Hollywood watch: David Brooks knows novels!


If Romney could just learn to fake it: Over and over, the news is a novel! Just as we have long said!

In this morning’s New York Times, David Brooks sketches a novelized format Candidate Romney should ape:
BROOKS (2/10/12): Republicans are especially suspicious of the other-directed type. They feel as if they are battling against the headwinds of a hostile elite culture. They want their candidate to have built his temple upon a rock, to possess an unshakeable set of convictions, to be impervious to the opposition of Washington’s entrenched interests. They also believe that the next president is going to have to make some brutally difficult decisions in order to reduce the debt. This is not a task for someone who is perpetually adjusting to market signals.

If Romney is to thrive, he really needs to go on an integrity tour. He needs to show how his outer pronouncements flow directly from his inner core. He needs to trust that voters will take him as he really is. He needs to tell his own complicated individual story and stop reducing himself to the outsider/businessman advertising cliché. He needs to tell us what about his character is more fundamental than his national park patriotism and his skill at corporate restructuring.
Brooks is sketching a novel the pundit corps likes to type about major candidates. Here’s the problem: By now, it’s abundantly clear that this novel doesn’t fit Candidate Romney. For good or for ill, it’s abundantly clear that Candidate Romney’s outer pronouncements don’t flow directly from his inner core. For good or for ill, he doesn’t possess an unshakeable set of convictions.

And not only that:

Is the next president “going to have to make some brutally difficult decisions in order to reduce the debt?” Candidate Romney has already proposed extremely large tax cuts for the highest earners. These proposals dig the deficit hole much deeper. They show that he won’t even make the obvious decisions where this topic's involved.

As he continues, Brooks keeps typing the Official Approved Pundit Novel. This would make a conventional Hollywood film. But how could it be about Romney?
BROOKS (continuing directly): He needs to stop opportunistically backtracking on his Medicare position, just to please whatever senior group he happens to be in front of. He needs to show that he is willing to pursue at least a few unpopular policies, even policies that are unfashionable in his own party. Since many people fear that he is a suck-up, it would actually help him at this point if he violated party orthodoxy in some bold and independent way.

He needs to step outside the cautious incrementalism that is the inevitable product of excessive polling and focus-group testing. He needs to find a policy like entitlement reform that is so important to him that he’s willing to risk losing the presidency over it. The eternal rule of presidential politics is that a candidate has to be willing to lose everything if he’s going to win everything.
He needs to find a policy that is so important to him that he’s willing to risk losing the presidency over it? Romney is 64 years old. If he hasn’t already “found” such a policy, where would he find one now?

Brooks wants a Sister Soulja moment. He also wants a dramatic, principled stand. We don’t agree that a candidate must conform to this dreamy template. But these are ideas that come from a novel—and its story-line doesn’t fit Mitt.

Our news has been novelized for a long time. In this case, it’s a bit like the old saw concerning sincerity. If Romney can learn to fake this novel, all else will follow from there!


  1. Brooks reminds me of the windbag Polonius, giving advice to his son, Laertes: Do this, do that; don't do that, and don't do this. But above all, "To thine own self be true."

    Horace Feathers

  2. The phrase "needs to" annoys when used just once by anyone. To have to read it written, over and over, by a "professional journalist" is torture. What happened to "must" or "should"?

  3. "needs to" == "should" in this context. What's so bad about the phrase?

    Aside from the fatuousness of the user, that is.

  4. Republican candidates are NEVER told to stand up to their base. That's for Democrats. Not only is this advice to Romney crazy and suicidal, it actually runs AGAINST the standard press corps wisdom, which is that Democrats must prove they are "tough" by snubbing their base, and Republicans must prove they are tough, by snubbing the Democratic base. Or Democrats must prove they are "tough" by snubbing their own base, while proving they are "bipartisan" by nodding to, and even adopting, the positions of the Republican base. Republicans have simply not had the same requirements thrust upon them, at least not since Reagan. This might be a watershed moment we're seeing here, where the playing field is beginning to level.

