David Brooks makes some decent points!


On the same page, Meacham wanders:
In our view, David Brooks makes some good points this morning.

He listed eight ideas which "moderates tend to embrace." In our view, the first such idea may well be the best, especially in a giant, continental nation with an array of cultures and regional outlooks:
BROOKS (8/22/17): The truth is plural. There is no one and correct answer to the big political questions. Instead, politics is usually a tension between two or more views, each of which possesses a piece of the truth. ... Politics is a dynamic unfolding, not a debate that can ever be settled once and for all.
As a general matter, we agree with that. We'll return to this idea below.

We may not really agree with at least one of Brooks' ideas. Is this idea actually true?

"In politics, the lows are lower than the highs are high."

According to Brooks, government can blunder horribly, for example by creating wars and depressions. That's true, of course, but government can also create a program like Social Security. How much suffering has that program wiped away over the years?

Here's another of Brooks' ideas with which we would tend to agree. Below, though, we'll offer a comment:
BROOKS: Truth before justice. All political movements must face inconvenient facts—thoughts and data that seem to aid their foes. If you try to suppress those facts, by banning a speaker or firing an employee, then you are putting the goals of your cause, no matter how noble, above the search for truth. This is the path to fanaticism, and it always backfires in the end.
This idea is fairly close to the first idea we praised. If you agree that "the truth is plural," you're likely to be attracted to the idea that facts shouldn't be disappeared in service to partisan ends.

That said, we'll offer a comment. When Brooks imagines suppression of facts, he thinks about such conduct as "banning a speaker or firing an employee."

We think of such conduct as maintaining an industry-wide code of silence, the way Brooks and his press corps colleagues have done for these many long years. No one suppresses facts any more than the mainstream press does!

One more suggestion. In listing the world's best ideas, Brooks probably shouldn't use words no one understands, as he does in one example. "Creativity is syncretistic?" Nobody knows what that means!

We're going to close with a thought about a second column from today's New York Times. It was written by Jon Meacham. It's the immediate neighbor of Brooks' column to the left, or the west.

Meacham is trying to tell us what we should think about those Confederate statues. More specifically, he's trying to explain why it's a good idea to dump those statues of Robert E. Lee while leaving George Washington up. In this way, he's contradicting some of the things Donald J. Trump has said.

Should we dump Lee but leave Washington up? That seems to be Meacham's (highly conventional) view. That said, does everyone have to agree with that view? At several points, we wondered if the sage of Tennessee knows that truth is plural:
MEACHAM (8/22/17): To me, the answer to Mr. Trump’s question begins with a straightforward test: Was the person to whom a monument is erected on public property devoted to the American experiment in liberty and self-government? Washington and Jefferson and Andrew Jackson were. Each owned slaves; each was largely a creature of his time and place on matters of race. Yet each also believed in the transcendent significance of the nation, and each was committed to the journey toward “a more perfect Union.”

By definition, the Confederate hierarchy fails that test.
Those who took up arms against the Union were explicitly attempting to stop the American odyssey...
Yay yay yay yay yay yay yay! The argument works out the way we liberals like, with General Lee crashing down and Donald J. Trump badly wrong.

To us, the problem with that passage lurks in the word "straightforward." The word was selected to make it sound like Meacham's position is hard to assail.

Is it, though? For example, is it really so obvious that Washington and Jefferson were "devoted to the American experiment in liberty and self-government?"

Is it obvious that this is true in a way that's so "straightforward" that everyone has to agree? So obvious that no one could sensibly think that they too should come crashing down?

We're going to say it isn't! We're also going to challenge Meacham's softened charge of treason against Lee. (Lee was "explicitly attempting to stop the American odyssey.")

Ever since Donald J. Trump shot off his mouth last week, we liberals have been reveling in the charge of treason against Lee and them. We think that's childish, silly, unwise. Try a thought experiment:

Suppose the northern states had housed the slave empire, and the southern states had not. Suppose that the southern states had declared secession as a matter of protest against this obvious evil.

That isn't what happened, of course. But try to imagine what our noble tribe would think if it had.

Would we liberals be condemning those southerners as traitors? Or would be be praising them for their attempt to separate themselves from an evil institution?

Our point is simple. The problem with the southern states is the fact that they sought to defend an indefensible system. (That isn't the fault of anyone living today.) In another situation, we might praise the greatness of a group of states which sought to withdraw from an evil union.

That isn't what happened, of course. But aren't we defining secession as treason mainly because we dislike what secession was for?

Ever since Donald J. Trump mouthed off last week, it seems to us that the liberal world has been reshaping arguments to ensure that his statements will all turn out to have been crazily wrong. Of a sudden, we're all riled up about Lee's "treason." Meanwhile, Washington remains a great man devoted to our ideals, despite the horrible way he hunted down his runaway enslaved persons.

All the analysts love Meacham's sense of humor. But as we read his column today, it seemed to us that he was violating some of Brook's more sensible ideas.

