David Brooks: The Villagers' Mr. 'Common Sense Center'

From this Wednesday on PBS, we got treated to another dose of David Brooks and his fetishism for “centrism”, with Charlie Rose leading the way, asking Brooks for “five big ideas, five big, bold ideas that you would like to see debated in the
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This Wednesday on PBS, we got treated to another dose of David Brooks and his fetishism for “centrism,” with Charlie Rose leading the way, asking Brooks for “five big ideas, five big, bold ideas that you would like to see debated in the upcoming presidential election, which will have consequences for who we are.”

His answer is anything but surprising given the column he wrote earlier in the week, which has been panned from so many people out there, it's hard to keep count, but Politico gave it a shot and so did Gawker.

First out of the box: tax “reform”, which of course is nothing but Republican double-speak for lowering rates on the highest earners and making the tax code less progressive under the guise of “fairness” and pretending Republicans will ever close any of the loopholes for corporations, which they won't.

Brooks' second “big idea” is doing something to fix the costs of Medicare, which Brooks claims that no one knows how to do, and then immediately proceeds to tout Paul Ryan's “premium support” which is Republican double-speak for privatizing it. Naturally Rose didn't point out that we could do something to control the costs, like putting everyone on it instead of pushing the sickest and most expensive patients onto the tax payers while the insurance companies get to line their pockets off of the rest of us. That conversation isn't allowed in our corporate media though, so they moved on after Brooks lied about how privatizing Medicare was going to contain the costs instead of admitting that it would just push the costs onto seniors instead. Brooks also said we could “try some things that are in 'Obamacare' too,” but of course he didn't elaborate on what any of those things are.

Brilliant idea number three ... “family policy is essential.” To which even Charlie Rose had to ask, “What does that mean?” This is where Brooks blames income disparity and a lack of eduction on women having babies out of wedlock.

BROOKS: Right now, we have forty-odd percentage points of kids in this country born out of wedlock. The effects of that on average, not for every kid born out of wedlock, but for, on average, the effects of that are so powerful that it means thirty years from now inequality will be worse than it is right now. The achievement gap will be worse than it is right now. These effects are just huge and I don't care what we do with charter schools and all the other good stuff. You will not be able to counteract that effect of family breakdown. […]

It involves some conservative sounding ideas, getting people to get married before they have kids, just a social norm, some liberal policies. You've got to make men marriageable by giving them incomes, earned income tax credit, wage subsidies, or else no one's going to want to marry a guy if he has no income. And so that's a left/right thing, which I really think Obama should have done.

“Obama should have done.” I'm not quite sure how David Brooks thinks President Obama could have forced all of those people out there having premarital sex and having babies out of wedlock to get married first, but that statement just about made my jaw drop.

I guess Charlie Rose doesn't read Brooks' column, because he didn't bother to ask him about the fact that he was just citing the exact same statistics to praise the writings of Charles Murry, who as Charles Pierce pointed out this week, “has dismissed black people as fundamentally uneducable.”

I'll let Pierce take it from here with his commentary on Brooks and his column where the same topic of out of wedlock babies came up — Our Mr. Brooks Finds Another Very Important Thinker:

Worse, there are vast behavioral gaps between the educated upper tribe (20 percent of the country) and the lower tribe (30 percent of the country). This is where Murray is at his best, and he's mostly using data on white Americans, so the effects of race and other complicating factors don’t come into play.

(Of course, the author has dismissed black people as fundamentally uneducable in his previous work. So why should he — or we — care about them at all? What an important thinker.)

Roughly seven percent of the white kids in the upper tribe are born out of wedlock, compared with roughly 45 percent of the kids in the lower tribe. In the upper tribe, nearly every man aged 30 to 49 is in the labor force. In the lower tribe, men in their prime working ages have been steadily dropping out of the labor force, in good times and bad. People in the lower tribe are much less likely to get married, less likely to go to church, less likely to be active in their communities, more likely to watch TV excessively, more likely to be obese.

(Is it possible that there might be some other factor beyond being part of a tribe that makes people fat? That makes them less likely to obtain information about birth control? That keeps them out of the labor force, "in good times and in bad"? That keeps them at home watching TV excessively rather than going out to the opera? Is it possible that money is involved in any of this?)

(Of course, not. You know what's coming.)

It's wrong to describe an America in which the salt of the earth common people are preyed upon by this or that nefarious elite. It's wrong to tell the familiar underdog morality tale in which the problems of the masses are caused by the elites. The truth is, members of the upper tribe have made themselves phenomenally productive. They may mimic bohemian manners, but they have returned to 1950s traditionalist values and practices. They have low divorce rates, arduous work ethics and strict codes to regulate their kids. Members of the lower tribe work hard and dream big, but are more removed from traditional bourgeois norms. They live in disorganized, postmodern neighborhoods in which it is much harder to be self-disciplined and productive.

