Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Troll in Winter

John Ford, The Quiet Man (1952), via The Age of Discernment.
David Brooks writes:
A familiar number on the caller ID screen. I gave it three rings, enough to grab a shluk from the vodka bottle and stash it back in the desk drawer, then picked up. The voice was familiar too, male, patrician, a little weary. "Brooks?"
"Who wants to know?" I asked, knowing all too well.
"It's me, David," he said. "We need you for a job."
"Sorry," I said. "I'm not in the game any more. I'm a public intellectual."
"You're so in the game," he snorted. "We watch what you do. Maybe you're so undercover you're undercover from yourself."
"I'm nonpartisan," I said. "I have a reputation to keep up." There was an odd muffled noise at the other end. "Are you OK? You sound like you're having trouble breathing."
"I can't even. You made me. I laughed so hard I was crying real tears."
"That's funny? What's funny is asking a man to humanize Willard Mitt Romney. That's what you gave me last time I was partisan. Like humanizing a toaster oven."
"He had so much money. And nobody else was going to win either."
"I do cosmic now. Nobody should spend more than ten percent of their time thinking about politics. I do the real issues, marriage, friendship, the meaning of life. We must love one another or die."
"Stop, you're killing me. You're writing about self-actualization, George Eliot, and the Polish economy. There's rumors you're dating Yale co-eds. What kind of life is that for a man, David?"
"You all gave the National Review to Rich Lowry. He was 29 years old. I got to move to the ghetto and be Dr. William Kristol's Gauleiter. So I didn't cry about it, I made something of myself. I showed up on NPR. I wrote a book that made money, I got to the fucking New York Times. Liberals think I'm smart. The president of the United States reads my column to find out what the civilized conservatives are thinking. I'm the Walter Lippmann of humility, and I have a pretty nice financial portfolio as well. You don't have anything I need any more."
"We have a column idea."
He had me there, to tell the truth. The prompts file was getting a little low. Nothing I couldn't handle, but two pieces a week, plus answering all those stupid emails from Gail Collins on Wednesdays, can wear a guy out. "Tell me about it."
"We don't need partisan, David, we need concerned. The president reads your little effusions? That's what we need. We need to let him know he's in danger."
"He's threatening to keep some of his promises. Even though he lost the election. Using his so-called executive power, almost like a Republican, holding that oil pipeline until all the reports are in and letting a bunch of illegal aliens stay in the country. It could be devastating to his legacy."
"What legacy?"
"His legacy of nonpartisanship, David, aren't you listening? For six years he's been governing on the principle that it doesn't matter whether an idea is red or blue as long as it catches mice, seeking compromise on every issue, and refusing to acknowledge that John Boehner is an incompetent. Now, just because Congress hasn't passed a bill he can sign since 2009 and the Senate is turning Republican in a couple of months, he's lashing out in frustrated rage, being kind to immigrants and encouraging their beastly partisanship, because I can assure you these people are not thinking about Edmund Burke when they vote and the greater interests of the economy, the way you and I do, they're thinking about their own wretched parochial interests! Obama has to be stopped, for his own sake! If he's not careful, Democrats will take over the whole shebang in a couple of years and the whole carefully constructed stalemate could be lost!"
"Say, that sounds serious. But what could a humble person like myself do?"
"Use the words, David. Bizarre and off the rails. Detached. Ethereal malaise. Partisanship above science, meaning science above partisanship. Superaggressive, risky, in no rush, in a rush, ruinous. Calculated insult. Political ineptitude. Warfare mode, dysfunction, public disgust, antitgovernment fervor. Christ, you know better than I do. Point out that the Republicans are desperately anxious to pass a comprehensive immigration bill—"
"They are?"
"—And that he's going to prevent us from doing it by enacting a couple of its provisions in advance."
"Huh. Seismic change with a stroke of one man's pen, a nation of diktats, transparently flimsy? Behaving so strangely, angry in defeat, obstructionist as anyone? Gruberism? More about manipulation than conversation? Pre-emptive obstruction?"
"Yes, David, yes!"
"Sucked into the very maelstrom he set out to destroy?"
"You're the man, David!"
I paused, savoring the moment. It had been a while since someone made me feel needed, loved, respected. It felt good. I took another shluk from the bottle, rolled back in my chair, put my feet on the desk, and sighed. "Sorry, buddy, I just can't do it. It's too stupid for somebody in my station of life. Why don't you call Krauthammer, or Douthat?" Then I hung up.
And then I thought fuck it, and wrote it anyway.
And as ever, Driftglass, and thanks for the shoutout, and welcome Driftglasnostniki! Make yourselves at home! Thanks also to Blogenfreude at Mike's. And a beautiful piece on the subject of "Si Brooks n'existait pas il faudrait l'inventer" by Lance Mannion.

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