FICTITIOUS TIMES! Does anything we read make sense?

MONDAY, JUNE 18, 2012

Part 1—Brooks, then Collins: Does anything we read or hear make any actual sense?

Consider the most recent columns by two of our best-known columnists.

On Friday, David Brooks explained the outlook of modern Republicans. His piece ran beneath an ambitious headline: “What Republicans Think.”

According to Brooks, “many Republicans” have broken away from the party’s traditional outlook—an outlook which dates back through Eisenhower. According to Brooks, these Republicans “have now come to the conclusion that the welfare-state model is in its death throes.”

There is no doubt that many Republicans have broken from the past in significant ways. But what do these Republicans think is wrong with the “welfare state model?”

In this passage, Brooks explained. Frankly, we were puzzled:
BROOKS (6/15/12): In America as in Europe, Republicans argue, the welfare state is failing to provide either security or dynamism. The safety net is so expensive it won’t be there for future generations. Meanwhile, the current model shifts resources away from the innovative sectors of the economy and into the bloated state-supported ones, like health care and education. Successive presidents have layered on regulations and loopholes, creating a form of state capitalism in which big businesses thrive because they have political connections and small businesses struggle.

The welfare model favors security over risk, comfort over effort, stability over innovation. Money that could go to schools and innovation must now go to pensions and health care. This model, which once offered insurance from the disasters inherent in capitalism, has now become a giant machine for redistributing money from the future to the elderly.
What’s wrong with the “welfare state?” In the first paragraph, one of the problems is defined. The welfare state shifts money into “education,” a bloated sector.

In the second paragraph, a second problem is defined. The welfare state shifts money away from “schools,” the columnist now complains.

Do you understand these dueling complaints? Frankly, we do not. Is there some distinction between “education” and “schools,” a distinction which explains why Republicans want money to flow toward the one but away from the other?

If so, we have no idea what it is. Those paragraphs are consecutive, and they seem to contradict. But at America’s greatest newspaper, Brooks’ editor didn’t notice.

At least seven commenters did. We’ll offer four examples:
COMMENTER FROM FLORIDA: So we have the bloated education system in one paragraph and money that should go to education in the next. Seems to me Mr. Brooks can't figure out what the government should spend money on.

COMMENTER FROM MARYLAND: Notice the internal contradictions.

In the 7th paragraph, education is described in negative terms. It is listed as one of the "bloated state-supported" sectors of the economy.

By the time we get to the 8th paragraph, the welfare state is being criticized for diverting money from schools to pensions.

COMMENTER FROM BUFFALO: Brooks, I'm confused. First you say that “the current model shifts resources away from the innovative sectors of the economy and into the bloated state-supported ones, like health care and education." And then you say, "Money that could go to schools and innovation must now go to pensions and health care."

So Republicans believe in money for education or not?

COMMENTER FROM EAU CLAIRE: This is only a 754-word essay, but you manage to contradict yourself in such a dramatic fashion...
At least three other commenters noticed this problem. The Times itself did not.

How does an editor read such copy without requesting clarification? We’re not sure—although in fairness, many commenters complained about Brooks’ proposed cutbacks to “education” without noting his subsequent statement that more money should go to “schools.”

But then, how much work in the New York Times ever makes any actual sense? Should it be surprising when readers fail to notice such typical nonsense?

Does work in the New York Times ever make sense? Consider Gail Collins’ latest column. Did her piece make any real sense?

Brooks defined an ambitious task. In turn, Collins made a sweeping claim about the shape of our politics.

As usual, her claim was pleasing for liberals—and easy-to-follow. That said, does this make sense?
COLLINS (6/16/12): Our biggest political division is the war between the empty places and the crowded places.
That’s our biggest political division? As usual, Collins’ longer presentation was very pleasing for liberal readers. But does her claim really make sense?

Predictably enough, this formulation is Collins’ latest way to help us laugh at the red state rubes, who aren’t are smart as we are. Texas is her latest target. At one point, she tells us this:
COLLINS: Lately, I’ve been fascinated with Texas, the perfect exemplar of the New Empty. The population of Texas is approaching 26 million, mostly urban-suburbanites. But many of them believe they’re on the lone prairie. “Ask my students,” a professor at Texas A&M University told me. “They all associate themselves with the country. They’re living a myth. They think of Texas as open wide, but 80 percent of the people in Texas live in one of the major metropolitan areas.”
According to Collins, eighty percent of Texans live in major metropolitan areas (just the way she does). But since they “associate themselves with the country,” their conservative voting pattern verifies the “empty spaces” claim with which she began her piece.

It’s close enough for journalistic work! Dallas is an “empty space” for purposes of Collins’ column!

As a columnist, Collins likes keeping it simple. She also likes to play it safe, avoiding pushback from powerful sources. As long as she can keep her rubes laughing at the other rubes, she never has to tell us the truth:

Our biggest political conflict today involves the forty-year war of disinformation and influence waged by Corporate Power and Big Money.

Carefully ducking such dangerous “divisions,” Collins clowned for us blue-state rubes. In comments, we thanked her for it.

(Muffy, come quick! Good solid fun! She mentions the dog again!)

Republicans want to spend less on education—but more on schools. Meanwhile, millions of voters in Dallas and Houston are living in Empty Places! By the way, Collins recently told a million people that Texas has very poor public school test scores. In fact, Texas has very good test scores, if you review the testing program Collins recently praised at the nation’s most reliable.

Apparently, Collins didn't know that; see THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/11/12. But so it goes when a New York Times columnist writes a whole book on a subject!

Does anything ever make sense in the Times? At this point, do Times readers notice? Frankly, we were impressed to see seven commenters (out of 738) calling attention to Brooks’ apparent contradiction. As a general matter, New York Times readers rarely seem to notice the lack of real sense.

“We live in fictitious times,” Michael Moore once said. To this day, that remains the clearest statement we’ve seen about the shape of our public discourse.

Very few of the things we read make sense—and we rarely seem to notice. All week long, we’ll plow our way through recent examples.

Tomorrow: Bringing up bougie


  1. Can't make sense of Collins, but Brooks is speaking in code. Spending on "schools" is okay because it's a bricks-and-mortar deal, and we get to hang someone's name on it, maybe Saint Reagan's. Spending on "education", on the other hand, invariably means more teachers, more UNION teachers, and that's to be avoided.

  2. It’s close enough for journalistic work! Dallas is an “empty space” for purposes of Collins’ column!

    Well, it's enough for Collins that Texas urban/suburbanites (allegedly) tend to see themselves as being empty-spacers, even though they really aren't. So since 80% of Texans are such people, that verifies her hypothesis about why Texas is a Red state. That's my interpretation of her thinking, anyway.

    Whether it's an accurate hypothesis is a different story. Basing your theory about how Texans view themselves based on an anecdote about a couple of Aggies is a pretty slim reed indeed.

  3. I'm no fan of Brooks, and get past his double think smoothly.
    Perhaps he is referring to charter schools.
    in Arizona, charter schools have to build their own facilities with their own money.
    They get the same amount of state money per student that the public schools get.
    Conservatives in Arizona would like to get the taxpayer to pay for the buildings and facilities as well as operating expenses.
    In one sense, this is being done since businesses and individuals can make deductible donations to their favorite school already.

  4. Nice catch! Apparently the Republicans are fine with spending lots of money on schools, but only as long as no real education is going on in them. This explains their fanatical support for charter schools.