Political Animal


January 18, 2013 1:19 PM Spurning David Brooks’ Anguished Cry For Help

By Ed Kilgore

I was just about to perform, as a public service, another deconstruction of another David Brooks column. But Jonathan Chait beat me to the punch by a country mile, and left little to be said in the ruins of Brooks’ argument.

You should savor Chait’s joyfully vicious logic at your leisure, but he does make one point worth underlining as a general indictment of the “reasonable Republicans” who admit the extremism of their party’s dominant elements but lash out at the opposition in their agony:

The prevalent expression of this psychological pain is the belief that President Obama is largely or entirely responsible for Republican extremism. It’s a bizarre but understandable way to reconcile conflicting emotions — somewhat akin to blaming your husband’s infidelity entirely on his mistress. In this case, moderate Republicans believe that Obama’s tactic of taking sensible positions that moderate Republicans agree with is cruel and unfair, because it exposes the extremism that dominates the party, not to mention the powerlessness of the moderates within it.

Just as conservatives want Obama to provide cover for their unpopular “entitlement reform” proposals, Republican “moderates” want Obama to give them the power they so completely lack by offering deals to the GOP that don’t offend the Right and give the “moderates” a position as brokers.

What I don’t understand is the extraordinarily blind conviction that the only reason these “moderates” have no power is the absence of deals on the table, which, because they can only be supplied by Democrats must be supplied by Democrats. This ignores the half-century story of the rise of the conservative movement and its eventual conquest of the GOP, which has nothing to do with “deal-making” and everything to do with repealing most of the policy legacy of the twenty-first century, as created by both parties. Perhaps some fine day, after the 100th “RINO Purge” primary or the millionth op-ed denouncing Republican “surrender” to socialism and secularism, David Brooks will wake up and figure out that movement-conservative types view people like him as dinosaurs who belongs on the ash heap of history. In the mean-time, Chait is right: progressives may sympathize with Brooks’ agony, but we have no responsibility to sabotage our own aspirations for the country to salvage his.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • Jose Hipants on January 18, 2013 1:32 PM:

    Brooks is old enough to retire. There's no gain for him in rocking the boat at this point.

  • Jose Hipants on January 18, 2013 1:38 PM:

    Captcha fail.
    How come spam still gets through, when your presumably human commenters have so much trouble?

  • c u n d gulag on January 18, 2013 1:43 PM:

    David Brooks is like CRAPTCHA.

    He's difficult to read, and doesn't make any sense most of the time.

    Look, the man has staked out his territory, his oeevre, and is boxed into defending it, while all logic signals a hasty 'RETREAT!'
    It's tough to defend the indefensable.

    Still, the man's made a ton of money being an insipid dissembler, so, why should he stop?

    He's like the band on the Titanic - playing on, while da ship be sinkin'!!!

  • sparrow on January 18, 2013 1:46 PM:

    As a pretty progressive fellow, I agree that I MAY sympathize with Brooks' agony, but I choose not to do so, thank you.

  • MuddyLee on January 18, 2013 1:48 PM:

    Brooks: it's your party, you can cry if you want to, cry if you want to, cry if you want to.

  • ksc on January 18, 2013 1:54 PM:

    Republicans, the Lance Armstrong party.

  • Rick B on January 18, 2013 2:07 PM:

    When do the so-called "moderate" Republicans understand they are footstools the conservatives use to reach power for their idiotic efforts to repeal modern civilization?

    They really are RINOs. They are a problem to both parties in this country - the Democrats and the Conservatives. They only hang around because they want to build their retirement and bask in the limelight of the mostly ignorant media. They can retire now, or switch parties to the Democrats, and the party switch is almost certainly the same as retirement. They are too tarred by association with and support of the conservatives to ever with a Democratic Primary.

    Florida's Crist may be an exception, but that will be because the conservative crazies purged him. He didn't decide to go on his own.

  • Rick B on January 18, 2013 2:15 PM:


    Do you mean "empathize" rather than sympathize? Empathy involves recognizing how someone else feels without actually feeling it yourself.

    Human mirror neurons apparently allow for empathy. "Empathy" allows us to recognize the motivating effects of someone else' feelings without actually adopting those feelings and acting on them ourselves.

