Friday, October 20, 2017

OT: An Important Message From Sagittarius A

Hey, all. I have something published that you can read for free (and then, ideally, pester all your friends to do the same). Check it out.

We now return to your regularly scheduled radio silence.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

The New Center (Part 3 of 3)

(Part 1 - - - Part 2 - - - Part 3)

Warning: Long and ranty. Probably should have been two parts. Eh, such is blogging.

Now, let's take a look at those last two sections, Work Matters and Inclusive Growth. These are basically liberal traps, opening with sections hinting at policies with progressive appeal and then turning deeply, deeply shitty.

Let's start with Work Matters. This section does not deal with unemployment per se, instead relying on the "workforce participation" metric. In short, the issue is not individual suffering so much as it is the horror that the Great Economic Machine is not running at maximum efficiency. But of course you want to be fair and all, so you move past that arguably callous section and get to the policy prescriptions, which in this case are divided into "Pull" and "Push." You read the "Pull" section and it sounds pretty good! They're in favor of funding retraining programs and child care services and pulling back the reins on criminal background checks that lock ex-cons out of honest work.

And then you get to the "Push" section and, if you're anything like me, your jaw sticks open.

But before we get to that, let's jump back to that overview section:
There are currently 23 million Americans of prime working age who are not working and according to Bureau of Labor Statistics surveys, 90 percent of this group say they don’t want to work.
That's a pretty alarmist way of putting that block of stats, one suggesting that 90% of unemployed people are lazy or worse. Look elsewhere on the BLS site and you'll find stats demonstrating why those people are not looking for work. Operating on the assumption that "prime working age" is 25-54, here's why these people aren't out there making the country great:
  • Disabled - 51.7% of men, 23.5% of women
  • Home responsibilities (read: childrearing) - 10.8% of men, 59.2% of women
  • Attending college - 14.3% of men, 7.3% of women
  • Filthy slackers who couldn't come up with a reason - 13.7% of men, 4.5% of women
That last bit is actually listed as "other reasons" and includes "discouraged workers," those people who can't find anything. But even if we assume that all of them are people who are (to use the delicate verbiage of the New Center) unwilling to get off the couch, it still appears as though most of the people not looking for work have valid reasons to be out of the workforce.

Unless we assume that all of those disabled people are malingerers.


As you may have figured out, the folks at the New Center have a very low opinion of those mortals who are forced to tread on the tainted earth beneath their cloud palaces. Some of those shiftless mortals are con artists, while others are drug addicts:
Employers say as many as 25 percent of applicants can’t pass a drug test. This group needs a push to get them back to work.
Yeah, if you burn a blunt a month then obviously you can't be trusted to man a cash register.

But maybe, as David Brooks has so insightfully observed, the problem is that we just aren't lecturing the lazy fools enough. This leads to the most amazing part of this section:


The New Center should not be bashful about criticizing individuals who are not carrying their weight.
Yeah, I thought I was being hyperbolic, too. Since this is the policy section, I'm not sure what to make of this - is the President supposed to go on television once a week and wag his finger at all the lazy Poors and Youngs?

I'd like to put special focus on another line in this little infobox, a fact that the authors seemed to think was especially terrifying:
One study found that roughly three-fourths of their time is spent staring at a screen, including an average of nearly nine hours per week playing video games.
That link (as well as the one in the paragraph under it) leads to what is easily one of the dumbest articles I've ever seen in a major national newspaper. It is titled "Why amazing video games could be causing a big problem for America" and I swear it appeared in the Washington Post in September 2016. The thesis - which, sadly, is pretty true to the one advanced by the authors of the research paper they reference - is that video games are essentially a drug, a cheap and readily available one. But while you might think that unemployed Youngs play video games to mitigate the oppressive boredom and solitude of unemployment, these fine thinkers suggest that, in fact, modern video games send their users to such magnificent vistas of unbridled ecstasy that young men are avoiding work to spend more time mainlining their digital smack.

You want proof?

OH GOD SAVE US ALL! THE INTERACTIVE DEMON HAS DUG ITS CLAWS INTO THE VERY SOULS OF THE YOUTH WITH ITS FALSE PROMISES OF JOY! SOCIETY CRUMBLES BEFORE OUR EYES AS STRAPPING YOUNG MEN NEGLECT THE LEVERS OF CIVILIZATION FOR...wait, 74 minutes a day? That doesn't seem like so much.

How frightening this is depends on how scary 8.6 hours a week sounds. It's far less than television consumption - according to the same study, those Youngs idly watch screens for around 25 hours a week - but for the typical Boomer, watching television is "normal" and not nearly as frightening.

