News & Politics
David Brooks and the DLC: Best Friends Forever?
August 3, 2006
"The conservative mansion has many rooms. In one chamber there are the resurgent Burkeans ... In another chamber are the staunch Churchillians ... But I wonder if amid all the din there might be a room, even just a utility closet, for those of us in yet another rightward sect, the neocon incrementalists." -- David Brooks, "Onward Cautious Soldiers," The New York Times, July 23, 2006
So David Brooks wants to go into the closet with his fellow neocon incrementalists. And I thought The New York Times was a family newspaper!
There are many people out there who are baffled by the career of David Brooks, but I am not one of them. Any man willing to admit in print that he can get a boner surveying the "awesome resumes" of marrying Ivy Leaguers on the New York Times wedding page ("you can almost feel the force of mingling SAT scores," he coos in his book Bobos In Paradise) is always going to occupy an important spot in the American media landscape; the ruling class always needs its house bumlickers. And Brooks does the job well, although at times I think he's so craven that he does his masters a disservice. I mean, seriously -- a mansion of conservatism? Why not go all the way: The yacht of Republicanism has a great many berths ...
Brooks is the perfect priest of American conservatism, and by conservatism I don't mean the bloodthirsty, gun-toting, go-back-to-Africa, welfare-bashing right-winger conservatism of the NRA and Sean Hannity and the Bible Belt. I mean the dickless, power-worshipping, good-consumer pragmatic conservatism of Times readers and those other Bobos in Paradise who have exquisitely developed taste in furniture, coffee and television programming but would rather leave the uglier questions of politics to more decisive people, so long as they aren't dangerous radicals like Michael Moore or Markos Zuniga.
That's why the marriage of David Brooks and the Democratic Leadership Council makes perfect sense. It's repugnant and the kind of thing one should shield young children from knowing about, but it makes perfect sense. Both prefer a policy of being "cautious soldiers," "incrementalists" who shun upheavals and vote the status quo, although they subscribe to this policy for different reasons.
Brooks worships the status quo because he has no penis and wants to spend the rest of his life buying periwinkle bath towels without troubling interruptions of conscience. The DLC, a nonprofit created in the mid-1980s to help big business have a say in the Democratic Party platform, supports the status quo because they are paid agents of the commercial interests that define it.
Moreover, Brooks and the DLC have this in common: While they both frown on the open flag-waving and ostentatious religiosity of the talk-radio right-wing as being gauche and in bad form, they're only truly offended by people of their own background who happen to be idealistic.
Hence the recurring backlash by both against the various angry electoral challenges to the establishment of the Democratic Party -- including, most recently, the campaign of Ned Lamont, challenger to Joe Lieberman's Senate Seat in Connecticut.
Brooks's column of a few weeks ago on the subject of Lieberman/Lamont, titled "The Liberal Inquisition," was a masterpiece of yuppie paranoia. In an editorial line that would be repeated by other writers all across the country, Brooks blasted the "netroots" supporters of Lamont for being leftist extremists driven by "moral manias" and "mob psychology" to liquidate the "scarred old warhorse" Lieberman, whom he calls "transparently the most kind-hearted and well-intentioned of men." This is the archetypal suburban-conservative nightmare -- anonymous hordes of leftist boat-rockers viciously assaulting the champion of the decent people, who is just a really nice guy given to tending his lawn and minding his own business.
Being "nice" is a central part of the Brooks yuppie's guilt-proofing self-image rationale; so long as you're the kind of guy who lets people merge on highways, stands politely in line at Starbucks, doesn't put garish Christmas decorations on his lawn and pays his taxes, you're not really doing anything wrong. It gets a little tiring after a while, hearing people who vote for wars tell you how nice they are.
But the most objectionable thing about the Brooks column was its crude parroting of a suspiciously similar DLC editorial published about a month before (See Road Rage, from the August 10th, 2006, issue of Rolling Stone) entitled "The Return of Liberal Fundamentalism." Both columns described Lamont's Internet supporters as "fundamentalist" liberals bent on a "purge" of poor nice old Joe Lieberman, who represents heterodoxy, centrism and bipartisanship. Brooks used the word "purge" twice; the author of the DLC column, Ed Kilgore, used it eight times.
Let's be clear about what we're dealing with here. These people are professional communicators. They don't repeatedly use words like "purge" and "fundamentalist" -- terms obviously associated with communism and Islamic terrorism -- by accident. They know exactly what they're doing. It's an authoritarian tactic and it should piss you off. It pissed me off. When I called the DLC about the editorial, Kilgore was not available, but they put Will Marshall on the line.
Marshall is the president of the DLC's Progressive Policy Institute and owns the distinction of being the first public figure to use the term "body count" in a positive sense with regard to the Iraq war ("Coalition forces still face daily attacks but the body count tilts massively in their favor"). He wasted no time in giving me the party line: "What we're seeing is an ideological purge," he said cheerily. "It's national effort by the left to get rid of somebody they've decided to demonize ... we have concerns about narrow dogmatism..."
We went back and forth for a while. I noted that his conception of "narrow dogmatists" included the readers of Daily Kos, a website with something like 440,000 visitors a day; I also noted that recent Gallup polls showed that fully 91 percent of Democrats supported a withdrawal of some kind from Iraq.
"So these hundreds of thousands of Democrats who are against the war are narrow dogmatists," I said, "and... how many people are there in your office? Ten? Twenty? Thirty?"
"Well, it'd probably be in the thirty zone," sighed Marshall.
I asked Marshall if there was a publicly available list of donors to the DLC.
"Uh, I don't know," he said. "I'd have to refer you to the press office for that. They can help you there..." (Note: a DLC spokeswoman would later tell me the DLC has a policy of "no public disclosure," although she did say the group is funded in half by corporate donations, in half by individuals).
"So let me get this straight," I said. "We have thirty corporate-funded spokesmen telling hundreds of thousands of actual voters that they're narrow dogmatists?"
He paused and sighed, clearly exasperated. "Look," he said. "Everybody in politics draws money from the same basic sources. It's the same pool of companies and wealthy individuals..."
"Okay," I said. "So basically in this dispute over Lieberman, we have people on one side, and companies on the other? Would it be correct to say that?" I asked.
"Well, I guess if you live in a cartoon world you could say that," he said.
The DLC are the lowest kind of scum; we're talking about people who are paid by the likes of Eli Lilly and Union Carbide to go on television and call suburban moms and college kids who happen to be against the war commies and jihadists. On the ignominious-sellout scale, that's lower than doing PR for a utility that turns your grandmother's heat off at Christmas. And that's pretty bad -- but with enough money and enough of the right kind of publicity their side still might win in the Lamont/Lieberman primary on August 8th.
Which tells you just about everything you need to know about the modern Democratic Party. Why is anyone surprised that the Republicans never lose?