Patterico's Pontifications


The ideological extremism of David Brooks

Filed under: General — Karl @ 8:25 am

[Posted by Karl]

The latest column from David Brooks attempts to diagnose the fiscal crisis in Europe and the growing fiscal threats in America:

[M]any voters have come to regard their desires as entitlements. They become incensed when their leaders are not responsive to their needs. Like any normal set of human beings, they command their politicians to give them benefits without asking them to pay.

The consequences of this shift are now obvious. In Europe and America, governments have made promises they can’t afford to fulfill. At the same time, the decision-making machinery is breaking down. American and European capitals still have the structures inherited from the past, but without the self-restraining ethos that made them function.

The American decentralized system of checks and balances has transmogrified into a fragmented system that scatters responsibility. Congress is capable of passing laws that give people benefits with borrowed money, but it gridlocks when it tries to impose self-restraint.

Of course, there are many Americans who still have an ethos of self-restraint.  Those Americans have elected people to the House and Senate in an attempt to restrain and reform the entitlement state.  And David Brooks has metaphorically compared them to Nazis, uninterested in governance.

How does Brooks square that circle?  By assuming that the problem is gridlock, which he blames on the tougher position the right is now taking as the fiscal cliff draws ever closer. (I know; it’s just craaaaazy of the right to do this, amirite?)

Mind you, the big-taxing, so-called “balanced approach” to addressing sovereign debt problems is failing where it is being tried in Europe.  The wingnutty wingnuts at the OECD and the IMF already knew it would fail, and that solutions which rely overwhelmingly on controlling spending work.  Yet Brooks bitterly clings to the center-left establishment mindset that has led America to the situation he now despairs.

Jonah Goldberg addresses this ideology in The Tyranny of Clichés:

If I say we need one hundred feet of bridge to cross a one-hundred-foot chasm that makes me an extremist. Somebody else says we don’t need to build a bridge at all because we don’t need to cross the chasm in the first place. That makes him an extremist. The third guy is the centrist because he insists that we compromise by building a fifty-foot bridge that ends in the middle of thin air? As an extremist I’ll tell you that the other extremist has a much better grasp on reality than the centrist does. The extremists have a serious disagreement about what to do. The independent who splits the difference has no idea what to do and doesn’t want to bother with figuring it out.

Goldberg does not identify centrism as an extreme ideology, but the quoted example (and others given in the book) graphically demonstrate it can be at least as impervious to logic or data as any other ideology.  Anyone who finds those examples a straw man should consider the very real examples compiled by the NYT’s Ross Douthat:

It wasn’t the Tea Party that decided to create two new health care entitlements (Medicare Part D and Obamacare) just as America was about to go over a fiscal waterfall. It wasn’t kooks and reactionaries who got the European Union into its current mess. It wasn’t the radicals of the left and right who risked the global economy on a series of disastrous real estate bets, or locked our government into a permanently symbiotic relationship with the banking and financial sectors, or created a vast labyrinth of unaccountable bureaucracies in the hopeless quest for perfect security from terror attacks. And to bring things up the present day, it wasn’t the more “extreme” members of the Senate — be they Jim DeMint and Tom Coburn on the right, or Bernie Sanders on the left — who just voted for more short-term spending and tax cuts without any plan to pay for it.

***[W]hat Jesse Walker has dubbed the “the paranoid style in center-left politics” *** seems like a rather odd response to a political moment in which nearly all of our overlapping crises are the result of disastrous misgovernment at the center ***. The Tea Party’s politics are not my politics, but the movement has virtues as well as vices, and at the very least it represented a possible alternative force at a time when our politics desperately needs alternatives, whether right-wing or left-wing or something else entirely, to the policies that have led us to our present pass. Nothing good may come of it, but an awful lot more ill has come from politics-as-usual of late than from grassroots populism.

Brooks and his ilk are a particularly odious sort; they have urged and pursued a ruinous course of misgovernment, all the while deluding themselves that they are not extreme and demonizing the people who are not responsible for the West’s current malaise.


46 Responses to “The ideological extremism of David Brooks”

  1. Ding.

    Karl (6f7ecd)

  2. You read Brooks’ column?

    You poor poor man.

    SPQR (26be8b)

  3. The problem at the center is that it abhors change. It is conservative in the most prosaic sense: it has no reason for its conservatism other than to avoid change. And when change is needed, the center is increasingly extreme in its resistance to change. In the end, the mainstream becomes bimodal and the remaining centrists are the “outliers” although they never think so.

