Wednesday, October 15, 2008

David Brooks: Using black magic to pull rabbits from his ass

I love to hate saccharin-coated gourmet crapslinger David Brooks. Every week he graces the NY Times with a fresh example of a high art: writing as black magic. His method is simple but extremely well executed. He'll compose an article of smoothly-phrased selective information, and carefully place within it one KEY implied assumption.

It's like a magician's trick, where he sets the stage, points the audience towards the Left and pulls a rabbit from his ass.

His latest article, "Big Government Ahead", doesn't disappoint.

First, Brooks sets the stage as firmly in the present and the future.

We're in the middle of a financial crisis, but most economists say there is a broader economic crisis still to come...By the time the recession is in full force, America's Democrats will probably be running the government.

Here we see Brooks is a true master. A lesser conservative writer would blame the Left for the current situation, while they excuse the Right. But by simply starting as if the world began today, he gracefully avoids any need to even deal with how Republican and conservative people, policies, and ideology might be even partly responsible for how we got here.

Next, Brooks writes several paragraphs of how bad things are now, and how bad he thinks they will become. Here he shows more of his subtle slickness; he doesn't even mention the Republican party. Instead he only gives a passing nod to John McCain, and a scaremongering mention of Newt Gingrich - who doesn't even hold office. Thus Brooks conjures a future in which Republicans will have NO effect on economic policy - not even as a minority party, not even as voices in the wilderness.

And therefore all the hypothetical bad things in the future can only be blamed on the Democrats, you see.

This implication of minority-party powerlessness, is clearly contradicted by a quick look into the past Brooks is avoiding. Recall how the minority party House Republicans completely derailed the $700 billion bailout package, until they got the added goodies they desired?

...But to just stop at this logical mistake, is to be distracted from it's lower purpose. It's a seeming oversight that's a setup for the misdirect. Just like a stage magician might appear to stumble - while he is in fact preparing to launch the rabbit in his pants.

Now that an unwary reader's eyes are pointed critically towards the Left, Brooks launches the rabbit from his haunches:

The new situation will reopen old rifts in the Democratic Party.

One the one side, liberals will argue...

On the other hand, the remaining moderates will argue...

Did you catch that?

The hidden key assumption is that with a President Obama and a Democratic House and Congress, it won't be liberals vs. conservatives, but liberals vs. moderates.

From this seed, many further implications spring.

First, as we all know, moderates are safe, reasonable and balanced. Therefore if liberals are opposed to moderates, they must be unreasonable, unsafe and insane radicals.

Next, by describing Democratic non-liberals as the "few remaining moderates" Brooks implies that the crazy Democratic party liberals will outnumber and overpower all the sane, helpless moderates within the entire effective government.

Then, possibly most deceptively at all, this hidden key assumption also obliviates(*tm) the fact that the Democratic party *also* has conservatives. And, once again looking at the past Brooks is avoiding, constantly clash with Democratic liberals and often side with their Republican conservative counterparts.

A few sentences later, as a stage magician would make a final flourish with the inexplicably brown-stained rabbit, Brooks gracefully tap-tap-taps his key assumption just a wee bit further to set it firmly in place. The subtle efficiency with which Brooks achieves this is true writing craftsmanship.

Obama will try to straddle the two camps - he seems to sympathize with both sides - but the liberals will win.

Now, the first tap is slick enough:

Tap 1. The completely crazy non-moderate liberals will certainly win, to the point of overruling Obama.

But hidden beneath this are no less than three further innuendos driving this assumption home:

Tap 2: Obama is only HALF sane, because he's both a liberal sympathizer and a Democrat moderate sympathizer.

Tap 3: There's only *two* sides in the Democratic party. Liberals and moderates. No one else, that's it! And certainly no conservatives!

Tap 4: If the Democratic party has only 2 sides, liberal and moderate - then Obama has no sympathy for Republican or even Democratic conservative views.

Four innuendoes in just one sentence! The last three so easily missed, in fact, that I didn't even parse them out until just now, well past the 5th draft of this post.

So to sum up the badly-smelling brown-covered pants-rabbit of Brooks' article:

1. anything and everything that goes wrong in America for the next 8 years can only be the fault of Democrats, because they're the only people in power, and no one else exists
2. certainly no conservatives will be involved in anything that goes wrong, because none of them exist in government now either
3. of those Democrats, it will be more the fault of liberals than moderates - because liberals are crazy non-moderates
4. Obama will fail in controlling the insane unsafe never-moderate liberals, because he sympathizes with some of them - which means he's at least partly insane as well.

I hate all that Brooks is trying to accomplish here. Nevertheless I must at the same time acknowledge that this is great writing. That it's used for dark aims of deception doesn't detract from the focus, skill and craft involved. It only makes it more tragic. A very smart man with schooled charm and very sharply honed writing skills, is using his gifts to try and fool people.

For us humans to do anything consistently, we must convince ourselves that it's right. So the only way I could see putting that much conscious effort and years of honed skill into manipulation like this, is to think that people must be fooled for their own good. What a sad, messed up world. Where our democracy is not a blessing but an inconvenience; the peasants can't be trusted to make up their own free minds - they must be beguiled towards the goals of their betters.

Brooks concludes this article, in a way sure to salve the wounds of those conservatives wounded by reality's recent economic meltdown, election of Barack Obama, and other refutations of their worldviews:

The over-reach is coming. The backlash is next.

Brooks' problem is that the over-reach was committed by the 2000-2006 GOP, and the backlash gave the Democrats control of both houses for the first time in decades. And it's only getting started. The more Americans realize how awful the so-called conservative movement and it's GOP host-succubus has been for America, the greater this backlash will become.

Big changes are clearly coming in the political environment, and hence for both David Brooks and the ideological constituency which he serves. I think Brooks is trying to reposition himself. He probably will avoid mentioning conservative figures or ideology - favorably OR unfavorably - as much as possible. He will instead camouflage himself and the politics he serves by deifying conservative figures and goals in the holy cloak of "moderation". And demonize all non-conservatives as doubleplusungood liberals. And thus try to maintain his facade as a reasonable pundit, while waiting for the mob of angry peasants to pass by.

* obliviate - (noun) - 1. to obliterate from memory by blowing over it with bloviation. 2. In the Harry Potter universe, a memory charm which erases the recipients memory.

No comments: