Tuesday, September 6

What Do We Do With Brooks?

On September 1, three days after New Orleans died, David Brooks wrote a column titled "The Storm After the Storm". Granting that we have to grade both Brooks and the Times on a sliding scale it was prescient: disasters like the 1927 Mississippi flood, the Johnstown flood, and the hurricane that destroyed Galveston, Texas, are followed by political reverberations. And while Brooks didn't name any civic arrangements he said had failed, he didn't exactly try to exempt any either.

There's the need for that sliding scale for you: it's when Brooks fails to defend his Party, when the megaphone goes silent, that we are to take it as criticism of the President or his associates. It's a measure of how well and truly fucked things are that we accept this as the best that can be expected. Look! In the face of a horrible human disaster George Nero Bush has ignored for 72 hours, David Brooks has sort of criticized him! Though not in actual words and only if we decide to read the code that way.

And without grading on a curve, Brooks' piece was both pedestrian and boneheaded. Hundreds of blogs had referred to the '27 Flood by then, and the class/racial component of the suffering was on everyone's mind, so the only significance of Brooks' piece was a) that it appeared in the Times, and b) that it didn't defend the indefensible. And in taking his examples from the first half of the last century Brooks ignores the fact that post-war natural disasters did not lead to noticeable political turmoil, because the federal government stepped in in a timely fashion. It was specifically this administrations actions this time which recall the Marie Antoinette response of an overtly racist age.

[Just one point I can't resist: Brooks says "The Johnstown flood crystallized popular anger, for the fishing club was indeed partly to blame." Partly, in that it was the poorly engineered private dam at that playground of the wealthy which burst. The rest of the blame falls on the water, presumably. And that damnable gravity.]

By Sunday Brooks was in what passes for high dudgeon. We're at "the bursting point". People are mad as h-e-double-hockey sticks.

But since such a shocking disregard for decorum may burn tender skin Brooks has the balm of sidewalk sociology at the ready. Katrina was "the anti-9/11", an observation so full of mercy he'd borrowed it from a right-theological blogger and had to lead off the column with a link (!). Brooks applies the stuff so thick you're tempted to imagine that he's the one with the itchy rash all over.
On Sept. 11, Rudy Giuliani took control. The government response was quick and decisive. The rich and poor suffered alike. Americans had been hit, but felt united and strong. Public confidence in institutions surged.

Last week in New Orleans, by contrast, nobody took control. Authority was diffuse and action was ineffective. The rich escaped while the poor were abandoned. Leaders spun while looters rampaged. Partisans squabbled while the nation was ashamed.

Now, this may come as a shock to you but I've never been one of Giuliani's admirers, and in the immediate aftermath my response to the easy Beatification of St. Rudy was "Wha?" He was better than average as a podium filler, I suppose; maybe if I were a New Yorker I'd have been more impressed, but I always had the feeling that the admiration of New Yorkers was more that the little dickweed whose guts they hated had stood up in time of crisis. At any rate, they soon saw the old Rudy when he "volunteered" to remain mayor for life, and I've never forgotten that he was personally responsible for keeping the official death toll at 2.5 to 3x long after it was known that 3000 was roughly correct, thus fanning the flames of the Pearl Harbor comparison by the same multiple.

So while my personal inclination in the face of Rudy nostalgia is to ask why, if Brooks needed one so badly, he didn't just make another one up, there's simply something wrong with the religious ardor over "9/11 bringing us together". Because we've seen what happened as a result, and it's no good pretending that the vertiginous descent of the United States into moral and military depravity can somehow be divorced from the great patriotic surge and the newly rediscovered faith in our institutions, and all the other sham lessons people like Brooks said we'd learned and which led to the unleashing of neocon bloodlust. What exactly is this desire for a unified Fatherland except the childish fantasy where everyone else does as I please? And you had that, David, and look what was made of it. Not by accident, and not by a mishandling of "the postwar environment", but because the omnipotent and grandly benevolent military adventure was neither. Time to quit dreaming and start admitting you were wrong. Blatantly, obviously, and criminally wrong.

In comments Pepper directed my attention to Brooks' performance on News Hour last Friday. There Brooks did single out Lake George's namesake, calling his Wednesday flyover "terrible. And the three days of doing nothing, really, was terrible." It's hard to credit this much coming from someone so publicly deluded for so long about the war. (His last column before Katrina was August 28's "Winning In Iraq".) Is it possible to believe that last week's actions were an eyeopener for Mr. Bobo? That he found it a horrible, even inexcusable, lapse in the appearance of leadership, and that this for him is more important that the actual lapses which led to uncounted deaths? Or distinct from the failure in Iraq? No, it's the strangled gasp of a man who has tolerated falsehoods in the service of his political instincts until the point that their logical conclusion suffered and died on the streets of Lake George right there on his television set. You don't get any points for your humanity just because it turns out you can't bear to watch the kind of suffering you're happy to have the military dish out when you can't see it.


Hokie said...

No, no, trust me, as a New Yorker, we were far less impressed than you were.

James Briggs Stratton "Doghouse" Riley said...

It's reassuring to hear now, since you couldn't hear anything over the noise machine in those dark days.

Pepper said...

I hardly believe that Bobo has found a brain AND a heart all at once. That would be too much to ask. But the sight of him struggling and gasping with something unpleasant AND in his own backyard was delicious. Mr. "a bit this, a bit that" had to use unqualified adjectives for once!

And, even if Brooks is delivering the Coors Light of anger, I bet that his statements made some people in the Bush Administration pass out.

Anonymous said...

I'll believe this is a crisis of conscience for Brooks if it holds. Otherwise, it's just a crisis of aesthetics.

Your last line is right on the money, DH, though saying so tends to get me "This is not how you win voters!"
I generally don't say "I told you so". It isn't helpful, and believe me, they know you told them so, too.
But Christ, the egregiousness of this whole mess--I screamed myself hoarse last year trying to explain to people that "winning the war on terror"--which we weren't doing anyway--doesn't mean dick if you're stripping away infrastructure to do it.

Bush *did not* make us safer. By any measure.
Anybody who thought he did and voted for him on those grounds should have been heavily medicated until they came to their senses.
And anyone who *still* thinks he is, ought to be dropped off in the middle of Lake George to see what "safer" looks like.

Call me bitter, but now they're saying there could be up to forty thousand dead, I can't begin to count how many displaced, a major city underwater, and they want to talk about disposing of the *estate* tax? Because, hey, the people gifting multi-million dollar estates to their family, they're the *real* victims here.

Fuck them.
I'll be amazed if we haven't sunk into a new dark age before these idiots get the chance to vote for another republican president.
Fuck them all.