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The Dreamlife of Bobo

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David Brooks describes an imaginary supporter of radical Trotskyite Elizabeth Warren:

I yearn for order. Blunt simplicities. Politics provides the Manichaean binaries I can’t find anywhere else … I need leaders and spokesmen who will never show uncertainty. I want leaders who tell simple blame stories … So, my politics is not really about issues … I don’t deal with the complexities of economics or foreign affairs … I am indignant. I am superior. 

The obvious problem:

This seems like a fair description of Brooks’s own politics, at least, as expressed in his critique of Warren. The Massachusetts senator has not condemned America’s political and economic institutions as valueless and worthy of destruction. She describes herself as “capitalist to my bones,” and sings paens to the glories of market competition. As for her attitude toward U.S. nationalism, the official title of her trade agenda is “A Plan for Economic Patriotism.” She has (problematically) named Teddy Roosevelt as her personal hero. Her stump speeches are routinely framed around retellings of inspirational episodes from American history. “Our nation’s basic institutions are sound and full of promise, they just need to be reformed” is, more or less, the candidate’s message.

But Brooks demands blunt simplicities. He isn’t interested in the “complexities of economics,” so he does not bother to elucidate the distinction between Warren’s desire for (in his words) “structural change to … the basic structures of the market,” and his own interest in reforming American capitalism to help immigrants better compete. The intensity of Warren’s dissatisfaction with our increasingly inequitable economy — and anti-democratic political system — challenges his belief that “America has a special destiny as the last best hope of earth” (which is in no way a fanatical or immoderate thing to believe). And moderate liberals (apparently) cannot tolerate such uncertainty. They yearn for order, and Manichaean binaries. If you believe in the Constitution, then you cannot support amending it. After all, the Electoral College operates exactly how its founders intended; therefore, any changes to our system of electing presidents wouldn’t represent another chapter in a long history of reform, but rather, a radical break with the American way. Similarly, the Supreme Court has always had nine justices. And the basic structures of America’s market economy have never undergone changes as sweeping as those that Elizabeth Warren has prescribed: From the time of the Declaration’s signing until today, American capitalism has always been known for its transnational tech and finance oligopolies, rapidly shrinking middle class, and low levels of social mobility. Thus, it’s reasonable to assume that anyone calling for drastic changes to America’s status quo political economy must reject its foundational ideals (which are too self-evident and uncontentious to require definition). And surely, no politician who calls herself a liberal — in the American sense — would ever entertain increasing the number of justices on the Supreme Court.

One could write another 1,000 words on the fallacies and hypocrisies Brooks has constructed his column (and political identity) atop. But there wouldn’t be much point. His politics is not really about issues. He is indignant. He is superior.

[Chef’s kiss] And also:

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