YESTERDAY I woke up in the middle of the night with one of those Celebrity Math things in my head: Jerry Lewis = Danny Kaye - Victor Herbert. You'll probably need to ask your grandmother what that means, and it still won't be funny. This is why I don't remember dreams.
Mr. Kaye had an eponymous television program in the early 60s, a "comedy"/ variety hour of which my father was quite fond for some reason and in which, as I recall it, he'd simper for sixty minutes in between introducing variety-show-type guests. Sometimes he'd employ a fake Russian accent. Say about twice a show. The accent, it seems, was at least a third of his act (simpering was the bulk of the rest). I remember that along with the accent he'd raise his hand to temple-height and wag his index finger a lot. Great times to be a lad.
(Kaye is most famous, I suppose, as Bing Crosby's co-star in White Christmas. Or so they tell me. The sedative strong enough to keep me on the couch for that thing is yet to be invented.)
Anyway, once I was wide awake it occurred to me that what Kaye is to Lewis David Brooks is to Jonah Goldberg.
I'm loath to admit it* but part of my dislike of Brooks is visceral. He simpers. It may come naturally to him but it seems like a bad improv character he put together for his first Bobos book tour and never updated. He does that little strangled-smile-with-exasperated-parent-puff-of-breath thing whenever Jim Lehrer relays one of Mark Shield's timeless talking points to him, just so you know it's slightly beneath him but he's going to try to use small enough words in reply so you can get it this time. And while that's certainly annoying enough for two Times columnists, he does the exact same thing when he gets caught holding a bag of shit labeled "Foie Gras". The urge to fly to New York just to steal the man's lunch money is almost overwhelming at times.
I'd hide this, I really would; the list of people on teevee I'd just as soon strangle is so long as to be unseemly. But goddam David Brooks on the goddam Times Op-Ed page is just too much. He's educated. If that didn't take beyond the twice weekly name-check of "Conservative" "philosophers", he's in his mid-forties. This means that one way or another he has to know that the great pacific center of reasonable thought on every issue facing the Republic does not circle his personal cranium. But you'd never know it from his columns.
This is the reason one has to question the veracity of purported right-wing centrists like Brooks, even absent the stinking cesspit of an administration they backed until it was time to try to pretend they didn't smell anything. The man can drop Burke or Hobbes into a discussion of the buffet at Olive Garden, but he seems to have slept through Copernicus:
The fact is, many Democratic politicians privately detest the netroots’ self-righteousness and bullying. They also know their party has a historic opportunity to pick up disaffected Republicans and moderates, so long as they don’t blow it by drifting into cuckoo land. They also know that a Democratic president is going to face challenges from Iran and elsewhere that are going to require hard-line, hawkish responses.
Finally, these Democrats understand their victory formula is not brain surgery. You have to be moderate on social issues, activist but not statist on domestic issues and hawkish on foreign policy. This time they’re not going to self-destructively deviate from that.
So the key to a Democratic victory in '08 is to be the sort of Democrat that David Brooks would grudgingly accept as a lesser of three evils.
Now, I'm appended to the Democratic party pretty much the way shipwreck survivors are appended to flotsam. It was my party for the campaign of '68, and again in '72, after which the "conventional wisdom" dictated that since a Leftist (that is to say, a South Dakota populist and winner of the Distinguished Flying Cross) had suffered a large electoral defeat at the hands of a sitting President who was prosecuting an unpopular, but still-supported and highly politicized war, the Democrats had to disavow all connection to the left wing of their own party, in perpetuity, if they ever hoped to win a national election again. This they did, with spectacular results.
(Further defeats, to another sitting President with the sort of Press which required porting the street patois "blowjob" over to politics in order to describe it adequately, and to his race-baiting, idiot-siring assistant, convinced party insiders that mainstream liberalism itself was dead as the dodo, resulting in an eight-year love affair between the Republican rank-and-file and the "moderate on social issues, activist but not statist on domestic issues and hawkish on foreign policy" successor to Bush I, William Jefferson Something-or-other.)
So, y'know, tell me when it was that the Democrats "deviated" from that sure-fire election algebra? With Al Gore? Okay. He won. With Kerry? The only way he fails to meet the description is if you want to assert that in 2004 "Let's look around for a wishy-washy way out of Iraq that won't irritate too many voters" was insufficiently hawkish compared to the brilliant plan his opponent has put forward and executed (which, Mr. Brooks, you've been refusing to do for some time, haven't you?). And yet Kerry still came close to defeating a sitting wartime president, more or less one Ohio.
Oh, but Brooks has all this on good authority: Mark Penn.
In a series of D.L.C. memos with titles like “The Decisive Center,” Penn has preached that while Republicans can win by appealing only to conservatives, Democrats must appeal to centrists as well as liberals. In his new book, “Microtrends,” he casts a caustic eye on the elites and mega-donors of both parties who are out of touch with average voter concerns.
Can someone cite an example of when Republicans won by appealing "only to conservatives?" Could that same person explain how this turns into Brooks' insistence that Democrats need to capture "disaffected Republicans" at the expense of their own constituency? I mean without using the phrase "David Brooks' head is so far up his own ass that...."
Look, thanks to an unreformed 18th century presidential selection process (okay, that's a bit harsh, as we let the womenfolk and the slaves vote now)--a process dating to a time when "Your Excellency" was judged a fit form of address for the man so selected--my vote will never actually count in a Presidential election unless I migrate. I have one Senator from each party representing me. You can tell this because they always put a "D" after Evan Bayh's name. The other guy is known as a moderating influence in the Republican party because he votes with the cracked radicals who run the thing a mere 80% of the time. My Representative has a good voting record, but I could be gerrymandered into Dan Burton's district tomorrow at the whim of The Nation's Third-Worst Legislature™. Th' fuck should I care about electoral politics? Bill Clinton's the only President in the last quarter-century I'd have trusted to hold my wallet, and then only if I didn't have to turn around. And yet as we are sinking steadily further into the fetid pile left by this administration in conjunction with a GOP-controlled Congress and opinion columnists still purblind from staring directly at George W. Bush's halo for four-and-a-half years I'm supposed to care whether a Democratic Presidential candidate can corral enough of the "conservative" votes that got us there in the first place? Why? What difference would that make? I'm not opposed to the unstaffed insane asylum that is the Republican party because I imagine I'll get my way some magical morning. I'm opposed to it because, as anyone who can support the pretense of sanity can see, the last six years have demonstrated what an intellectually and morally bankrupt little carnival it's been since Goldwater. There's no more room to pretend. Hillary Clinton can posture about Iran all she wants to on the Sundays; if she thinks she's going to do something about it militarily she'd better figure out how to win a war strictly with air power. The run's over. I hope you all enjoyed your fantasy. If you need four years of President Thompson to write an exclamation point on it, it's no difference to me anymore.
To put it in terms you'll understand, Mr. Brooks, it's time to empty the spit valve, or quit playing; you can't hocker your way out of it anymore.