One phrase gives the Brookster away: In this morning’s New York Times, David Brooks writes as interesting if limited column about two kinds of policy writers.
One type of writer is “engaged;” the other type is “detached.” As he started, Brooks offered a description of writers he calls “engaged:”
BROOKS (4/30/13): Engaged or Detached?Later, Brooks describes the mind-set of the “detached” writer, the type of writer who doesn’t “closely align with a team.”
Let’s say you are a young person beginning to write about politics and policy. You probably have some idea of what you believe, but have you thought about how you believe it? That is to say, have you thought about where you will sit on the continuum that stretches from writers who are engaged to those who are detached?
Writers who are at the classic engaged position believe that social change is usually initiated by political parties. To have the most influence, the engaged writer wants to channel his efforts through a party.
The engaged writer closely and intimately aligns with a team. In his writing, he provides arguments for the party faithful and builds community by reminding everyone of the errors and villainy of the opposing side. For the engaged writer, the writing is often not about persuasion. (Realistically, how many times does a piece of writing persuade someone to switch sides?) It’s often about mobilization. It’s about energizing the people who already agree with you.
This is simplistic but interesting. It was only in the column’s fourth paragraph that we realized that David Brooks was describing himself and Paul Krugman.
As he continues, Brooks is still describing the “engaged” writer. One small phrase provided our clue—Brooks is describing Paul Krugman:
BROOKS (continuing directly): The engaged writer often criticizes his own party, but from a zone of trust inside it, and he is usually advising the party to return to its core creed. The engaged writer is willing to be repetitive because that’s how you make yourself an unavoidable pole in the debate. The goal is to have immediate political influence, to provide party leaders with advice, strategy and policy recommendations.“The engaged writer is willing to be repetitive!” At that point, we realized who Brooks was describing.
Krugman is very repetitive. He writed the same column again and again, the one about the lunacy of austerity policies at a time such as this. Sometimes we find the repetition annoying, but we think we know why he does it.
Years ago, when the topic was still highly current, people used to complain about the way we would repeat ourselves concerning the press corps’ treatment of Candidate Gore. In our view, we had a pretty good answer to these repetitive complaints:
Why did we keep saying the same (highly accurate) things? Because we couldn’t get anyone else to say them! The same situation obtains today when we mention the large score gains achieved by black kids on the NAEP.
Why do we keep citing those test scores? Because it’s virtually impossible to get anyone else to do so!
We often think of this problem when we see Krugman repeat himself. Even from a very high platform like Krugman’s, it is virtually impossible to get modern journalists to repeat an accurate statement or engage a valid analysis.
Career players cling to the safety of their existing stations. They are unwilling to say a single word until sixteen higher-ranking people have already said it.
They won’t repeat an accurate fact; they won’t address a valid argument. What is most true about modern journalists?
Endlessly, they work from the safety of tired old scripts. You can’t get them to state an accurate fact! It simply can’t be done.
Krugman writes the same column again and again. We think we know why he does that.
As we rarely ask, WWKS: Kierkegaard wrote a whole book called Repetition! Frankly, we don’t recommend it.