Perhaps I can shed some light on this. Some of you may know that I have a pretty extensive history with interactive electronic entertainment, going back to my fourth birthday. And while there are times I wish it wasn't the case (up to and including now), I do play a shitload of video games. Now, I went a little crazy at the last Steam sale and ended up with enough titles to last out the year. According to my stats (which only include games through that service, mind), I've been averaging somewhere between 18 and 20 hours a week since the sale ended - more than twice the TERRIFYING DOOMSDAY FIGURE shown above.

Needless to say, I take a great deal of offense at the implication that this 20 hours a week constitutes an addiction. Unlike those Youngs allegedly refusing work, I have a job - a very physically taxing job that most native-born Americans refuse to do and which, unlike pundits and think tank hacks, bears actual economic utility. I work enough hours to pay all my own expenses and put away hundreds of dollars a month. Additionally, I somehow found the time to break away from THE ELECTRONIC NARCOTIC to write and submit short stories (averaging one every two weeks since February), read several books a month (all nonfiction and no, not just the dross I feature here), listen to an additional 6-8 audiobooks a month (again, all nonfiction), take in at least one local show or cultural event per week, become an amateur photographer (you have checked out the photo site, haven't you?) and send a series of letters and postcards to Sen. Jerry Moran trying to push him away from destroying health care.

Goddamn, now I just wish I could gauge the pundit reaction to my own Steam profile:


Ironic that Civilization is bringing down civilization. Is it really a sin to like strategy games? Hey, the virtual wars I've prosecuted were a lot less destructive than the actual wars that some of these Very Serious types were cheering on.

Which brings me - at long last - to the other section, Inclusive Growth. Some of you saw that word "growth" and got concerned because you know what it means when conservatives "centrists" say it - time to sacrifice some Poors in the name of the great god Ekahn'ame. But, like the last section, this one starts off really good. They want to raise the federal minimum wage! They want to increase the EITC (which is still a conservative-friendly policy but by no means a bad one)! And then there's shit like this:
Americans living in hard luck areas would likely be better equipped to enjoy the fruits of economic growth if they simply moved to regions with booming economies...The government could establish Lifetime Retraining Accounts that pay for moving and living expenses with loans contingent on an individual’s income.
Sound familiar? This is pretty much the "Let's ship 'em all to North Dakota" strategy - employed by many, last seen in McArdle's awful book. Hey, how did that go for the workers that followed that advice?



Hey, it's not like a significant number of them died from wholly preventable problems.

Somewhat inexplicably, that paragraph contains a link to a mostly irrelevant AEI piece (The New Center is not a conservative org, quit saying that) suggesting that the federal government randomly relocate departments out of D.C., an idea that Ross Douthat later stole and somehow made even worse.

All of that's just a personal hobbyhorse, though. My favorite part of this section is something they have to say about the Universal Basic Income. "Centrists" are skeptics of UBI. Frankly, so am I - it's a tad utopian, especially when you look at the sums that these elite economists consider "basic income." Even so, I've occasionally used the notion of a UBI to demonstrate the unhealthy attitudes Americans have toward work - we treat our jobs as the most central and critical aspects of our identities, even as many of us don't see what we do as important. The New Center has a different take:
...the UBI completely ignores the importance of work—not just to our economy—but to an individual’s sense of purpose and meaning and to the cohesiveness of our communities.
This is a sentiment that more upfront conservatives encapsulate in the phrase "dignity of work."

Let me tell you about the "sense of purpose and meaning" I get out of my job. One day, I was told that the owner of the vineyard would be coming by and that he wouldn't appreciate seeing the remnants of the paper containers used to move the plants from a recent planting. Somebody had to pick up all the stray refuse so that it would good for his arrival. I won that privilege. As I crawled around in the dirt, picking up scraps of filthy paper with my bare fingers so that some rich prick wouldn't have to endure the pain of seeing litter on a property he rarely visited, I pledged to keep this image in my head any time some affluent media dipshit opened his sound-hole and uttered anything even remotely similar to "dignity of work."

