While David Brooks Is Not Mitt Romney, He Very Much Remains David Brooks

Have you seen today’s David Brooks op-ed yet? It’s a little weird; but, then again, he’s been a little weird ever since the campaign began in earnest (and, not incidentally, Romney began losing). In this one, Brooks pretends to be Mitt Romney giving his opening statement during tomorrow’s debate. As a piece of writing, the ventriloquism crutch is lazy. But there’s also something about it that’s a bit sad — it’s like Reasonable Moderate Romney is Brooks’s Godot. And he waits, and waits, and waits….

Most of the column is the same old stuff you’ve been hearing from Brooks and his ilk (aristocratic conservatives who aren’t much bothered by big government just so long as it doesn’t crowd-out their imperial ambitions) since Romney became the de facto nominee: Mitt’s actually a technocratic moderate, secretly reasonable, and the contortions he’s willingly undergone to get the nomination should have no bearing whatsoever on your estimation of what kind of President he would be. Irrespective of whether there’s truth to this spiel (I think there is), the least caustic thing you can say about this appeal is that it’s totally unmoored from any clear understanding of how American politics functions, institutionally.

What’s easy to miss in an article so replete with low-hanging fruit for Brooks haters is the odd — but for Brooks totally consistent — section of “Mitt’s” statement concerning the economy:

The second wicked problem the next president will face is sluggish growth. I assume you know that everything President Obama and I have been saying on this subject has been total garbage. Presidents and governors don’t “create jobs.” We don’t have the ability to “grow the economy.” There’s no magic lever.

Instead, an administration makes a thousand small decisions, each of which subtly adds to or detracts from a positive growth environment. The Obama administration, which is either hostile to or aloof from business, has made a thousand tax, regulatory and spending decisions that are biased away from growth and biased toward other priorities. American competitiveness has fallen in each of the past four years, according to the World Economic Forum. Medical device makers, for example, are being chased overseas. The economy in 2012 is worse than the economy in 2011. That’s inexcusable.

My administration will be a little more biased toward growth. It’ll treat businesses with more respect. There will be no magic recovery, but gradually the animal spirits will revive.

As is Brooks’s wont, he’s taken what is in major respects a mystical, pseudo religious, and unserious bit of analysis and draped it with as many of the accoutrements of reasonability that his prose will allow. He’s not exactly hiding anything from the reader; he lets fly one of his favorite pop-academic references, the “animal spirits” of the capitalist class. But if you’re not at least calve-deep in the ongoing debates over economic policy and the Great Recession, you might not understand what “Mitt” is arguing. Which is?

The economy is blah and growth is ugh because, like, Obama gives job creators bad vibes.

Brooks Romney here is not making any number of the empirically false but generally reasonable claims that have come from the Right over the past few years. He’s not arguing that federal income taxes are too high. He’s not arguing that specific regulations — be they on Wall Street or the health insurance industry — are too onerous. He’s not even arguing that Ben Bernanke is propelling us ever closer to super-duper-hyper inflation that’ll raise zombie Hitler and fell the Republic.

He’s saying that a small, elite group of capitalists has intuited from the President’s speech and actions that he doesn’t think they’re absolutely the bee’s knees. Consequently, they’ve decided to take their ball — the American economy — and go home. The President is not minding his betters.

Now, this isn’t a totally aberrant opinion for Brooks to hold, especially when you consider his social milieu. As he humblebragged not so long ago, he spends a lot of time with the 1 percent. He knows how they think. He gets them. And as a truly fantastic recent New Yorker profile of Obama’s hedge fund haters made clear, there’s a small subsection of the 1 percent — the .001 percent — that believes it’s Obama’s words, not his actions, that count. The President’s policies have been quite friendly to the plutocracy, indeed. But he has evidenced an unacceptable ambivalence over flattering these Masters of the Universe to the degree that more amenable politicians, like Al Gore and Cory Booker, readily do.

For anyone a little familiar with Brooks’s career — particularly his stint at The Weekly Standard as a snarky and unapologetic neoconservative — this childlike worldview isn’t a surprise. But in the wake of the Bush disaster and the country’s unspoken but collective decision to pretend that 2001-2009 just didn’t happen, the fundamentals of the Brooks worldview have been forgotten or under-appreciated. He’s welcomed this, of course, and has made great strides in transforming himself in the public eye into a moderate. Thing is, he’s never left neoconservatism. And as this piece reminds, it’s never left him.

[x-posted at Jubilee]

Please do be so kind as to share this post.
Share

33 thoughts on “While David Brooks Is Not Mitt Romney, He Very Much Remains David Brooks

  1. transplanted comment from zic:

    Nice, Elias. I think all the debates do is provide confirmation bias for the reasons we’ve already decided to vote.

    I sort of liked Brooks concern trolling for Romney; but my favorite response to it comes from Matt Yglessias; basically saying Brook’s recommendations are GOP anathema.

