Tuesday, January 5, 2010

More Arugula From David Brooks

Today's column by the NY Times' David Brooks is getting a good deal of blogospheric attention. Brooks puts on his familiar "Americans In The Mist" safari hat to once again analyze those strange beings from beyond Manhattan (and the Beltway), and reaches the following conclusion:

The public is not only shifting from left to right. Every single idea associated with the educated class has grown more unpopular over the past year.

Brooks goes on to enumerate several liberal positions, all of which Brooks (an alleged conservative) strongly implies his own "educated" agreement with, including man-made global warming, gun control and "multilateral" (presumably meaning UN-approved) international action. After several graphs disparaging the burgeoning Tea Party movement as "amateurish" and "crude," Brooks notes,

The Obama administration is premised on the conviction that pragmatic federal leaders with professional expertise should have the power to implement programs to solve the country’s problems. Many Americans do not have faith in that sort of centralized expertise or in the political class generally.

There's a subtle shift here; having pushed the concept of an intellectually superior "educated class" for most of the column, Brooks switches to "political class," perhaps in an effort to distance himself (and we can have no doubt that Brooks considers himself and his beloved Obama the epitomes of the "educated class") from the foibles of those grubby politicians. This hedge aside, there are a few points worth making about Brooks' armchair sociology.

First, David, until you can explain--without consulting Google--say, Bernoulli's theorem and how it relates to flight, don't bother passing yourself and your like-minded NYDC pals off as the country's sole "educated class." Out here in the hinterlands, we're well aware that you and your Ivy League buddies believe that you are the only actual educated people on the planet, but you ought to have learned somewhere along the way that belief in an idea does not turn that idea into reality. Asserting as much, to borrow a line from the late John Hughes, just makes you look like an ass.

What Brooks, with his touching faith in "pragmatic federal leaders with professional expertise" doesn't want to talk about, of course, is just how badly the Ivy League class has failed over the past couple of decades. All those rows of degrees from Harvard didn't keep a pack of Brooksian elites--mostly members of the Democratic Party--from running Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac straight into the toilet, and taking the private economy with them. Hiring out of the Ivies also didn't save Lehman Brothers or AIG from doing remarkably stupid things with other people's money. And as for "professional expertise…" just what profession does the Obama cabinet posses expertise in, other than hardball politics?

This president and his government are not only largely inexperienced when it comes to the private sector or even practical knowledge of middle America, they tend to view both in outright contempt. Recall Obama's famous "bitter clingers" speech and autobiographical aversion to "the suburbs," or his wife's admonitions against "joining corporate America." One with an overweening faith in "pragmatic federal leaders" probably hasn't been paying much attention to Ivy-accredited politicians like alleged geniuses (and TARP/Fannie Mae culprits) Barney Frank or Chris Dodd.

Brooks does actually stumble into a correct point by associating the current Washington crew with the word "pragmatic," but he fails utterly to note the intended end of that pragmatism: extending their own power. Like their spiritual forefathers in the New Deal, the Obami quickly abandoned most of their ideological goals (although not the demagogic language of that ideology) when reality failed to comply with theory. In their place came the much more politically pragmatic mantra of "tax and tax, spend and spend, and elect and elect." That's what Obama's trillions in "Monopoly money"--other people's Monopoly money, of course--are all about.

That's what the "stimulus," serving mostly to funnel federal pork to favored politicians and government employee unions, was all about. That's what nationalization of GM and Chrysler to the benefit of the UAW was all about. That's what nationalizing the banks to extend Federal power over their operations was all about. The current "health care" bills are only peripherally about patients and doctors; their real purpose is to put as many voters as possible under Federal medical Welfare. After all, almost everybody on Welfare votes Democratic, and that's what Brooks' "educated class" wants to see more than anything else.

