Why Is David Brooks Rich? Because He’s Moral!

David BrooksI read three articles last night about David Brooks: one by Martin Longman and two by Matt Bruenig: one more recent (Why Not Shame David Brooks for Divorcing?) and another that I want to focus on, On Civility. I didn’t know that Brooks had divorced a couple of years ago. And it isn’t the point it. No one actually thinks that people they know should suffer through bad marriages. And no one pretends to know what David Brooks has really gone through in life. I’m sure he’s like everyone with his good days and bad days and secret horrors.

The problem is that David Brooks has made a career of telling vast classes of poor people that if only they would act more like middle and upper class people — people like him — then they wouldn’t be poor. The one core principle of David Brooks is that economic inequality is due to cultural inequality. His is the more intellectual sounding version of, “If those kids would just pull their pants up, everything would be fine!” Or if you want to go back five decades, “If those kids would just cut their hair!” Although Brooks would never admit it, it is poor shaming. People like Brooks never want to admit that their success has anything to do with luck.

The truth is not just that we can’t be uncivil to David Brooks because he’s an actual man. I don’t know David Brooks. For all I know, he’s a computer program — the newest version of CleverBot.

Bruenig’s argument in the earlier article is that it is uncivil to shame David Brooks. He’s a human being. He has feelings. But he and his conservative colleagues Reihan Salam and Ross Douthat are never attacked for their incivility toward the nameless poor. In fact, all three men are held up as “moderates” because they are for things like paternity leave. But that is all part of the underlying philosophy that people aren’t poor because of their situations in life and social factors that have working against them long before they were even born. No, it is because they don’t have those middle class mores.

This is also the beat that uber-racist Charles Murray has been on for years. When he isn’t telling us people are poor because they are stupid, he is telling us that they are poor because of their cultures. This is the state of sociology in the conservative world. Correlation does not imply causation, unless that correlation can be used to justify the same old policies you always want — namely those that continue to enrich your social class at the expense of others’.

But the situation is worse than even Bruenig indicates. The truth is not just that we can’t be uncivil to David Brooks because he’s an actual man. I don’t know David Brooks. For all I know, he’s a computer program — the newest version of CleverBot. The truth is, because of my “colorful” life, people have had no problem being uncivil to me — in much more intimate circumstances than David Brooks has to put up with. The truth is that we can’t be uncivil to David Brooks because he is one of society’s winners. And to attack him would be to attack the whole society.

On the other side of it, attacking the poor is to protect the whole society. It is a way of saying that the society is great. The problem is that these poor people just can’t get it together. It’s like Singapore, which is generally thought the cleanest city in the world. Yet it still has rats. That’s what the poor are to these apologists for the perfection that is the American economic system.

The argument of these social conservatives is that people are poor because they don’t stay married and get a good education. But David Brooks is now divorced. What’s more, he isn’t that educated — as you can tell by the depth of writing. But he must be moral and educated enough — he’s rich! I have a PhD in physics, I am divorced, and I am poor. Aha! That must be related. David Brooks only has a Bachelor of Arts, is divorced, and is rich. Aha! That must not mean a thing.

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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.

17 thoughts on “Why Is David Brooks Rich? Because He’s Moral!

  1. I notice that the calls for civility only come from one side for the most part. The left wing in this country must, must be civil. No using coarse language, no saying mean things to a person and heaven forbid they call out the right wing for their horrible ideas and opinions.

    So when someone points out that a person like Brooks is mean to a lot of people, that makes you uncivil and therefore bad and easy to ignore.

    • I think part of it is that the media is just embarrassed by the state of conservatism. There’s a Spanish term for it: pena ajena. It’s the embarrassment you feel watching someone else’s humiliation. And there’s nothing new about this. National Review was started, because Buckley (and those who bankrolled him) were tired of being embarrassed by people who agreed with them. But now there is no one coming to its aid — except for the mainstream media who call for Paul Krugman to be “civil” because the conservatives have literally no cogent arguments.

      • It annoys me to be honest-the only side being called out for their behavior is the side not actually doing anything wrong. It is not uncivil to point out that David Brooks is being pretty horrible even if he is saying it in a perfectly polite tone of voice.

        And don’t get me started on Ross “My wife gets to use birth control but not you” Douthat.

  2. I wish more of the people that guys like Brooks call scum while pretending not to, would write in to the NYT explaining just why this is not OK.

    Fact is that Brooks’ whole schick is being an author of low-level hate literature. And he lacks the self-awareness to know this I’m sure; he feels deep in his heart that he just wants to help. With his sick hatred disguised as ‘civility’.