    If I were Romney, I’d give practically the reverse speech focusing on the president’s strange obsession with raising taxes. It used to be that I thought Democrats wanted to raise taxes because they love big spending. At least, that’s how they did it in Massachusetts. But this president loves tax increases so much he was eager to betray his own party and slash Medicare spending in order to get them. A Romney administration doesn’t think you bolster a depressed economy with higher taxes. Heck, you can even ask Paul Krugman! I understand ideological disagreements, but this is an administration that just doesn’t get it. Let’s extend the Bush tax cuts, let’s extend the payroll tax cuts, and let’s work on revenue-neutral pro-growth reform for the long term. But in the short-term, why not try to make taxes even lower? This administration keeps trying to “stimulate” the economy with unemployment benefits and food stamps to help people get by when they can’t find jobs. Why not
    deploy that money cutting taxes on work and business investment? I don’t think struggling Americans want more SNAP benefits, I think they want to work.

    That’s not a bulletproof economic agenda, but it makes more sense that what Brooks is proposing and even better actually reflects conservative ideas!

    But my favorite concern trolling for this debate season comes from Bloomberg Executive Editor, Albert R. Hunt. Obama’s Penchant for Arrogance is Bigger Debate Foe. His reasons for fearing Obama is arrogant? Saying Hillary was likable and saying Romney got really excited rewriting a speech to contain more attacks on the president.

    But this bit takes the cake:

    The president’s campaign sees Romney as an out-of-touch stiff without core beliefs, willing to say or do anything for political advantage.
    Fair or not, that’s a derisive characterization.

    Derisive characterization. A dog whistle, telling the first black president not to get too arrogant. Don’t you go getting uppity, Obama. Remember your place.

    The Oval Office.

      Quote  Link

    Report

  2. I’m no Brooks fan, but he has this about right. Presidents don’t create jobs, but some get in the way.

    http://washingtonexaminer.com/55-percent-of-small-business-owners-would-not-start-company-today-blame-obama/article/2509069

    Fifty-five percent of small business owners and manufacturers would not have started their businesses in today’s economy, according to a new poll that also reports 69 percent say President Obama’s regulatory policies have hurt their businesses.

    “There is far too much uncertainty, too many burdensome regulations and too few policymakers willing to put aside their egos and fulfill their responsibilities to the American people,” said Jay Timmons, president of the National Association of Manufacturers, which commissioned the poll along with the National Federation of Independent Businesses. “To fix this problem, we need immediate action on pro-growth tax and regulatory policies that put manufacturers in the United States in a position to compete and succeed in an ever-more competitive global economy.”

    The poll reports another ominous statistic for job creation: “67 percent say there is too much uncertainty in the market today to expand, grow or hire new workers.” Why? Because “President Obama’s Executive Branch and regulatory policies have hurt American small businesses and manufacturers,” according to 69 percent of the business owners surveyed.

      Quote  Link

    Report

    • This is a perfect example of how TVD is one of the best and most valuable commenters on this blog.

      He injects pertinent, albeit inconvenient, facts into the progressive echo chamber with a well chosen link. In doing so, he clearly reveals that the progressives are just spinning pleasant narratives and rationalizations to each other. No wonder progressives are so threatened or annoyed by him, and why many have admitted to skipping his comments. Self delusion requires it.

        Quote  Link

      Report

    • I love this, how small bidnessmen seem to always finger “taxes and regulation” as the culprit for economic downturns. Its the “Doc Laffer’s Miracle Cure-all for everything from warts to lefthandedness”

      During the housing boom, it was banks and realtors and homebuilders and contractors who assured us that less regulation was the key to keeping it going, and lower taxes would guarantee lasting prosperity.

      Yet when the bubble finally burst and crashed the market, to what do these same small bidnessmen point as the culprit? Yep.

      Asking a bidnessman about economics is foolish, its like asking a welder about structural engineering.

        Quote  Link

      Report

  3. While Brooks’ “We’ll be friendlier to growth” part is inane, I would pay good money to see a Presidential candidate utter this simple truth:

    The second wicked problem the next president will face is sluggish growth. I assume you know that everything President Obama and I have been saying on this subject has been total garbage. Presidents and governors don’t “create jobs.” We don’t have the ability to “grow the economy.” There’s no magic lever.

      Quote  Link

    Report

  4. My absolute favorite thing, which conservatives keep repeating (even Tom in this very comment thread!), is this notion that rich people aren’t going to work harder because Barack Obama has hurt their feelings. And, actually, we have become so incapable of separating the political and the personal that I even kind of believe this.

      Quote  Link

    Report

    • Rich… sociopaths don’t work at all. They hire people to do that shit. And we all stand around and clap, trying to tell ourselves that it’s a good thing.

      Lamont ain’t gonna stop working. He’s the type of guy who you’d have to PAY to make him STOP working. Same thing with folks like Wozniak. They’re active, energetic people who always have an idea running..

        Quote  Link

      Report

  5. No, Elias, he clearly is saying that the Obama administration is making thousands of regulatory, tax and spending decisions which are biased against growth and investment which are inexcusably chasing employers off shore or causing them to forgo investment altogether. Do you not even read your own pasted quotes?

    Your comment on “minding his betters” is just lame. The role of the President is to serve the citizens of the country.  Yeah, Elias, we the people are the betters of elected officials. They really are supposed to be our public servants… Right?

