Thursday, February 8, 2018

Predictable Perfidy

David Brooks' grotesque concern trolling on abortion proves once again that centrists have no principles on social issues either. This shouldn’t surprise anyone. 

In 2016, centrists pretended to be feminists and woke on race, but their advice is always to throw another liberal issue or constituency under the bus. I’m sorry, but it’s true. Each time, they portray surrendering as neutralizing some supposedly losing position so Republicans cannot use it against us anymore. Drop this dead weight issue and we will soar! That and stealing Republican thunder are their two favorite strategies. 

Remember when it was Welfare Reform? That was actually a hybrid of the two strategies. It looks less like giving-in if you out-do the opposition. Just pump up the tough love rhetoric and say you will do it more competently or humanely.(1) Centrists consider this surrender a great victory.

Then there was that infamous 1997 Mother Jones magazine editorial which suggested that we should abandon affirmative action by arguing it had "eroded liberals' moral credibility as reformers."(2) Profiles in courage! Perhaps they should consider their own erosion.

Abortion rights have long been something that centrists suggest we abandon as a losing battle. Concern trolling on it is nothing newYes, they have spent the past two years presenting a false trade-off between economic and social issues; but centrists have frequently targeted social issues in the past. We are just witnessing a resumption. Consider the recent Senate race between Roy Moore and Doug Jones in Alabama: Centrists predictably dismissed Jones because he was pro-choice, but after he won they explained it was because he was a "generic Democrat." Yes, boring wins. Consider our string of victories with wooden presidential candidates like Al Gore and John Kerry. But I digress.

Last July, a poll showed that 52% of Americans don’t think the Democratic Party actually stands for anything other than just opposing Trump. That’s what decades of centrist leadership get us. This is not the byproduct of imaginary leftist cynicism: It is the direct result of repeated betrayals by centrist cynicism. And the ridiculous rehabilitation of George W. Bush's image is not helping us look steadfast.

David Brooks has the gall to ask "Do we want [legal abortion] so much that we see our agendas on poverty, immigration, income equality and racial justice thwarted and defeated?"

What’s with this “we” and “our” stuff? Does anyone actually think Brooks shares the slightest sympathy with any of those agendas? I dunno. Let’s Google the key words "David Brooks” with those issues.

On poverty, Brooks thinks the poor need stern lectures on morality. It's his perennial prescription. Here's a 2012 Charles Pierce piece in Esquire noting that Brooks has been pedaling such pabulum for years already. Every other year or so, David Brooks rehashes long-discredited conservative canards and gets called out on it - in 20142015, and  2017. So, we are not off to an awesome start.

On immigration, he's actually not entirely terrible - only partially. Or maybe he’s just bullshitting. He shows how immigration is economically beneficial, but he wants to limit admitting unskilled workers. In other words, yes to doctors and scientists – but no to farm workers and domestics. Opportunity should be reserved for those deserving immigrants who least need it. Brooks doesn't phrase it this way, but I suspect he feels any draconian policy would be okay so long as it carves out exceptions for those who are not desperate. And since few children are chemists or cardiologists, I suppose they must go.(3) To be clear, I am not against welcoming professionals, but they have options that other immigrants do not. I am arguing for welcoming the desperate as well. Brooks not so much.

On income equality, it's obvious why Brooks has always been awful on the topic. If his politics on poverty is retrograde, why should his stance on this issue be any different? And the same pattern ensues: Brooks writes a column that is phenomenally moronic and callous and gets roundly mocked for it. Repeat. Here are some quick 21st century examples from 20112012,  2014, and 2015, but he has been saying such things for far longer. Yes, in 2016, he began making pretty noises that starkly contrast with everything he has written before. Shouldn't we cut him some slack? Not if he is putting the issue in opposition to abortion.

I'm sure I will get called a "purist" for questioning the sincerity of David Brooks' intentions. But this isn't about getting a perfect progressive score or passing some litmus test. He has a documented history of fraud and trying to guilt liberals. Concern trolling is the bulk of what he does. Last March, I wrote a blog post arguing that concern trolling is the essence of centrism. Brooks personifies this, so extra skepticism is warranted. Considering trustworthiness is just prudent and past habits are relevant to such assessments. Glenn Beck releasing his listeners to vote for Hillary Clinton has more credibility by comparison because at least Beck doesn't have a history of trying to convince liberals that he is actually sympathetic.

As for racial justice, well, David Brooks concedes that racism is bad; but What about the constables? How do they feel when the public erupts over police brutality, "officer involved shootings," suspicious deaths in custody, and the predictable acquittals that occur with infuriating frequency? On Freddie Gray's death in custody, Brooks wrote, "He was apparently a kind-hearted, respectful, popular man, but he was not on the path to upward mobility." It's the genteel version of “He was no angel.” And do you want to know what the kicker is? The column was actually about "The Nature of Poverty" rather than police brutality. The whole column was a pompous shit-show of scolding. So yeah, fuck David Brooks.