Brooks continues his extended sneer for the rest of the column, finishing by noting, "I'm not a fan of this movement." Worry not, David, out here in flyover country, we're not too wild about you, either. As Megan McArdle very aptly put it a little over a year ago, regarding Tea Party matriarch (and Brooks' ultimate bĂȘte noire), Sarah Palin,

[She] speaks to the sense of people who didn't go to Ivy League schools that Harvard grads think they're not quite bright, and definitely not competent to run their own lives without a Yale man supervising things. And they're entirely right that a lot of Ivy League grads do think this way, consciously or unconsciously.

… I may not like what she stands for, but I have to acknowledge its power--and yes, that frequently, the coastal elites earn the revulsion of Middle America. They don't, to coin a phrase, hate us for our freedoms--our homosexual coddling, abortion loving ways. They hate us because we act like we think we deserve to rule them.

To which I would only add, "And because you've proven so many times that you're no damn good at it."


  1. I think we should all show David Brooks our B.A.

  2. Educated and ignorant is hardly the way to go thru life Mr. Brooks ...
    The one constant I have seen from ivy league educated folks is their willfull ignorance on a wide range of subjects that they opine on. Its not that they can't learn the facts and theories its that they have been conditioned to assume they don't need to educate themselves any further.

  3. David Brooks is essentially a castrated conservative. The New York Times signs his paycheck, and he knows it. His specialty is oh-so-sorry putdowns against conservatives even as he pretends to be one.

    One need look no further than the time, last year, when Brooks timidly wrote a column in which he observed (boldly by his standards) that Obama was governing from the Left. The White House took him to the woodshed and he has been a timid political eunuch ever since.

  4. With a BS (Physics) then 3 yrs of being an oilfield engineer and then 3 yrs to get an MS physics coursework and then another MS Physics (thesis), several peer reviewed articles, MSEE follwed by working for many years followed by several patents and starting my own hi tech business, I consider Ivy Leaguers to be kinda stupid at anything that matters and would never hire one.

  5. To borrow from Elizabeth I, the Ivies possess much wit, but very little judgment.

  6. Will,
    This is not only a terrific smackdown of Brooks, it's one of the best things you've ever written. You make it look easy, and I know it ain't!

  7. Wouldn't it be great if the NYT actually had the guts to post this as a reply in the paper.

  8. Oh and Frogwatch! Bravo! I couldn't agree more.

  9. A possibly-relevant quote from G. H. Hardy: "Have you noticed how the word `intellectual' is used nowadays? There seems to be a new definition which certainly doesn't include Rutherford or Eddington or Dirac or Adrian or me. It does seem rather odd, don't y'know."

  10. Brooks is a clear example of the age old axiom that there is a world of difference between Intelligence and Wisdom.

  11. I've read Dave's article, and I too was touched how he called himself and his comrades-in-arms "educated class". Given that no one is calling them that - poor Dave felt slighted, so he had to praise himself. Of course, a term which is normally reserved for the likes of Dave is "second-hand dealer of ideas", which is a far cry from the "educated class".

    Anyway, I would be curious to know how Davie defines "education". Isn't it in the eyes of the beholder? Who is he to decide that a degree in feminism is worthy more than a degree in engineering, or that a professional mathematician is less educated than a specialist in African-American studies slash Chicano-Chicana studies?

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  12. Incompetence and corruption. They are the hallmarks of Brooks' privileged class. The development of the internet has allowed us to see beyond the MSM curtain. Not only are Brooks' journalist friends exposed as incompetent and corrupt, but so are these elites they have long covered for.

    Remember, this is the crew that was truly shocked some years back to discover that boys and girls are actually different. This is the bunch who think Al Gore, Hillary and John Kerry are highly intelligent. They believe in global warming because they are too stupid and too lazy to see gross incompetence and fraud when it's right in front of their faces.

    So we revolt against their desire to turn the USA into another version of sclerotic, dysfunctional Europe? Who'd of thunk?

  13. I'm an Ivy alumnus who likes to think I'm not part of the Brooks mold. That is to say, I don't act like the folks McArdle describes or who Brooks evidently aspires to be. Nevertheless, having many connections and acquaintances with Ivy League credentials and/or careers in academia, I have to say that McArdle definitely gets it right as to who most of these folks think they are.

