Monday, February 5

When Visiting Chambersburg, Don't Miss Red Lobster's Neither Fish Nor Fowl™ Platter

David Brooks, "Children of Polarization", NY Times February 4

Doug Masson writes one of the best Hoosiercentric political blogs on the interweb and is one of those people who, despite responsible employment and a young family is able to produce loads of detail-oriented stuff that puts a middle-aged, semi-retired free-lance international pharmaceutical salesman and his five opinion pieces a week, tops--and let's face it, they're all pretty much the same opinion--to shame. Last week sometime he had a piece about some Kos diariast touting some campus Young Dem organization or something, which included, in the original, an Obama and Diet Coke highball to the effect that "these kids are committed to shaping the future, not rehashing the past, why, they don't even remember what all the impeachment fuss was all about."

Which prompted me to spew in comments about the whole matter of inexcusable cultural and historical illiteracy, which was followed by my being too busy to get back to the conversation. I trust someone kicked my ass, since I'm sure I had it coming. But having endured countless variations of "Why do all our elections have to be about Vietnam?" in various guises from various bloggers I've grown fairly tender around that spot. The "sides" are not coeval; the time between the Imperialist impulse in United States political life and the rise of serious political and intellectual challenge to such enterprise is a good seventy-five years, depending on when you start counting. If you see it as a matter of Nixon vs. Dirty Hippies your view is obstructed, and if you feel justified in celebrating severe myopia as a Breakout Generational Trend kindly do us all a favor and stay out of politics altogether. Take up matchbook collecting. Laugh at grandma's funny appliances.

Long column short: Brooks teaches poly sci course at Duke. Brooks assigns paper defining the student's political beliefs. Brooks learns that today's student, raised amid "impeachment [he thinks], jihad, polarization and Iraq" has quietly exited the whole Clash of Ideologies. Brooks extrapolates to every student in the country. Good news for the supposed centrists Brooks numbers himself among whenever the alternative is a hard look at the train wreck of the Republican party and the "Conservative" "movement" and his place in either, including his personal responsibility for impeachment, jihad, polarization and Iraq. Okay, not jihad.

[In case you're curious, Brooks' half-credit (?) course was entitled “Policy Wars: Liberalism and Conservatism in America,” and its limited seats went to essay contest winners.]

Brooks has permission to name names and quote quotes, and he culls from the mayonnaise-redolent herd a lifelong conservative now torn between Republican extremists and Democratic elites, and the product of liberal enclave Portland, Oregon, who now supports school vouchers, dismayed as he is by the failures of his local public schools which allowed many of his smartest friends to miss out on the opportunity to attend college. (In 2005 73% of Oregon's high school graduates enrolled in a two- or four-year program the semester after graduating, but whaddya expect for half credit, a Google search?)

So the piece merely lacked a doomed bespectacled Iowa farm boy with a picture of his sweetheart in his helmet, and William Bendix as "Brooklyn", daydreaming about watchin' Dem Bums at Ebbetts Field, plus the cigar-chewing sergeant who never let any of 'em see his tender side, and it would have made a pretty good war picture. But not the Iraq war; "not a single one" of Brooks' charges wrote explicitly about Iraq or wanted to discuss it. The better, of course, to maintain one's fashionable distance from ugly partisanship. And IEDs.
If my Duke students are representative, then the U.S. is about to see a generation that is practical, anti-ideological, modest and centrist (maybe to a fault). That's probably good news for the presidential candidates like Rudy Giuliani and Hillary Clinton, whose main selling point is their nuts-and-bolts ability to get things done.

Thus does Bobo set up his dream match-up, ignoring, somehow, that articulate Muslim guy from Illinois who actively campaigns on this sort of claptrap, and without explaining how "moderates" like the above make it through the partisan minefield of the primaries. I suppose it's no good asking the future face of American politics to explain to the rest of us how one solves problems by ignoring them? Or how one manages the trick of occupying the non-ideological, results-driven Center side by side with Bobo Brooks?


golombek said...

Minor quibble - do you mean "poli sci" course, as in political science, rather then "poly sci" as in many sciences? Just because I can't imagine the delusional Bobo Brooks as knowing anything about any real science, much less many sciences.

julia said...

You know, as soon as I saw the title and the words "David Brooks" the first thing to pop into my mind was Neither fish nor fowl, but good red herring.

Then I read the rest.

God I'm good.

Anonymous said...

Well, Ted Rall's theory back in the mid/late 90s was that the kids today act apathetic specifically as a way to give the finger to their boomer parents, and specifically avoid being slammed into roles that are, basically, "Kind of like the hippies but not as good" by a media that's run by nitwits and essentially refuses to let a given generation define their own damn selves.

It's not a flawless argument, but I think there was and is some truth to it.