(Mmm, word salad. "Postmodern neighborhoods"? Do you know what some of those elites "worked arduously" at in the first decade of the 21st century? Devising complicated financial instruments by which they could steal most of the money from the rest of the country and get away with it. They haven't "returned to 1950s' traditionalist values and practices." Too many of their wives are working and taking the pill, which is covered by the gold-plated health-care plans The Firm offers to its most valued employees. I'd like to see data on how well they're "regulating" their kids, too, and find another verb, fool. Kids are not water heaters. David Brooks is impressed that Charles Murray, career hack, has found some white people he can treat like black people, and just in time, too. Save me, Racist Data Man!)

I doubt Murray would agree, but we need a National Service Program. We need a program that would force members of the upper tribe and the lower tribe to live together, if only for a few years. We need a program in which people from both tribes work together to spread out the values, practices and institutions that lead to achievement.

Brooks' fourth idea: Early childhood education — which he claims that our members of Congress have no interest in tackling because "the prestige" (a.k.a. money) is in K-12 and higher ed. Rose also asks him if he's got any "bold" ideas on foreign policy, which he shrugs off because I assume our elected representatives on all sides of the aisle are sufficiently hawkish to suit him.

And last but not least, Brooks' fifth idea... "metro area clustering." Here's more with Brooks' convoluted explanation of what that means, which sounds quite similar to the clap-trap he just wrote in his column that Pierce disassembled above.

BROOKS: Why is America really rich? It's not because we have natural resources. It's because we're really good at forming networks, at forming a Silicon Valley where you get combinations of people feeding off each other. So we should have policies to create metro areas where you get that sort of (crosstalk).

Some of that is just infrastructure. And some of it comes up automatically. You're absolutely right. […]

And so there's a (inaudible) that studies this (crosstalk) and he makes a distinction between table setting policies and industrial policies. Table setting is just giving the entrepreneurs the basic groundwork, intellectual property rights, infrastructure, basic research. You're not trying to do Solyndra. I don't think government is smart enough to do that. But you can set the table, right? And you can have sort of policies for a metro area for this cross-fertilization.

ROSE: Well that's an interesting question because it also leads into this big idea about government and the role of government and where we are on that and whether that — can you define that in a way that it will appeal beyond the rhetoric of, especially Mitt Romney and the way he likes to talk? […]

BROOKS: You can't have it simply Republican policies, because they're really good at liberating the market. They're really bad at building up human skills. The Democratic policies are pretty good at building up human skills, but I think are insufficiently good at liberating the market to create more open competition.

ROSE: So “liberating the market” is less regulations around all markets?

BROOKS: Absolutely.

ROSE: And building up skills having to do with job training and things like that... that contribute to the economy?

BROOKS: Right. So I would say instead of doing column A and column B, instead of sort of triangulating the mushy middle, you take the extreme of column A, which is a very simple tax code and streamline regulation and the very best of column B, which is job training and basic research and infrastructure and stuff the President talks about and you do them both at once.

David Brooks conveniently forgets to mention that "liberating" those markets hasn't worked out all that well for us and has led to the biggest economic disaster in decades with Wall Street running amok, one of the biggest oil spills in history with those "liberated" oil companies, massive income disparity with those "liberated" companies free to send their jobs offshore, and that the have-mores aren't going to do a damn thing for the poor and the shrinking middle class in America out of the goodness of their hearts.

Finally Charlie Rose wraps things up by asking Brooks this:

ROSE: Do you think you represent — in terms of your beliefs and your writings — the common sense center?

Dear lord help me. Really Charlie? David Brooks, who's been whitewashing horrible Republican ideas and trying to dress them up as presentable for the public while he rakes in way more money than he deserves to make, represents "the common sense center"? Good grief.

Here's Brooks' response.

BROOKS: Yeah. Again, it's not the center because it's taking the best of the outsides. But I do think a... I'm one of I think a lot of people. I think thirty or forty percent of Americans. And you know, it was interesting, I saw the exit polling.

If you looked at the... they asked some very good questions in the exit polling and they asked people where you stood on abortion, where do you stand on other issues, taxes, the voters were way more diverse than the candidates. So even on pro-life I think only twenty one percent of Republican primary voters in Florida think abortion should be illegal in all circumstances. And a good forty percent think it should, or sort of think it should be legal. And so that's a diversity of opinion and that is represented on the tax policies and other things that you wouldn't know if you just listened to candidates.

David Brooks ... "the common sense center"... whitewashing Republican extremism one column and interview at a time.

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