David Brooks, " Neither Clinton, Nor Obama," Times, March 4
So there I was, sitting in my office, quietly contemplating suicide. I was watching a cattle call of Democratic presidential candidates on C-Span. In their five-minute speeches, they were laying it on thick with poll-tested, consultant-driven clichés of the Our Children Are Our Future variety. The thought of having to spend the next two years listening to this drivel set me wondering if it was literally possible to be bored to death.
Our attention is elsewhere, but it is impossible to re-type that paragraph without giving some consideration to Why Conservatives Aren't Funny. One: the punchline goes at the end of the joke. The rule may be violated, but not in the service of something as unimaginative as "the political speeches were so boring I was contemplating suicide". An oblique reference might have worked: "I was watching C-Span in my office and, as always, I'd taken the precaution of opening the phone book to the Suicide Prevention Hotline". Two: most authorities recommend a single use of the punchline; the waterlogged reprise is best left to Renaissance lute airs. Three: it is always wrong to attempt to revive a lifeless cliché with the smelling salts of "literally". This is true of all forms of writing, but in comedy it is an absolute. Four: Describing something which threatens to bore you to death (literally) as "drivel" over-eggs the custard. It may be tempting for the middle-aged man, finding himself surrounded by belly-shirted teevee cooks of no discernible taste or talent, to imagine that all culinary rules are made to be broken. They are not.
On top of all of this, of course, is the matter of the Faulty Premise: We do not believe that David Brooks is capable of being bored to death, least of all by politics. He's a carrier. He's a fucking source.
DAVE: Boy, those Democrat presidential candidates are boring!
CROWD (unison): How boring are they?
DAVE: They're so boring I was reminded of something Hayek said about price mechanisms. I think it was in...
Which reminds me that I had a point when I started out. I knew I should have written it down. Well, for one thing, the "bunch of boring Democrats who spout crowd-pleasing, special-interest-group, PC-approved drivel" is at least thirty years old now, and the only time it wasn't trotted out in a presidential campaign season was when the fascination with Bill Clinton's masculine unit overrode it. If the public--bless its horribly stunted cerebrum--tackles the subject it's politicians who are boring, poll-approved, both-sides-of-the-mouth-talkers-out-of, but somehow for the punditry--who, after all, are vocational volunteers--this sort of thing affects only Democrats.
This is bad enough in itself, but then, after all, Brooks isn't some centrist Republican laboring to be fair, nor do we expect that of him. We do think he might aim for something like persuasiveness, which requires giving the impression, at least, that one has a nodding acquaintance with "reality", and so might be able to acknowledge that it is the Republican hopefuls who have demonstrated a mastery of the poll-driven Two Step. We note that this is the same David "Bobo" Brooks who four short winter months ago was criticizing John Kerry's "handling" of Jokegate while denying there was any reason to suspect the misinterpretation was intentional. Now he complains that politicians give safe little speeches. It's like watching football with my father-in-law. "Shoulda called a running play," being his standard response to an interception.
This comes on a day when I watched Lindsay Graham respond to Tim Russert's poll-driven question about escalating a war 2/3 of the population opposes by saying he thought the American people were "beginning to doubt whether the Iraqis can get their act together." This sort of Up is Downism is the frickin' currency of political "debate", yet a few clichés uttered on C-Span send Brooks to his office window sill.
The piece ostensibly touted Bill Richardson ("ostensibly", of course, because the real point was "write a column that makes you sound like a reasonable, open-minded conservative" to that small group of conservatives who still enjoy making the claim) apparently on the grounds that dull speechifier Barack Obama, the Brooks favorite of a couple months back, is now dangerously close to being electable. It's difficult to understand what Richardson has done to deserve this, but there was this classic, Won't Somebody Convince Him His Lunch Money Is Now Safe? Brooks moment:
On cultural issues, Richardson has the distinct advantage of not setting off any culture war vibes. He was in college in the late 1960s, but he was listening to the Beach Boys, not Janis Joplin. He was playing baseball in the Cape Cod League, not going to Woodstock. He idolized Humphrey, not McCarthy.
We will simply remind the reader that David Brooks claims to have started life as a liberal. We will not bother reminding him that Brooks writes for the New York Frickin' Times, as we suspect that point is already bouncing around in his skull like shrapnel.