Also, new thoughts from Frank Bruni: Yesterday, Elias Isquith got it right about Frank Bruni’s latest.
Or at least, he started an important discussion. But first, let’s consider last Friday’s column by David Brooks!
Personally, we’re not a fan of Brooks Derangement Syndrome. That said, Brooks is becoming extremely strange in his new career as a TED Talk character guru. This was never more apparent than when he decided to ponder the greatness of General Robert E. Lee.
We can think of few discussions which matter less at this point than an attempt to cipher Lee’s morality quotient. Last Friday, though, Brooks decided to give it a try.
His analysis started like this:
“The case for Lee begins with his personal character. It is almost impossible to imagine a finer and more considerate gentleman.”
As he continued, Brooks mentioned Lee’s “impeccable honesty, integrity and kindness,” both as a general and as a public figure. “As a family man, he was surprisingly relaxed and affectionate,” Brooks added, noting that Lee “loved having his kids jump into bed with him and tickle his feet.”
Lee could “write witty and even saucy letters to other women” Brooks saucily observed, though Lee only did this “with his wife’s cooperation.” Beyond that, he was “a gifted watercolorist, a lover of animals and a charming conversationalist.”
Did we note the fact that none of this actually matters at this point? That no one who loves community should get drawn into discussions of General Lee, fair or foul?
Except from someone deeply conversant with the morés of a distant time, it really doesn’t make much sense to measure the moral greatness of Lee. Having said that, let us also say this: It’s peculiar to read, of any person, that it’s “almost impossible to imagine a finer and more considerate gentleman,” only to reach a disclaimer like this rather late in the discussion:
BROOKS (6/25/15): The case against Lee begins with the fact that he betrayed his oath to serve the United States...Brooks even decided to drag Lincoln in, partially making him play over there on the general’s side!
More germane, while Lee may have opposed slavery in theory he did nothing to eliminate or reduce it in practice. On the contrary, if he’d been successful in the central task of his life, he would have preserved and prolonged it.
Like Lincoln he did not believe African-Americans were yet capable of equality. Unlike Lincoln he accepted the bondage of other human beings with bland complaisance. His wife inherited 196 slaves from her father. Her father’s will (somewhat impractically) said they were to be freed, but Lee didn’t free them.
Lee didn’t enjoy owning slaves, but he was considered a hard taskmaster and he did sell some, breaking up families...
Even by our permissive standards, we thought that column was pretty strange. Every column by Brooks gets trashed. For that reason, we expected to see this column torn limb from limb.
We didn’t see anyone cite it at all!
Yesterday, in a bit of an echo, we got a rather peculiar column from Bruni. As Isquith correctly noted, the oddball column started like this, headline included:
BRUNI (7/1/15): The Sunny Side of GreedIn fairness, Bruni was being a bit tongue-in-cheeky. But he went on to praise the corporations for their stands on several “social issues,” analyzing the reasons behind their obvious moral greatness:
In the dire prophecies of science-fiction writers and the fevered warnings of left-wing activists, big corporations will soon rule the earth—or already do.
Fine with me.
BRUNI: [T]hose efforts, coupled with whatever genuine altruism and civic obligation some corporate leaders feel, have produced compelling recent examples of companies showing greater sensitivity to diversity, social justice and the changing tides of public sentiment than lawmakers often manage to.Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead! Let corporations rule!
Corporations aren’t paralyzed by partisan bickering. They’re not hostage to a few big donors, a few loud interest groups or some unyielding ideology.
“They’re ultimately more responsive to a broader group of voters—customers—than politicians are,” said Bradley Tusk, whose firm, Tusk Strategies, does consulting for both private corporations and public officials.
“If you’re a politician and all you care about is staying in office, you’re worried about a small group of voters in your district who vote in the primary,” he told me, referring to members of the House of Representatives. “If you’re a corporation, you need to be much more in sync with public opinion, because you’re appealing to people across the spectrum.”
Even at the new Salon, Isquith correctly railed against the strangeness of the piece. We’re sorry he linked to a piece which has the unmistakable feel of journalistic borrowing, but we can’t say he necessarily could or should have known.
(For that linked piece, you can just click here. People are supposed to say where they got all their information.)
In our view, the Bruni piece has more to tell us that even Isquith said. In our view, it helps us see something we might not otherwise tend to notice—the way we get sold “social issues” by many corporate journalists, even perhaps by our fiery “liberal” corporate journalists, even as they hide the ways the entire country is getting looted by the pols and the corporations on the “budget issue” side.
Health care spending, we’re looking at you! Also, TPP!
Having just learned that tomorrow’s a holiday, we expect to discuss this topic next week. In the meantime, Elias Isquith got it right, while leaving more to be said.