David Brooks' TimeSelect 8-10-07

Check out his nasty parentheses below. I think the editors at the NYT don't like him or his work, because the parentheses are clearly writing mistakes; the parentheses make Brooks' argument seem shrill and unplanned, making foolish assumptions/arguments with zero support.

Actually, that is a good description of David Brooks' shrill work.


Op-Ed Columnist
The Straw Poll Man

Early on, before the campaigning begins in earnest, presidential
candidates lunch with journalists in order to get acquainted. During
one of these lunches, Mitt Romney was talking about the global economy
and was asked why he thought some nations grew rich and others didn't.

He said there are at least two schools of thought on this question,
one associated with Jared Diamond of U.C.L.A., which emphasizes
natural resources, and another associated with the Harvard historian
David Landes, which emphasizes culture. Over the next several minutes,
he weaved the two theories together, siding a bit more with Landes.

The answer demonstrated an ability to handle contradictory information
streams. From it, you could see how Romney had managed to graduate
with honors from Harvard Law School, while graduating in the top 5
percent of his class at Harvard Business School. You could see how he
managed to start Bain Capital and turn it into a $4 billion firm,
doubling the return on investment every single year, on average. You
could see how he turned around the Salt Lake City Olympics and passed
bipartisan health care reform in Massachusetts.

You could also see a natural theory for his presidential campaign.
Romney would be Mr. Execution. He'd be the one who could untangle
complex problems. He'd take on the challenges of a rising China and
globalization. He'd defuse the ticking time bomb of entitlement debt.
As the Democrats went anti-corporate populist, he'd run as a
responsible, businesslike steward.

But execution has not been the central theme of the Romney campaign.
Instead Romney has highlighted ideology, and molded himself to fit the
G.O.P. electorate.

This electorate has changed, even in the past 10 years. As a study by
Fabrizio, McLaughlin and Associates demonstrates, Republicans are more
conservative than even a decade ago. Seventy-one percent are
self-declared conservatives, compared to 55 percent in 1997.
Republicans are much older. Forty-one percent of Republicans are over
55, compared to 28 percent a decade ago.

Republicans are also much less economics-oriented. A decade ago, the
party had thriving deficit hawk and supply-side factions. Now the
thriving groups, as the study indicates, are organized around issues
like immigration, terrorism and stem cell research.

Romney's campaign conforms to those interests. Its animating idea is
that Romney is the true inheritor of the Reagan mantle. This means the
central word in his speeches is not "competence," but "strength"
(Giuliani's turf). Instead of emphasizing data and pragmatism, he
emphasizes creed and conviction.

His campaign is oddly short on autobiography. He talks about his
family, which is wholesome, but not his accomplishments (too
intimidating) or his spiritual journey (too Mormon), or the odd
incidents of his life (he was once declared dead after a traffic

His stump speech features generic Republican lines that could be
uttered by any candidate at any time, almost as if they were
originally designed for someone else and implanted onto him. He
recently got into a more-anti-abortion-that-thou fight with Sam

Maybe this market-tested, generic approach is working. Romney is ahead
in Iowa and New Hampshire and tomorrow he is going to win the Iowa
straw poll, though probably by less than some think.

Yet the campaign ill-fits the man. His audiences are impressed, but
often unfulfilled.

In interviews, Romney talks easily about books by Fareed Zakaria and
Rory Stewart, but in public his frame of cultural reference is mostly
limited to songs like "Whistle While You Work." (Why do the Democratic
candidates pretend to be smarter than they really are, while the
Republicans pretend to be dumber?)

He is also the world's worst culture warrior. George H. W. Bush's son
could resent the coastal cultural elites, but George Romney's son just
can't. He's a 1950s consensus man — he asked his grandkids to call him
Ike, after his hero — who is play-acting at being Pat Buchanan. He's
unable to do anger. I asked him recently who he hated, and he dodged
the question.

Finally, Romney's real passions seem sparked by issues he rarely gets
to talk about. When I asked him why the G.O.P. is in such bad straits,
he said it's because the party had ceded issues like the environment,
education and health care to the Democrats.

Somehow the Romney campaign seems less like an authentic conservative
campaign than an outsider's view of what a conservative campaign
should be. It oversimplifies everything, and underexploits the
G.O.P.'s vestigial longing for efficient administration. I suspect the
Romney campaign would do even better if it let the real Mitt Romney
out to play.

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