David Brooks’ Brilliant Political Insight

David BrooksLast Friday, David Brooks wrote another in his series of insight-less articles, Hillary Clinton’s Opportunist Solution! In it, he said that Clinton’s reversal on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is all done just to compete against Bernie Sanders. Breaking news: politician panders to voters! I wish I were a big name pundit at The New York Times so that I could write articles based on trivial and useless observations. And there’s a bonus: Brooks gets to frame the issues so that the Republicans he still somehow favors look good.

Check out how he started the article, “To win their party’s nomination in an age of growing polarization [presidential candidates] have to adopt base-pleasing, pseudo-extreme policy positions.” Oh, that’s right! Being against the TPP is “pseudo-extreme”! And Brooks knows that because… Well, he doesn’t say. It is just an unstated assumption. If a big city newspaper reporter is against something, it’s got to be “pseudo-extreme.” He would just say “extreme,” but either he or his editor understands that people actually know what “extreme” means and haven’t a clue what “pseudo-extreme” is. So writing the latter gives him the opportunity to imply extremism without the editors’ insistence on truthfulness.

Does Brooks not remember Mitt Romney, and Eric Fehrnstrom’s “Etch A Sketch” comment? If so, he certainly doesn’t mention it. And rightly so! If he had, it would have undermined his entire premise.

But let’s look at the other side of this. Thus far, there are three Republican presidential candidates who have released budget proposals. And they’ve all done the same thing: given huge amounts away to the rich while busting huge holes in the budget. But these aren’t done to please the base. Indeed, I would say that Trump lost a lot of excitement from his base by putting out a budget that was the same as Jeb Bush’s except more extreme. What the Republican base seems to care about is red meat rhetoric, not specific policies. So is Brooks claiming that opposition to the TPP is equivalent to calling Mexicans rapists?

Books’ clever trick in this article is to say that Hillary Clinton has figured out how to appeal to the base and to the supposed centrist general election voters: she just says things she doesn’t believe! This is clever only in the conservative affirmative action case where it doesn’t require even the smallest amount of wit. Does Brooks not remember Mitt Romney’s campaign, and Eric Fehrnstrom’s “Etch A Sketch” comment? If so, he certainly doesn’t mention it. And rightly so! If he had, it would have undermined his entire premise. I’ve looked back and can only find once that the incident came up in my writing, and it was in a quote. That’s because I’m slightly more sophisticated than David Brooks, and I realize that politicians don’t always tell the truth.

Hillary ClintonIn a broader sense, Brooks’ article is just another of thousands about Hillary Clinton’s lack of “authenticity.” And in this regard, he summarizes work done at the leftist Institute for Public Accuracy. Now, I really like them — they do good work. But Brooks would never accept all of their equally accurate work on Republican candidates. But the question really isn’t whether Clinton has changed her position, or as Brooks put it, “We all get to change our mind in response to the facts, but each of these intellectual inquiries happens to have led her in a politically convenient direction.” Well, it also just so happens that she has moved in the direction that is natural when one follows the evidence.

For example, Clinton would now like to see prison and sentencing reform. This is a reversal from where she was twenty years ago. But should we complain about that?! She was wrong before and right now. And there actually is more information today, even if it should have been clear then. Meanwhile, with a couple of notable exceptions, the Republican candidates are still locked into the same failed “tough on crime” policies from decades past.

I don’t mind people attacking Hillary Clinton if they have something real to attack her on. Brooks has nothing. And there is a way to exonerate Clinton from his charge anyway. All of the changes that Clinton has made in her positions are the same ones that Democratic voters — and to a large extent all voters — have made. So are all these voters inauthentic? If it weren’t that Brooks were pushing a tired narrative, his article would seem bizarre. As it is, it is just another trivial and useless column by a man who would be unemployed in a just society.


The last part of Brooks’ column is about the “downsides” of the political opportunism that he’s assumed. A big part of that is about what a great humanitarian thing the TPP is for the poor people of Malaysia and Vietnam. Dean Baker rips him apart on this, David Brooks, Hillary Clinton, and the TPP. I highly recommend reading it. It explains some really important issues about the TPP, as well as calling Brooks on some of his nonsense.

Our ‘Road Rage’ Based Economic Policy

Chris DillowOne of my favorite concepts is the “fundamental attribution error.” This is where we tend to attribute internal causes for the actions of others but external causes for our own actions. Consider my favorite example: driving. I like it because everyone I know complains about other drivers to one extent or another. Ask someone if they’ve ever been cut off in traffic, and they will almost always jump at it like a dog on red meat, “Just the other day! I was driving…” But what’s more important is the reason that they were cut off: the guy’s just a jerk.

On the other hand, if you are driving with someone who cuts someone else off, they will tell you they had reasons. They are in a super big rush because their boss will kill them if they are late or the traffic was so bad that they had no choice or — and this is the most common — they just screwed up. And they are right! I’ve never known someone who drives around just looking for opportunities to piss off other people. But if you point this out to someone who has been cutoff, they will usually reject the notion violently.

