Politics & Policy

The One They Love

Or do they? The liberals' David Brooks problem.

EDITOR’S NOTE:

This article appears in the August 23, 2004, issue of National Review.

David Brooks is every liberal’s favorite conservative–or so every liberal says. He is the New York Times’s “loveable house conservative,” according to Slate; “the in-house conservative pundit of Liberal America,” says Philadelphia magazine; the “right’s ambassador to the liberal establishment,” writes Timothy Noah in the Washington Post; and the Left’s “tame conservative, the right-winger without flecks of foam on the sides of his mouth,” according to The Nation. CNN’s Aaron Brown and Michael Kinsley (writing in the New York Times Book Review) have proffered similar phrases of fond condescension. But Nick Confessore recently topped them all, writing in The Washington Monthly that “to put things in Brooksian terms, he’s a conservative, but the kind you’d bring home to discuss politics over $17-a-pound artisanal goat cheese and organic chardonnay bottled by third-generation French peasants.”

Yet Brooks is also, according to his cluster of supposed admirers, “a snarky punch-line artist . . . who translates echt nerd appearance (glasses, toothy grin, blue blazer) and intellectual bearing into journalistic credibility” (Philadelphia)–despite lacking “consistency and intellectual chops” (Salon). At his best, he’s “overextended and underinspired” (Noah). At his worst, he’s guilty of “embarrassing displays of intellectual obedience,” behaving like an “overzealous junior press secretary ham-handedly spinning bad news,” or “a second-rate talk-radio host playing tough guy” (Confessore). Oh, and he’s a cheat and coward, because he “helped set the table for the wars on terror and Iraq but ducks from their consequences . . . ” (Slate).

The official justification for this raft of attacks is the publication of On Paradise Drive, Brooks’s latest foray into his favored terrain of gentle social satire. On Paradise Drive follows on the very successful heels of Bobos in Paradise, his 2000 dissection of upper-middle-class mores, and some of the recent anti-Brooksian fervor is readily explained by second-book backlash, the mix of envy and unreasonable expectations that drives critics to overpan sophomore efforts.

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