The Ultimate Bore

I first discovered David Brooks 12 or 13 years ago in the shitter where I worked. I went to take a dump and noticed that somebody had left a copy of The Weekly Standard on the toilet paper dispenser, so I opened it up and leafed through it and started reading what seemed to be a satirical essay about exburbanite drones living in cookie-cutter developments and filling the void of their purposeless existences with riding mowers and fancy outdoor cooking equipment. I say “seemed to be” because I recall that the tone of the piece had an edge of mockery to it—albeit an extremely slight edge—and the title, “Bobos in Paradise,” when “paradise” consisted of suburban subdivisions and office parks, just had to be irony. Except, as I kept reading, it became increasingly clear that the author wasn’t really ridiculing these “Bobos” at all, but rather applauding them for their conformity to late 20th-century upper-middle class values (that is, for being obedient corporate automatons and purchasers of stuff).

If I had only known who David Brooks was at the time, I could have spared myself the effort and confusion. For David Brooks, respect for the authority of existing institutions is the supreme virtue, and suspicion—or god forbid, cynicism—towards them is the ultimate vice. So no big surprise then that David doesn’t like the actions of our latest leaker, whose selfish individualism has put us all in danger by revealing (something that was already known, but never mind) to the citizens of a “free country” that their government is spying on them (or compiling shitloads of data that could later be used to justify spying on them). You see, a society isn’t corrupted by the selfish behavior of those who control its major institutions, it’s corrupted by the distrust and (“corrosive”) cynicism of those who are getting shafted by them. You’re not suffering because Jesus is indifferent to your pain; it’s because your faith in Him is weak.

My favorite part, though, is the first paragraph wherein Brooks refers to Snowden as “the ultimate unmediated man.” This is because “he could not successfully work his way through the institution of high school” and because he “failed to navigate his way through community college.” Wasn’t there a time when being independent-minded was considered an indispensable trait in this country? Even if largely a myth, at least it was something to aspire to. Now we have schoolmarm David Brooks telling us that the measure of success is our willingness to submit to the yoke. No wonder I couldn’t figure out whether “Bobos” was meant to be a satire—like everything written by Brooks, it was a satire of itself.

Come a lot

While channel surfing the other night, I caught a minute or two of an interview on Rock Center with a woman who, as a 19-year-old white house intern in the early 60s, became one of JFK’s sex toys for a while.  The segment was prefaced with a warning from news mannequin Brian Williams to the effect that the story we’re about to hear may be shocking to some viewers (presumably those who still believe in the Camelot fairy tale).  (By the way, how many hours did Brian Williams have to practice that earnest frown before it was ready for prime time?)  I had next to no interest in hearing an older woman’s rueful recollections of being boned by the man whose most noteworthy accomplishment as president was fucking lots of women–well, that and getting his head blown off–so I kept going, returning a few minutes later, just as Chris Matthews and two other court historians appeared like the cleaning service hired by the local peep show joint to mop all the sticky shit off the floor.  They reassured us that while this may have been a tawdry affair, JFK was a complicated man and it shouldn’t tarnish all of the good things he did as president (like make some vague gestures towards civil rights legislation and…some other stuff).  In other words, we should continue to think about JFK the way we’ve always been told to think about JFK.

The Party of the Rich Versus the Party of the Super Duper Rich

This interview does a pretty good a job of illustrating the fundamentally conservative nature of liberalism (as represented by the donkey party) in this country, while at the same time attempting to portray conservatives (as represented by the elephant party) as a bunch of out-of-touch rich guys.  Excuse me, did I say “rich”?  I meant “very rich.”  No, scratch that: “super rich.”  Ah, fuck it, what I really mean is “very, very rich.”

Here, at least, is a mildly refreshing bit of honesty:

I’ve heard from people who worked in the White House that he doesn’t like rich people. I don’t actually think it’s true. I think he has a kind of Harvard Law School sense of kinship with these guys. He’s a member of the same technocratic elite. He could have taken that path. He has an admiration for those skills. But what he doesn’t have at all is a belief that the pure fact of having made a lot of money makes your views more valuable, or makes you more interesting or smarter than anyone else.

So what we have here is an exercise in hairsplitting, in which a distinction is being made between two subsets of the “technocratic elite”: straight-up businessmen and those who come from essentially the same background but who choose, instead of merely making money, to pursue more selfless, civic-minded endeavors, such as running for the job where you get to have kill lists and a fleet of lethal remote control airplanes for your own personal amusement.

This notion that there’s some great antagonism between Obama and the big money people is yet another iteration of the classic fairy tale about how the Democrats are the party of the little guy and the Republicans the party of Wall Street.  Except it seems to be losing traction.  Even a hack like Ezra Klein doesn’t really seem to believe it, as demonstrated by all the effort to impress upon us that Romney’s backers were more wealthy than Obama’s.  Who gives a shit?  If Obama and the Democrats were really perceived as a threat to the bankers, they would have been out collecting ballot access signatures with the Constitution Party instead of cruising to a second term.

Eugene Lucifer Gore Vidal

Nothing unifies people on opposite sides of our hairline fracture of a political divide quite like a public figure who openly ridicules their shared sacred cows.  Here we have a conservative and an apparent progressive reviling the prince of darkness himself, Gore Vidal, for more or less the exact same reasons.  You might think the man was a cannibal or something, but no—his real sins were sympathizing with terrorists, having the gall to believe that a U.S. president might have been involved in a conspiracy to drag the country into war, and, of course, anti-Semitism, that catch-all smear for anyone who opposes America’s pro-Israel foreign policy or, worse, suggests that Israel might actually be involved in a land-grab rather than defending its poor innocent self against those bloodthirsty Palestinians.

Not surprisingly, the Slate piece was the more humorless of the two, adding racism and elitism (i.e., conservatism) to the list of crimes.  You see, apparently there was a split in the progressive movement around the time of WWI, with the Woodrow Wilson and Teddy R. strain, the true progressives, bringing us the New Deal, and the other strain, embodied by Vidal’s grandfather and presumably Vidal himself, morphing into “Heartland conservatives” who hated immigrants and European cosmopolitanism, and who were isolationists (which, in case you didn’t know, also means anti-Semite).  A couple of nice ironies here.  First of all, I don’t think you could find a better example of a European cosmopolitan than Gore Vidal, who lived in Rome and had a villa on the Amalfi Coast and who relentlessly ridiculed the cultural backwardness of bible-thumping Americans (and who proclaimed that all people were naturally bi-sexual).  And second, Woodrow Wilson, exemplar of the right and true progressive path?  He may be the closest the U.S. has had to a Klansman-in-chief.

It’s true that Vidal was an elitist.  Just the other day I heard an excerpt from an old radio interview in which he said that all social change comes from the people at the top, not the bottom.  I guess that explains his inability to completely shake his affinity for the Democratic Party, and his belief that Hillary Clinton would have been something other than just another typical president.  To my mind, these are surer signs of malign influence than any sympathy he had for the victims at Ruby Ridge.

Quibbles with his politics aside, though, his essays (haven’t read any of his fiction) are a pure pleasure to read.  He was a master of deadpan mockery and the elegant put-down, and watching him (in print or on TV) destroy the self-appointed guardians of the political status quo, like the two clowns linked to above, is about as enjoyable a spectator sport as there is.

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