  5. Why waste time on David Brooks? He's a hack, typing political novels and getting paid well for his "journalism," serving as Public Broadcasting's house conservative. Above all, he's a hack, fashioning "evidence" out of whole to support his conclusions and prescriptions no matter what real facts might indicate. He's a hack. Never forget, he put salad bars in Applebee's when the restaurant chain itself chose not to. He's a hack.

  6. Quaker in a BasementFebruary 10, 2012 at 7:57 PM

    Brooks wants a candidate who will take positions that are unpopular, even in his own party? Who will stand up against insider conventional wisdom?

    Someone who is....a maverick?

    Good golly, they never change, do they?

  7. Wouldn't it be funny if Mitt did find an issue worth losing over, and that issue was that the national debt isn't that big a deal and unemployment should be dealt with first? Or maybe that the rich should be paying more in taxes? Something tells me David Brooks wouldn't be singing his praises then.

    1. It would be tragic if a country continued to act on the belief that increased government spending was good for the economy, but that belief was incorrect. A country might keep increasing its government spending and keep increasing its debt, thinking that such a policy would reduce uneployment, but their policy would actually be making unemployment worse. Eventually the country would wind up with a broken economy and an unaffordable debt.

      Unfortunately, this isn't just hypothetical. It's what actually happened to much of Western Europe.

    2. When, pray tell, was that?

    3. David-in-CA has a lie, and it seems he's going to keep telling it.

      Runaway public debt was not the source of Europe's crash.

      David, please stop lying. Or, if you really don't know the facts, please just shut up.

    4. David:

      1. I don't think the facts are on your side when it comes to government spending. We've been doing de facto austerity for the last few years, and that hasn't helped much. Plus you don't describe a link between spending and unemployment - even honest conservative economists don't say that there is one (reading a book by gregory mankiw right now and he only says excessive deficit spending leads to inflation).

      2. I suggested Romney back a tax hike on rich people. How does that add to "unaffordable debt"?

  8. IMHO actions speak louder than words, when evaluating a candidate. Romney succeeded in fixing a big deficit in Mass. and balancing that budget. He also fixed a failing Olympics in a way that made it financially successful. Because of his actual record of success, I have confidence that Romney has the best chance to fix our federal deficit problem.

    1. D in C. I'm from Massachusetts. Romney got elected by portraying himself as a moderate republican. Massachusetts by law requires a balanced budget. He worked with the Democratic [in Reublicanese "Democrat"] legislature tokeep things going after the post 9/11 recession. Now he advocates reducigntaxes for the wealthy, increasing military spending, no increase in anyone's taxes, without explaining what he is going to cut. He's a fraud. Apparently, he'sso phony even large numbers of Republicans can stomach him. By the way, Massachusetts now with a Democratic [or, in Republican usage "Democrat"] governor and legislature, Massachusetts is doing relatively well, better than most Red States.

    2. Our problem isn't the federal deficit.

      Our problem is unemployment and the capture of government by the wealthiest.

      If we can be convinced that the phony deficit problem is the real issue, we will only slit our own throats to feed the bankers and creditor class.

    3. My guess is that Massachusetts, like all other states, can't run a deficit and that the budget gets balanced by whoever's in charge because it has to be.

      And, no, Romney isn't our best bet. He's advocating policies that will increase the deficit. Sometimes you have to take these people at their word.

  9. Romney is who he is...He is Republican, a businessman for profit first and his religion which he says he as loyal to as his wife, tells you some things...and Mormons believe in what they believe; they are homophobic and basically "white" majorities even though they let some blacks into the church in the 70's or so? Civil rights legislation forced it...as to women in the church, well, they are white mostly and they stand their ground. So that is his beleifs/orientation and he is who he is...this is not criticism it is what we know about him; he is basically agile and or opportunistic...so what? The "core missing" in Romney argument is probably true based on appearances but the real problem as I see it about Romney; i.e., his gaffes, missteps, et cetra...is that he is the least self aware candidate In my lifetime. He believes he is entitled too and that is at his core...that is his persona and he believes this and he means it. That is core Romney and the "out of touchnes" on display cements this at his core.

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