    In the past year and a half I've gotten active on facebook, and have thereby reconnected with many people I knew from college, only to feel like I have nothing in common with any of them. Most gush about their admiration for Obama, others praise Barney Frank. Many speak disparagingly and make jokes about the Tea Party Protests. The level of snobbery, arrogance and kneejerk left-wing partisanship they display is so stunningly uniform that I marvel that I ever thought I would be friends with these people.

  14. I think Will Hunting said it best:
    "See, the sad thing about a guy like you is in 50 years you're gonna staht doin some thinkin on your own and you're gonna come up with the fact that there are two certaintees in life. One, don't do that. And Two, you dropped a hundred and fifty grand on a fuckin education you coulda got for a dollah fifty in late chahges at the public library." -- Good Will Hunting

  15. Brooks writes:
    "They [tea partiers] are against the concentrated power of the educated class. They believe big government, big business, big media and the affluent professionals are merging to form self-serving oligarchy — with bloated government, unsustainable deficits, high taxes and intrusive regulation."

    Having, in fact, demonstrated some understanding of what motivates the tea party movement, Brooks promptly declares that he'll stand with the "self-serving oligarchy" -- "I'm not a fan of this movement."

    I'm an Ivy League grad - Harvard - and my kids went to the Ivies (Dartmouth and Harvard) as well. One can use this education and the opportunities it brings in many ways. The David Brookses of the world, who with their smarts and education choose to stand with the self-enriching, power-hungry, Obama crowd, against the beleaguered citizenry, deserve nothing but scorn.

  16. Is there a word missing from this sentence?: "...belief in an idea does turn that idea into reality." It, and the rest of the paragraph, make sense if it reads "...belief in an idea does not turn that idea into reality."

  17. There are people whom I automatically tune out as clueless, no matter what their IQs or how well read and traveled they are. One is Francis Fukuyama for 'The End of History'. Another is David Brooks, whose Clinton-era 'Bobos in Paradise' described creative-class yuppies as pragmatic and nonpartisan. (Note to Brooks: people seem nonpartisan and pragmatic when they are getting everything they want.)

  18. The principal problem with the ivies (and other elite schools) is that they do not select ONLY on ability. They have so many high IQ applicants that they select on IQ and other qualities (qualities not qualifications).

    The most notable being the willingness to waste time and money on activities which improve one chances of being selected by the ivy league.

    Ironically, this characteristic is
    referred to as "leadership" in their brochures.

  19. David Matthews, you're quite right, and thank you. Correction inserted.

  20. I would add to the criticisms of Brooks above a more accurate phrase than the word "educated" to describe those believing they know how to run our lives.

    The phrase I would use is "the academically affected." This phrase is more accurate because it extends the field beyond the degreed, to those who are sure the degreed would agree with them. It also excludes those who may actually *have* substantive degrees, but do not let the awareness of that define who is their equal in life and their citizenship.

    This phrase includes both people who might be illterate, and those with advanced degrees who might as well be, when it comes to reading about the needs of citizenship in a representative Republic. It includes the person who came to back those who decreed the bailout that saved their union job at GM, and those who found as early as freshman year in college that they couldn't get laid without "progressive" ideas falling from their lips, and are embarrassed to declare they were that shallow at any time in their lives. It includes those who know and agree with the Baran/Warshofsky thesis of "The World System," and the people who just want the polar bears to be happy, no matter how many humans must die for that outcome.

    To use the term the "educated class" presumes that those who are including themselves in such a class actually are educated about the real environment of the industrial world we all live on. Far too few who so include themselves are anywhere near that, in moral, intellectual, and perceptual education.

  21. Please allow me to correct an error in attribution in my previous comment. I used the term "Baran/Warshofsy thesis of "The World System,"....and I should have remembered that it is: the Baran/Wallerstein thesis of "The World Sytstem."

