A Map of Misreadings: David Brooks on The State of the Union by American Litterateur

I take the title of my essay from Harold Bloom’s book title which neatly captures all of that is amiss with this essay by Mr. Brooks. I’ll take some key sentences and paragraphs and subject them to some examination and analysis.

(“The Simpson-Bowles report wasn’t just a policy document. For a few months, it expanded the national debate. Everybody seemed to realize that the country was beset by large challenges that could no longer be neglected: soaring debt, lagging growth, wage stagnation, family breakdown, political dysfunction.”)


Here is Mr. Brooks celebrating Simpson-Bowles, a report that advocated deep cuts to social programs, austerity, but no taxes on the financial industry. Mr. Bowles was a director for Morgan Stanley. Mr. Brooks thinks his readers are uninformed and unable to do some independent research. By the way, I don’t think that ‘family breakdown’ was part of the Simpson-Bowls mandate, but David can’t resist the felt ideological imperative: Mr. B. loves to ride his favorite hobbyhorses.

(“Suddenly, there was a sense of urgency. There were grand plans coming from all directions.”)

The political hot air produced by the debate on Simpson-Bowles as somehow the strong medicine needed to redeem our economic condition was enhanced by Mr. Brooks propagandizing.

(“It’s sad to compare that era of bigness to the medium-sized policy morsels that President Obama put in his State of the Union address. He had some big themes in the speech, but the policies were mere appetizers. The Republicans absurdly call Obama a European socialist on the stump, but the Obama we saw Tuesday night was a liberal incrementalist.”)

To call Barack Obama a ‘liberal incremetalist’ is so wide of the mark as to be quite laughable, hence the map of misreadings title. President Obama is a New Democrat.

(“In normal times, that sober, incremental approach would be admirable. In normal times, the best sort of change is gradual, flexible and constant. But these are not normal times. This is not Clinton’s second term, or Eisenhower’s. The fiscal train wreck is coming. The current U.S. growth model is insufficient. The American family and the American political system are cracking up.”)

We are in a crisis,these are not normal times, incrementalism won’t work, it is time for radical economic austerity and sweeping moral reform. There is no time to ponder, to hand wring over the blight that Free Market Economics brought, we must act to save ourselves from the ravages of ‘Liberalism’!

(“Legislatively, the president has to build a center-left governing majority that can overwhelm those Republicans who will never support him. That can be done only with ground-shifting policies. Politically, the president has to resonate with voters who feel the country is on the wrong track. Prudentially, the president has to prepare for the likelihood that the economy is going to hit another rough patch this year — if Greece leaves the euro or if the French banks implode or if the Iranian crisis comes to a head. If any of that happens, the desire for profound change would be overwhelming and the candidate with a few carefully targeted tax credits would get blown away.”)

There is no ‘Left’ or the possibility of a ‘center-left’ coalition, only cowardly New Democrats and nihilistic destructive Republicans. That is the sum of our politics, and Mr. B’s imitation of superior knowledge of those politics is pathetic and unconvincing.

(“This election is about averting national decline. The president is making a mistake in ceding the size advantage to the Republicans. The Republicans at least speak with epic alarm about the nation’s problems. They are unified behind big tax and welfare state reforms that would purge Washington and shake things up.”)

Here again Mr. Brooks voices one of his master ideas, national decline, a favorite of Conservatives, that ever approaching ‘decadence’ that haunts our national life, at least as imagined by our essayist. Is it real, is it a potential reality? His argument is that if austerity defined as the dismantling of what is left of the New Deal and higher taxes on middle income and poor people, and a continuing tax policy favoring the rich is not followed, to enhance our economic success in the 21st Century, we are doomed to failure.

(“The president is making a mistake in running a Sunset Boulevard campaign: I am big; it’s my presidency that got small.”)

And you thought Mr. Brooks didn’t have a sense of humor or lacked a quick and native wit!

American Litterateur







About stephenkmacksd

Rootless cosmopolitan,down at heels intellectual;would be writer. 'Polemic is a discourse of conflict, whose effect depends on a delicate balance between the requirements of truth and the enticements of anger, the duty to argue and the zest to inflame. Its rhetoric allows, even enforces, a certain figurative licence. Like epitaphs in Johnson’s adage, it is not under oath.' https://www.lrb.co.uk/v15/n20/perry-anderson/diary
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