Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Our Mr. Brooks: David vs. Al

Remember Eve Arden in that old sit-com, "Our Miss Brooks?" She was a schoolmarm who went the way of all sit-coms before re-runs, into our collective memory. Well, she's gone but we still have our Mr. Brooks. And he tries to teach us how to think from his blackboard on The New York Times. Let me start with a confession. I have yet to read Al Gore’s “The Assault on Reason” but I did read David Brooks critique of the book in the New York Times with my Tuesday morning coffee. Having established my lack of qualifications for defending Al Gore against Mr. Brooks’s screed on Gore’s reasoning and writing style, I will nevertheless proceed to write about something I know little about, just as Mr. Brooks does in column after column.

In his current Times opinion piece, The Vulcan Utopia, the Times foremost apologist for complacency during the Bush years attacks Al Gore for writing such labored sentences as “The remedy for what ails our democracy is not simply better education (as important as that is) or civic education (as important as that can be) but the reestablishment of a genuine democratic discourse in which individuals can participate in a meaningful way…” Yes. Yes. Yes. Yawn. Yawn. Yawn. Not up there with E.B. White or Scott Fitzgerald and the great English prose stylists of the past, but it got Gore’s idea across to me. It is a call for discourse rather than ranting and for the free expression of ideas rather than their suppression when dealing with the problems we face as a nation. Because of Gore’s belief that sound bite television has lowered our political discourse, and that the internet may remedy that failure to inform the electorate, Brooks calls Gore a “radical technological determinist.” After attacking Gore for a lousy writing style, Brooks strings together those three snooze inducing words for his polemic against Gore’s book. So much for Brooks’s style. Now all of us – writers and speakers – make small and great boo-boos in communicating. But how many of us would use the ugly non-word “upscalization” in a sentence in The New York Times as Brooks did in a recent column, and get away with it? Spell-check suggests that I replace “upscalization” with “specialization” but spell-check like Brooks has a lot of ideas but no common sense. He does get away with this and an endless stream of intellectual and stylistic absurdities by defending everything from the surge in Iraq to the purge in the Justice Department (albeit a wobbly defense) because The New York Times wants its tame, button down water carrier for the GOP to have his say in the name of fairness. Someone from the other side, which we now know as the dark side, has to be there to balance Maureen Dowd, who represents the gaudy side or Frank Rich, the sane and articulate side.

It seems clear to me that Mr. Brooks has begun the conservative attack on Gore in the hope that it will keep the thin skinned Gore from entering the Presidential race and winning it. “See what you’re gonna get, Al, if you take the plunge? The waters cold and murky!” is the subtext here. “Right now we are gonna call you stuffy and confused. Later we’ll add fat and foolish.” He suggests that Gore is some kind of Vulcan utopian, in other words a man who puts technology ahead of human beings, Vulcan being the god of Fire who like Gore was nuts for technical progress. He completely misses the appeal of Al Gore today; it is not his confidence in the progress that will come from technology (old hat) but Gore’s fundamental humanity, his respect for the individual, his respect for human rights, civil rights, and the Constitution - and his lack of cant about this President. What we admire is Gore’s willingness to speak out and risk being called a sore winner. I will continue to read our Mr. Brooks and watch him on the PBS nightly news because he is what passes for a Republican moderate, a man who speaks in a calm voice to defend this rotting administration, an undertaker spraying perfume on the surge, and nodding his head sadly at the fate of Attorney General Gonzales. It should not surprise us that our Mr. Brooks was educated at the University of Chicago in the seventies, educated under the conservative philosophy of Leo Strauss and birthplace of the neo-con movement, or that his first job was at The conservative "Weekly Standard." There he received his Phd in complacency. The very education, and the human concerns that Al Gore espouses may ultimately save us from the likes of Mr. Brooks and his intellectual masters, those neo-cons, and those plain old cons, Cheney and Bush.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Choosing a date for the Democratic prom

As a life long Democrat, both big and small d whose first vote was for Adlai Stevenson, I am having my troubles with the current crop of would-be candidates. I am finding it hard to pick any one of them to take as my date to the prom. I am not listing them in the order of preference but in the order of trouble they cause me.

