

    Comment by Sammy Finkelman (9fe80b) — 12/18/2013 @ 4:01 am

  43. Maybe so, Sammy, but in that case she didn’t do much research as a reporter, as Obama’s previous behavior towards even other dems was anything but “getting along better”.

    Comment by MD in Philly (f9371b) — 12/18/2013 @ 5:40 am

  44. Wasn’t Brooks the guy the White House read the riot act to just after Obama entered the White House.

    Since then many of his articles read like a news release from the White House propaganda shop.

    I wonder if he is not being blackmailed.

    Comment by Davod (4cc250) — 12/18/2013 @ 5:43 am

  45. I see your Burning Sensations red and raise you some Gleaming Spires…

    Comment by Colonel Haiku (b76d97) — 12/18/2013 @ 6:40 am

  46. who backed these guys… FUN!!!

    Comment by Colonel Haiku (b76d97) — 12/18/2013 @ 6:46 am

  47. she came down from the sky
    she couldn’t stand the attitude there
    she took human form… not bad!
    she seemed different
    she had a European flair

    Comment by Colonel Haiku (b76d97) — 12/18/2013 @ 6:56 am

  48. Walter Cronkite

    39. Comment by Mark (58ea35) — 12/17/2013 @ 8:27 pm

    I was stunned when I learned just how ultra-liberal “Uncle Walter” really was, years after he had retired from CBS News.

    That would mean it didn’t show up in his reporting.

    (except maybe he turned against the Vietnam War sooner than he might have otherwise? But I don’t think even that showed up.)

    Comment by Sammy Finkelman (9fe80b) — 12/18/2013 @ 7:08 am

  49. This town ain’t big enough for the both of us…

    Comment by Colonel Haiku (b76d97) — 12/18/2013 @ 7:13 am

  50. It might be he conveyed a spirit of goodwill to some people.

    But it was mainly people too dumb and foolish (and there were a handful of squishes or semi-conservatives among them) to sense what his true nature was all about. To me the very fact he embraced a radical/extremist like Jeremiah Wright — even more so since it was until the bitter end, when controversy forced Obama to separate himself from Wright — spoke volumes about what makes him tick.

    Liberals like Walters have a knack for making a thousand excuses and giving a million benefits of the doubt to extremism of the left and people who are into that.

    That would mean it didn’t show up in his reporting

    Personally, I also wasn’t old enough to detect the nuances of left-leaning bias in the way he and CBS News overall presented the news at the time. I can now sense such things from a mile away.

    Comment by Mark (58ea35) — 12/18/2013 @ 7:27 am

  51. Comment by Sammy Finkelman (9fe80b) — 12/18/2013 @ 7:08 am

    Sammy, where have you been????
    Walter Cronkite may have single-handedly determined the failure of US interests (and the S. Vietnamese people’s interests) in the Vietnam war.
    The Tet Offensive, as reported by Cronkite, was a massive blood-loss and by suggestion a massive military loss for the US. The first part was true, “by Vietnam War standards”, but the second part was a big “misrepresentation”, i.e. lie. the Tet offensive was a great military loss for the North, but few in the US would have known that.

    Picture WWII coverage focused on the losses of Normandy and the Philippines, reported to suggest that our efforts in Europe and the Pacific were destined to fail.

    If I am mistaken, someone correct me.

    Comment by MD in Philly (f9371b) — 12/18/2013 @ 8:01 am

  52. You are correct, sir.

    Comment by Colonel Haiku (b76d97) — 12/18/2013 @ 8:21 am

  53. Doc….and the beat goes on.
    It’s all a “quagmire”.

    Comment by askeptic (b8ab92) — 12/18/2013 @ 9:38 am

  54. Okay, you made me look it up. You are using “anodyne” as meaning “innocuous”, not as a pain reliever.

    Comment by Jim Brock (46f9c9) — 12/18/2013 @ 9:47 am

  55. um, not arguing with you, Jim B., as I have refused to look it up on principle;
    but that means the original statement has to do with people who are, uh, “extremely innocuous”.

    Painted Jaguar: “Extremely innocuous”? “Extremely innocuous”?.

    I understand “Jumbo shrimp” because it is a descriptor and a thing, but isn’t “extremely innocuous” sort of like “jumbo tiny”?

    Comment by MD in Philly (f9371b) — 12/18/2013 @ 12:34 pm

  56. This belongs here, actually, r in Randoom Links, not the

    Phil Robertson Preaches While Paul Whitefield Crashes and Burns thread.

    Comment by Sammy Finkelman (dbe090) — 12/23/2013 @ 11:14 am

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