Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Visiting David Brooks

I try to do this very rarely, for obvious reasons, the most important of them being this:
When you want a truly vile opinion dressed up to sound innocuous, Brooks is your guy.

Last Friday his column was about Santorum and his values:
Santorum doesn’t yet see that once you start thinking about how to foster an economic system that would nurture our virtues, you wind up with an agenda far more drastic and transformational.
If you believe in the dignity of labor, it makes sense to support an infrastructure program that allows more people to practice the habits of industry. If you believe in personal responsibility, you have to force Americans to receive only as much government as they are willing to pay for. If you believe in the centrality of family, you have to have a government that both encourages marriage and also supplies wage subsidies to men to make them marriageable.
Bolds are mine. Does Brooks really propose to pay men extra for just being men?

James Taranto thinks so. He doesn't think this would fly, for pretty obvious reasons, but he notes that other proposals could have the same effect albeit under disguise, and only for men with low earnings:
The problem is evident immediately. As the Supreme Court held in Mississippi University for Women v. Hogan (1982), sex discrimination by the government is unconstitutional absent an "exceedingly persuasive justification." It strains credulity to think that the goal of making men "marriageable" would meet this standard of scrutiny.
The way around this problem would be to structure the Brooks subsidy so that it predominately benefits men but is also available to women. In a 2009 piece for The American Prospect, a left-liberal magazine (hat tip: Ira Stoll), writer Dick Mendel proposed doubling the Earned Income Tax Credit for "low-wage workers without children [in their care], primarily noncustodial fathers and men without children."
It's an upside-down world, the one these guys inhabit. Why not propose an extra tax on all single women? That way they stay relatively poorer and will have to marry someone to survive. -- I'm not proposing that. Just pointing out that it's really the same thing these guys discuss above.

In his most recent column Brooks asks where all the Liberals have gone:
Why aren’t there more liberals in America?
It’s not because liberalism lacks cultural power. Many polls suggest that a majority of college professors and national journalists vote Democratic. The movie, TV, music and publishing industries are dominated by liberals*.
It’s not because recent events have disproved the liberal worldview. On the contrary, we’re still recovering from a financial crisis caused, in large measure, by Wall Street excess. Corporate profits are zooming while worker salaries are flat.
It’s not because liberalism’s opponents are going from strength to strength. The Republican Party is unpopular and sometimes embarrassing.
Given the circumstances, this should be a golden age of liberalism. Yet the percentage of Americans who call themselves liberals is either flat or in decline. There are now two conservatives in this country for every liberal. Over the past 40 years, liberalism has been astonishingly incapable at expanding its market share.
Brooks then presents his answer to this conundrum. A better one can be found in one of the comments to his column:
The most brilliant thing the conservatives ever did was brand democrats as tax and spend liberals. The media loved it then and loves it now. Then, they - the conservatives - ran up the deficit under Reagan. But still the democrats are the tax and spend liberals. Then, they did it under the first Bush. But still, it's the tax and spend liberals. Then Clinton erased the deficit, delivered a projected surplus and began paying down the debt. But still, it's the tax and spend liberals. Then Bush II took the deficit to levels unimaginable and brought the economy to the brink. LIBERAL IS A FOUR LETTER WORD.
Yes, pretty much. It's a cuss word.

This does not mean that liberal stances on issues wouldn't be liked by many more Americans. They just hesitate to adopt the liberal label or assume that "liberal" means the conservative framing of the word. Many call themselves progressives, instead of liberals, too.
*This argument about the cultural elite consisting of liberals is much more complicated than Brooks allows. What he argues is that the workers in certain "cultural" industries tend have liberal values. This does not mean that they use liberal bias in their work. Sometimes they seem to bend over backwards in an attempt to not show any such bias, resulting in the reverse bias.

Neither does this tell us what the political values of those are who own the media companies. Rupert Murdoch is unlikely to be the only conservative media mogul out there. It is the owners who have the final say when it comes to the contents of what the company produces.