Tuesday, January 19

And Psychotics Live In Them

David Brooks, "The Pragmatic Leviathan". January 18

HOUSEKEEPING: yesterday's were a sampling of the recently discovered Montgomery bus boycott mug shots of the eighty-nine persons arrested for engaging in an illegal boycott. That's the great, somewhat forgotten Jo Ann Robinson at top middle, I think; Rosa Parks is on the second row at the right, and Ralph Abernathy seventh row left.

Mr. Brooks, you have something to add?
When I was in college, I was assigned “Leviathan,” by Thomas Hobbes.

Wow, you kids had it easy. In my day we were assigned several books. At any rate, y'know, somebody was supposed to tell you you could put it down and move on once the semester was over.
On the cover was an image from the first edition of the book, published in 1651. It shows the British nation as a large man. The people make up the muscles and flesh. Then at the top, there is the king, who is the head and the mind.

Yeah. I tried to fake my way through finals that way, too.
When the Pilgrims left Britain to come to America, they left behind that metaphor as well. For these settlers, and the immigrants who have come since, the American nation is not a body with the government as the brain. Instead, America has been defined by its vast landscape and the sprawling energy of its entrepreneurs, scientists and community-builders.

In times of crisis, Americans rally around their government, but most of the time they have treated it as a supporting actor in national life. Americans are an unusual people, with less deference to central authority and an unparalleled faith in themselves. They seem to want a government that is helpful but not imperious, strong but subordinate.

Okay, Dave; we get the fact that the overthrow of European monarchies has robbed the world of one of its great natural footmen, and forced you to toady for Free Enterprise, Inc. and pick out your own clothes. We get it.

So I'm inured to the fact that you're going to write this column over and over and over, until the whole damn paper disappears one way or another. But is it possible, just once, for you to do so without that "Americans have a unique faith in themselves…" horseshit? Or, barring that, just once tell us who it's supposed to gull? I'll settle for a plug: This week's pinhead version of American Exceptionalism brought to you by Bristol-Meyers Squibb, which reminds you to take two Taxol™ every day. Or some such.
Over the years, American voters have reacted against any party that threatens that basic sense of proportion. They have reacted against a liberalism that sought an enlarged and corrosive government and a conservatism that threatened to dismantle the government’s supportive role.

And another thing: as much as you'd like it to be, the Presidency of Ronald Reagan, and the quasi-constituency which is credited with electing him, is not some sort of magic midpoint, or the Kundalini of the Body Politic. Nor do the '64 landslide and the '84 landslide bind the American experience in a nuthouse. I mean shell. No, had it right the first time.

If you've got to try to camouflage an argument as history, at least have the courtesy to try to get the history right. If I say "over the years the American people have sought a proportion between States' Rights and the unfettered racial and social terrorism of Petty Princes" I'm no more incendiary than you, but I at least have the virtue of being to back the statement up with evidence from before my 21st birthday.

We've enlarged our corrosive government for a century, now, with little philosophical debate--in fact, with a goddam free hand when it comes to the expansion of Presidential power and "Defense" spending--except when Republicans were out of power. The Teabaggers aren't opposed by the Marxist Coalition for Incontinent and Wasteful Government Spending. They're opposed by people who think the government ought to do what's necessary to maintain a sensible society, however defined. I mean, I realize this was a winning proposition for you, once, and the nostalgia is almost too much to bear. But the fact of that support for "government's supporting role"--even absent the massive government support we receive for outspending the rest of the world on military gee-gaws--negates your argument. It doesn't complete it. The "people" want all services, delivered now, absent any snags or snafus, and they don't want to pay anything for it. This is not a philosophical quandary. It's a psychological category.
A year ago, the country rallied behind a new president who promised to end the pendulumlike swings, who seemed likely to restore equilibrium with his moderate temper and pragmatic mind.

In other words, they were finally wise enough to hope they'd get a President just like you, rather than the sort you've wholeheartedly supported since you touched the hem of Milton Friedman's trousers.
In many ways, Barack Obama has lived up to his promise. He has created a thoughtful, pragmatic administration marked by a culture of honest and vigorous debate. When Obama makes a decision, you can be sure that he has heard and accounted for every opposing argument. If he senses an important viewpoint is not represented at a meeting, he will stop the proceedings and demand that it gets included.

Y'know, Dave, you're right. He is sort of a clueless dweeb.
But his has become a voracious pragmatism. Driven by circumstances and self-confidence, the president has made himself the star performer in the national drama. He has been ubiquitous, appearing everywhere, trying to overhaul most sectors of national life: finance, health, energy, automobiles and transportation, housing, and education, among others.

_PP_TY. Can I buy a vowel, Pat?
He is no ideologue, but over the past year he has come to seem like the sovereign on the cover of “Leviathan” — the brain of the nation to which all the cells in the body and the nervous system must report and defer.

I heard someone say exactly that while I was waiting in line at Appleby's salad bar the other night.
Americans, with their deep, vestigial sense of proportion, have reacted. The crucial movement came between April and June, when the president’s approval rating among independents fell by 15 percentage points and the percentage of independents who regarded him as liberal or very liberal rose by 18 points. Since then, the public has rejected any effort to centralize authority or increase the role of government.

So the real dichotomy in American politics is between thoughtful pragmatism and Sky Is Falling flightiness spurred by massive disinformation campaigns financed by entrenched, vested interests? Why didn't you say so in the first place?
Trust in government has fallen. The share of Americans who say the country is on the wrong track has risen. The share who call themselves conservative has risen. The share who believe government is “doing too many things better left to business” has risen.

The percentage who think we shouldn't be mining unobtanium in other solar systems has skyrocketed.
The country is now split on Obama, because he is temperate, thoughtful and pragmatic, but his policies are almost all unpopular. If you aggregate the last seven polls on health care reform, 41 percent support it and 51 percent oppose.

