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Whack-a-Hack

September 27, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

What can be more painful than having to read super-hacks* Thomas Friedman and David Brooks? How do they continue to be columnists at the country’s leading newspaper? Worse, how do the silly books they write become bestsellers? (Just two days ago, Friedman’s latest piffle entered the NYT bestseller list at #2. If it has to be that high, couldn’t it at least have done some good up there and taken the #1 spot away from the evil piece of —- whose name I won’t utter?)

Of course, no one has to read their columns, and so I don’t. But fortunately, the New Yorker’s Ric Hertzberg and the Center for Economic Policy and Research’s Dean Baker have been on the case, writing separate posts today on our two hacks’ latest columns.

On Sunday, Friedman was babbling yet again on the need for the two parties to compromise and strike a bargain. Hertzberg is so infuriated he can hardly contain himself. After stating that the column “damn near ruined my Sunday, Hertzberg goes through it in detail. I can’t do justice to Hertzberg’s analysis with a summary, excerpt, or “money quote.” It’s worth reading in full. Nonetheless, let me include a bit from near the end.

On the one hand, the Republicans are lunatics dedicated above all to destroying the Obama Presidency.

On the other hand, Obama didn’t endorse all the provisions of the Simpson-Bowles report.

See? They’re equally bad.

Which is another way of saying that they’re equally good. Which means that if they could just reason together in good faith, with a readiness to compromise their ideological preferences for the sake of the common good, all would be well.

Except that, as Friedman can’t help implicitly acknowledging, they’re not equally bad and equally good—not remotely. One side rationally understands (and fears) the consequences of inaction and is demonstrably willing to compromise. The other side irrationally dismisses (and might even welcome) those consequences and is demonstratively unwilling to compromise.

We don’t know whether, someday, “history” will hold Obama most responsible for what happens. What we do know—and on this point the “we” is everybody—is that, next year, voters will hold Obama most responsible. And we know that even among voters who think that Obama and the Republican leadership are both responsible but Obama less so, many will vote against him because he will be on the ballot everywhere. “The Republican leadership,” an abstraction both faceless and hydra-headed, won’t be.

The true, underlying, and presumably unconscious logic of Friedman’s analysis is that compromise between a side that is insane and unwilling to compromise and a side that is sane and willing to compromise is in fact impossible just now and will continue to be impossible for some time to come. For Obama, a Grand Bargain, which is to say a Grand Compromise, is not currently an option. His real choice is between a Grand Surrender and a Grand Fight.

I know which of the two I want him to choose. I hope Tom Friedman would have him make the same choice.

As for Brooks’ column today, Dean Baker (hat tip, Paul Krugman) gets to the heart of the matter regarding Brooks’ reasoning in his opening:

David Brooks is really upset, we may have a lost decade because he is sitting there being right, standing in the middle, and the two extremes who control public debate won’t agree with him. How do we know Brooks is right? Well, he is in the middle between the two extremes he just told you about, how could he not be right?

Baker focuses on Brooks’ criticism of the Obama stimulus plan as just another example of Democrats’ desire to increase government spending, doing the arithmetic to demonstrate that the stimulus was destined to be too small from the get go. This leads to the following comment.

So how is anything about stimulus disproved because a stimulus that could have been expected to create maybe 3 million jobs was not adequate in a downturn where we needed 10 million jobs? There are no tricks here, this is all arithmetic and it is all right there in black and white.

But, Brooks does not want to be bothered by arithmetic. He wants his readers to support his plans for tax reform, for cutting Social Security and Medicare. In other words he wants his readers’ support for doing all the the things that David Brooks always wanted to do, but he now says that we absolutely have to do because of an economic crisis caused by the incompetence of the people who always wanted to do these things.

Hacks. Just hacks.

*You might wish to review Alex Pareene’s list in Salon last November of the 30 leading hacks among political commentators. I mentioned it in a post at the time, giving special attention once again to Friedman and Brooks.

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Categories: Journalism, Politics
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