Justice, Media, War and Politics

Does anyone remember when David Brooks was a conservative? Me neither, and yet the adjective persists. He’s gotten great mileage out of the not-very-original but not-very-objectionable-either argument that a society, properly constituted, is a nested set of smaller societies, from friends and family on up through your block, your council district, your diocese, etc., all the way up to the Federal Government. He combines these with a Burkean horror at the excesses of the French Revolution; for David Brooks, it is always 1789 1968. This in turn gets folded into a frothy meringue of faddish neurobabble and pop psychology. The result is an odd chimera, a giddy atavistic technocratic utopian anachronist: a Benthamite Whig monarchist. Imagine that on your coat of arms.

Anyway, Brooks uses his column today to accuse Edward Snowden of taking the delicately wrought matryoshka doll that constitutes American civilization up to the roof and hurling it callously onto the sidewalk below. He accuses Snowden of betraying his own mother. Betrayal is one of those words that you only ever encounter in two contexts. In actual politics, betrayal is part of the lexicon of fascism. I’ll let others on the internet accuse Brooks of this. Despite his authoritarian predilections, Brooks is not a fascist, any more than Brooks is a conservative, or a liberal; Brooks is just a grumpy, entitled suburbanite on the downhill side of middle age—il est lui-même la matière de son livre. The other area in which one encounters betrayal is in the realm of romance. Ah, so that’s it. The odd tone of Brooks’ column grinds against what one expects from a polemic, but it does remind you of a breakup letter. Brooks isn’t outraged; he’s jilted.

Gore Vidal famously, or notoriously, quipped: “I am at heart a propagandist, a tremendous hater, a tiresome nag, complacently positive that there is no human problem which could not be solved if people would simply do as I advise.” Vidal was a real aristocrat, and so he could turn his curdled humor on his own noblesse oblige; Brooks is an arriviste, lacking the confidence to giggle at his own certainty; he echoes everything in that sentence that follows positive and nothing that precedes it. Brooks views himself as essentially metonymous with the United States of America, thus the attitude toward Snowden. I can’t believe you’re breaking up with me! You can’t break up with me! I’m breaking up with you!

The column is full of peculiar, #slatepitch counterintuitions (“He betrayed the privacy of us all. If federal security agencies can’t do vast data sweeps, they will inevitably revert to the older, more intrusive eavesdropping methods”), which, in true Dear John fashion, simultaneously accuse Snowden of never doing the dishes and of always getting water all over the counters when he does the dishes, but there’s one fascinating and bizarre politico-historical claim that merits an additional note:

He betrayed the Constitution. The founders did not create the United States so that some solitary 29-year-old could make unilateral decisions about what should be exposed.

I have searched in vain, and I find no part of the Constitution, original text or amendments, that makes any provision whatsoever for the keeping of secrets, official or otherwise. In such absence, the accusation makes literally no sense at all. If you take cranberries and stew them like applesauce they taste much more like prunes than rhubarb does. Now tell me what you know. The founders did create the United States in part to protect against the issuance of general warrants by an unanswerable government. The closest they get to mentioning 29-year-olds is in making 25 the minimum age for Representatives, 30 for the Senate. Mostly, though, both bodies are occupied by Mr. Brooks’ cohort. Boy, they’re really doing a bang-up job.

20 thoughts on “Brookstoßlegende

  1. I picture an outraged father, ranting at his son, who has just informed him that despite the money and everything else it entails, he’s decided not to take over the family business, after all: “You ungrateful little shit! Look at all I gave you and this is how you repay your family! You just turn your back and walk away?! Look how you are hurting your mother!”

    1. You arrogant sonofabitch! You think you’re the only writer who can give me that Barton Fink feeling?! I got twenty writers under contract that I can ask for a Finktype thing from. You swell-headed hypocrite! You just don’t get it, do you? You think the whole world revolves inside whatever rattles inside that little kike head of yours. Get him outta my sight, Lou. Make sure he stays in town, though; he’s still under contract. I want you in town, Fink, and outta my sight. Now get lost. There’s a war on.

  2. When men were men and women were grateful. Leaking government secrets on vast surveillance programs was something we did *as a community*.

    I was sort of surprised. I expected some token finger-wagging. Brooks has a bag of tricks for this sort of thing. One or two tricks would do. That he apparently loathes Snowden so much that he would exhaust his entire routine in one column is surprising.

  3. I’ve noticed breakup psychology crops up in all sorts of weird contexts. The other day I expressed interest in transferring to another division of the company and was told to “have a conversation” with my existing boss first. To what end God only knows since the decision rests with a higher power. “Sorry Mr. Klein, I think it’s time we started seeing other people. And get on with our lives…. “Why?” Well, it’s not you…”

    Or for that matter, how much dating has grown to resemble job application. It’s worth joining a dating site just to see how hilarious the average profile is. Apropos my own profile; I was once emailed and scolded for not “thinking outside the box.”

  4. I kept wondering, do covert agents working overseas get more time to go home and hang out with mom than they used to? Also, maybe Mom visited Hawaii, cause much as everyone loves Baltimore over Hawaii…

  5. If you think David Brooks’ spewage was bad, you need to check out Richard Cohen’s babble in the Washington Post from a couple of days ago. Christ, the guy sounded as if he was on the verge of an aneurysm. Absolutely priceless. That column caused me to have a Hot Dog Burp Of Disgust.

  6. “I have searched in vain, and I find no part of the Constitution, original text or amendments, that makes any provision whatsoever for the keeping of secrets”

    Because that section is secret

  7. sorry for posting in the wrong thread ioz, but i’m a former extremely hostile anonymouse commenter from your old blog who just discovered this new one and that you’ve de-anonymized and that you’re on contract to publish a novel, etc.

    any way to order in advance?

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