Because nothing improves a poll like subjecting it to arithmetic operations guided by people who don't understand them.
Many Democrats, as always, are caught in their insular liberal information loop.

Y'know, despite my low regard for Democrats, I still think it would take some species of swift and utter mass mental deterioration to get them to fucking approach the insular "conservative" information loop.
They think the polls are bad simply because the economy is bad. They tell each other health care is unpopular because the people aren’t sophisticated enough to understand it.

Really? Even after "the people" picked right up on that Death Panel provision? You'd think they'd give 'em more credit.

Let us speak, for a moment, of the concept of the Self-Annihilating argument. Let's suppose, arguendo, that there are people out there called "Democrats" who desperately wish to destroy the delicate political balance between Sensible Government Inactivity and Misguided Do-gooderism on a Flying Pony by, oh, giving people affordable health care. And let's further suppose that as their efforts grow less and less popular, assuming one adds together numbers at random then divides by his birthdate, they chalk this up to a lack of sophistication on the part of the audience. Wasn't there some point at which they might have recognized this was happening and, I dunno, fucking done something about it? Like, oh, opting for the relative simplicity of the promised single-payer system over, uh, pragmatic Leviathanism in the form of gorging the insurance company tapeworms in its belly? Shit, I'm all for Democrats being called to account for standing on principle, but I think that should wait until they demonstrate some.
Some believe they can still pass health care even if their candidate, Martha Coakley, loses the Senate race in Massachusetts on Tuesday.

That, of course, would be political suicide. It would be the act of a party so arrogant, elitist and contemptuous of popular wisdom that it would not deserve to govern. Marie Antoinette would applaud, but voters would rage.

Yeah, just imagine. Passing legislation without a filibuster-proof majority! What would the Founders have said?

Brooks is like a man trapped in a donut shop who wonders why taxpayers are forced to support a ratio of three cops to every four civilians, isn't he?


R. Porrofatto said...

Friends, do you sputter and rage after reading the babbling Brooks? Do you experience painful Restless Peg Syndrome when the Noonan rears? Does apoplexy put you off your game? Then you need a big dose of Doghouse Riley's magic analgesic, tranquilizing elixir and broad spectrum anti-idiotic, guaranteed to kill poppycoccus brooksii, douthatus fatuousae, laughable hoosiereus, and so much more. There's no need to suffer any longer.

LittlePig said...

I wonder what color the sky is on Planet Bobo.

guitarist manqué said...

In my day we were assigned several books.

In my day (jr. and sr. years) I was reading 3000 to 3500 pages a week. It was educational, Brooks should have tried it. Oh, yeah, we had to be able to write coherently about what we'd read, he should try that too, also.

Kathy said...

The brilliant intellectual compares our President to a Book Cover from the mid-1600's.

so we better Listen Up when he tells us Democrats are Dooomed, I tell you, Doomed!

Kathy said...

... and another thing, why don't we all used outdated book covers as metaphors for modern politics? Not "Atlas Shrugs" tho. Harold Robbins covers might be useful.

Sator Arepo said...

Brooks: "He is no ideologue, but over the past year he has come to seem like the sovereign on the cover of “Leviathan” — the brain of the nation to which all the cells in the body and the nervous system must report and defer."

Yeah, he's the fucking self-proclaimed "decider" all right.

Wait, what?

[word verification: bedmines. You cannot make this shit up.]

Unknown said...

Well, just for your info, during our annual family Christmas gathering--as in childless adult brothers and sisters (and I'm the youngest at 55), my sister informed me she really likes Mr. Brooks--thinks his writing is intellectual. Of course, she's a Republican.

Anyway, I had to stop myself from bursting out laughing, and I immediately thought she really needed to speak with Doghouse.

ckc (not kc) said...

he should look up "vestigial"

arghous said...

Yeah, those Pilgrims -- such anti-colonialists!

Christopher said...

On the cover was an image from the first edition of the book, published in 1651. It shows the British nation as a large man. The people make up the muscles and flesh. Then at the top, there is the king, who is the head and the mind.

I think Brooks might have accidentally mistaken a Voltron comic book for Leviathan. This would actually explain quite a bit.

My rebuttal to David Brooks would simply have read "Shut the fuck up, you stupid cunt!" so I really applaud your restraint and eloquence.

Grace Nearing said...

Americans, with their deep, vestigial sense of proportion, have reacted.

Which gene is that located on?

satch said...

Actually, and unfortunately, Bobo's use of the word "vestigial" was perfectly appropriate.

Opiata said...

"...Brooks is like a man trapped in a donut shop who wonders why taxpayers are forced to support a ratio of three cops to every four civilians, isn't he?"

This is simply brilliant.

Also, Christopher, my cunt is offended by it being referred to as "stupid" and by being included in the same sentence as "David Brooks". From beneath you, it devours.

Jaye Ramsey Sutter said...

David Brooks remains, as I have suggested here before, the kid you want to beat the shit out of even though you aren't particularly violent on the playground after class. He is the hall monitor snitch, the prom committee chair, the bathroom narc, the asshole who reminds the teacher she didn't assign any homework.

I check in here just to have BoBo explained to me because I shake so hard upon reading him that I spill my Glenlivet. Doghouse puts it all together for me. His rhetorical retort really brings the other dogs out into the yard.

Hey, Doghouse, how are your knees? Mine hurt like a bitch this winter. We had surgery about the same time a few years ago and I think I could just get a new knee if BlueCross could let go of some of their money....

Nat said...

What a wonderful link to the photos and the log books. And someone very helpfully wrote 'dead' and a date over the photo of 7089. I used to think we had left the violence behind, but no.