Sunday, August 06, 2006

Bastard Father of the Friedman

Matt Taibbi's piece on David Brooks and the DLC is very much worth reading—even if, as I suspect, Taibbi is wrong about Brooks lacking a penis.
Brooks is the perfect priest of American conservatism, and by conservatism I don't mean the bloodthirsty, gun-toting, go-back-to-Africa, welfare-bashing right-winger conservatism of the NRA and Sean Hannity and the Bible Belt. I mean the dickless, power-worshipping, good-consumer pragmatic conservatism of Times readers and those other Bobos in Paradise who have exquisitely developed taste in furniture, coffee and television programming but would rather leave the uglier questions of politics to more decisive people, so long as they aren't dangerous radicals like Michael Moore or Markos Zuniga.

That's why the marriage of David Brooks and the Democratic Leadership Council makes perfect sense. It's repugnant and the kind of thing one should shield young children from knowing about, but it makes perfect sense. Both prefer a policy of being "cautious soldiers," "incrementalists" who shun upheavals and vote the status quo, although they subscribe to this policy for different reasons.

Brooks worships the status quo because he has no penis and wants to spend the rest of his life buying periwinkle bath towels without troubling interruptions of conscience. The DLC, a nonprofit created in the mid-1980s to help big business have a say in the Democratic Party platform, supports the status quo because they are paid agents of the commercial interests that define it.

Moreover, Brooks and the DLC have this in common: While they both frown on the open flag-waving and ostentatious religiosity of the talk-radio right-wing as being gauche and in bad form, they're only truly offended by people of their own background who happen to be idealistic.

Hence the recurring backlash by both against the various angry electoral challenges to the establishment of the Democratic Party -- including, most recently, the campaign of Ned Lamont, challenger to Joe Lieberman's Senate Seat in Connecticut.

Indeed, Brook's recent "liberal inquisition" column on the Lieberman-Lamont race was hysterical in more ways than one. But Taibbi's piece brought to mind a vintage bit of Brooks—a sentence so jaw-droppingly silly and/or shameless that it's permanently etched into my memory as quite possibly the dumbest, hackiest thing I've ever seen come off the pen of a New York Times columnist (and that's saying something). This is from Brooks's column (also available here for free)of November 4, 2003, a column with the portentous title "A Burden Too Heavy to Put Down" (emphases mine):
Somehow, over the next six months, until the Iraqis are capable of their own defense, the Bush administration is going to have to remind us again and again that Iraq is the Battle of Midway in the war on terror, the crucial turning point where either we will crush the terrorists' spirit or they will crush ours.
When I first read this, I was mostly taken by the insane analogy: a guerrilla war against ragtag insurgents in a desert country which we invaded under false pretences is like a massive naval battle against the sophisticated forces of a sovereign nation that had attacked us by surprise six months earlier? Even if we're generous to Brooks and focus not on the hilariously bad analogy but on the "turning point" assertion—the Battle of Midway was the turning point in the Pacific War in the sense that it marked the end of Japanese advance and the beginning of Japanese retreat—well, the war in the Pacific dragged on another three years, but it ended in a clear victory for us; by contrast, here we are, almost three years after Brooks's column, and even Thomas Friedman is throwing in the towel on Iraq. Oops.

But wait! Looking at it again now, I see...why, yes—Brooks actually said, "over the next six months, until the Iraqis are capable of their own defense." It's a Friedman! And, hey, according to FAIR's own chronology of the Friedman, Friedman's first invocation of the Friedman didn't occur until November 30, 2003—almost four weeks after Brooks suggested that by early May, 2004, things would be all better in Iraq and we wouldn't have to be reminded that, dammit, this is the Battle of Midway all over again, it really is. Friedman did not invent the Friedman; Brooks has been its bastard father all along! So he does have a penis. We might have a situation here akin to the dispute over whether Leibniz or Newton invented calculus, but then calculus is actually good for something. Perhaps the Friedman/Brooks priority dispute is closer to that over who invented television: we may argue over who deserves first credit for it, but we can all agree that, all these years later, their invention is mostly full of crap.

I still boggle over Brooks's metaphor. If you actually believe that there's a strong analogy between the Battle of Midway and the war in Iraq, then you're an idiot. If you don't actually believe that there's such an analogy but you profess it anyway in order to associate Bush's unnecessary, unjustified, and unintelligent invasion of Iraq with World War II, then you're a whore. Either way, by saying such things on the pages of the New York Times, you've earned a measure of contempt. So pile on, Matt Taibbi. David Brooks has earned scads of it.

The only way Iraq could be called "the Battle of Midway in the war on terror" is if our response to the Pearl Harbor attack had involved the invasion of Equador. (And if George W. Bush had been in office then, it would have. You just know it.) Alas that the war in Iraq is more like the invasion of Manchuria in the war on terror—and that we're on the dark side of that analogy.

And no amount of periwinkle bath towels will change that.


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