Monday, March 12

Kids Today

David Brooks, "The Vanishing Neoliberal" Times, March 11.
While the old liberals could be earnest and self-righteous, the neoliberals were sprightly and lampooning. While the old liberals valued solidarity, the neoliberals loved to argue among themselves, showing off the rhetorical skills many had honed in Harvard dining halls.

Sigh. There's just nothing like a University of Chicago grad who's spent half a lifetime as a paid shill for the Ruling Class taking potshots at Hah-vahd snobbery.

Brooks' problem, it seems to me, is that every wrong impulse has been rewarded, over and above the ermine-lined right wing sinecure career path. He was sold young on the idea that Milton Friedman and Ronald Reagan were the glowing edge of a brighter future, the standard bearers of a New Ideal of Freedom, and an end to America's washday drudgery. One look should have been enough to assure someone who just woke up from a decade-long coma that this was fine aged USDA Prime bullshit. (Okay, Friedman's charming trollery could have been mistaken for pixieish, but Reagan was unmistakably a withered charlatan--and before he was through, the USDA would literally devalue Prime.) He got promoted to Chief Inmate at the Wall Street Journal Opinion Asylum, retired the trophy for Most Ingenious Working of "Edmund Burke" into a Weekly Standard piece (as it turns out, everyone got a trophy, just like Pee Wee baseball). Then fame came calling with his pop sociology books, despite the fact that there's little enough need for real sociology, and with the added bonus that it turned out the shit he made up was, somehow, more real than what the actual spade of research might have unearthed. And all was Golden. So like a bit-player baddie in an Indiana Jones flick, he imagines he can dazzle us with his scimitar display. But unlike Indy, we don't bother to shoot the man because he's so, well, laughable.
Neoliberals often have an air of perpetual youthfulness about them, but they are now in their 40s, 50s and even their 60s, and a younger generation of bloggers set off a backlash. If you surf the Web these days, for example, you find that a horde of thousands have declared war on the Time magazine columnist Joe Klein.

Cold steel slices the desert air...
Kevin Drum, who is actually older than most bloggers, says the difference is generational. Klein's mind-set, he says, was formed in the 1970s and 1980s, but "like most lefty bloggers, I only started following politics in a serious way in the late '90s." Drum says he's reacting to Ken Starr, the Florida ballot fight, the Bush tax cuts, the K Street Project and the war in Iraq. Drum and his cohort don't want a neoliberal movement that moderates and reforms. They want a Democratic Party that fights.

Sigh. Kevin's 48 (I just looked it up), which is older than most living creatures and ten years older than I would have guessed, which probably has less to do with those California surfer boy good looks than the fact that he didn't start paying attention to politics until he was forty. If he had maybe he wouldn't be making those "generational" cracks about someone little more than ten years older.

I assume the intervening paragraphs have given the reader time to recover from the idea of Joe Klein as a Neoliberal poster boy. (Brooks, who like most vertebrates is in fact younger than Kevin Drum, continually mentions The Web the way Johnny Carson used to do endless jokes about his VCR clock flashing "12:00". Does he imagine that his reader's eyes glaze over at the thought of daunting new technologies, giving him free rein to invent what Those Kids are up to?) But let's give Kevin a minute or two to catch up. (Kevin, I like you, really. I'm five years older than you. I've been following politics since the 60s. I'm reacting to the Cold War, the Red Scare, the Civil Rights Movement, the Pentagon Papers, the War on Drugs, President Nixon, Governor Reagan, the Equal Rights Amendment, President Reagan, and all that stuff you mentioned. I like to imagine it led me to enough wisdom to, say, oppose a hypothetical war you might not have seen the folly of so quickly. No offense. But Neoliberals are to the 70s and 80s what Grand Funk Railroad is to the 60s: talentless plonkers who jumped onto the first passing bandwagon in hopes of making a buck. Joe Klein is not the face of a failed, toothless liberalism. That's what we have Joe Biden for. Joe Klein is an ass.)

Sorry. Brooks' idea here...wait, do you ever see him on News Hour? The man has the soul of a third-grade tattletale, does he not? He can't hide it. He really thinks that there's a centrist core out there in Flyover Country somewhere that's perfectly represented by McCain and Lieberman, something those of us who actually live here could explain as the Default setting for people who pay no attention and couldn't care less. Brooks is absolutely in line with the supposed Neoliberal agenda; you can almost see a prissy little hand sneaking up to cover a case of giggles. Tee-hee hee, the Democrats are going all Leftist, like that far-out blogger Kevin Drum, and soon the real America will crush them under its Mighty Centrist Performance Sports Sandal (sandal manufactured in Indonesia).

Mr. Brooks, a customary graph (and a half) of incoherence to close, if you will?
Over all, what's happening is this: The left, which has the momentum, is growing more uniform and coming to look more like its old, pre-neoliberal self. The right is growing more fractious. And many of those who were semiaffiliated with one party or another are drifting off to independent-land. (The Economist, their magazine, now has over 500,000 American readers--more than all the major liberal magazines combined.) Neoliberalism had a good, interesting run--while it lasted.

Pah. Neoliberalism was a cynical attempt by youngish moderate Democrats to improve their own electability as the party ran in terror of The Gipper That Wouldn't Die. (Compare the various permutations of "Creation Science" and its long-term effects on what the unlettered call Reality.) It drifted along with the currents until it smashed to bits on the shoals of the Bush administration. The survivors who refuse to swim towards the shore on the grounds that People Who Were Right All Along are not to be trusted can alight on whatever magazine they happen upon; that big bright light overhead is still gonna raise blisters. And had the Democrats stood up to the excesses of the Reagan administration as they should have it would have sunk without a bubble and spared everybody fifteen years of mal de mer.


Anonymous said...

Just a great post. Thanks. The about the need for sociology will keep me going for a few days.

Anonymous said...

Well, I have been right all along and no one trusts me!
I enjoy your sprightly rants.