February 9, 2005
Brooks & Dumb
By Dustin Beilke
Tom Frank spends a great deal of time in his terrific book What’s the Matter with Kansas? eviscerating New York Times columnist David Brooks’ oversimplified arguments and baleful inaccuracies in telling the Red State/Blue State story. Brooks, author of Bobos in Paradise, is hell bent on insisting that people who vote for Democrats are rich intellectual elitists and people who vote for Republicans are honest and hard working Americans; the Republican Party is truly populist and the Democratic Party only occasionally pretends to be (I quarrel more with the first half of this formulation than the second).
In a February 5 NYT column that ran in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel yesterday, Brooks is at it again. This time it is Howard Dean’s ascension to an almost certain victory as chair of the Democratic National Committee that Brooks uses to “prove” his case.
Brooks’ main point is that as organizations such as Elks Lodges and Rotary Clubs have declined in membership and importance special interests have filled the gap and reshaped politics. In BrooksWorld, the Democratic special interests are the affluent and educated people who join “NARAL and NOW” and the Republican special interests are the regular, good people who join the NRA and go to church. (Theda Skocpol, the Harvard professor whose work Brooks cites to make his arguments, has already disagreed with his conclusions and said he mostly misused her research.)
Brooks says Dean has mobilized all of these elites—in addition to women’s organizations he also mystifyingly lists the University of California, Harvard, Stanford, Time Warner, and Microsoft—and brought them and their money to one place. Dean represents a minority of Democratic voters but a supermajority of the Democratic voters who have the most money and loudest voices.
There are at least 100 reasons why this is nonsense, only one of which is Brooks’ unwillingness to admit that corporate money controls both parties. But what is interesting is that the truth is pretty much the opposite of what Brooks wants us to believe: Dean represents essentially everyone who is not a big donor, which happens to be almost all Democrats except those who have traditionally controlled the DNC.
If Brooks were able to see class as anything other than a set of consumer choices and fashion preferences, he might not look so foolish. But then again, spouting this drool is what secured him a spot on the NYT op-ed page in the first place, so what incentive would he have to change?
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