Monday, March 5

Say What, Now?

David Brooks, " Neither Clinton, Nor Obama," Times, March 4

So there I was, sitting in my office, quietly contemplating suicide. I was watching a cattle call of Democratic presidential candidates on C-Span. In their five-minute speeches, they were laying it on thick with poll-tested, consultant-driven clichés of the Our Children Are Our Future variety. The thought of having to spend the next two years listening to this drivel set me wondering if it was literally possible to be bored to death.

Our attention is elsewhere, but it is impossible to re-type that paragraph without giving some consideration to Why Conservatives Aren't Funny. One: the punchline goes at the end of the joke. The rule may be violated, but not in the service of something as unimaginative as "the political speeches were so boring I was contemplating suicide". An oblique reference might have worked: "I was watching C-Span in my office and, as always, I'd taken the precaution of opening the phone book to the Suicide Prevention Hotline". Two: most authorities recommend a single use of the punchline; the waterlogged reprise is best left to Renaissance lute airs. Three: it is always wrong to attempt to revive a lifeless cliché with the smelling salts of "literally". This is true of all forms of writing, but in comedy it is an absolute. Four: Describing something which threatens to bore you to death (literally) as "drivel" over-eggs the custard. It may be tempting for the middle-aged man, finding himself surrounded by belly-shirted teevee cooks of no discernible taste or talent, to imagine that all culinary rules are made to be broken. They are not.

On top of all of this, of course, is the matter of the Faulty Premise: We do not believe that David Brooks is capable of being bored to death, least of all by politics. He's a carrier. He's a fucking source.

DAVE: Boy, those Democrat presidential candidates are boring!

CROWD (unison): How boring are they?

DAVE: They're so boring I was reminded of something Hayek said about price mechanisms. I think it was in...

Which reminds me that I had a point when I started out. I knew I should have written it down. Well, for one thing, the "bunch of boring Democrats who spout crowd-pleasing, special-interest-group, PC-approved drivel" is at least thirty years old now, and the only time it wasn't trotted out in a presidential campaign season was when the fascination with Bill Clinton's masculine unit overrode it. If the public--bless its horribly stunted cerebrum--tackles the subject it's politicians who are boring, poll-approved, both-sides-of-the-mouth-talkers-out-of, but somehow for the punditry--who, after all, are vocational volunteers--this sort of thing affects only Democrats.

This is bad enough in itself, but then, after all, Brooks isn't some centrist Republican laboring to be fair, nor do we expect that of him. We do think he might aim for something like persuasiveness, which requires giving the impression, at least, that one has a nodding acquaintance with "reality", and so might be able to acknowledge that it is the Republican hopefuls who have demonstrated a mastery of the poll-driven Two Step. We note that this is the same David "Bobo" Brooks who four short winter months ago was criticizing John Kerry's "handling" of Jokegate while denying there was any reason to suspect the misinterpretation was intentional. Now he complains that politicians give safe little speeches. It's like watching football with my father-in-law. "Shoulda called a running play," being his standard response to an interception.

This comes on a day when I watched Lindsay Graham respond to Tim Russert's poll-driven question about escalating a war 2/3 of the population opposes by saying he thought the American people were "beginning to doubt whether the Iraqis can get their act together." This sort of Up is Downism is the frickin' currency of political "debate", yet a few clichés uttered on C-Span send Brooks to his office window sill.

The piece ostensibly touted Bill Richardson ("ostensibly", of course, because the real point was "write a column that makes you sound like a reasonable, open-minded conservative" to that small group of conservatives who still enjoy making the claim) apparently on the grounds that dull speechifier Barack Obama, the Brooks favorite of a couple months back, is now dangerously close to being electable. It's difficult to understand what Richardson has done to deserve this, but there was this classic, Won't Somebody Convince Him His Lunch Money Is Now Safe? Brooks moment:
On cultural issues, Richardson has the distinct advantage of not setting off any culture war vibes. He was in college in the late 1960s, but he was listening to the Beach Boys, not Janis Joplin. He was playing baseball in the Cape Cod League, not going to Woodstock. He idolized Humphrey, not McCarthy.

We will simply remind the reader that David Brooks claims to have started life as a liberal. We will not bother reminding him that Brooks writes for the New York Frickin' Times, as we suspect that point is already bouncing around in his skull like shrapnel.


Anonymous said...

Thank you, sir. You take Bobo apart like nobody else. My first emotion on reading the first line of his column was deep sadness that he had been distracted from his contemplations...

Anonymous said...

DAVE: They're so boring I was reminded of something Hayek said about price mechanisms. I think it was in...

If your Poor Wife ever throws you out for some unimaginable reason, come to me. I could listen to this stuff all day long.

Hey, Dave. George Bush hasn't been boring. He's been a comprehensive fucking disaster, but not boring. I don't know if it's possible to be "literally bored to death" (If it is, it may mean that--for whatever reason--you're spending too little time thinking about anything), but I do know it's possible to be shot to death, bombed to death, tortured to death, starved to death, uninsured sick to death, on-the-job injured to death, polluted to death, drowned to death, terrorist-attacked to death, unsafe-food poisoned to death, and homeless exposure frozen-to-death.

I'm guessing all of this administrations victims would jump at the chance to be bored to death by your job. If they weren't, you know, dead. They might even have some perspective on how boring policy discussions and position speeches are more important to your life than some pompous, pampered columnist might assume. Again, if they weren't dead.

Shut the fuck up, Dave.

Anonymous said...

DS, you were on the right track. You CAN be "literally" bored to death by power drills, the tool of choice for torturers in Iraq (and probably many other places as well). When you read an international report about bodies found in Baghdad showing "signs of torture", drill holes is what they usually mean.

The administration and their cheerleaders seem to think that they are untouchable by us mere mortals. The day of reckoning will come although I have no idea what form it will take. I am hopeful enough that the innocents will be spared, but cynical enough to realize that they probably won't be.

Anonymous said...

..."waterlogged reprise" in "Renaissance lute airs." That is so beautiful. And later you wrote: "Which reminds me that I had a point when I started out. I knew I should have written it down." Don't ever worry! I love listening to you and it really doesn't make any difference to me whether you get wind up at a point or not. I am absolutely with D.Sidhe on his post--if you ever do get thrown out of your house, you can come and live with me & Ernesto, too! Maybe you could split your time between my place & DS's. My place is in Florida, so maybe it would be a nice place for you to stay in winter.