I WAS pretty much minding my own business this AM. I'm a seasoned charlatan. I have no need to get all excited about an election twelve hours before the returns start coming in. Truth be told, you can wake me when the election, not the balloting, shows some results, but that's just me. If most people didn't enjoy spectacles we'd be subjected to thirty minutes of news every night, and no one wants that.
I clicked on the Times, and--it's one of the dangers of the middle-aged brain, to which we will be returning--the autopilot took over, and the next thing I knew I was reading David Brooks. And Brooks has decided--the word may give false credit for what was actually an acute spasm or a dancing tic--that our poise at the edge of momentous electoral change was a fine excuse for him to reveal damn near everything pathetic and regrettable about the inside of his own skull.
In the past two decades, the United States has become a much more interesting place. Companies like Starbucks, Apple, Crate & Barrel, Microsoft and many others enlivened daily life. Private citizens, especially young people, repaired the social fabric, dedicated themselves to community service and lowered drug addiction and teenage pregnancy.
This is The New York Times, fer chrissakes. Do you know anybody who thinks like this? Have a relative, a neighbor, a co-worker who believes Microfuckingsoft has "enlivened" his life (in that very special way that only Mass Marketers Of Other People's Better Ideas can do) ? Do you know anyone who would actually talk like this, unless he'd scored a luncheon speaking gig with the Greater Ottumwa Jaycees and really, I mean really, enjoys chicken à la king?
I'm pretty sure I've never made this explicit, but aside from the fact that The Newspaper of Record decided one day to recruit an "entrepreneur" for the Right-wing kiosk it set up as a replacement for the brick, mortar, and sacks of shit edifice that was Bill Safir(e), and somehow came up with David Brooks, there are essentially two interesting things about the man. The first is that adolescent Reaganaut vibe he shares with, among others, Jonah Goldberg and Professor Reynolds, the result of their having been convinced that Privilege, Self-Absorption, and a Fondness for Mass-Produced Mayonnaise is what made America great, and what would, eventually, see to it that those pot-smoking hippies who laughed at their cool robot sketches would Get What Was Coming To 'Em. The combination of this attitude with their passing into the vortex of Middle Age has not been at all pretty. They're trapped. It's as if Sonny Bono had been forced to wear that vest the rest of his performing life. The second is Brook's ability to craft an I'm George Will, Too, Only Updated persona, which trades on a certain, oh, lack of physicality, that Mater Wouldn't Allow Me To Hurly-Burly With The Other Lads, But I'm The Superior Intellect For It routine which has been conveniently, but wrongly, construed as Gentlemanliness. Like Will, this has allowed Brooks to fling feces for decades while being presented on national teevee and in the nation's premier despoilers of timberland as respected. It's interesting that both became Affirmative Action Nerd hires in the mass-market media (Will to ABC via Newsweek, Brooks to NPR and the Gray Lady); it's interesting that with each progressively fuzzier Xerox of William FuhBuckley the clothing gets better. Marginally.
Nov. 4, 2008, is a historic day because it marks the end of an economic era, a political era and a generational era all at once.
Economically, it marks the end of the Long Boom, which began in 1983. Politically, it probably marks the end of conservative dominance, which began in 1980. Generationally, it marks the end of baby boomer supremacy, which began in 1968. For the past 16 years, baby boomers, who were formed by the tumult of the 1960s, occupied the White House. By Tuesday night, if the polls are to be believed, a member of a new generation will become president-elect.
Jesus Christ, could the Times at least require its sparkling little band of hallucinatory columnists to show their work, or at least just point at the Cloud Pony that gave them the idea? First, for the record, the "Long Boom" of 1983 was interrupted, some of us are not allergic to recalling, by The Worst Recession in Post-War History, and has been booming along since Bush took office only if you think charts and pie graphs are more important than what happens to actual Americans. Second, in contemporary usage "Baby Boomer" is generally considered to refer to those born between 1946 and 1964. Meaning it would include Barack Obama, and, for that matter, David Brooks. I don't care if you want to tinker with the numbers; just fucking spit it out, or quit using that insulting Boomer stereotype shit whenever you imagine it benefits you in some way. I was born at the tail end of 1953, roughly 35% of the way into the Boom. I'm closer in age to Barack Obama than to George W. Bush. I'm closer to Bill Clinton by two months.
