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The prophecies of David Brooks

February 2, 2010

I’ll say this about David Brooks: dude has the prophecy thing down. It seems like every week he’s touting a new Answer that will solve all our problems, or at least loosen some persistent knot, but it’s always some completely unrealistic fantasy that just avoids the real issue. Like other would-be prophets, Brooks gets to sit back and feel superior to a world he only muddles.

After Hurricane Katrina and the Haiti Earthquake, he wanted to implant middle-class values among the victims. Never mind food and shelter: if we could only change their hearts and minds, poverty would go away forever.

A few days ago, he was talking about the need for the second coming of Ross Perot. He wanted Obama to adopt the tactics and strategy of a permanent Washington outsider. This time the magic bullet was deficit reduction, never mind that worrying about deficit reduction in the middle of a financial crisis is insane.

If you get a deficit-reduction deal, you break through the polarized rigidities that encrust everything else. You wipe clean the special-interest barnacles that encrust the tax code. You force the country to think in 30-year increments and deliver a blow to the tyranny of the news cycle. You force the country to accept common sacrifice. This is the issue that unlocks everything else. [my emphasis]

Finally, yesterday he proclaimed that healthcare reform could be saved only by a miraculous surge of civic virtue among the elderly:

It now seems clear that the only way the U.S. is going to avoid an economic crisis is if the oldsters take it upon themselves to arise and force change. The young lack the political power. Only the old can lead a generativity revolution — millions of people demanding changes in health care spending and the retirement age to make life better for their grandchildren.

A ‘generativity revolution’ among the elderly would indeed be a great thing–it might even get reform over the top–but you know what would be an even better thing? A ‘generativity revolution’ among everyone else! Brooks says the young, i.e. non-elderly, lack the political power, but even if he’s right about that, surely it’s nothing that a massive spontaneous social movement can’t cure. That’s the problem: in a democracy, anything is feasible in principle with a sufficiently large and impassioned social movement behind it. The hard part is doing it in the real world.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Joe permalink
    February 6, 2010 2:43 pm

    The New York Times op-ed page, like basically every other major American op-ed page, is awful. Professional opining really has lost its luster, unfortunately.

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