Last 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.
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.
In 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.