Increasingly Blurred Partisan Lines Offer Hope for Journalism in 2018

2017 has been a strange and disturbing year for the United States in so many far-reaching ways. Long, well-researched books will be written about this year’s impact (or lack thereof) on income inequality, government corruption, gender dynamics, the justice system, immigration, suffrage, healthcare, civil rights, the First Amendment, foreign policy, war and climate change. I’m hard pressed to think of a major issue facing humanity that hasn’t been stress tested to the point of breaking spirits, cultures, families, the economy and the nation in the seventeenth year of the 21st Century.

For liberal political journalists, it’s been especially hard to dissociate the self from the reporting. 2017 has been an unusually challenging year for investigating topics unemotionally. At least tangentially, we have a stake in the story by virtue of sharing space with other people affected by a policy, decision or revolution.  I don’t live in Puerto Rico, but I don’t need to in order to feel helpless anger over fellow Americans failed by every possible government system in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. People are still dying from the ripple effects of disease, water and power shortages, not to mention the callousness of a President who believes a paper towel tossing photo op is #MAGA – because brown people are takers.

As a writer/human hybrid, there have been many days and weeks this year when the power of the pen hasn’t felt forceful enough. That the exercise in information sharing that is journalism falls impotently short of the action needed to right a country that has popularly lurched toward heartlessness at the highest levels of government. Isolationist xenophobia, backs turned to war-torn refugees, a place where Nazis are labeled “very fine people,” black lives only matter when it comes to kneeling in protest and female reproductive health is a political bargaining chip for the dominant hierarchy of middle-aged white men. It’s easy to become disoriented and confused to the point of inertia. Should I be writing about this? Should I be in the streets? Am I supposed to be deliberating? Hand me another scotch in the meantime.

I do not pretend to be a moderate. Never have. I can’t be less than all the way when it comes to constructing government and social systems that support and offer opportunity equally. I do not believe we go it alone. Call me a socialist, a radical, an angry intersectional feminist or any of the more colorful epithets offered by my (typically male) Twitter trolls. When the leader of the country governs by pandering to the ignorant 35 percent, rather than representing all Americans, displaying the kind of divisive, threatening behavior and rhetoric well known to despots, I’m happy to be branded an enemy of the state. As lonely and frightening as it can be to sit outside the circle, the air is a lot less toxic.

All of this is to say that as the end of the year approaches, I and many other exhausted journalists in my acquaintance are still trying to find our footing. Just the facts has been replaced by fake news, many of the policy threats are deeply personal and after all, wallowing in the muck of the Trump era is spiritually exhausting. However the work continues in a bi-partisan way, and if there’s comfort to be found in the crusade, it’s the unexpected shared experience with an increasingly large number of conservative writers and pundits. If you’d told me just 18 months ago, that I’d find myself aligned with the thoughts of the New York Times columnist David Brooks, the Wall Street Journal’s Peggy Noonan and Peter Wehner, senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center – in the same week! – I wouldn’t have believed it possible. But here we are:

“The Republican Party is doing harm to every cause it purports to serve. If Republicans accept Roy Moore as a United States senator, they may, for a couple years, have one more vote for a justice or a tax cut, but they will have made their party loathsome for an entire generation…Young people and people of color look at the Trump-Moore G.O.P. and they are repulsed, maybe forever.”

“The support being given by many Republicans and white evangelicals to President Trump and now to Mr. Moore have caused me to rethink my identification with both groups. Not because my attachment to conservatism and Christianity has weakened, but rather the opposite. I consider Mr. Trump’s Republican Party to be a threat to conservatism, and I have concluded that the term evangelical — despite its rich history of proclaiming the ‘good news’ of Christ to a broken world — has been so distorted that it is now undermining the Christian witness.”

“[Republicans], have faith. Not everything comes down to an immediate election that is this coming Thursday. Think long term, philosophically. Be true to your own political principles, but have some faith and don’t make decisions that are not ones that you’re really comfortable with.”

Suddenly it seems conservative to stand against cynicism, pedophilia, party before country and the corporate raiding of the American people. I and other liberals may disagree with these writers on “everyday” policies. But in 2017, normalcy has been supplanted by Constitutional crises and the end days of representative democracy. The journalistic blurring of party lines may offer small 2017 comfort. But as a writer, it gives me energy to take on 2018.

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Yale Instructor David Brooks Says “Campus Crusaders” Are Moral Zealots, Anti-Free Speech (June 6, 2015)

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In a post-9/11 world, self-styled “moderate” conservative andNew York Times Op-Ed columnist David Brooks has carved out a cottage industry conflating morality with anti-liberal politics. To be fair to Brooks, this has been a good business opportunity afforded by the “Do as I say, not as I do” public hypocrisy of the modern conservative movement and its 24/7 mouthpiece, Fox News.

