Chatter Box
by

EVERY FRIDAY I love to tune in to the PBS NewsHour to catch David Brooks (supposedly) representing the right in an exchange about the week’s top stories. He was in especially good form four days into the October shutdown, if you enjoy mealy mouthedness. For those who haven’t followed his career since his years as a solid neoconservative Reaganite, this may come as a shock. And to be fair, David generally remains friendly and witty through it all. But my gosh, I’ve never seen him so uneasy and status-minded. Just to bring you up to date, he doesn’t like the Tea Party and he doesn’t like Ted Cruz. The rest is self-explanatory.

So he threw out some wonderful howlers, based on no reporting I could detect. On the Republican side, he said, there’s wide recognition “from everybody who’s not in Ted Cruz’s own household” that it was really dumb to confront the president on Obamacare funding. Incredibly dumb. A real loser. That awareness has spread among Cruz’s colleagues and “the Republican elder class.” Huh? That’s a totally new one. Who are these elders we should be minding? They’re “the people around town who are—who want the Republican Party to do well.” Aw, aren’t they the nicest…?

Soon enough David introduces us to another class I didn’t know existed. As he observed, “across the Republican chattering class, I think there’s a recognition that they’re not in a good spot.” The Republican chattering class? He seems not to appreciate the multiple meanings of chatter. One could also turn to a seminal column he recently filed in his regular New York Times slot. The headline, “The Neocon Revival,” gives it away. In response to Rand Paul’s (supposed) wish to return to the 1850s, David would settle for the 1980s, when the great Irving Kristol held sway, “cheerful and at peace with modern America”—by which he means the welfare state, the Progressive Era, and the New Deal. It was also a time when the U.S. wasn’t yet $17 trillion in debt and committed to untold gazillions in entitlement payments. Except David doesn’t mention that aspect of our golden past, preferring to characterize it as a time “when conservatism was at its politically and intellectually most vibrant.” So stick with him and you’ll remain at your politically and intellectually most vibrant too, a sad pose of someone whose hold on authority simply isn’t what it used to be. He’s left to argue that without people like himself, today’s conservatism will appeal to no more than 43 percent of voting America, as was (supposedly) the case in 1980 before “the neocon infusion” put the GOP over the top.

Could it really be that without neoconservative approval the GOP has no future? With respect, I think it’s now the other way around. You’ll notice David doesn’t write about foreign policy much (if at all) anymore, a key area where neocon standing has suffered, as Matt Purple generously explains (p. 30). On the NewsHour, David said the Tea Party “has had its moment,” and for good measure, he called the Teasters a “rump.” If it’s salty political language he likes, I can’t recommend Helen Rittelmeyer’s essay to him strongly enough (p. 20). Except he’ll also have to tip his hat to the populist temperament. Arnold Schwarzenegger has been a big hero of David’s. Alas, has Arnie ever left any of his victims deader than today’s California GOP? The obituary is performed by George Neumayr (p. 26).

When David does weigh in on foreign policy these days, it’s to belittle Ted Cruz as “the senator from Canada through Texas.” He’ll have to do better than that if he wants Cruz to notice him. Kyle Peterson does notice Cruz this month, big time (p. 14). What can I add? He’s adorable, and he’s just getting started. 

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