Hillary Clinton. She's the woman I want to love...the girl I want to take...but somehow I don't love her and I don't want to spend the next four years attending to her. She's smart, she's well connected, pleasant looking, and obviously ambitious - she's mother's choice for the prom, the Republicans and Maureen Dowd love to dump on her (great reasons for loving her) and yet...and yet..I can't bring myself to ask her to the dance. Yes, I find her being ambitious a great quality, if ambition means being prepared, wanting power for the good of the many - all different from the Bush ambition which manages to be lazy, selfish and ruthless at the same time. But I cannot warm towards her. Maybe it's the harsh, unmodulated speaking voice, or maybe it's just prejudiced me. My wife might say that I have the old male propensity to distrust strong women. If that was so I would not love both my wife and my late mother both strong , wonderful women, or worshiped Eleanor Roosevelt. No, there is a dryness in the soul and a coldness in the heart that I see in Mrs. Clinton and I fear it. It is the dryness and the coldness that places expediency about principle, the very expediency that allowed her to vote for the war, and to hang tough by defending that egregious vote. Most of all, I fear that others, too many others will fear it and see it as well. After Bush the American public will be - and should be - taking a hard look at all the candidates, and I don't think Hillary will pass the test. Oh, she may get the nomination - money and power still talks and grabs - and if she does, I will vote for her. With all her cautions and equivocations I will support her against any of the reptilian Republican candidates, all of them damned by their lies, and their willingness to embrace a party that has brought America to near ruin, both morally and economically. But guys, gals, fellow Dems, we can do better, can't we?

Barak Obama. Our Prince Charming. What Hillary lacks in charisma he makes up for in buckets full of charm...forget buckets, truck loads full, railway cars full, tankers full. I like his jaunty JFK persona, the rhetoric, the little hesitations in the voice, the scrappy pretty wife, the kids, and the skin color, the whole appealing biography. Yes, his being black is very important to me. If he was white I wouldn't give him another look, he'd just be another smart young guy on the make with a good line of talk. But I have yet to hear anything of substance from him, anything that can turn around this country as it comes crashing down after the Bush fiasco. I will withhold judgment on him for awhile - and yes, I'd vote for him over any fear mongering Giuliani they can throw up as their candidate. But Barak, you gotta give more to get more. If you don't put out a little more you'll never get that date for the prom.

John Edwards. Screw the four hundred dollar haircuts. How the hell can this country obsess about that when we are trillions of dollars up to our eyeballs in Bush wasted war money? But it does matter in our world of scandals and sound-bites. I am besotted with the great Elizabeth and I tell myself if she can love him as she does, well so should I. I like most of what he stands for, his sense of decency regarding the poor, an unequivocal anti-war stance, and a willingness to put himself on the line. But there is something preening, the male peacock in all his plumage that is a little off putting, often I feel he is the lawyer making his case for the judge and jury rather than the man who speaks to me directly from his heart. Still, for now, he's the best of the upper-tier candidates, and he would get my vote above all of the above.

Bill Richardson. Don't know enough about him yet but what I know I like. He's got wit (and we sure do need someone who can crack wise rather than being a wise-ass like Bush.) He's Hispanic, a great virtue, it's time we opened the Presidential men's club to Hispanics, and he's immensely personable and has great public service credentials. My best wait-and- see Candidate. Can he rise from his spot in the dreaded polls? That may well be his test in the months ahead. Like him a lot.

Dennis whose last name I can't spell. Good man. No chance. Yes, looks do count in our Brangelina world. Sad, but Honest Abe couldn't have made it in our cable news world. Happy that he's there to keep the other candidates honest.

And of course the reluctant Al Gore. Probably my first choice. I too was once young, good looking and thin, and I have the pictures to prove it. Now I am old, overweight, and except for my wife, nobody's idea of a looker. So I see in Gore both the advantages of age - wisdom - and the disadvantages - the need for that extra slice of Key Lime pie. Gore, more than anyone else appeals to the cranky old man in me. He's everything I believe in. Going on after a huge defeat, even an illegal defeat, making an immense contribution to the discourse of our time - both on global warming and the nature of democracy. Sure he looks a little smug these days. Wouldn't you if you have pulled yourself up after that crappy 2000 election - an election stolen by the highest court in the land - and done the great work that Al Gore has done? He's the best we have out there, but he may not ultimately wish to run, a sad fact for the country. So I will be juggling with these names in the months to come. And go with any one of them to the prom rather than that terrifying group of lying, shape shifting Republican candidates - most of whom belong on a police lineup with our President and VP rather than on a ballot. Or at the prom.