Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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June 15, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

DAVID BROOKS....Poor David Brooks. Sasha Issenberg busted his chops in March for lazy and inaccurate reporting (although I wasn't really convinced by Issenberg's takedown), David Plotz skewers him today in Slate, and the Washington Monthly's own Nick Confessore rips him a new one in our June issue. The guy can't catch a break.

Andrew Sullivan thinks it's just jealousy, and there might be something to that successful book writer, NYT columnist, daily TV gig, what's not to be jealous of? but there's more to it than that, and you don't have to go any further than his column in the Times today to see what it is. Here's the basic thesis:

The economy has produced a large class of affluent knowledge workers teachers, lawyers, architects, academics, journalists, therapists, decorators and so on who live and vote differently than their equally well-educated but more business-oriented peers.

....Managers, who tend to work for corporations, brokerage houses, real estate firms and banks, tend to vote Republican. Thanks to their numbers, George Bush still won the overall college-educated vote.

This is Brooks at his worst, what Nick calls Brook the Hack. I mean, is it really news that academics and therapists tend to vote liberal while stockbrokers and business people tend to vote conservative? This is about as banal a hook for a column as you can find.

And yet, go a little further in the very same column and you find Brooks at his best:

Knowledge-class types are more likely to value leaders who possess what may be called university skills: the ability to read and digest large amounts of information and discuss their way through to a nuanced solution. Democratic administrations tend to value self-expression over self-discipline. Democratic candidates from Clinton to Kerry often run late.

Managers are more likely to value leaders whom they see as simple, straight-talking men and women of faith. They prize leaders who are good at managing people, not just ideas. They are more likely to distrust those who seem overly intellectual or narcissistically self-reflective.

....Many people bitterly resent it when members of the other group hold power. Members of the knowledge class tend to think that Republican leaders are simple-minded, uncultured morons. Members of the business class tend to think that Democratic leaders are decadent elitists. In other words, along with the policy and cultural differences that divide the groups, there are disagreements on these crucial questions: Which talents should we admire most? Which path to wisdom is right? Which sort of person deserves the highest status?

Don't get me wrong: it's not like Brooks is going to win a Pulitzer Prize for this stuff. Still, by newspaper column standards, it's not bad.

I can even add another note to all this. First, it reminded me a bit of Bruce Reed's distinction in the March issue of the Monthly between wonks and hacks. Second, it reminded me of my own experience in the business world.

In my case, it was the eternal battle between marketing and sales. Marketing people (aka knowledge-class types aka wonks aka liberals) tend to live in an ivory tower and pronounce on product direction and sales strategy based on market research and high level analysis. Sales people (aka managers aka hacks aka conservatives) ignore that highfalutin stuff and make their own pronouncements based on an offhand remark they heard from their best customer's brother-in-law.

Like Brooks, I'm exaggerating here for comic effect, but it's not nearly as much of an exaggeration as you might think. But here's the (occasional) good news: every once in a while these worlds come together and it's immensely powerful. When both sides genuinely respect each other and recognize that their opposites have skills and insights that they themselves don't, the result is a flurry of productivity that's truly inspiring. On the occasions when it happened to me, it was just about the most fun (and the most success) I ever had.

It may be a cliche, but the world really does need wonks and hack, thinkers and doers, introverts and extroverts. And even liberals and conservatives.

Kevin Drum 3:11 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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