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The Many Faces of David Brooks

Saturday, July 31, 2004
I have officially had it with Mr. David Brooks, esteemed commentator for the New York Times and Lehrer's News Hour, the purportedly open-minded conservative, the man a liberal can talk to. Why? Well, check out his latest editorial and you'll get the idea.

In it, Brooks claims that upon a second look, he discovered how vacuous and cowardly the Kerry acceptance speech was. While at first he believed that the Democrats had embraced foreign policy realism, upon closer examination it turns out that Kerry is just speaking in hazy generalities in order to paper over the differences in his coalition. This should not be surprising, Brooks argues, because Kerry is after all just a flip-flopper who will say all things to all people. Just look at his Senate record, particulary the infamous vote on the 87 billion for Iraq. Once again, Kerry has demonstated that he has only ambition and no core convictions.

When I first read these words, I got furious. Then I was just amused, because it turns out that Brooks is himself guilty of what he accuses Kerry of. Brooks tries to create the impression he is an honest, reasonable guy. In reality he is an intellectually dishonest party hack who is manipulating the language and using debater's tricks to create a false image of himself. If youlook in detail at Brooks's arguments you'll see what I mean.

Brooks begins with his usual strategy, saying nice things about the opposition so he can lure his audience into a false sense of security and win credibilty as an even-handed person. He then shifts abruptly to vicious and misleading partisan attacks, which after his opening allows him to pose as critizing more in sorrow than in anger (This is a VERY old device- "And Brutus is an honorable man.....").

Specifically, Brooks claims Kerry "skirts almost every tough issue and comes out on both sides of every major concern." Now a lot of people have argued that Kerry wasn't specific enough in his speech, but you must remember that it was a 40 minute statement of who he was as a person and a leader, not a policy speech to a think tank. Kerry says that he doesn't have time to get into details, but please go to his website (he even made a joke about it). Perhaps Kerry could have focused more on specifics if Brooks and his buddies weren't launching ad hominem attacks in an effort to get away from the issues, but unfortunately we don't live in that alternate reality.

You would expect that Brooks would then point to a series of evasions, but he actually only points to one. This could be because he could only come up with one example, but I want to be reasonable so I'll assume that this was the only one Brooks had time for.

As for specifics, let me just quote Brooks directly:

The Iraq section is shamefully evasive. He can't even bring himself to use the word "democratic" or to contemplate any future for Iraq, democratic or otherwise. He can't bring himself to say whether the war was a mistake or to lay out even the most meager plan for moving forward. For every gesture in the direction of greater defense spending, there are opposing hints about reducing our commitments and bringing the troops home.

He proves in the speech that he can pronounce the word "alliances," and alliances are important, but alliances for what? You can't base an entire foreign policy on process.

Brooks' critique is just bizarre. Kerry does not use the word democratic because he isn't sure a democratic iraq is feasible, rather than just a stable one. He doesn't argue that war is a mistake? How about all the "I won't mislead us into war" stuff? As for plans, he argues quite specifically that we need to internationalize the conflict. Doing so will reduce the burden to the U.S., undermine the insurgency (since the occupation will no longer look like American Imperialism), and act as a means to ending U.S. involvement. This is why alliances are important= they provide security, lessen the burden to the U.S., provide legitimacy to U.S. actions, and enhance our operational flexibility. The argument over means is the major distinction between the Bush and Kerry foreign policy- they are both focused on ending terrorism. Kerry thinks Bush just has the wrong strategy, or can't implement it.

All of this should be quite obvious, but Brooks has either a) not read the speech or b) is just shilling for Republicans again. I would suspect the latter, given how he mischaracterizes Kerry's record in the Senate. He even trots out the canard that Kerry is a flip-flopper because he voted for one version of funding the war (which actually PAID for it), rather than another (which let our grandkids pay for it). Really, David, that is just shameful- you know better.

As for the other attacks on Kerry's record, here they are:

...he was wrong about just about every major foreign policy judgment of the last two decades. He voted against the first gulf war, against many major weapons systems. He fought to reduce the defense budget. He opposed the deployment of intermediate-range nuclear missiles in Europe in the early 1980's. He supported the nuclear freeze.

Brooks is being very clever, because he makes a sweeping statement (Kerry was wrong on everything) and then picks out a few examples in order to uphold that impression. But these fall apart on closer examination. Kerry voted against the first gulf war, which was a mistake and Kerry has said so. But the other examples are faulty. He voted against weapon systems that Cheney, as Secretary of Defense, proposed to be cut with the end of the Cold War. Reasonable people still disagree on whether the intermediate range nukes or nuclear freeze were a good idea- as a conservative, Brooks just assumes that his side was right.

Now what is so amusing about Brooks' piece is that his candidate, GW Bush, is far more vulnerable to these attacks than Kerry is. Bush's record when he ran for President was laughable (until 40 he was a wastrel, and his accomplishments in Texas have not stood up the light of day). Bush is certainly not running on the record he has now, and has yet to enunciate a single specific plan for his second term. Bush has also been far more egregious in flip-flopping whenever he gets into trouble (such as UN involvement on Iraq), not to mention his efforts to appear to be one thing while really being another (remember the humble foreign policy and rejection of nation building?) And don't get me started on compassionate conservatism.

This is all very disappointing to me, because I had hoped that Brooks would finally be that intellectually honest conservative that liberals could debate with in a serious way. But there is no such person, which should tell you something about today's conservatives.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 3:51 PM
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