He didn't seem to be working real hard to remind himself that "truth is plural." It seemed to us that he may have been violating another of Brooks ideas, the one about partisan fury:
BROOKS: Partisanship is necessary but blinding. Partisan debate sharpens opinion, but partisans tend to justify their own sins by pointing to the other side’s sins. Moderates are problematic members of their party. They tend to be hard on their peers and sympathetic to their foes.
"Partisanship is blinding?" Surely, we all understand that concept by now.

In recent weeks, have we liberals been spinning Washington up so we can spin Donald Trump down? Suddenly, Washington is morally great. Are we saying that because Donald J. Trump said something we want to knock down?

One final point: At one point, Meacham praises Lee. It almost sounds like Robert E. Lee would have chosen to tear himself down:
MEACHAM: While we should judge each individual on the totality of their lives (defenders of Lee, for instance, point to his attempts to be a figure of reconciliation after the war), the forces of hate and of exclusion long ago made Confederate imagery their own. Monuments in public places of veneration to those who believed it their duty to fight the Union have no place in the Union of the 21st century—a view with which Lee himself might have agreed. “I think it wiser,” he wrote in 1866, “not to keep open the sores of war.”
“I think it wiser not to keep open the sores of war?" We often think that we fiery liberals might sensibly ponder such words now and then. As is true with us "humans" all over the earth, we tend to like to loathe.


  1. David Brooks does not deserve to be read, nevermind quoted on a supposedly progressive site.

  2. David Brooks does not deserve to be read, nevermind quoted on a supposedly progressive site.

  3. Well, thanks for yer 4 cents, Granny!

  4. Treason is defined in the constitution. "Treason against the United States shall consist only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort."

    Robert E Lee levied war against the United States, therefore he committed treason.

  5. Yeah, wage slavery had become a more efficient mode of production in the 19th c., which, indeed, was the root cause for the secession followed by northern invasion.

    At the time of invasion, though, the northern elite didn't care about replacing one form of slavery with another; all they wanted was to regain control over the southern provinces.

    Anyway, this is all irrelevant. The kind of 'cultural revolution' we're witnessing now obviously is an incident of mass-insanity, and it's certainly indicative of a deepest crisis.

    1. ....northern invasion...

      Is anyone still confused about this asshole and why he is here?

    2. Was it OK for the Confederates to bombard Ft Sumter, a US military base? Would it be OK for the Cubans to shell the US base at Guantanamo?

    3. Isn't it obvious to everybody that it was just a pretext? Do you really believe that if the fort wasn't bombarded the US wouldn't have invaded?

      Anyhow, to answer your question: in this sort of situation, of course you should ask the foreign power politely to remove their military installation from your territory. But if they refuse, all bets are off. The Cuban state, obviously, is too weak to forcibly remove it, so it's still there, in clear violation of Cuban sovereignty and common decency.

    4. mm, Mao has unusual opinions. He's pro-Confederate but concedes that the US base on Guantanamo Bay violates Cuban sovereignty and common decency.

      He could be Chinese, as his name suggests, or he could be Russian, but he's probably not American.

      Mao, do you understand that the Confederates would have seized Cuba if they could have? And they would have maintained slavery there.

    5. You're paying way too much attention to my humble online persona, while completely ignoring the content, the things I actually said. It's fine, whatever gets you off, but if you want to have an actual conversation, you need to try to generate, inside your head,some thought related to the content, and express it, dear. Concentrate.

    6. impCaesarAvg: see here re Māo Chéng Jì 猫城记.

      You could just as usefully assume he’s either a Russian troll posting from St. Petersburg, or an alt-rightist from the US Deep South. His mental gears are stripped just as much as either; and he’ll repeatedly miss the point (“What?”), dodge it, duck it, evade it, avoid it, invert it, or [as above] insist that you never made any point at all.

      (See this subthread for example.)

  6. Trump doesn't give a damn about Robert E Lee. He's pandering to a segment of his voters, and as usual trying to use it as a wedge issue to benefit himself.
    And, Mr. Somerby, there are many Southerners who are deeply offended by the symbols of that "indefensible" system. Some of these Southerners aren't even liberal. You see, these symbols did have and still do have a racist appeal, not to everyone who defends them, but to far too many. Why not let communities decide how they want to handle this? Do we need the "president" taking sides on it and continully stoking the fires of resentment?

  7. I would also point out that many communities, like Charlottesville and Lexington, Kentucky, had quiet discussions and votes by the city councils to remove the confederate statues. These discussion involved 'liberal' and 'conservative' folks. News flash: some conservatives are offended by these monuments. It only became a national 'wedge' issue when the KKK and Trump turned it into one. How can you not see this, Mr. Somerby?

    1. I think that you're very right, Anonymous. I think Bob is one of the best analysts in the country, and I won't even say that he's "wrong" here. He certainly is correct when he warns about being too sure of one's viewpoint and acting as if someone else's perspective has no value.

      But the calls for caution, while appropriate, come very close to a "both sides do it" analysis. I know that Bob would agree that, in fact, one "side" is more culpable than the other.