    Kevin M (bf8ad7)

  4. You realize, of course, that every last fiscal problem we have today could have been solved 10 or 20 years ago with far less pain — as was pointed out at the time. But the change/pain avoidance from the center put the day off time and again. Now here we are and the diminished center is still pretending the day can be put off. Worse, one mode of opinion suggests to double down — increase spending to cover the symptoms and annex large parts of the economy to government. That this was done 50 years ago in Europe and is now failing most spectacularly does not seem to be an issue — either they expect to die before it’s a problem or they fool themselves that “this time it will be different.”

    Pity the remaining centrists, forced to choose between pain and insanity, still thinking that with the right pills one can manage both and muddle through. In horses they call these “blinders.”

    Kevin M (bf8ad7)

  5. Someday I hope to discover the name of the fool who came up with the word “Bipartisan”, so I can desecrate his grave.

    Bipartisan; any legislation, or measure so stupid that it attracts the unprincipled hacks from both ends of the spectrum.

    C. S. P. Schofield (df34af)

  6. Also, this:

    My party is the Stupid Party. The other Party is the Evil Party. Sometimes they get together and pass something both Stupid and Evil.

    Kevin M (bf8ad7)

  7. The best example of the extremist independent I know of is Bill O’Reilly. Bill is so afraid of being called a conservative that he twists himself into knots trying to be “fair and balanced” and ends up just being stupid. He has a knee jerk reaction to counter any conservative argument while being overly enamored of any drivel spewed from the worst leftist mouth piece, who he fawns over as a “stand up” person for having the courage to come on his show. He’s so clueless it would be funny if he weren’t so pompous.

    Jaynie59 (058ebb)

  8. actually, Brooks shows his disfunctional cognitive process even earlier in the quote:

    The American decentralized system of checks and balances has transmogrified into a fragmented system…

    No, it has been abandoned for Centralized Tyranny with a layer of obfuscation to insulate the Political Class from accountability.

    If only we still operated under a decentralized power structure we’d have a better chance of avoiding the cliff!

    Grumpa_On_A_Droid (5b08fe)

  9. Centrism isn’t “an extreme ideology” so much as it’s a useless and ineffective one.

    Icy (ae54ba)

  10. No, it’s more ignorance than extremism, just as with his notion, ‘that Obama is like the Mountain
    he’s always there’ well yes like a test pattern, and the converse notion, that Sarah was a ‘cancer’ on the GOP.

    narciso (1c125b)

  11. ‘Centrists’ like Brooks–why the center and median are not even close I’ll never understand–are blythely awaiting the recovery and the day when profligate spending can resume without detractors.

    Well look around Davey, the labor participation rate is at 1981 levels, mortgage rates are at record lows and no one can get a mortgage if they actually wanted one, credit worldwide is in a tailspin and the American consumer isn’t but a quarter of their way to retiring their credit card debt.

    You will never see a boom again David. Not that there won’t be one you just won’t live that long.

    gary gulrud (d88477)

  12. Icy, when 99% of people have decided that change is needed (they just disagree on what change), the position in the middle of “do nothing” is extreme. There are of course other extremes, but the middle one is also a fringe in a bimodal distribution.

    Kevin M (bf8ad7)

  13. I had a college roomate, a small town leftist, who married an out-of-the-money relative of the El Salvador Cristiani’s, one led the contras, another became Presidente.

    They got a lot of bad copy as extremists but El Salvador seems pretty stable since. On a continuum between Israel and El Salvador I bet our future resembles the latter more than the former.

    gary gulrud (d88477)

  14. iowahawkblog “Obama talking economics: like a pimply teenager talking about the sweetass spoiler & 800 hp air filter on his 200 mph ’93 Civic”

    Colonel Haiku (9f8c91)

  15. My liberal friends ask if I’m a “Tea-Partier.”

    (Liberals who are mere acquaintances might ask if I’m a “Tea-Bagger,” to which my answer is always, “No, but I’ve heard that you’re big on water sports, is that true?”)

    To those whose questions seem to be in good faith, I usually reply with something like: “I haven’t been to any rallies or participated in any organized activities, and the movement doesn’t have ‘members’ with membership cards. But I share their concerns for our nation’s blooming fiscal catastrophe and for the corruption in Washington that’s milking the status quo to death. And indeed I had those same concerns long before the modern Tea Party movement began to coalesce.”