Barack Obama is a child of the 1960s. His mother was born only five years earlier than Hillary Clinton. For people in Obama’s generation, the great disruption had already occurred by the time they hit adulthood. Theirs is a generation of consolidation and neo-traditionalism — a generation of sunscreen and bicycle helmets, more anxious about parenthood than anything else.
Yeah, Hillary Clinton totally could have given birth to Barack Obama, if she'd gotten pregnant two months after her thirteenth birthday. That's an age bracket where "only five years" makes a huge different, Mr. Brooks. As in "jail time".
Lemme say this, Dave. This number fixation is a sign of old age; learn to fight it. It's a fine divertimento, but a horrible ring opera. Barack Obama was six years old when Martin Luther King was shot. I was six when John Kennedy was driven down 16th Street in Speedway, Indiana, (in an open-top convertible) and I remember it pretty well. Obama was in his early teens when the United States exited Vietnam and Nixon exited the Presidency. He may or may not have been interested then, but it's not as if those are events he should be unable to place in historical context now. Just because your own early adulthood coincided with the political ascendency of Ronald Reagan, and just because you decided, or were hoodwinked into believing, that this Saved the Republic from the Great Disruption does not make it everyone's political biography. I have certainly got my differences with the way Obama has presented the history of this era during his campaign (i.e. as something of the politically-motivated hornswoggle your party presented in an effort to erase reality), but the idea that he grew up in some sort of safety-helmeted, mulatto-toleratin', GameBoy-playin' Consumer Paradise while the "real" Boomers were "consumed by culture war" or trying to figure out the clocks on their VCRs is just your Republican fantasy, Dave. Whatever else he's gotten wrong about the era of his childhood, I'm betting it doesn't include imagining that racial politics in this country is just something the Children of the Sixties dreamed up in order to have something to argue about.
Yet, at the same time, the public sphere has not flourished. Despite decades of affluence, longstanding issues like health care, education, energy and entitlement debt have not been adequately addressed. The baby boomers, who entered adulthood promising a lifetime of activism, have been a politically undistinguished generation. They produced two presidents, neither of whom lived up to his potential. They remained consumed by the culture war that divided their generation. They pass their political supremacy today having squandered the fat years and the golden opportunities.
Okay. It's beyond me, purely and simply, to understand how or why this sort of thing continues unexamined among Brooks and his ilk. Now they decry the Culture War? It's what brought them to power, kept them in power, and what--when a quarter-century of lip service would no longer suffice to keep the religious wing placated--eventually fractured the party. Without a doubt there are culture war matters where I enjoy seeing the Right take jab after jab on the chin, but they're not generally matters of my own choosing; if the whackjobs the GOP aligned itself with with Nixon's Silent Majority Speech and Reagan's Kick-off Salute To Racial Terrorism had simply accepted the fact that the 20th century had arrived and left them in the dirt it could all have been avoided. I don't think many biologists relish spending time defending the principles of 19th century science to small-town school boards. If you'd just acknowledge that the Constitutional right to reproductive freedom was decided in 1973, and leave all further decisions in the hands of those directly involved, we could move on. Leave me alone while I'm watching porn, and I'll leave you alone while you're watching Rod Paisley. Then we can see who gets better ratings, if you like, just in case some daily lives need more enlivening than $6 cappuccino and $12 dish towels can provide. This culture war shit is your baggage, and you couldn't even eliminate it from your own party. And I notice a lot of it still going on forty years after the Great Disruptive Boomer Takeover. Must be a few youngsters opposed to gay marriage, huh?
Why does this continue? Money can't explain it; at this point Brooks could pretty much crank out scholarly monographs sliced into 800-word chunks and keep his paying gigs. Politics no longer explains it; his side's about to lose that one, too, and though it might effect a reversal at some point it'll have to be justified in some entirely different fashion. This leaves us, among the known human motivators for non-waterboarded proclamations of blatantly self-contradictory nonsense stubbornly clung to for decades with: a) Religion; b) Embarrassment; and c) Sex.
Own up, Mr. Brooks. We don't think you're all that religious.