This notion of "dignity of work" usually carries with it implications of laziness (often among people with certain demographic traits, nudge) overcome through Good, Honest Work. Coming from those hierarchy-loving paleocons who claim the title of centrist, it may have an additional meaning. A lot of these guys buy into a quasi-spiritual ideology that bears a resemblance to the old medieval notion of the Great Chain of Being. One might term this particular aspect the Happy Peasant (or maybe Transcendent Peasant, a term that's been popping up in a lot of above-the-fray centrist writings lately). It doesn't matter if you're a Brooksian Great Man enjoying the privileges at the top of society or one of the fleshy cogs in the great machine that those Great Men direct - you should be happy. Money and status simply don't matter. Funny that this argument always comes from people who have high-paying, high-status jobs.

We went through this shit with Brooks already - most people don't work for "purpose and meaning," and they don't have the kind of jobs that give them a lot of mental stimulation or personal satisfaction. And while I can't speak for anyone else, I can say that this is one Happy Peasant who doesn't want to be defined by his deeply shitty job, and also doesn't want to worry about what might happen if I manage to lose it. Sorry, Mr. Kristol, but most of us are actually capable of getting fired. I got a lecture a few months back for having "bad body language," basically my boss telling me I walk like an asshole as a way of reminding me that he can destroy my life whenever the hell he wants. Frankly, I would much rather have something tangible to fall back on as opposed to "purpose and meaning."

All right, we're done with these idiots. People are more than factors in some economic formulation - if these guys can't get that, then fuck 'em.

(Part 1 - - - Part 2 - - - Part 3)

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

The New Center (Part 2 of 3)

(Part 1 - - - Part 2 - - - Part 3)

On those rare occasions that self-described centrists deign to discuss actual policy, I assume that their recommendations will consist of the following:
  1. Common sense ideas that were decried as deeply unserious when recommended by liberals 10-15 years ago;
  2. Conservative hobby horses from the Reagan years;
  3. Extremely narrow positions which are of deep concern in the Beltway and ignored by 99.9% of voters.
Let's see if I'm right. The policy section - entitled "Ideas to Re-Center America" - consists of seven topic areas:
  • Challenging Big Tech
  • Protecting Innovation
  • Work Matters
  • Inclusive Growth
  • Tax and Infrastructure
  • New & Small Business
  • Immigration
The two in italics are special and deserve their own post. This one will look at the other five.

Challenging Big Tech

Some of you know by now that I despise Facebook and Amazon in a way that's difficult to put into words. The fine folks in Our Wonderful Newsmedia are a little less certain as to their opinion on these companies. It seems like only yesterday that these idiots were begging Mark Zuckerberg to run for President, and now he's back to being the destroyer of the Kids These Days. The New Center is definitely on the negative side, being quite troubled over anti-competitive bullshit like this. I'd like to say that this is due to genuine concern over innovation, privacy or security, but scroll down a little bit and you begin to wonder:




Okay, that's not fair. It is a legitimate issue, albeit one that's perhaps less immediately important to most Americans than some other ones.

The suggestions for fixing this involve the application of various laws and precedents, including the Sherman Act, a 50's-era consent deal involving AT&T, and that Microsoft antitrust suit that petered out post-9/11 and ended up accomplishing very little. The authors even claim that the Microsoft suit "enabled the rise of Google," which doesn't seem quite right, but what do I know? It ultimately comes down to launching antitrust suits against these companies and just these companies as you'll see below.

As a layman, I have no earthly clue if the press drumbeat to save their cushy jobs break up these companies would work. It makes sense for Alphabet/Google (search engines being both critical to allowing ordinary people to use the internet and yet far too manpower intensive for any but the biggest companies to create from scratch), but Facebook? What would the aftermath even look like?

Protecting Innovation

So let's complain about the goddamn Chinese and their thieving ways, and how intellectual property law needs to be a lot stronger.

This is a mix of various "tech" themed policies that didn't quite fit into the above section. "Get Serious About Cybersecurity" - always a good idea, although it seems like the weak links are in the private sector. More basic research - also a good idea. Demonstrating their conservative roots, they are opposed to applied research because this would be "picking winners and losers." They favor this set of patent law reforms.

The one really troubling thing in this section is the authors hinting that a trade war with the PRC, while not desirable, may be necessary. Did I mention that these guys were bragging about how cooperative they found Trump?

Tax and Infrastructure

Now here's a plan I know you'll love. A few years back, some of the thinkers in Congress decided that the way to fund our needed multi-trillion dollar infrastructure problem was through a "repatriation holiday," which amounted to bribing companies with lower taxes in order to get them to (temporarily) quit using tax shelters. The winners at the New Center seem to think that this will generate enough money to fund infrastructure projects.