  22. I'd say I did pretty well in school. Got a BS in Economics with a 3.29 GPA (stupid history teacher gave me an A- and prevented me from graduating cum laude). I also got my accounting certificate and am pursuing an MS in Taxation. I would say I have utter contempt for people who think that because they have a gold-plated education and graduated from elite schools they have the authority to rule over us and take away our rights and freedoms. There were a lot of educated men in the world and they turned out to not only be the worst rulers, but also the worst people.

    That being said, if you guys haven't already done so, be sure to check Thomas Sowell's - another educated man, I think - takedown of people like David Brooks in his new book, "Intellectuals and Society". Needless to say the record of intellectuals governing has been some of the worst times in human history.

    Is it any wonder that some of our best Presidents have not been the most educated of men, but had something else that educated people lack, wisdom?

  23. "The Obama administration is premised on the conviction that pragmatic federal leaders with professional expertise should have the power to implement programs to solve the country’s problems."

    This is the funniest thing I've read all day. First, what the Obama administration is premised on changes from day-to-day, I think he's using the wrong "conviction" here. Second, most of these superstars have come from either academia or a left-wing think-tank. "Professional expertise" without the pressure of achievement.

  24. If Brooks et. al. are so smart, how come they don't own any guns?

  25. Love the Bernoulli reference. I have non-Ivy BS and MS (2 different technical fields), managed to squeeze in a minor in history for some breadth, have had three careers in electronics manufacturing, at university teaching computer science, and am now in healthcare related financial s/w development. FWIW I also have an IQ much higher than most of these clowns.
    Most of these guys really don't know their asses form a hole in the ground wrt the real world.

  26. "After all, almost everybody on Welfare votes Democratic, and that's what Brooks' 'educated class' wants to see more than anything else."

    That particular statement doesn't jive very well with the fact that most of the welfare and redistributed wealth in this country gets routed to (flyover country) red states. And don't tell me you've all forgot about the realities of Sarah Palin's socialist paradise Alaska already.

  27. Frederick, for decades a competent Republican candidate could count on my vote. Although registered as an independent, I was a Republican in all but name.

    However, I've come to view the Bush/DeLay/Rove Republican Party as dominated by a coalition of kleptocrats and zealots. Neither member of that coalition is interested in limited government.

    IMO they deliberately lied to me...every time I see a photo of Bush smirking, I wonder if that's what he's smirking about. IMO their plan is to continue lying while Democrat incompetence returns them to power. As far as my future votes go, I get a lot angrier at a betrayer than at an opponent.

  28. As a regular American from an almost totally ignored state in the Great Basin I wonder if my 3 degrees from among schools like Utah State and Northwestern University have done anything to enlighten and educate me. I may be a dummy in the eyes of the Ivy Leaguers, but I sure see a lot of common ordinary people who have more knowledge, understanding and wisdom than our ruling elite.

  29. Frederick wrote:

    "After all, almost everybody on Welfare votes Democratic, and that's what Brooks' 'educated class' wants to see more than anything else."

    That particular statement doesn't jive very well with the fact that most of the welfare and redistributed wealth in this country gets routed to (flyover country) red states.

    [end of quote]

    Frederick, you flunk statistics. A red state is not a state where EVERYONE votes Republican; there is no such thing. It's a state where at least 51% of the voters vote Republican. Every red state has lots of Democrats, just as any blue state will have a great many Republicans.

    Will Collier's statement about welfare voters is correct, and you have completely missed his point . . . which is that it would only take a few extra percentage points of Democrat-voting welfare recipients to flip many states from red to blue.

    I'd also like to say that Collier is on target about the "educated class". I probably qualify as a member of that "class", since I have liberal-arts degree (in German), and I'm the first to admit that it has proven to be completely worthless in the real world. Virtually everything I know that has any practical value was learned after I graduated, through either firsthand experience or my own self-guided reading. The time I spent attending a university was wasted.

  30. Frederick, those "Red States" get so much in proportion to the "blue" states because they don't have the same population concentrations per sq. mile. Extrapolate what happens if South Dakota suddenly gets 35 million people living in it, like California does.
    It would become a net tax exporter, too.

    They "red" States do have all the food, though, so maybe it should be considered a fair trade.