The Facts Machine

"And I come back to you now, at the turn of the tide"

Sunday, May 23, 2004


Since everyone else is linking to Michael Kinsley's review of David Brooks' new book (and of Brooks in general), I thought I might add myself to the pile.

I wanted to point to Kinsley's opening few paragraphs, which give a general description of ol' Brooksie:
For several years, in the world of political journalism, David Brooks has been every liberal's favorite conservative. This is not just because he throws us a bone of agreement every now and then. Even the most poisonous propagandist (i.e., Bill O'Reilly) knows that trick. Brooks goes farther. In his writing and on television, he actually seems reasonable. More than that, he seems cuddly. He gives the impression of being open to persuasion. Like the elderly Jewish lady who thinks someone must be Jewish because ''he's so nice,'' liberals suspect that a writer as amiable as Brooks must be a liberal at heart. Some conservatives think so too.

There is a prize for being the liberals' favorite conservative, and Brooks has claimed it: a column in The New York Times. With Brooks, The Times continues its probably unintentional experiment in reinventing the political column...
My favorite "Liberals love David Brooks" moment was when Paula Zahn interviewed Al Franken last August, and had this exchange:
ZAHN: Final question to you: is there any conservative you can name tonight that you like?

FRANKEN: David Brooks. I think he's great.

ZAHN: But some people would perceive him as making a little change along the way in his viewpoint.


ZAHN: Can you name anybody else other than David Brooks?
Yup, she confused Brooks with former right-wing hitman David Brock. I just brought that up to remind everybody that whatever cable network she's on, Paula Zahn is a friggin dolt. Still, she's better than Judy "General Clark, can I get you to say something inappropriate?" Woodruff. And according to the CNN advertising department, she is "a little bit sexy".

But back to Brooks.

Here's my take: In general, I like David Brooks in much the way described by Kinsley, certainly based on Brooks work with The Weekly Standard and PBS/NPR. However, the same could not be said of his New York Times columns for a long time since he started working there last fall. His columns, in general, were snide, snively, bent on scoring cheap partisan points and taking unfair shots at various people (including the Coulteresque "liberals", Howard Dean, and so on). Certainly, his penchant for self-amusing categorization of various groups has made its way into his columns -- the "liberal and conservative airlines" one from a month or two ago, for example.

But in general, he's been more unabashedly partisan in his NYT incarnation. The TFM theory on this is: He wanted to prove to his conservative bretheren that he could be a fightin' partisan while writing for a publication they perceive as being remorselessly liberal. This trend was exacerbated by the Iraq war at the peak of its perceived success, and the defensive pack mentality it spawned among the pro-war right.

Now that Iraq is at best a mixed bag, and the unified pro-war front is in shambles with ChalabiGate and the prison torture scandal, Brooks is a bit more loose now, floating an unusual hypothesis about the situation from time to time (his "To win in Iraq, we must lose" column, for example). Perhaps he perceives that he has earned his stripes with the right by now, and he can more or less say anything he wants.

Bill Safire -- a relatively useless columnist -- will, from time to time, rip into an idea popular with the right. Of course, the rest of the time he still pretends that the Atta/Iraqi Prague meeting still took place, and that Hillary is still going to somehow take the Democratic nomination away from Kerry. But if I had to make a prediction on Brooks, it would be that his NYT columns, over time as he settles in, will more and more resemble the David Brooks who debates Mark Shields on public tv/radio. Not that he still wont occasionally give us some stereotyped condescension on the American left from time to time.


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