And one last point: “thwarted and defeated” are pretty much the same thing and thus redundant. It is yet another example that Brooks’ editor is asleep at the switch. Seriously, does anyone look at any New York Times opinion piece before it sees print?(4)

You may say there’s no betrayal because David Brooks is not really one of us. I heartily agree on the later. The first sentence in the Wikipedia article on him says he is a conservative. Under the subheading "politics” it says "Ideologically, Brooks has been described as a moderate, a centrist, a conservative, and a moderate conservative." But establishment Democrats have adopted him with a passion. He is widely called "the liberals' favorite conservative" - and not in some "Even Reagan/Bush/whoever wasn't that bad" sort of fashion. For centrists, the enthusiasm is genuine and comes with scant, pro forma qualifications. 

To centrists, every liberal position is a liability to be jettisoned the instant it gets any negative attention no matter how overtly orchestrated or absurd the accusations are. Remember, the central centrist conceit is that this is a conservative country and we must cool our jets accordingly. That means everything is expendable. Everything is on the chopping block. If it can be called “liberal” it is a target for deletion and centrist concern trolls will pounce – just as David Brooks has done on the issue of abortion.

Just stop and ask yourself what would some future Reverend Martin Niemöller say about neoliberalism? 
When they eliminated food stamps, I didn't say anything because I wasn't poor. When they busted unions, I didn't say anything because I wasn't union. When they restricted abortion, I didn't say anything because I wasn't a woman. When they de-funded public schools, I didn't say anything because I didn't have kids. When they eventually struck their long sought 'Grand Bargain' on Social Security, I didn't say anything because I was not yet elderly.
Divide and conquer is is the inevitable effect of the centrist enterprise. It's high time we recognized it.

That centrists who admire the likes of David Brooks want to lead "The Resistance” is ridiculous considering they rolled over and played dead the last time a Republican candidate lost the electoral vote but became president anyway. Remember George W. Bush’s two illegal wars and who voted to approve them? Progressives protested while centrists acquiesced - and tisk-tisked progressive protesters, of course. Bush once boasted, "I'm a uniter not a divider." No, he was not. Not unless you consider his coercive "Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists" rhetoric unifying. 

I'm all for party unity, but we should rally around ideals more than candidates - the standard rather than the standard bearer. And those who have pulled at our banner's threads for decades should not have that job. Calling out dividers is not divisive - it's defending unity against conservative saboteurs.

Let's stop uniting around dividers. Because it's pretty shitty for the party's structural integrity.

EDIT 02/11/18: Shit and grits! THIS is BRILLIANT!

SECOND EDIT 02/15/18: It seems others share my suspicion about the Times' poor editorial oversight.


1) Clinton apologists will point out that Bill Clinton vetoed the first two bills Newt Gingrich’s congress sent him. But in her memoir, Hillary Clinton bragged about talking Bill into signing the third version. It seems like an odd thing to brag about. Indeed, as recently as the 2012 Democratic convention, Bill touted it while waxing nostalgic about bipartisan cooperation with Ronald Reagan! "[A]s governor, I worked with President Reagan on welfare reform." (transcript) As I keep saying, Slick Willie finished the Gipper's to-do list. Slick Willie has a habit of boasting about things he was supposedly forced to do. Witness his 1996 radio spots boasting that he had stopped gay marriage. 

If the Clintons feel any genuine contrition, they should admit that they helped push the issue of Welfare Reform. They legitimized a conservative issue by campaigning on it. Maybe they shouldn’t have done that.

Oh the poor Clintons! They painted themselves into a corner by making unconscionable campaign promises. They played with fire and others got burned. But my sympathies lay with those who suffered the material effects. Let me be clear: I do not like the Clintons, but this is not about personal animus. My target is the type of thinking that typically gets such results and David Brooks’ column shows that such thinking persists in centrist circles. It defines centrism.

2) The magazine Mother Jones was named after a radical labor agitator. Listen to this track by Utah Phillips and Ani DiFranco if you don’t know who Mother Jones was. Alas, Mother Jones writer David Corn doesn’t seem particularly jazzed about his magazine’s namesake. He made this clear by tweeting, "I guess it seemed like a good idea in 1970. Or something." Talk about eroded moral credibility as reformers!

3) I am reminded of when Hillary Clinton infamously declared, "We have to send a clear message, just because your child gets across the border, that doesn’t mean the child gets to stay.” It all sounds so resolute and reasonable, doesn’t it? I should be chastised for my dearth of faith.

I caught a huge goof in my last post. Alas, it was after-the-fact so I had to add an erratum. Also, all this time, I have been typing “errata” instead of “erratum” which is also very embarrassing. That happened in part because I don’t have an editor or intern to save me from myself. It’s just me working here. The Gray Lady and I both need to hire some people. The difference is they can easily afford it. Just fire some unconscionable columnists. You have a vast surplus of them.

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