    Take it personally. I do; he calls me garbage while pretending not to, day after day.

    • You’re onto something, RJ. When I argue with people on right wing sites who say vicious things about poor people and people of color, they are riffing off guys like Brooks. That’s my sense anyway.

      Great piece, F-man.

      • Thanks. That is definitely Brooks’ place in the conservative ecosystem: to make hatred of the poor sound not only acceptable but encouraging and loving.

    • There is an interesting psychology that I think is going on in Brooks. He was a liberal and got hired by William Buckley. He was flattered and followed along. Brooks doesn’t want to say that the poor are bad. That’s why in his mind, he isn’t: it is the society that isn’t letting the poor learn those middle class values. He’s the “nice” guy making the “understanding” version of Charles Murray’s argument. But it is nonetheless Charles Murray’s argument: there’s something wrong with the poor and that’s why they are poor.

  3. I don’t agree with either of the comments. David Brooks, if you’ve read anything he has written, and have gotten to know him a bit, and if you’ve watched him for years on PBS Newshour on Fridays, you just might see and feel as I do: a calm and considerate man. Not filled with hate. His message is not to blame the poor for their being poor. David Brooks has managed to evolve into a much more humane and compassionate person. He is not rich because he is amoral or moral. I’ve no idea how rich he is. He is also incredibly funny. So check his latest book out. Much introspection. He is, as is no one, a saint, but he is human. And he is humble. So, there’s my opinion, for what it’s worth.

    • I don’t agree with either of the comments. David Brooks, if you’ve read anything he has written, and gotten to know him a bit, and if you’ve listened to him on the PBS Newshour on Fridays, you just might see someone quite different: a calm, considerate, articulate and compassionate person. He is not filled with hate. He doesn’t blame the poor for being poor. He doesn’t have the “pull yourself up by the bootstraps” attitude. I have no idea how rich he may be. If he is rich, it is not because he is either amoral or moral. He is also incredibly funny. You should check out his latest book. It’s clear that he has done much introspection. He is not, as is no one, a saint, but he is human. And humane and humble. My opinion, for what it is worth.

    • I’ve been reading (and watching) Brooks for a couple of decades now. I’m well aware of his work and it really hasn’t changed that much. What I’m talking about here is very much his standard pitch. He doesn’t claim to hate the poor. He claims we’ve let the poor down by not instilling in them the middle class values that would bring them out of poverty. It is an extremely facile understanding of the problem of poverty. But my article is not primarily about him. It is about the way the society judges morality on the basis of economic success. I don’t think David Brooks is a bad person. I just think he’s wrong. And he has blind spots — just like I do. But just as he could doubtless see many of my blind spots if he had been reading me for years, I can spot many of his blind spots. And his biggest blind spot is that he has causality backwards: good morals don’t lead to economic stability; economic stability leads to good morals.

      Thank you for your thoughtful comment. Now that you’ve been approved (as a real person and not a spam-bot), your comments will be automatically accepted. I hope you will stick around and comment on other articles.

  4. Frank, I don’t think Brooks could spot your blind spots. I’ve never seen or heard him say anything with he slightest profound insight. He’s a mouth.

    If I wanted an intelligent take on current affairs, regardless of its ideological tendency, I’d get it faster from the servers at Tim Horton’s than from Brooks. The guy is empty except for his maddening moral exhortations. And his carefully cultivated nice-guy persona, which I don’t think is false at all, makes it the more maddening.

    Notice that the person defending him has nothing at all to say about any substantive points of Brooks’ opinions. Just that he’s a nice guy. Yes, I think he is – and as useful as tits on a bull.

    Gee, I’m angry today. What it is, really, is that there are thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of intelligent, aspiring journalists out there who have something to say and can’t get any paying work. In contrast to Mr. Zero. I’m angered more by what he represents than what he is. But of course, his whole career is about what he ‘represents’ – a ‘nice’, ‘reasonable’ conservative. His lifetime output has less value than my third-shittiest undergraduate essay.

    • I heard Thomas Friedman was a terrific son to his mom in a nursing home around here. Doesn’t change that his politics support treating nursing home workers like disposable offal!

    • Yeah, that’s the problem isn’t it. I was just talking or writing about Josh Barro and these completely reasonable ideas he has for tax reform. The problem is that he presents them as “conservative” even though almost all Democrats would be in favor of them and pretty much no Republican would. But they are always out there for Republicans to claim that they really do have ideas — even if in practice, they are dead.

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