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.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

28 thoughts on “David Brooks’ Brilliant Political Insight

  1. Reality having a liberal bias strikes again. But of course only Clinton is bad for having the sense to change her mind. What is sad is that the Salon readers have an actual point as to why this particular change in opinion is possibly negative since they said this does not stop her from deciding to support it in the future.

    What they and Brooks gets wrong is that most of the time she supported the TPP, she was Secretary of State for Obama. Why on earth would anyone expect her to come out against her boss’s policies? It boggles the mind but then again, this is a Clinton we are talking about and they always are wrong even if they are right. *rolls eyes*

    • I have a similar sense that her current position is the one that is most natural to her thinking. But it doesn’t much matter to me. Obama was very negative on NAFTA when he campaigned, and I think he was being honest. But look at him today! I care about this stuff, but I’m much more focused on the minimum wage and card check.

      • Amazing how being in office changes your opinion on things. Unfortunately it seems that it turns Obama towards the dark side on trade agreements.

        • I sympathize. I’m sure once in office, you are surrounded by very powerful people telling that of course trade deals are great. I have an article coming out in a few days about this bit of conventional wisdom.

          • I was lucky-I could ignore what the electorate wanted since those decisions are not subject to popular vote. The law is what the law is and you apply it to the facts as you find them.

            But I can tell you it does make it hard to remember the poor if you never have been poor yourself. I remember convincing my mother that the only thing I wanted to eat for nearly six months when I was a teenager is potatoes. I mean I love potatoes but not that much. However since Dad did not want to give her anything for my sister and mine’s needs after he dumped us on her when he got tired of dealing with us, she really could not afford much more. We still were considered to be a great deal better off then my classmates because Mom did not have to pay rent on the dilapidated house she inherited.

            If more state lege and congresscritters had to go through that, they probably would not be like the current bunch.

            • Yeah, I think having the experience would be very helpful. Instead, they assume some minor setback in their lives is equivalent to problems that the poor face on a daily basis.

              • My local state reps did the Food Stamp challenge. Only one of them (the one who grew up poor) made it through the week without being hungry every day.

                Granted the diet was horrible but he was at least full.

                • Typical. When it comes to food stamps, people fall into biased sampling. If they see someone on food stamps buying fresh vegetables and rice, they don’t notice. But if they see them buying frozen dinners, it sticks like glue. Not that poor people shouldn’t be allowed to slum it if they want. But it’s this kind of thing that has caused there to be more and more limits on food stamps — at least hear in California. And then, conservatives who think they must micromanage the poor, just let them go to feed themselves with too few resources.

                  • It is disgusting but par for the course with their creeping strategy to remake the US in their weird image of what it should be.

                    Somehow the idea that a person always knows best what they can spend their money on is not applicable to food stamp recipients. Because the poor must automatically be stupid despite ample evidence to the contrary.

                    • I think if people (not just the rich) got clear on what they think of the poor, they’d be deeply ashamed. In general, they don’t believe what is obviously true: the poor care as much for their children as anyone else. But most people think the poor are out selling their food stamps to buy drugs. In fact, I just heard Bill O’Reilly saying that very thing.

                    • Living as close to the edge as I have, I do know that the recipients sometimes sell their stamps. Not for drugs though. To pay rent, for ladies necessary products and other things that are needed by the poor but are not covered by TANF or SSI, or whatever work they can get (and pay they can pry out of the hands of the employers.)

                      But the conservatives always have that one friend of a friend who totally saw this woman jump into a 2015 Escalade or whatever the overpriced SUV that the rich buy these days right after buying lobster and a birthday cake.

                    • I know what you are saying. I used to live in Richmond and I saw it. But given the enormous number of poor people in Richmond and the fact that we had one grocery store, I saw damned little of it. But this is why people in urban environments are more liberal: they actually see how other people live. It is harder to dehumanize them.

            • Ha — we ate the same diet for a while. I got so sick of potatoes and government peanut butter. But I loved the government cheese, which was basically Velveeta. I was very disappointed to learn as adult that cheese mostly made from actual milk does not melt the same way Velveeta does.

              • We thought those with government peanut butter was nobs.
                My mom loves Velveeta. I got tired of it, cheap ramen noodles (yes, there is an even cheaper version) and fruit punch. I rarely eat or drink those. The joys of being poor in America.

