David Brooks: When I Was A Teenage Socialist
Bernie Sanders has succeeded in making socialism so cool even David Brooks now admits he was socialist-curious in college. Brooks details his experiments with collectivism in his latest New York Times column. It was a long time ago, when Brooks was young and hip. He read "magazines like The Nation and old issues of The New Masses" like every over-educated asshole in a Woody Allen movie. Brooks offers YouTube proof of his socialism, but his editors must've goofed because the link just rick-rolls you to a 1990 video where Brooks is a radical writer for the Wall Street Journal.
BROOKS: I get why ... socialist concerns are popular. Why do we have to live with such poverty and inequality? Why can't we put people over profits? What is the best life in the most just society? Socialism is the most compelling secular religion of all time. It gives you an egalitarian ideal to sacrifice and live for.
Brooks was cured of all his empathy once he became a journalist, which admittedly is a known risk.
BROOKS: I quickly noticed that the government officials I was covering were not capable of planning the society they hoped to create. It wasn't because they were bad or stupid. The world is just too complicated.
I'm fairly certain the world was complicated when these officials were elected. Maybe they were just bad or stupid. Brooks claims he was a socialist until he "saw how it worked," but he has no firsthand experience seeing actual socialism fail. He didn't spend summers backpacking through Venezuela. The rest of his column just devolves into a love letter to romanticized free market capitalism and the American dream.
BROOKS: Capitalism is not a religion. It won't save your soul or fulfill the yearnings of your heart. But somehow it will arouse your energies, it will lift your sights, it will put you on a lifelong learning journey to know, to improve, to dare and to dare again.
"So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past."
I feel a little cheated. I wanted to hear more about college socialist Brooks. I imagined his descent into Marxism like the flashback scene in the "Road Not Taken" episode of "Taxi." The Reverend Jim Ignatowski tells his fellow cabbies about his earlier life as a straitlaced conservative Harvard student who resembles Jeremy Irons. His classmates are all a bunch of stoned losers who eat pot brownies and stare at lava lamps. One of his doobie frat brothers is played by a young Tom Hanks, whose Reefer Madness performance is hilarious.
| TAXI EPISODE | JIM BEFORE THE DRUGS youtu.be
Jim doesn't have time for all the drugging. He wants to go to the library and study. Hanks reminds him that "all the studying, all the books, and all the libraries, and all the gymnasiums"... and he forgot his thought. He's really fucked up. Jim's girlfriend -- let's call her "Delilah" or "sexist plot device" -- pressures him to lava lamp and chill with them. She really pushes Jim to try a pot brownie. She's either dealing or taking a percentage of the gross. Jim wants no part of the "funny brownies," but Heather -- oh, right, she did have a name -- won't take no for an answer. She admits the brownies contain "sugar, chocolate, marijuana, flour, and walnuts," which causes Hanks to exclaim, "YOU'VE BEEN FEEDING US WALNUTS!" (God, he's never not been awesome.)
Jim puts his foot down and kicks out everyone but Heather. He tells her that they're not in college "to party or to protest but to learn." And here is where the shit gets diabolical. Heather doesn't just dump the obviously incompatible Jim and go help Hanks find his thumbs. No, she delivers an ultimatum: "Everyone" is on the marijuana bandwagon. She loves getting high and if Jim loves her, he'll get high with her RIGHT NOW. Jim submits. He tries a brownie and in a masterful moment from Christopher Lloyd, his face briefly assumes the burned-out expression of modern-day Jim. Heather is happy because on some level she understands she's ruined his life. They leave together for the library but not before he takes some brownies with him for the road. Less than 20 years later, he can't even remember what a yellow light means.
Taxi - Reverend Jim's Driving Test youtu.be
What's the point of all this? Let's just say I think we'd all be better off if the Rev. Jim wrote columns for the New York Times instead of David Brooks, fini.
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Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He writes reviews for the A.V. Club and make believe for Cafe Nordo, an immersive theatre space in Seattle. He's also on the board of the Portland Playhouse theatre. His son describes him as a “play typer guy."