I ran into this with a Christopher Hitchens fan who was mad at Richard Seymour. There was an admittedly vague sentence in Seymour’s book Unhiched. The reader understood the sentence to mean something that was clearly not true. I noted that he was misunderstanding what Seymour had written. And the reader’s response was, “Garbage.” Because it just had to be that Seymour was an evil man who wrote something he knew was wrong just to slander Hitchens. The much more reasonable explanation that Seymour had written a vague sentence that could be misinterpreted was not possible. Obviously, the reader would have had a different opinion if we were talking about his own writing.

Chris Dillow at Stumbling and Mumbling wrote something interesting in regard to this, Demand Deniers. It’s about the Tories in the UK. They believe that people don’t have jobs because they just don’t want them — rather than blaming it on outside forces. So they deny that the problem is the lack of demand that these unemployed and under-employed people experience. This, as Dillow noted, is a classic fundamental attribution error. But it is worse than that, because unlike people driving or even ignorant Christopher Hitchens fans, there is economic information on this subject.

But you can see where this comes from. The people making policy in the UK are all from the same class. They are all educated at the same top tier schools. They know that if they found themselves out of job, there would be plenty of people who would give them a job. So it must be the same for gardeners and auto mechanics and computer programmers, right?! It’s amazing that the moment that the left talks about inequality, we are blamed for class warfare. But these people live in a separate, closed off, society and that is just right and proper.

I’m not sure why we are so prone to the fundamental attribution error. But its result in the modern world is that we assume that the rich must be good, hard working people, and the poor must be bad and lazy. Public policy should be based on science, not such base instincts. We shouldn’t be running our economy based upon the same thinking patterns that bring us road rage.

Morning Music: Classical Survey Continued

Joseph HaydnSince I feel like I’m a little less crushed for time with the new schedule, I thought it might be a good idea to return to our survey of classical music. When last we left it, we were at the end of the Baroque period, Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach. You can check there for a full list of the week’s posts. And so today, we start at the beginning of the classical period.

As you can no doubt understand, the periods are not exactly clear. Obviously, people were still playing and composing Baroque music well into the classical period. Interestingly, one of the very greatest Baroque composers, Antonio Vivaldi, was all but forgotten until the 20th century, when the great violinist Fritz Kreisler wrote a violin concerto and attributed it to Vivaldi. But what you will notice is that there is not a huge difference between the best work of the late Baroque and that of the early Classical period. In fact, my late Baroque composer CPE Bach is really more of a Classical computer.

The first great composer of the Classical period is Joseph Haydn. (Let’s set aside Gluck for now.) In fact, other than Mozart, there is no one I like as well. In fact, the two men were very close friends. I think that Haydn was kind of a father figure to Mozart — but one who wasn’t a total prick like his real father. I wrote about their special relationship last year, The Son Joseph Haydn Never Had. But Haydn lived such a long time that it would be wrong to think about him only with regard to the early Classical period.

So let’s listen to an early quartet. It was composed in 1763, when Haydn was just 31 years old. As time goes on, it gets harder to be clear about what is changing. There are a few things that stick out to me, however. First is the lack of ornamentation. In the same way that the worst of Romantic period music mindlessly uses chromatic scales, Baroque often ornamented melodies out of existence. There’s also more harmonic structure, with phrases driving to resolution. But it is also, and most importantly I think, less academic — more emotional. This is his Quartet No 8 in E major. I’m sorry, but I could not find a professional live recording of it. Understandably, professionals tend to stick with his later and more refined work. This is still quite beautiful:

Anniversary Post: Two Jokes, One Intentional

Mario BiaggiOn this day exactly 40 years ago, Saturday Night Live premiered on television. I have all kinds of problems with the show, but one thing most people don’t want to admit is that it always just moderately successful. Think about it. The first big star to come out of the show was Chevy Chase. Now I don’t have anything especially against him, and I still think his 1980 album, Chevy Chase, was a unique comedic work. It was also something of an aberration in a career of almost uninterrupted mediocrity. And that was what people were just crazy about that first season.

But there were really great things on the show. Andy Kaufman was on it. It had some amazing stuff from Michael O’Donoghue. There was and always has been a decent amount of stuff to like. But it didn’t take very long for the show to give up even a pretense to having any edge. I can’t imagine that it would offend anyone for the last 35 years at least. Oh, except for Sinead O’Connor — who like so many other people were banned from the “edgy” show for coming anywhere near being edgy.

But an even bigger joke took place exactly a year later: President Ford signed Public Law 94-479. And what did this important piece of legislation do? It appointed George Washington posthumously to the grade of General of the Armies of the United States. What’s more, it was done retroactively to the date 4 July 1976. It is a stunningly pathetic thing to do.

Understand: I think these kinds of symbolic gestures are important. But doing this for George Washington?! Like Washington had been mistreated by history? It was introduced by Democrat Mario Biaggi. He was an interesting guy, who only died a couple of months ago at the age of 97. Most of his Wikipedia page is dedicated to his conviction for corruption, which got him sentenced to 8 years. (He only served a couple for health reasons, which is strange, given he lived another 24 years after his release.) But the other big part of his Wikipedia page is this stupid law. Such were his accomplishments: selling favors and celebrating over-celebrated figures from our history.

So there you go: two jokes in one anniversary post.