Just Above Sunset
June 20, 2004 - "Isn't it pretty to think so?"
I came an interesting assessment
of the writer David Brooks. My email discussion group has batted about things
Brooks has said, particularly regarding his book Bobos in Paradise. Brooks
has a new book now, On Paradise Drive that is, by all accounts, much weaker.
As a conservative columnist at the New York Times — a job he has held since September
2003 — Brooks is the steer at the steakhouse. Liberals who admired him
when he was the jolly voice of reason at the Weekly Standard resent him now that he occupies the throne of American
I can relate to that.
… The most interesting section of On Paradise Drive outlines Brooks' notion that
America has become a "cellular" instead of hierarchical nation. No single elite
remains, he says. We all live cheerfully in our own separate tents, no group
subordinate to any other. Everyone, in fact, feels happily superior to everyone
But Plotz doesn’t buy it.
… Brooks' cellularity wishes away conflict.
He ignores that not every distinction is cultural and that much more is at stake than self-esteem.
His "antiglobalization activist" isn't simply happy to wear his hemp shirt, as Brooks suggests;
he also wants to shut down the polluting factory where the "Rush Limbaugh dittohead" works.
And the "NRA enthusiast" actually believes the Islamic scholar is a probable terrorist who should be jailed or deported. Sometimes it's not enough to "feel quietly satisfied about [our] own self-worth."
Sometimes we need to kick the other guy in the teeth. The stakes are real in
America: We are constantly truncheoning each other for more money, more liberty, more power.
By making Americans merely smug emperors of our own little consumer worlds, he ignores the bigger, brutal battles that
we fight against each other.
As the occupation has soured, Brooks has wilted. His
columns have lost their swagger: "We're a shellshocked hegemon," he wrote last month.
"This has been a crushingly depressing period." Optimistic and conflict-averse, Brooks didn't see how our good intentions
could go wrong, because our superior ideas were bound to win the day. He has
shied away from the bloody strife that is the requirement of his National Greatness ideas.
At the pit of the prisoner-abuse scandal Brooks wrote:
Yeah, talk is cheap.
In Brooks' ideal world, Americans should all reasonably discuss the war, reach a consensus that it's righteous, persuade Iraqis of same, and win. In real life, it is a much nastier business, and there is no consensus among Americans of either party about the morality of this war. In peace, Brooks' genial mockery and optimism are delightful. In wartime, they're a cheat. Other conservatives confront the ugliness and bloodshed of the occupation and redouble their commitment. Brooks, whose national-greatness ethos lent more energy to the war than anything his colleagues have written, will neither embrace the war, nor disown it, nor even look it square in the face. He hides.
One is reminded of the
last paragraphs in Hemingway’s post-WWI novel “The Sun Also Rises.”
Oh, Jake,” Brett said, “we could have had such a damned good time together.”
This issue updated and published on...
Paris readers add nine hours....