    Beldar (2a462a)

  16. (Most liberals will wander off to look for other targets to argue with after they’re hit with “blooming fiscal catastrophe,” “milking the status quo to death,” and “coalesce,” but occasionally I get an egg-head who interprets this as a vocabulary challenge, at which point any kernel of progressive theory is instantly lost in a blizzard of big words, often inappropriately employed.)

    Beldar (2a462a)

  17. 14. Like today Dog tells Angela to ditch austerity. Easy to say when her citizens have risked 25% of their GDP on PIIGS government wages, pensions and benefits, day to day. A half-dozen EU governments have changed hands in preceding months.

    The ECB’s last LTRO, 700 Billion, held off Italian and Spanish yeilds for all of three months. 15% of the ECB’s balance sheet is now Spanish debt and there is no more collateral on the plain.

    US, Japanese and EU public debts are all roughly $15 Trillion. Norway is the only country going that can self-finance. The rest are at the end of other peoples money.

    gary gulrud (d88477)

  18. Nixon was a centrist.

    Kevin M (bf8ad7)

  19. I really need to pick up The Tyranny Of Cliches.

    Ryan (4d729e)

  20. I’ve been reading a terrific book by Jay Cost called “Spoiled Rotten.” It’s about the history of the Democratic Party and how it has been captured by clients. Clinton was able to given because, after 1994, he had a Republican Congress. Obama has turned all policy matters over to the Congressional Democrats, which are dominated by the clients. He hasn’t even tried to govern for the nation as a whole, which even Carter tried to do.

    Mike K (326cba)

  21. govern.

    I think it is the spell checker run amok.

    Mike K (326cba)

  22. Great comment, Mike l

    SPQR (d04a30)

  23. Except for his foreign policy, Nixon might as well have been a Leftist. The hysteria the Left showered on Nixon had more to do with his defeat of Helen Gahagan Douglas than with any of his domestic policies; he’d had the nerve to brand her a ‘fellow traveler’, which wasn’t true. She was an alarming old Stalinist, with a thin veneer of Lefty Democrat.

    C. S. P. Schofield (df34af)

  24. brooks leaves ’em at door
    then assumes position of
    doggie submission

    Colonel Haiku (c5ecf9)

  25. The most important ballot of the year, bar none:

    The DC GOP are marked for extinction.

    gary gulrud (d88477)

  26. What a jackass. It’s the voters’ fault! Apparently, he’s taking a page from the Obama playbook. Now I wonder how blaming the voters might turn out for him …

    ombdz (2a81ef)

  27. Yep, Wisconsin is where teh Dems and their media lapdogs don’t want attention drawn…

    JonahNRO “Maybe it’s me, but the declining national coverage of Wisconsin race seems to confirm exactly what a BFD it is.”

    Ain’t that teh truth!

    Colonel Haiku (c5ecf9)

  28. “Congress is capable of passing laws that give people benefits with borrowed money, but it gridlocks when it tries to impose exercise self-restraint.”

    You know Brooksie, I think I see the crux of your confusion.

    Now go cruise Central Parks shrubs.

    gary gulrud (d88477)

  29. ____________________________________________

    Goldberg does not identify centrism as an extreme ideology, but the quoted example (and others given in the book) graphically demonstrate it can be at least as impervious to logic or data as any other ideology.

    Ideological biases that run roughshod over logic or data are generally liberal or “progressive.” There may be some instances of that reaction evident in people on the right, but it’s a phenomenon overwhelmingly seen in those on the left. That’s why I’d label pundits or observers along the lines of a David Brooks as being — at best — closeted liberals.

    Another thing, too, is that the mid-point of the socio-political spectrum has shifted left over the past 50 years. So a “centrist” by today’s standards would have been quite liberal in the context of the 1950s. For example: Being all gushy about things like same-sex marriage is the new “centrism.” Being staunchly, vociferously supportive of two guys or two women getting hitched is the new liberalism.

    I imagine leftism in the future will be defined as a desire to force churches and synagogues to perform same-sex wedding ceremonies, while “centrism” will be a belief that only state governments should be required to recognize such arrangements.

    Mark (f382e9)

  30. The really sad part of the Wisconsin recalls is that the media is driving voter anger at the RECALL instead of at the Democrats who misused it.

    The recall power is a protection against dishonest politicians who change sides after election, or otherwise stiff the voters who supported them, and also against incompetent or ineffective leadership (Gray Davis). But now in Wisconsin the media is arguing to limit recalls to convicted criminals (who should be out automatically), making the recall power moot.