An obvious example includes screaming ad nauseam about runaway deficits as the biggest threat to our nation in a craven effort to destroy the social safety net. Yet those deficit concerns suddenly vanish when old white men with itchy trigger fingers salivate over defense spending. Or how about the sanctity of life?

Nothing is more important than controlling a woman’s right to choose, because morality. Yet once the babies are born, those takers are on their own, especially if they’re brown. And the nearly 5,000 American soldiers who have died in Iraq, a conflict of choice predicated upon manufactured GOP intelligence? That’s not a waste of human life at all. No moral peccadillo whatsoever.

We’ve all become inured to the right’s insincere pearl clutching over “controversies” such as Benghazi, Obamacare and more while the middle and lower classes continue to lose socioeconomic stability. It’s hard to muster more than listlessness at the endless, disingenuous analysis of the moral failings of the suffering. Because if you’re rich, successful and healthy, it’s not because you’ve benefitted from a scale tipped in your favor according to the GOP. Nope. If you rise to the top of economic pile, it can only be because you’re more deserving. That’s how they pretend the system works, and if something is repeated often enough, it becomes conventional platform wisdom.

David Brooks never tires of trying to inculcate us unrestrained liberals with his party’s morality dogma. But this week, in a column entitled The Campus Crusaders, he takes the blame game a step further, arguing that today’s weak and infantilized college students result in idea-free academic zones. In a logical fallacy of impressive dimensions, the younger generation’s growing fatigue with the same old conservative conversations translates into:

“They are going after people for simply failing to show sufficient deference to and respect for the etiquette they hold dear. They sometimes conflate ideas with actions and regard controversial ideas as forms of violence.”

So conservative is the new liberal among today’s kids, is that right Brooks? Pupils intolerant of ignorance and backward-looking policies that make true opportunistic equality impossible are ethically bankrupt. And Brooks is qualified to make this judgment because he’s a Professor at Yale, thus often in proximity to students.

Let’s call this what it really is – pretensions to osmotic cultural anthropology couched in culture war sour grapes. And while we’re justifiably impugning Brooks’ snarky brand of faux academia, let’s also review some of the “sources” the longtime columnist leverages in constructing his argument.

On the Regnery Publishing website, the book is summarized as evaluating “a growing intolerance from the left side of the political spectrum [] threatening Americans’ ability to freely express beliefs without fear of retaliation.” You may be shocked (shocked!) to learn that Powers is a Fox New contributor.

Brooks misappropriates the March 21, 2015 work of his Timescolleague Judith Shulevitz to tie issue-based sensitivity around sexual assault and rape culture on college campuses to a liberal “form of zealotry.”

By linking to this website in a general way, rather than to a specific topic, Brooks appears to hope that readers will connect the site’s mission to “defend and sustain individual rights at America’s colleges and universities” with a conservative agenda. Brooks takes the lazy route to serving up specific examples of imperiled free speech in academia, and fails completely to correlate the content with liberal moral infirmity.

In the meat and potatoes of his column, David Brooks writes of today’s morally challenged student movement as one “led by students forced to live with the legacy of sexism, with the threat, and sometimes the experience, of sexual assault. It is led by students whose lives have been marred by racism and bigotry. It is led by people who want to secure equal rights for gays, lesbians and other historically marginalized groups.”

Here’s a thought I’d like to contribute to Brooks’ “idea-free” liberal debate. If the majority of today’s students refuse to create “safe space” for the continued subjugation of anyone not wealthy, white and male, perhaps the moral failing belongs to you and your fellow conservatives for expecting to be accommodated.  Many a belief and notion throughout history has been popularly shunted aside, not from moral corruption, but rather a modern inability to serve rational, progressive society.

Sane GOPers Tell the Crazy Republicans to Stop Talking to Themselves (January 31, 2013)

sad-elephant

Although I respect the intellect of New York Times columnist David Brooks, particularly his application of humanistic psychological and sociological research to the formation of public policy views, there are many times when I throw my hands up in frustration. While professing a moderate approach to the role of government in American society, he often ends up sounding much like a Republican mouthpiece. I am thinking of his implausible regard for Paul Ryan’s endless circumstantial flip-flopping on budget and deficit responsibility (pro-spending under George W. Bush, austerity principles during the Obama regime) as just one example.

At the risk of welcoming angry comments and hate mail, I do believe that a sound and rational two-party system is essential to the health of our cherished democracy. No one is served by a insulated majority free of checks and balances, closed to new ideas, no matter which end of the political spectrum that party should occupy.

I would assert that underlying much liberal anger is a genuine wish that those of the right wing persuasion would embrace modern reality and take part in a honest conversation about the direction in which the country needs to move if it is to face current challenges, including but not limited to: immigration and health care reform, globalization, fiscal balance, entitlement spending, the tax code and a whole host of other issues. Unfortunately, an increasingly radicalized GOP has brought little to the table in recent years beside anger, corporate kowtowing, backward social thinking and obstructionism.

