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.