Brooks, Broder & the Illusion of Right-Left Political Spectrum
There are many things that confuse me about the liberal blogosphere. (e.g.: Why is it that even when you’re in power you seem to think the end of the world is nigh?) But the thing that confuses me most is this belief that the worst human being in the entire history of the universe is either David Broder or David Brooks.
What’s up with that?
Media Matters, Mother Jones, Think Progress, you name it – they all seem to have a weird hang up with the guys. I’m pretty sure that in order to blog at Balloon Juice, John Cole makes you sign a contract stipulating you’ll bang on one of them at least once a week. Even our own Elias reaches for the slur “low Broderism” when he’s looking to slosh some derision around. As best I can tell, the liberal blogosphere would happily grant two terms to Mitt Romney if only Brooks agreed to not write a single sentence during Mitt’s tenure, and Broder agreed to stay dead.
I find this weird. Mind you, I am not a big consumer of either. Still, while both Broder and Brooks were certainly “On the Right,” each has (or in Broder’s case, had) far more in common with the Left than most other Right-y pundits. Broder won his Pulitzer by translating the byzantine corruptions of the Nixon administration so that non-political junkies could understand exactly how the GOP icon was crooked. My own earliest memory of Broder was his now famous interview with Bush I, where he revealed the presidential candidate as a man completely out of touch with day-to-day American life – a picture that continued to build momentum through Bush’s presidency and was part of what killed his next campaign four years later. To what should be his Lefty credit, Brooks publicly urged Obama to run, is pro-choice, has long been a proponent of same-sex marriage, and has been a voice in the Right’s wilderness to abandon its short-sighted Safety-Nets-Are-Satanic jingoism. Hell, the guy’s on PBS for fish sake. If anything, Brooks & Broder should be the types of writers the Left should point to as examples of what the Right should strive to be. Why then are Broder & Brooks* instead ushered to the 9th Circle of Left-Bloggy Hell?
The answer, I suspect, is the blogosphere’s worship of that most ridiculous of fantasies: the Right-to-Left political spectrum.
The entire concept of the Right-to-Left political spectrum was born of the French Revolution, which itself ought to be something of a red flag. At the time, the Right referred to those from the aristocracy and church and the Left to the “commoners.” The struggle was fairly transparent, as each side nakedly fought for power for the sake of that power and its bounty. In modern times, however, we have strangely created a mental picture of a one-dimensional straight line that perfectly captures the entire world of political possibilities, with Communism on one end and Fascism on the other. (Unless you’re a member of the New Right, in which case you believe Communism, Fascism, Royalism, Cannibalism, and the Daleks are all to the left – and days filled with valuable cash prizes, unicorns and slightly tipsy swimsuit models that want to meet you will all be yours if we only veer as far Right on the graph as possible.)
But the Right-Left political spectrum is an overly simplistic model, and as such it is an illusion; and not any illusion, but the worst kind: It seduces us into abandoning the hard work of critical thought by conning us into believing that our knee-jerk regurgitation of dogma is born of philosophical purity. It is a fairy tale.
For example, we might say that we hold as our most core value our individual liberty, unfettered by outside government interference. And yet consider for a moment the scenario of a group of American citizens, disgusted with the current state of the Union, who buy huge quantities of munitions and hole up in a compound out in the woods or desert waiting for The Collapse. Then consider a group of Muslims looking to set up a house of worship in downtown Manhattan. Were the Right-to-Left spectrum what we say it is, the venn diagrams of political pundits avidly supporting both those scenarios without controversy would be a single circle, or at least close to it. Instead, CATO folks aside there is barely any overlap at all.
Or consider if you prefer the issue of freedom of religion: How much overlap is there on our Right-Left spectrum between those that support the Catholic Church’s desire to be free from paying for premiums that subsidize birth control, and those that support the Episcopal Church’s wish to legally marry gay couples in whatever state they wish? In either of the examples above the compelling “values” argument we hold dear in one scenario is overly troublesome and therefore ignored in the other. The truth is that where issues fall on the spectrum is largely arbitrary, born from both Party’s need for votes and contributions.
Which brings me to the word “Centrist.” I cannot describe to you how much I despise this word. It implies, incorrectly and dishonestly, that those who are neither dogmatically Left or dogmatically Right are merely weak tea split-the-differencers. In DNC and GOP political circles, a Centrist isn’t someone who acknowledges the wisdom of some but not all of your arguments. No, a Centrist is someone that avoids the SSM debate by saying, I dunno, we’ll just let the bi-curious wed. Or argues that instead of being in three wars we should just be in 1 1/2. Or argues that maybe the solution to the drug war is using drones, but only between the hours of 7 am and 7 pm. In short, a “Centrist” is a useful caricature, a straw man that doesn’t really exist at all.
People are astoundingly complex, and groups of people exponentially so. Because of this, the Right-to-Left political spectrum often succeeds as a system to broker power, but it rarely succeeds as a system of creating coherent public policy. And it never succeeds as system that effectively curbs or even adequately identifies corruption. On those occasions when I write about any corruption on the Left, the responses I get in the threads from the liberals are accusations of “false equivalence.” Rather than either agreeing that policing one’s own would be nice or disputing the facts presented, I get a series of lame “oh, it’s the fallacious ‘both sides do it equally ’ argument again” – as if the solution with inherent corruption throughout our system is to just put a crown on the side that we feel does it least.
So when I see the derision for Broder and Brooks, it seems to be born out of a frustration that they don’t fit onto the neat little spectrum we find so time-saving. The Left prefers the Limbaughs and the Hannitys of the world. Similarly, the Right would love it if feral dogs were to eat David Frum** and all they had to deal with was the Bill Mahers and Air Americas. Dealing with those guys is… well, it’s just so damn easy. But someone that agrees with much of what you champion, but has criticisms about other parts of what you quote as God’s truth? Well, it’s harder to call that person the Devil and be done with them.
* BTW, I like the name “Broder & Brooks” as either the title of an 80’s buddy cop action flick, or as a chain of buy men’s casual wear outlets you have to go to a mall to find.
** It just occurred to me… maybe bloggers just really, really hate people named David?