David Brooks is everyone’s favorite New York Times columnist! He’s probably my favorite columnist, period! He really gets Bipartisan Sensibleness, and he’s genius-level smart—like a social scientist, but without being too bookish! The public has been clamoring for me to do an interview with Brooks, and while we haven’t been able to schedule an on-camera interview, I am using this exciting new technology to bring the actual words of David Brooks to you! That’s right—all the answers in this interview are things that David Brooks has said (or written).
Blitzer: Thank you so much for conversing with me, David. You are a great columnist, one of the best. Yet, you are almost always wrong about everything. Can you explain this seeming contradiction?
Brooks: To get the most attention, the essay should be wrong. Logical essays are read and understood. But an illogical or wrong essay will prompt dozens of other writers to rise and respond, thus giving the author mounds of publicity.
Blitzer: Fascinating! Do you think that this approach to punditry serves the public?
Brooks: There's a collapse in the public's faith in American institutions. The media has done a poor job. We've become as insular and self-regarding as any [other institution].
Blitzer: Perhaps. But maybe when we address issues of real seriousness and weight, we can overcome this insular self-regard. For example, what do you think the prospects are for a democratic transition in Egypt?
A: It’s not that Egypt doesn’t have a recipe for a democratic transition. It seems to lack even the basic mental ingredients.
Brooks: Okay, maybe not! President Obama recently gave a speech decrying the increase in inequality. What is your take on this issue?
Brooks: The rich don't exploit the poor. They just out-compete them.
Blitzer: Ha ha ha ha ha! I think that one of the things I enjoy most about your work is your unique take on populism. Most people think of populism as an effort to support the interests of the common people against the privileged elite. But you don’t see it that way, do you?
Brooks: Populism and elitism are the same thing. They are class prejudices, crude class prejudices that so-and-so, because they are uneducated, is less worthy, or so-and-so, because they are richer or more educated, is unworthy.
Blitzer: Your approach to language reminds me of Humpty Dumpty! I love it! It seems that one of your favorite rhetorical techniques is to position yourself as the sensible center between extreme views. I like to do that too!
Brooks: The main job of radicals in the Noam Chomsky or G. Gordon Liddy mode is to go around from one scruffy lecture hall to another reminding audiences that while they may be disdained or ignored by the mainstream culture, they are actually right about everything.
Blitzer: Like that! You truly are a master at this! It never would have occurred to me to create an equivalence between one of the most important intellectuals of the last century and a ex-con radio talk show shouter! My head is spinning, so let me ask you a question that no doubt has a more straightforward answer: What do you think about Jerry Sandusky raping all of those boys?
Brooks: I don’t think it was just a Penn State problem. You know, you spend 30 or 40 years muddying the moral waters here. We have lost our clear sense of what evil is, what sin is; and so, when people see things like that, they don’t have categories to put it into. They vaguely know it’s wrong, but they’ve been raised in a morality that says, “If it feels all right for you, it’s probably OK.”
Blitzer: Golly! All right, let’s switch to talking about governance. What did you think of George Bush’s presidency?
Brooks: Almost single-handedly, Bush reconnected with the positive and idealistic instincts of middle-class Americans. . . . Bush has ennobled and saved American conservatism.
Blitzer: Speaking of Bush, can you remind me what you were saying during the early days of the Iraq War?
Brooks: Back then I said: “Chicken Littles like Ted Kennedy and Robert Byrd were ranting that Iraq is another Vietnam. Pundits and sages were spinning a whole series of mutually exclusive disaster scenarios: Civil war! A nationwide rebellion! Maybe we should calm down a bit. I've spent the last few days talking with people who've spent much of their careers studying and working in this region. We're at a perilous moment in Iraqi history, but the situation is not collapsing.”
Blitzer: In retrospect, how do you think that column holds up today?
Brooks: Every column is a failure.
Blitzer: But such a beautiful way to fail! What do you think about President Obama?
Brooks: Culturally, he will have to demonstrate that even though he comes from an unusual background, he is a fervent believer in the old-fashioned bourgeois virtues: order, self-discipline, punctuality and personal responsibility.
Blitzer: Okay. Not sure where that came from! Anyway, my favorite of the old-fashioned bourgeois virtues is fiscal responsibility. What’s your take on that issue? Why is our deficit so big?
Brooks: Every generation has an incentive to borrow money from the future to spend on itself.
Blitzer: I didn’t know that it was possible to borrow money from the future! This is so informative! I’m passionate about fiscal responsibility. What political ideas are you passionate about?
Blitzer: That is so true! Thank you for holding your ideas, whatever they may be, with such character!