|David Brooks in 1776, via Publius Maximus.|
Twice a week or so for I don't know how long, probably three or four years, practically every Tuesday and Friday, I turn to the Times opinion section (nowadays generally on my phone, first thing in the morning during funding credits on NPR) to see what crimes against journalism and the English language David Brooks has committed that morning, and try to figure out something to say about it, or through it, or under it, whether with a Shorter (often with a lot of commentary) or a fully realized essay, a parody, or even once in a while a for-reals poem, as happened last January, when I got the impression from a column that he'd been trying out an online dating service (OK Cupid), and having a fairly humiliating time of it, and found myself moved for a change by a genuine compassion, together with a couple of really terrific rhymes.
I don't do this for every Douthat column, or every dithyramb by Jonah Goldberg, or anybody else (to say nothing of torturing myself the way fellow Brooksologist Driftglass does watching the Sunday morning shows every week), just Brooks, and I'm not completely sure why. One thing is it's a kind of exercise, and I sit down to it the way a high-tone jazz pianist might start a practice day with a little Bach (one prelude and fugue from WTC) and a little riff...
John Lewis, with assistance from Joel Lester, violin, Lois Martin, viola, Howard Collins, guitar, and Marc Johnson, bass.
But a part of it for sure has to do with the horrible sense that I resemble him in a way, autodidact in the fields (like politics and economics) I write about and hiding my insecurities behind a breezy tone, and overly anxious to be liked (which I fight with a rebarbative, gnarly sentence structure to drive readers away). That came out a little in February, when Brooks confessed something he'd always denied, that he reads the online comments on the columns, and they hurt his feelings, though he soldiers on, trying to regard them as gifts from which he might learn. For example, he learned how much he has in common with Abraham Lincoln.
He can even be a bit of a poet himself, as we learned in March, from the famous drunk-dialing column (whose referential meaning is now getting a little clearer) of that month. But of course the insecurity didn't last, and by April he was comparing himself to Lincoln again.
And also in April he clarified that he's exactly like Michael Lewis's Flash Boys, with his insatiable hunger for truth, and totally unlike those shallow souls who "just need to get as much information as you need to do your job. You don’t have time for deep dives into abstract matters. You certainly don’t want to let people know how confused you are by something, or how shallow your knowledge is in certain areas. You want to project an image of mastery and omniscience." Brooks is so completely the opposite of that.
And that's the other thing, that he represents, in fact, everything that is wrong in his kind of writing, his kind of politics, his kind of shifting responsibility away from his shoulders, his kind of tongue-sucking disapproval of everybody that isn't him. By assuming that everything he says is in some precise way wrong, I learn so much! For instance in May, when he announced the "center-right moment" (Rahm Emanuel had fought off a challenger in Chicago, and Netanyahu had managed to win the Israeli elections with his promise of "bold institutional reforms to modernize the welfare state", Brooks believed in his fantasy world, as opposed to the openly racist appeal to fear Netanyahu actually used) the week it became clear that there would be a powerful leftward swing in Canada, which I might never have seen if he hadn't been so determined not to notice it.
In June, Brooks had little to say about the horrible shooting as the Mother Emanuel Church in Columbia, South Carolina, but lots to say on the unsung casualties of this incident, on the Confederate flag at the South Carolina capitol and Robert E. Lee. He moved me inexpressibly, but I tried to express my emotions anyhow. It is possible that I was the first to bring up the subject of the Dukes of Hazzard in this context, so that Brooks, through his influence on me, could be ultimately to blame for getting their reruns kicked off (some of) the tube.
And so it went.
In July a lucky break put me in touch with Brooks's original column from July 3, 1776. He found, as you might expect, that in that year's dust-up between Whigs and Tories, both sides were doing it.
In September he was, as we later found out, on a $35,000 junket for Four Seasons Travel, having a horrible time, and filed a column from St. Petersburg communicating his irritation at the absence of dark eyes and balalaikas, or deep Dostoevskian spiritual experiences, as the case may be.
October was when he went to pieces with the sudden appalling realization that both sides don't do it; it only lasted for a moment, but it was pretty scary. I tried to explain it to him.
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Cross-posted at No More Mister Nice Blog.