    Instead, they voters should know who was behind this travesty and punish them and their party next time around.

    Kevin M (bf8ad7)

  31. Here is the central question that I think Brooks is trying to address: Should our debt problem be solved with increased taxes alone, decreased spending alone, or some combination of the two?

    Brooks seems to favor the “combination”, and wants both sides to compromise to achieve that end. He thinks the system is broken because neither side is compromising.

    Perhaps Brooks doesn’t realize that if every budget deficit is solved by the “combination”, then taxes will just go up and up and up over time, until government spending is such a large share of the GDP that the economy turns like a square wheel.

    At some point, somebody needs to draw a line in the sand. That is what the Tea Party is doing.

    I say no more mushy middle. Let both extremes duke it out in the election. Whoever wins gets to call it–either tax increases only, or spending cuts only–and then has to live with the consequences.

    Sooner or later the Americans will figure out which way is best.

    norcal (58464e)

  32. @ 32: “page doesn’t exist”

    redc1c4 (403dff)

  33. Now this is hilarious:

    Fed, ECB and JOB on notice: Print your brains out or you’re out of a job yourselves.

    The best of hands.

    gary gulrud (d88477)

  34. With all the construction workers retired, day laborers returned home, manufacturing expatriated the unemployed is college edumacated:

    It’s the founder’s fault.

    gary gulrud (d88477)

  35. To echo Kevin M-Canada was in exactly the same mess roughly a decade ago. And goverments of both parties worked togehter to cut programs and spending to make the govermentr sustainable. That’s centerism we really need. Not passing a budget for 3 years is not leadership, rather it’s a lack thereof.

    Bugg (6cf7f9)

  36. Hey, I’m not advocating centrism when I call it extreme. I’m for a Tea-Party-style slash the [heck] out of everything plan, which some call extreme but isn’t. It’s what we have left, going forward.

    Kevin M (bf8ad7)

  37. IN happier news, the Lockerbie bomber is dead.

    Kevin M (bf8ad7)

  38. not unlike Dick Clark really

    happyfeet (3c92a1)

  39. This is why liberals can’t argue in good faith with conservatives.

    An excerpt:
    They are, in fact, often actively hostile. Haidt reports, “When I speak to liberal audiences about the three ‘binding foundations’—Loyalty, Authority, and Sanctity—I find that many in the audience don’t just fail to resonate; they actively reject these concerns as immoral.”

    Struck by these aggressive, angry responses, he designed a study to test how liberals view conservatives as compared to how conservatives view liberals. Liberals were to answer questions as they imagined a conservative would, while conservatives did the opposite. The results? Liberals, especially those who described themselves as very liberal, couldn’t accurately depict conservative views, while conservatives could describe liberal views. As I have said elsewhere, the liberal subculture is not just WEIRD, it is parochial.

    Haidt quotes a particularly telling tirade by Michael Feingold in the Village Voice: “Republicans don’t believe in the imagination, partly because so few of them have one, but mostly because it gets in the way of their chosen work, which is to destroy the human race and the planet. Human beings, who have imaginations, can see a recipe for disaster in the making; Republicans, whose goal in life is to profit from disaster and who don’t give a hoot about human beings, either can’t or won’t. Which is why I personally think they should be exterminated before they cause any more harm.”

    felipe (3cc5df)

  40. My party is the Stupid Party. The other Party is the Evil Party. Sometimes they get together and pass something both Stupid and Evil.

    Except that one party manages to consistently be both, while the other is chancy either way, sometimes one, sometimes the other, but.

    IGotBupkis, Legally Defined Cyberbully in All 57 States (aacc3d)

  41. , but.

    “but rarely both”.

    IGotBupkis, Legally Defined Cyberbully in All 57 States (aacc3d)

  42. Every conversation on this general topic (and this is hardly the first one I’ve seen on the internet), the term “Nazi” keeps getting interjected and applied by someone (usually the lefty), but the real meme behind it is much more “Bread and Circuses— This problem is ALL about unbridled voting by the masses for whatever they want with no consideration for economics or reality.

    IGotBupkis, Legally Defined Cyberbully in All 57 States (aacc3d)

  43. “Bipartisan; any legislation, or measure so stupid that it attracts the unprincipled hacks from both ends of the spectrum.”

    The civil rights act passed with bipartisan support. Then again, opposition to it was also bipartisan.

    VetThePrez (77ac66)

  44. Vettheprez – how many names have you tried out?

    JD (2307e5)

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