                • We relied on a lot of church-donated food for a while, but my mom put the kibosh on that. She was sick of people from church lecturing her that if her faith was stronger my dad would get better (he was seriously mentally ill and couldn’t work.) Getting food assistance from the government was a humiliating process to apply for, but at least once you went through it you got food and food stamps without the sermonizing.

                  In my experience food banks today are much better at this, the staff are nice people. But they’re badly underfunded so they’re often in out-of-the-way locations and some are only open a few days a month.

                  A store opened in Minneapolis a few months ago that’s open every day, and if you volunteer four hours a month you get a 20% discount on food. The guy who runs it worked at a food shelf and wanted to make something like that centrally located and open regular hours. They’re still under water, but hope to be sustainable in a year and can afford to lose money that long. The volunteer hours keep costs down but they still need donations to stay afloat.

                  Why isn’t our government funding things like that? Unfortunately we all know why.

                  • There is a little change sometimes at the city level though. My city is probably going to have a set of food gardens for people to come gather food at soon because we have a very energetic woman on the city council who wants to make a lot of changes to how things are done in a way that helps people not hurt them.

                    She got the idea from the Seattle effort and a few other places. So unless the state legislature pulls the same stunt (and they could) they did with the plastic bag ban, there will be fruit and veggies for all. Yuck. ;)

                    • There’s a funny line in the futuristic Woody Allen movie, “Sleeper,” where a man gets frozen and ends up in the future (like in “Futurama.”) Turns out everyone in the future smokes and eats red meat, the scientists were all wrong! Maybe they’re wrong about fruits and veggies!

                      That’s good to hear. They’re attempting to start that in vacant Detroit lots (but Detroit politics are so abysmally corrupt, most of the tax money is outright stolen. It was in the boom days, too, it’s just that theft wasn’t as damaging then.)

                      The great thing about the New Deal is how many different ideas it tried out. Some ended up being really dumb ideas. And some were great! That’s how you find out if ideas work, by trying them! Now the “government-as-business-and-business-never-makes-mistakes” mantra is so drummed into our heads by Pravda/Fox, you can’t try anything that fails. It’s like movie executives who won’t bankroll anything but sequels and remakes; no-one blames them if those fail. Back a new idea that fails, kiss your job goodbye.

                    • Most of the rust belt cities need to pull back by encouraging people to move to the centers of the town and demolishing the suburbs. Then we can have them go back to nature.

                      Trying new ideas is good but at this point we do have a huge amount of data collected by the government going back decades that tells us what probably will work and what won’t. Its why that stupid conservative canard about how the government doesn’t know more about how to spend your money then you do is so dumb. The government does know. It has spent dozens of years and hundreds of thousands of hours you will never be able to equal in figuring out what should be done in a lot of situations.

                      But then the wrong (say it in your head with a pseudo rich woman’s accent) sort of people might get help and we can never have that now can we?

  2. Thread breakdown on my browser (Firefox for Mac.)

    Elizabeth — as usual, you’re correct. We know a lot of things we should be doing that do work. And we need to fund untested ideas too if they have good sense behind them. But right now when we do good things, it’s unreported, and when we fund untested ideas that fail, it’s blown into a giant “gummint wastes money” scandal (as if SDI isn’t the biggest stupid scam ever.)

    The great thing about the rich snob “those people” voice is it hasn’t changed in 50 years. Some classics never die, I guess . . .

    • When government works well, no one notices because why would they? When it fails, it makes the news because something interesting happened.

      It is like the hysteria over the spending on that Vegas conference. The WaPo had such vapors over it I thought about investing in smelling salts. Yet, as someone who has planned conferences for my colleagues, the amounts did not sound outrageous. Heck, I looked up the cost for just registering with the NAA MediaXchange Conference in April of next year and regular registration is $1,095-845 for early bird. With the cheapest room it is $399 per night. That means you are wasting nearly $3000 per media executive with flights and whatnot. But the government spending $1,500 a person for a four day conference with thousands of attendees? Oh my, let me clutch my pearls and swoon on this couch.

      • I hate getting the vapors. Makes me all needing-to-unbutton one button and being fanned by my loyal, loving “domestics.” Oh, the tribulations I surely have suffered!

    • Here’s the deal on comments. They only go 10 levels deep. When you reach the end, just start a new thread (ie, don’t use “reply”) and highlight it with “@Elizabeth” or “@James.” The @ is my thing. Do whatever you want.

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