Friday, May 6, 2011

David Brooks, Responsibility, and the Memory Hole

In his NY Times blog, Paul Krugman takes David Brooks for his squint-eyed view of reality. Brooks wants to blame the budget deficit on the public's "irresponsibility" and lack of "realism" while ignoring the 8 year black hole of the Bush administration, a playground for irresponsibility and lack of realism. Sadly, this kind of mental warp is all to frequent in those on the right and Brooks is just another example.

Here's how Krugman takes Brooks to task:
Whenever I read pieces like David Brooks’s column this morning — pieces that attribute our budget deficits to the public’s irresponsibility and lack of realism — I find myself wondering how so much recent history went down the memory hole.

To be fair, polling on budget questions does suggest a popular demand that we repeal the laws of arithmetic — that we not raise taxes, not cut spending on any popular program, and balance the budget.

But if we look at actual policy changes, it’s hard to see that too much democracy was the problem.

Remember, we had a budget surplus in 2000. Where did it go? The two biggest policy changes responsible for the swing into deficit were the big tax cuts of 2001 and 2003, and the war of choice in Iraq.

And neither of these policy changes was in any sense a response to public demand. Americans weren’t clamoring for a tax cut in 2000; Bush pushed his tax cuts to please his donors and his base. And the decision to invade Iraq not only wasn’t a response to public demand, Bush and co. had to spend months selling the idea to the public.

In fact, the only budget-busting measure undertaken in recent memory that was driven by popular demand as opposed to the agenda of a small number of powerful people was Medicare Part D. And even there, the plan was needlessly expensive, not because that’s the way the public wanted it — it could easily have been simply an addition to traditional Medicare — but to please the drug lobby and the anti-government ideologues.

Now, a lot of historical rewriting has taken place — I’ve even seen pundits solemnly describe the Iraq war fever as an illustration of the madness of crowds, somehow erasing the fact that it was Bush and Rumsfeld, not the masses, who wanted the thing.

But the reality is that if you want to see irresponsibility and self-indulgence at the expense of the nation’s future, you don’t want to visit Main Street; you want to hang out in the vicinity of Pennsylvania Avenue.
Brooks is a very good writer with a style that sucks you into his mind set. He never bothers to pause and question his own thinking. He never warns his reader that he is casting a spell over him. He never alludes to alternative interpretations. You end up buying into a worldview that is all Brooks all the time. Great for him, but not necessarily great for the real world, for honesty, for accountability, or for a better future for your kids.

I must admit that I have this very weakness. I can fall into the Brooks orbit. But when I read other material I get jolted out of the spell and realize that I've been sold a bill of goods yet again. People like Brooks need to have signs posted around their writing saying "objects may be closer than they appear". They need to be reminded that their is a reality distortion field around Brooks which Brooks refuses to acknowledge or give hint of.

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