Sunday, October 30, 2005

Stupid or dishonest?

I remember reading a Mad Magazine when I was a kid, in which one feature had a wife complaining to her husband: "You always say everything of yours is better. Can't you, just this once, name something of mine that you think is better?"

He stops and thinks for a moment, and then finally says: "Well, you have better in-laws than I do."

In approximately that spirit, if I had to praise David Brooks's column in the Sunday Times, I would say: "He can't possibly be that stupid, so he must be dishonest instead." Dishonest in the sense of spinning and making what he must realize are preposterous and phony arguments.

To his mind, Fitzgerald has found one rotten apple, Libby, while somehow affirming that everyone else in the Bush Administration is honest. Fitz has supposedly proven that "there is no cancer on this Presidency." (An actual quote.)

And anyone who thinks there are other crimes, or that there was any sort of cover-up, other than by Libby, is exhibiting what Richard Hofstadter called "the paranoid style in American politics." Witch-hunts, anti-Masonic agitation, McCarthyism, etc. Nice touch with the Hofstadter, by the way. Brooks, as a supposed "intellectual," is showing that he remembers some of the stuff he read in college.

Thus, it would be rampant and indeed clinical paranioa, in Brooks' stated view, to think that Cheney might have discussed outing Plame or had any idea about what Libby was doing.

When you insult your readers' intelligence as Brooks is doing, you are showing that you are either phenomenally stupid or else dishonest. A writer's first obligation should be to the readers, to level with them rather than pursue unstated agendas such as hacking and flacking for your side. Brooks fails this test, no less than Judy Miller in her own special way as an "investigative" reporter, unless he verges on being unable to tie his own shoes. I choose the more charitable interpretation (or is it?).

No need to argue facts, probabilities, reasonable interpretations, etc. if you can simply label all views other than the radically myopic (Libby did everything alone) as "paranoid."

Brooks would be a good 8th grade debater, with silly, transparent tactics like this. But he does not belong on the pages of a major newspaper, even one so compromised as the Times.

UPDATE: Trent Lott asserts that the Bush Administration has serious problems and must address them. I guess, by Brooks' dim lights, he must be "paranoid" too.


Anonymous said...

I appreciate that the Times tries to have conservative voices among their columnists, but I do wish they'd picked someone better, like Steve Chapman from from the Chicago Tribune. I often disagree with him, but generally find his positions well considered and challenging.

Mark Witte

Daniel Shaviro said...

Yes, absolutely - in a sense I hate to see my own rantings on these matters, because until 2002 I had been pretty balanced between the parties for 20 years. There certainly are sensible conservative voices (I have praised Bruce Bartlett a number of times), but so many seem to have sold out to the centralized dictation.

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