While David Brooks Is Not Mitt Romney, He Very Much Remains David Brooks
Have you seen today’s David Brooks op-ed yet? It’s a little weird; but, then again, he’s been a little weird ever since the campaign began in earnest (and, not incidentally, Romney began losing). In this one, Brooks pretends to be Mitt Romney giving his opening statement during tomorrow’s debate. As a piece of writing, the ventriloquism crutch is lazy. But there’s also something about it that’s a bit sad — it’s like Reasonable Moderate Romney is Brooks’s Godot. And he waits, and waits, and waits….
Most of the column is the same old stuff you’ve been hearing from Brooks and his ilk (aristocratic conservatives who aren’t much bothered by big government just so long as it doesn’t crowd-out their imperial ambitions) since Romney became the de facto nominee: Mitt’s actually a technocratic moderate, secretly reasonable, and the contortions he’s willingly undergone to get the nomination should have no bearing whatsoever on your estimation of what kind of President he would be. Irrespective of whether there’s truth to this spiel (I think there is), the least caustic thing you can say about this appeal is that it’s totally unmoored from any clear understanding of how American politics functions, institutionally.
What’s easy to miss in an article so replete with low-hanging fruit for Brooks haters is the odd — but for Brooks totally consistent — section of “Mitt’s” statement concerning the economy:
The second wicked problem the next president will face is sluggish growth. I assume you know that everything President Obama and I have been saying on this subject has been total garbage. Presidents and governors don’t “create jobs.” We don’t have the ability to “grow the economy.” There’s no magic lever.
Instead, an administration makes a thousand small decisions, each of which subtly adds to or detracts from a positive growth environment. The Obama administration, which is either hostile to or aloof from business, has made a thousand tax, regulatory and spending decisions that are biased away from growth and biased toward other priorities. American competitiveness has fallen in each of the past four years, according to the World Economic Forum. Medical device makers, for example, are being chased overseas. The economy in 2012 is worse than the economy in 2011. That’s inexcusable.
My administration will be a little more biased toward growth. It’ll treat businesses with more respect. There will be no magic recovery, but gradually the animal spirits will revive.
As is Brooks’s wont, he’s taken what is in major respects a mystical, pseudo religious, and unserious bit of analysis and draped it with as many of the accoutrements of reasonability that his prose will allow. He’s not exactly hiding anything from the reader; he lets fly one of his favorite pop-academic references, the “animal spirits” of the capitalist class. But if you’re not at least calve-deep in the ongoing debates over economic policy and the Great Recession, you might not understand what “Mitt” is arguing. Which is?
The economy is blah and growth is ugh because, like, Obama gives job creators bad vibes.
Brooks Romney here is not making any number of the empirically false but generally reasonable claims that have come from the Right over the past few years. He’s not arguing that federal income taxes are too high. He’s not arguing that specific regulations — be they on Wall Street or the health insurance industry — are too onerous. He’s not even arguing that Ben Bernanke is propelling us ever closer to super-duper-hyper inflation that’ll raise zombie Hitler and fell the Republic.
He’s saying that a small, elite group of capitalists has intuited from the President’s speech and actions that he doesn’t think they’re absolutely the bee’s knees. Consequently, they’ve decided to take their ball — the American economy — and go home. The President is not minding his betters.
Now, this isn’t a totally aberrant opinion for Brooks to hold, especially when you consider his social milieu. As he humblebragged not so long ago, he spends a lot of time with the 1 percent. He knows how they think. He gets them. And as a truly fantastic recent New Yorker profile of Obama’s hedge fund haters made clear, there’s a small subsection of the 1 percent — the .001 percent — that believes it’s Obama’s words, not his actions, that count. The President’s policies have been quite friendly to the plutocracy, indeed. But he has evidenced an unacceptable ambivalence over flattering these Masters of the Universe to the degree that more amenable politicians, like Al Gore and Cory Booker, readily do.
For anyone a little familiar with Brooks’s career — particularly his stint at The Weekly Standard as a snarky and unapologetic neoconservative — this childlike worldview isn’t a surprise. But in the wake of the Bush disaster and the country’s unspoken but collective decision to pretend that 2001-2009 just didn’t happen, the fundamentals of the Brooks worldview have been forgotten or under-appreciated. He’s welcomed this, of course, and has made great strides in transforming himself in the public eye into a moderate. Thing is, he’s never left neoconservatism. And as this piece reminds, it’s never left him.