The undisguised soul of class preference: This morning’s column by David Brooks is truly one for the ages.
Looking down from the heights of Olympus, Brooks starts by explaining how human life works. It isn’t that what he’s saying is “wrong.”
But who is he talking about?
BROOKS (5/18/12): The people who pioneered democracy in Europe and the United States had a low but pretty accurate view of human nature. They knew that if we get the chance, most of us will try to get something for nothing. They knew that people generally prize short-term goodies over long-term prosperity. So, in centuries past, the democratic pioneers built a series of checks to make sure their nations wouldn’t be ruined by their own frailties.It isn’t that what he’s saying is “wrong.” But when he talks about all that selfishness which needs all that watching, who is he talking about?
The American founders did this by decentralizing power. They built checks and balances to frustrate and detain the popular will. They also dispersed power to encourage active citizenship, hoping that as people became more involved in local government, they would develop a sense of restraint and responsibility.
Though the forms were different, the democracies in Europe and the United States were based on a similar carefully balanced view of human nature: People are naturally selfish and need watching. But democratic self-government is possible because we’re smart enough to design structures to police that selfishness.
Is he talking about average people—average people who might want help getting their (over-priced) health insurance? Or is he talking about Masters of the Universe, the billionaires, hustlers, gamblers and swells who have destroyed the American system?
As he continues, it’s stunningly clear who Brooks means. This is the shape of the “depravity” which has our high lord so upset:
BROOKS: James Madison put it well: “As there is a degree of depravity in mankind, which requires a certain degree of circumspection and distrust: So there are other qualities in human nature, which justify a certain portion of esteem and confidence.”Rather clearly, it’s the average Joe and Josephine against whom we need protection. Brooks isn’t discussing our billionaire masters. He’s discussing “many voters,” “the popular will.”
But, over the years, this balanced wisdom was lost. Leaders today do not believe their job is to restrain popular will. Their job is to flatter and satisfy it. A gigantic polling apparatus has developed to help leaders anticipate and respond to popular whims. Democratic politicians adopt the mind-set of marketing executives. Give the customer what he wants. The customer is always right.
Having lost a sense of their own frailty, many voters have come to regard their desires as entitlements. They become incensed when their leaders are not responsive to their needs. Like any normal set of human beings, they command their politicians to give them benefits without asking them to pay.
According to Brooks, “many voters have come to regard their desires as entitlements.” In his various constructions, no billionaires can be found!
Are we "voters" sometimes selfish? Yes, of course we are! But it’s astounding to review events of the past twenty years and think that we average shlubs are at fault. And yet, that’s the way Lord Brooks paints the picture all through this remarkable column.
Only once in his long diatribe does he pretend to cover his keister. In our view, this just makes it worse:
BROOKS: The American decentralized system of checks and balances has transmogrified into a fragmented system that scatters responsibility. Congress is capable of passing laws that give people benefits with borrowed money, but it gridlocks when it tries to impose self-restraint.Can you spot the one little sentence which acknowledges the fact that billionaires (“well-financed interests”) can sometimes be grasping too? Just in case you missed that needle, we highlighted it there in the haystack.
The Obama campaign issues its famous “Julia” ad, which perfectly embodies the vision of government as a national Sugar Daddy, delivering free money and goodies up and down the life cycle. The Citizens United case gives well-financed interests tremendous power to preserve or acquire tax breaks and regulatory deals. American senior citizens receive health benefits that cost many times more than the contributions they put into the system.
In Europe, workers across the Continent want great lifestyles without long work hours. They want dynamic capitalism but also personal security. European welfare states go broke trying to deliver these impossibilities.
Brooks just bought a $4 million house. As he prepares to move in and up, he’s troubled by the little people. So grasping! So greedy! So unrestrained in their appetites, whims and desires!
Meanwhile, what did Brooks do to receive his four million? People! Other journos won’t ask!
Same general idea: On Wednesday evening’s Hardball, Chris Matthews was pretending to be very upset. How did Mitt Romney make all that money, the world’s biggest phony asked:
MATTHEWS (5/16/12): Why is Romney ducking the press? He’s on the plane being cute about it, but he’s saying he doesn’t have to answer your questions. He’s laughing about it in that sort of phony laugh of his. Is he afraid of questions this time? What’s he going to do when he’s president? No more press conferences, no more answering?How quaint. No one whored for his millions any more than Matthews did. First he slimed the Clintons for Jack Welch, then he spent two solid years sliming Candidate Gore.
By the way, Bain Capital. That’s where you worked. That’s how you got rich. Explain the money! Show us how you made the money!
This is Hardball, the place for politics.
Reward: $5 million per year! Eight years of Bush in the White House!
Watching Mathews ask questions like this is a study in the way our "press corps" works. The pseudo-liberals of the corps have always tolerated Chris. They want the fame and the money too—and his show was a route to “success.”
He made up shit about Gore for two years. (By now, of course, he has been repurposed.) Everybody kept their traps shut tight.
Today, Joan and David adore him.