    If investors and entrepreneurs view the innumerable activities of the current administration as adverse to the viability of their ventures (a reasonable conclusion considering the World Economic Forum scorecard), then are prudent in not making additional investments.  This will reduce growth, productivity, jobs and prosperity for all of us.  

    How progressives can dismiss this as mystical, pseudo religious temper tantrums of rich people is beyond me.  You do all realize that entrepreneurs are people like us that decide to go into business for themselves, or expand into a new market, or open another diner, or just hire another worker….right?  You do know that the investors are you and me and the administrator of our pensions, and of the public service employee pensions…right? You do know that the job we  don’t create is one less opportunity for those of us looking for work…. Right?

    Actions have consequences, and the consequences of progressive lunacy is that it becomes less easy or practical or profitable to invest in human prosperity.  You guys are the ones following a mystical religion, and it is one which ends badly for all of us. 

      Quote  Link

    Report

    • How true is all this, though? According to the World Economic Forum, the US ranks 7th in the world in global competitiveness. Obviously that’s not #1, and maybe we should be aiming for #1, but #7 is hardly the end of days. Do we have data on small business formation? To what extent are people following through on this rhetoric and not starting businesses?

      I’m not in total disagreement, as I think liberals can be too quick to dismiss the concerns of business owners, and as I would love to see a massive decrease in the overall level of regulation in the economy, but it remains the case that the US is one of the most competitive, least regulated economies in the world. This is why many of us find it so insane when people on the left and right have these doomsday arguments about how either Obama or Romney would end the US as we know it.

        Quote  Link

      Report

      • I just saw a chart on business startups last week, but have been unable to find it.

        However, the issue really is more complex. It comes down to the cumulative impact of billions of separate decisions. How easy is it to start a business? Is it worth the effort and risk? How profitable to add one employee? To expand into a new market? When I expand do we build a large store or a small one? How much should we invest in R&D this year? Should we expand or contract our product suite? Should I invest in risky growth oriented companies or safe government bonds? These individual decisions are interrelated and affect and compound each other. They self amplify.

        The report card becomes GDP growth rate, employment trends, consumer and corporate attitudes, P/E ratios, international competitiveness studies, and so forth. The Bush and Obama administrations have fumbled the ball, especially compared to Clinton and Reagan.
        Nothing Romney has said make me believe he would be any better, especially considering he congress he would get.

          Quote  Link

        Report

        • No offense is intended when I say this comment was a lot more valuable than “you progressives are a-holes!”

          I know it’s the general policy around here to constantly debate ideology and cast out the heretics, but I find that we tend to have much more amicable discussions when we talk about specific things we could do to make the world a better place.

            Quote  Link

          Report

        • Zirp? nearly negative interest bonds? I think the government is doing one hell of a lot to kickstart the process. I advocate fiscal measures as well, though I can see how libertarians might not, on principle

            Quote  Link

          Report

        • Isn’t part of the problem that, despite the billions that the government has pumped into the banks, they’ve tightened up their lending process so much that it’s incredibly difficult to get a loan? I would think that excessively tight credit is one of those factors that inhibits small business start ups.

            Quote  Link

          Report

          • No. The problem is that most people’s credit is too poor to get a loan. Any Loan. You can’t make a new business if you’re way underwater. And you REALLY can’t make a business if you can’t move away from your dying community…

              Quote  Link

            Report

            • I know business owners with spotless credit records who cannot get business loans. So the first part of you rebuttal is incorrect (at times, not all small business owners have spotless credit histories), but the second is pertinent: dying communities. Without the vibrancy of a strong community, banks are reluctant to invest in even business owners with clean credit.

                Quote  Link

              Report

                • Michelle, Kim and Zic,

                  Are you guys thinking that there is a conspiracy between all the banks to not provide profitable loans during an era of unprecedented cheap money? Or something else? If so, how do they go about prohibiting cheaters from defecting on the conspiracy by trying to make profitable loans to all these great risks?

                    Quote  Link

                  Report

                  • Roger,
                    It’s a solvency crisis, not a liquidity crisis. BoA and plenty of other banks don’t know how much money they got, and some of them are going bankrupt every week (or were the last time I checked, I think the pace has slowed somewhat).

                    now, THAT having been said, PNC and the “good banks” that McCain wanted to go massacre? They’re still loaning, because they know what money they’ve got. Ditto Credit Unions.

                      Quote  Link

                    Report

          • Absolutely.

            Another problem is venture investing. Two decades ago, VC actually invested in startups. Now, they’re second or even third-round investors of relatively established companies. The seed money, today, typically comes from friends and family first, banks, and angel investors. And angel investors were hit hard by the economic collapse.Immediately after the collapse, everything tanked. Last couple of years, I believe there is improvement; http://www.unh.edu/news/cj_nr/2012/apr/lw03angel.cfm

            He doesn’t compare to pre-collapse investment levels, but the website linked to will have older reports.

              Quote  Link

            Report

  6. There’s something unseemly about an adult male writing fanfic. All that was missing from the column was Romney taking off his mask, revealing himself to be Edward Cullen, and announcing that he loves David Brooks the mostest of all.

      Quote  Link

    Report

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *