Before I comment on David Brooks’ latest essay in the New York Times, let me just volunteer this thought on newspapers: there is nothing like holding a newspaper and thumbing through it’s pages, it is tactile, it is visceral, it is intellectual, or some or all three of these pleasures, at that same moment. No piece of electronic equipment can duplicate its particular pleasures, yet I know that it is an anachronism, in every way. Still I desire its , even as I read newspapers on the internet.
Another comment on the New York Times specifically, it’s newsstand price is now $2.50 which seems excessive except, I guess, in light of the revolutionary $4.00 cup of coffee. I do subscribe on line at a modest $15.00 per month, but one still longs for those Sundays and the hours spent exploring the fullness of the pleasure of that weekly event. I’m showing my age, and the imperatives that were inculcated into me at school, when it was a sign of being educated to read and discuss ‘current events’, with some notion of being informed, that regular reading of a newspaper granted to the good citizen. It was a way of exercising part of one’s civic responsibility, a notion that has seen it’s day.
On to Mr Brooks and his adventures on the campaign trail, his dispatch is marked Sumter, S.C. ,and titled People Needing People, in the print edition. Cliché and it exercise is the piece de resistance at Chez Brooks as he does not think and write so much as string together his thoughts and binds them at the seams using the catch phrases from popular music to voguish Conservative Pop Intellectualism, a genre that Mr. Brooks almost single-handed brought to vivid life, with the aide of his mentor Wm. F Buckley Jr.
But on to the text:
“When I started covering presidential primaries, the best part was getting to know the candidates. We journalists would ride around in vans and buses with them and get an intimate look at what it’s like to endure this soul-destroying process. But the ubiquity of Web cams and tweets has ended that off-the-record culture. As the technology gets more open, the lines of political communications become more closed.”
(Mr. Brooks is a hands on kind of guy, loves to press the flesh of his fellow campaigners, and get to know them at close range, cheek by jowl a la L.B.J., as it were; I could be wrong! Perhaps, Mr. Brooks is old school, but not too old school? Or just enough to make good copy.)
“Now the best part is meeting the people who come to the rallies. It’s best to get to the events an hour early and treat the waiting crowd like a cocktail party. First, you ask people about the local economy. Then you ask them about their lives (about which they are always interesting). Then you ask them about what they think of the issues and candidates (they generally repeat the banalities they have heard one of us pundits utter on TV the day before).
This past weekend in South Carolina I met, among many others, a soldier leaving for Afghanistan who quoted the Book of Revelation from his iPhone, a Vietnam veteran who movingly described the death of his first wife, a textile factory middle manager whose job got sent to El Salvador and a pawnshop manager who supports Ron Paul and said he has clients who buy a new gun every time the government does something they don’t like.”
(In the first part of this he sounds just like one of those ‘coastal elites’ talking about rallies as if they were ‘cocktail parties’ and then promptly shifting into a kind of unseemly adoration of the Republican Proletariat he meets along the way, in his latest campaign adventure: what I find telling is that he listens but doesn’t quite learn much. Mr. Brooks seems to adopt an awe shucks, Will Rogers faux-naïf stance, at the appearance of his fellow citizens, who possess no title or have no readily apparent power or connection to same.)
“I came here wondering how voters would react to the charge that Mitt Romney was a corporate vulture when he ran the private equity firm Bain Capital. I asked dozens of people. They were all familiar with the attacks, thanks to the TV ads. Almost everybody thought the charges were ridiculous, even supporters of Newt Gingrich.
A realtor looked at me dismissively: Sometimes deals work, he said, sometimes they don’t. You have to be efficient to survive. That’s the way capitalism works. Romney’s opponents probably would have been smarter to hit him for being a flip-flopper, not a businessman.”
(The next topic of discussion is Bain Capital with Mitt Romney as its head, and the unquestionable inherent virtues of Capitalism, that locates its primary functional imperative as profit at any cost, and the consequences to civic life be dammed, as an expression of the exalted dog eat dog ethic of the Republican Party, post Reagan: a perfect complement to the Southern Strategy of Richard Nixon.)
“I was also struck, as in New Hampshire and Iowa, by the mood of this year’s rallies. Republican audiences this year want a restoration. America once had strong values, they believe, but we have gone astray. We’ve got to go back and rediscover what we had. Heads nod enthusiastically every time a candidate touches this theme.
I agree with the sentiment, but it makes for an incredibly backward-looking campaign. I sometimes wonder if the Republican Party has become the receding roar of white America as it pines for a way of life that will never return.”
(Here is where Mr. Brooks strikes a familiar note to all of his regular readers, of the notion of ‘restoration’. It is a capacious concept and full of promise,undelivered at present,to the Republican political/moral imagination. The last sentence is a complete revelation of the political nostalgia that is the sine qua non of modern Republican Party. ‘ I sometimes wonder if the Republican Party has become the receding roar of white America as it pines for a way of life that will never return.’ )