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David Brooks, the conservative New York Times columnist who likes to present himself as so centrist that he might have admonished the late David Border to knock it off with the wild partisanship, has a heavy punditcrush on Joe Biden, whom he genuinely believes could be the figure to bring balance to a hyper-polarized America. It's really kind of cute to watch Brooks fall all over himself for Biden, even as we suspect it can't be long until Biden eventually says something so insanely partisan — like maybe "We have to tax the super rich" — that he'll lose poor Brooksy. Who knows? As with virtually everything Brooks writes, there are even a couple of good ideas in the column. And as with virtually everything he writes, Brooks manages to just stun us with what he thinks are perfectly reasonable centrist opinions. Let's see why Brooks E's in Love, shall we?


We really can't disagree with his opening observation that most calls for "unity" after an election are "vacuous pap," nothing more than rote kumbaya gestures. But, says Brooks,

as Richard Hughes Gibson wrote this week in The Hedgehog Review, the best calls to national unity are arguments. They are aggressive calls to come together around a specific idea of America, a specific national project.

OK, Mr. Brooks, you have this Doktor of Rhetoric's attention. What's the argument Biden is making that has you so excited? Is it that both sides should be more reasonable and pragmatic? Yes, of course it is. Biden calls us, Brooks says, to join together around Walt Whitman's idea of an America that "was founded mostly by people fleeing the remnants of feudalism, the stratified caste societies of Europe." Well, yeah, and the enslaved human beings they forced into an all-American caste society, not that Brooks bothers mentioning them.

Today, sadly, we have a "homegrown feudalism" created by political divides, says Brooks:

On the right, we have white supremacy, an effort to perpetuate America's racial caste system, and Christian nationalism, an effort to define America in a way that erases the pluralism that actually exists.

Online, that's where a banner ad shows up, so there's a tiny pause as we wonder what nutty equivalent Brooks will dredge up to represent a like extreme on the left. Oh good, it is educated elites!

On the left, less viciously, we have elite universities that have become engines for the production of inequality. All that woke posturing is the professoriate's attempt to mask the fact that they work at finishing schools where more students often come from the top 1 percent of earners than from the bottom 60 percent.

Couple things! First up, good to know that being anti-racist is the "less vicious" other extreme of "being racist." But yes, elite universities are unrepresentative, and have undue influence in filling the governing class. We should fix that! Brooks makes a compelling case for aggressive affirmative action; he has previously said that would be dandy when based on financial need.

But even if we grant that, the idea that the "wokeness" he decries is merely a guilt reflex for well-off academics at elite schools is downright weird — particularly to this graduate of a state university humanities program, where critical theory was just as big a deal as you'd find at any Ivy. It also painfully misses the reality that a lot of the work Brooks so casually dismisses is being done by scholars who have until recent decades been completely excluded from the elite schools. Are they all just poseurs?

But we digress. Having found a comfortable if bogus pair of sides to place himself betwixt, Brooks is delighted to find he can put Joe Biden there, too!

Enter Joe Biden, a man who is repelled by the ancient feudalism of the right and is outside the "meritocratic" feudalism of the left.

Barf. But fine, sure, he's the second coming of plainspoken Harry Truman. We can at least get on board with Brooks's fondness for this bit from Biden's inaugural address:

My favorite passage was this: "Here is the thing about life: There is no accounting for what fate will deal you. Some days you need a hand; there are other days when we are called to lend a hand." The Biden values are there: humility, vulnerability, compassion, resilience, interdependence, solidarity.

Good, we're with you there. Less convincing is Brooks's certainty (this week at least) that Biden is the One who will bring balance back to American politics through the sheer force of his everymanliness. Maybe Biden's values really do "cut across the left/right, urban/rural culture war we've been enduring," but you might also just as well argue that, as a consummate political guy, Biden knows where his party is, and has revised himself to fit its more left-leaning base. That's pragmatism and a kind of centrism (since the center has moved), but maybe not how Brooks would like it.

Brooks even fantasizes that Biden will somehow "depoliticize American life," by "separating government from the culture wars." Hmm. We can see Biden nodding at that, possibly even agreeing with one of Brooks's best (if also goofiest) lines: Since politics is so heated and irrational, he says, "Frankly, we need more political apathy in this country." Of course, it helps that Donald Trump's Twitter has been taken away from him forever so he can't make a "culture war" out of "wearing a damn mask in a deadly pandemic."

Brooks truly believes that Biden will be able to connect with at least some Republicans, like the Rs in the Problem Solvers' Special People Caucus in the House, because after all, some Republicans really do want to give their constituents stimmy checks and to otherwise work for the good of the country, if only the heat of politics as reality show could be turned down.

Somewhat hilariously, Brooks then says that if Biden can't actually find enough of the reasonable Brooksian Republicans, well the hell with norms 'n' institutions:

If this doesn't work and Republicans go into full obstruction mode, Democrats should absolutely kill the filibuster.

Almost as if scorched by that wild thought, Brooks retreats a bit, offering what might be a nice delineation of two sides in the GOP:

The salient divisions in the Biden era won't just be left versus right. They will be between the performers, the people who run for office to get on TV, and the builders, the people who want to achieve something. They will be between the fantasists, the people who lie and fabricate, and the realists, the people who are attached to reality.

Well yes, that's good, maybe. Who are they, Mr. Brooks? The divisions, he sums up cheerfully, are "between the narcissists (Ted Cruz) and the institutionalists (Chuck Schumer and Mitch McConnell)."

Oh, God damn it all to hell, Brooksy, you are fucking insane. But let's do go ahead with getting rid of the filibuster, and then when Joe Biden breaks your bipartisan heart, I'll be here for you. Pointing and giggling, probably.

[NYT]

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Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.

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