With this in mind, there are elements to admire vis a vis Brooks’ column for the Times this week, entitled “A Second G.O.P.” In it, Brooks writes “On the surface, Republicans are already doing a good job of beginning to change their party. Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana gave a speech to the Republican National Committee calling on Republicans to stop being the stupid party, to stop insulting the intelligence of the American people….But, so far, there have been more calls for change than actual evidence of change.”

Well said. If the results of the 2012 Presidential election taught us anything, it’s that the Republican Party platform increasingly falls outside of mainstream views. Continuous disregard and disrespect for the middle and working classes, the social safety net, female reproductive rights and immigrants cost Mitt Romney the popular vote in a big way. Almost every GOP leader woke up the need for more inclusive messaging, but to Brooks’s point, how does that translate into real policy reform? Thus far, it hasn’t. In order for the right to begin taking steps toward relevancy, it must do more than talk to itself about change. It must actually make that change palpable.

Brooks goes on to observe, “In this reinvention process, Republicans seem to have spent no time talking to people who didn’t already vote for them.”

In other words, as the GOP seeks to rejoin productive policy dialogue, it must move away from navel gazing and the equivalent of empty locker room pep talks to doing the actual work required to attract new members. President Obama has made it clear over the last four years that he would love to count upon constructive Republican input when it comes to solving the nation’s problems – with disappointingly few results. As the title of Brooks’ column implies, the GOP needs to reverse course in the form of a total break with a failed platform.

It has been an interesting feature of 2013 that the direction of the Republican Party has been the subject of much internal criticism. Will that criticism be co-opted into sincere course correction? Stay tuned…

Even the ‘Moderate’ Conservative at the New York Times Can’t Describe the GOP Healthcare Plan (July 3, 2012)

I have a cousin who posted this as his Facebook status this morning: “Sometimes I think, ‘this time David Brooks will write something that doesn’t make me want to punch him.’ And each time, I’m wrong.” I know the feeling.

Brooks has worked as a New York Times Op-Ed columnist since 2003, and while I appreciate that he is the paper’s purported moderate conservative voice and that all media outlets should strive for true “fair and balanced” representation, I join my cousin in his frustration. I am tired of being fooled by this guy. I do not pay for a New York Times digital subscription and it’s a waste to keep allotting any of my 10 free articles per month toward the writer.

Because the reality is that there’s nothing moderate or independent about Brooks’ ideology. Take this morning’s promising example. On the surface, to encounter a title like “A Choice, Not a Whine” seems to bode for real criticism. The headline carried this subtext: “Opponents of Obama’s health care law should stop venting about John Roberts and instead provide a credible alternative.”

Well then! A critical piece from Brooks that might clarify that Republican opposition to last week’s Supreme Court decision regarding the Affordable Healthcare Act isn’t wearing any clothes. Panderer extraordinaire Mitt Romney and his gang of GOP cronies have repeatedly claimed that, should Mittens be elected, they will repeal and replace Obamacare with….what? They won’t say, in the first place because specifics just can’t top the sort of general chest beating that has become the hallmark of Republican contrariness. The party of “no,” has had very little to say for itself beyond a simple negative for years now. It has worked well to a certain degree. The GOP was able to take over the House in the 2010 midterm elections with shockingly little to say for itself besides, “We don’t agree with anything the President says.”

In the second place, Republicans exist to uphold the status quo, the complex state of affairs that keeps siphoning money into the hands of corporations and the extremely wealthy while diminishing the prospects of the middle and underclasses. Pick an issue and look for the GOP’s corresponding cynicism: global warming is fake! Because energy companies are plying us with money to say so! Charter schools rule – forget about revamping public education! Because so many of the operations that provide these untested models of schooling are privately owned with excellent lobbyists!

And then there’s healthcare. For those of us looking to David Brooks to put his party (damn, I keep forgetting he’s independent) to the test, a click on this morning’s column yields this: “Critics of the bill shouldn’t be hating on Chief Justice Roberts. If they can’t make this case to the voters, they really shouldn’t be in public life. Moreover, there are alternatives. Despite what you’ve read, there is a coherent Republican plan.”

Let’s gloss over the fact that if the word has come from the pen of a middle-aged policy fart like Brooks, then “hating” has jumped the pop cultural lexicon shark, and cut to this supposed”coherent Republican plan.” Which is what?

Basically the same tired retread of non-specifics: patients should just say no to elaborate and/or endless procedures (because don’t we all know someone who gets mammograms and colonoscopies for giggles?), give people tax credits so they can purchase their own plans in a competitive, private marketplace. Then there are my two personal favorites: “Americans should be strongly encouraged to buy continuous coverage over their adulthood,” and “encourage experimentation in the states instead of restricting state flexibility.”

I have news for Mr. Brooks, the word “encourage” is rarely followed by concrete specifics. There is NO Republican plan for turning these ideas into reality. What makes you think you can delineate that which your fellow party members can only mumble?