  • gregor on January 18, 2013 2:46 PM:

    Mr. Obama, please, please, do not let my loony benefactors fade into irrelevance, oblivion, and doom.

    Think of me, David Brooks.

    Who will think of me, David Brooks?

  • dalloway on January 18, 2013 2:47 PM:

    You know how you can tell Brooks is a fool? Yes, of course, by his writing, but also because he and all the other old school Republicans don't see that they have far more in common with conservative Democrats than with the right wing of their party. If they had the brains of a goat and any balls at all, they'd forge an alliance with Conservadems and build a coalition that would dominate both the far right and the left. But it'll never happen because, as David Brooks so ably demonstrates, they have neither.

  • jjdaddyo on January 18, 2013 2:58 PM:

    "As you know, I am an earnest, good-government type"

  • OKDem on January 18, 2013 3:46 PM:

    That should read:
    ..."everything to do with repealing most of the policy legacy of the *eighteenth through* twenty-first century, as created by both parties."

  • biggerbox on January 18, 2013 3:53 PM:

    "Perhaps...David Brooks will wake up"

    I refer you to the Sinclair quote about a man who's paycheck depends on him not understanding something.

  • OKDem on January 18, 2013 3:58 PM:

    dolloway -
    Brooks and the rest of the "centerist Republicans" have nothing in common with what is now functionally the LEFT wing of the Party Formerly Known as Republicans, let alone its right wing, which Louis XIV would find too conservative.

  • paul on January 18, 2013 4:04 PM:

    The movement republicans don't look on people like Brooks as dinosaurs. They look on them as "useful idiots." Without Brooks and a long list of other "moderate", "centrist" types to put an almost-reasonable face on wingnuttery, the job of the dismantling the 20th century would be much more difficult.

  • Doug on January 18, 2013 6:05 PM:

    "It is his (Brooks') responsibility to conceal this reality from America." Jon Chait

    THIS is the real point of Chait's article. For decades Brooks, and other so-called "pundits", have provided a smokescreen of "common sense" and "centrism" for Republican politicians to hide behind. A smoke screen, one might add, that really didn't hide anything and existed only to provide a rationale for those deteremined NOT to see what was going on. Today, with the outright insanity of the modern-day GOP has grown to such a height that no smoke screen can hide it.
    Brooks had a nice little gig going for him and now it's gone! Gone, I tell you!
    I'd be a bit incoherent, too...

  • sparrow on January 18, 2013 6:44 PM:

    @Rick B.

    Your comment did make me stop to reflect for a moment, but I'll stick with Sympathy of which I feel none for David Brooks.

  • sparrow on January 18, 2013 6:48 PM:

    @ Rick B

    Your comment made me reflect for a moment, but I'll stick with Sympathy. I feel none for Brooks. Thanks for asking.

  • James M on January 18, 2013 10:09 PM:

    A little late to the party but I couldn't resist commenting. Whenever I think of David Brooks or Joe Scarborough I am reminded of that great line from the movie 12 Monkeys where Brad Pitt's character tells Bruce Willis, "Your paradigm if fxxked!".

    David Brooks uses the flawed economic principles of the traditional GOP as a base to argue for what he considers to be sensible compromises to solve the country's long term issues. The problem with this is that these principles have been proven not to work and putting them into practice would make things worse rather than better.

    Joe Scarborough (who seems increasingly logical these days) argues from the mistaken position that the average American voter would approve of the principles and policies of modern conservatism if they were only communicated clearly and in a non-offensive manner. Again, the problem, as shown in poll after poll, is that this is simply not true. Conservative Republicans MUST lie about or distort their policies because otherwise they couldn't be elected in many parts of the country. Imagine if Mitt Romney had made his famous'47 percent' observation in a stump speech!

  • SW on January 21, 2013 8:54 AM:

    I can't shake the image of Brooks in drag singing Dolly Parton's "Joleene"

  • bluestatedon on January 21, 2013 9:42 AM:

    The fact that NPR still regularly provides a platform for the bloviating exponent of High Broderism, David Brooks, and the astoundingly smug, condescending and arrogant Cokie Roberts is an indication of how thoroughly useless NPR is when it comes to political coverage.