This is actually the New Center's signature proposal, and they are extremely proud of it. The notion seems to be that by taking something Democrats like (infrastructure) and stitching it to something Republicans like (massive honking tax cuts for corporations), that they've achieved bipartisan synthesis. Unfortunately, while they're happy to brag about all the Republicans they have on board (including Commodus in Orange), the "bipartisan" claim consists entirely of the fact that Chuck Schumer didn't slam the door in their faces when they tried this in 2015.

One issue with this plan might be that we tried it before and didn't quite get the results we wanted. Turns out that when you incentivize people for bad behavior, more people decide to hop on board. Granted, nixing tax havens ain't easy, but you'd think that an organization that's ready to instigate a multi-year anti-trust suit aimed at chopping Google in half would have the ambition to at least try and investigate tax shelters.

Unless of course they're really just Reaganite conservatives and thus in favor of cutting taxes in all situations, but that's obviously not true.

New & Small Business
STRANGLED BY RED TAPE: New and small businesses can’t hire the army of accountants, lawyers and compliance officers that big businesses rely on to stay ahead of the latest dictates coming from federal, state and local regulators.

I can't imagine where anyone gets the idea that these "centrists" are really embarrassed conservatives. This is, indeed, the deregulation section. Among the recommendations: weakening Frank-Dodd, forming a "regulatory improvement commission," creating a regulatory roadmap, and letting businesses use cash accounting for the first five years. There's also a section marked "enhance crowdfunding" but they don't clarify what the hell that means.

You know what never comes up here? Health care. The authors suggest that the Youngs aren't starting businesses because they are "STRANGLED BY RED TAPE," but they never consider the effect that reliable health insurance has on one's willingness to take risks, a phenomenon called "job lock." There's some evidence that the ACA encouraged people to start businesses, particularly among the disabled. An earlier study suggested that the CHIP program increased entrepreneurial behavior among people with small children, and...well, you get the point.

There are no Ideas to Re-Center America that concern health care. Funny, that - it seems like an important issue.

Immigration

As "centrists," the people behind the New Center aren't willing to oppose anything as popular as DACA. Much like their infrastructure plan, the idea is to create "bipartisanship" by taking a popular Democratic act and stapling Republican bullshit to it. This includes more border enforcement, electronic tracking to ensure that undocumented immigrants can't work, tighter tracking of visas and a de-emphasis of family visas (so we only get useful immigrants, y'see). And then there's this:


I can't imagine why anyone would think that these guys are conservatives. Would it shock you to learn that the "conservative alternative to DACA" also de-emphasizes family visas and contains provisions for expired visas? I'm sure that's just coincidence, though.

Next time: We get good and angry, which is always fun (for someone).

(Part 1 - - - Part 2 - - - Part 3)

Monday, September 25, 2017

Special Feature: The New Center (Part 1 of 3)

(Part 1 - - - Part 2 - - - Part 3)

We are at a turning point in this country...again. Seems to happen a lot these days, you know. As I write this, Congressional Republicans are desperately continuing their nihilistic quest to nuke health care in America for reasons they can't explain, the Toddler-in-Chief is doing his damndest to provoke an international incident with the only leader on the planet who is even more childlike and erratic, and we're continuing to tick off the destructive storms because counting them is about the only research we're allowed to do when it comes to the weather.

All of which means that it's time once again to discuss what Both Sides have done wrong.

I'd like to thank Drifty for turning me on to this story, although I'm not sure that "thanks" are in order so much. The topic this time was from our old friends in No Labels. You remember them, right? Of course you do - that exciting political movement that no one outside of the Beltway ever asked for. The latest news from this media beast comes from Kathleen Parker, describing a meet-up of the elite media dimwits and earnest millionaire donors to hear from dynamic and beloved speakers like Joe Lieberman and Tony Blair. Truly, an organization that has its finger on the pulse of national sentiment.

As it turns out, No Labels has a new project dubbed the New Center, and I'm sure that all of you are eager to learn about this thrilling new think tank that you'll have completely forgotten about by this time next week.

Let's start by meeting the masterminds behind this decidedly not-bold new foundation:


Say, does that caricature on the left look familiar to you? Why, yes - it's our old friend Bill Kristol! Fresh off of his attempt to build a True Conservative third party run built around, for some reason, David French, he is now bringing his famously clear-eyed and accurate political acumen to the policy powerhouse that is No Labels.

The other guy running this thing is Bill Galston. I'm not familiar with him at all, but his New Center profile indicates that he was "Deputy Assistant to President Clinton for Domestic Policy." So the New Center conservative is a hardcore neocon, whereas the New Center "liberal" was one of the guys who gave us tough-on-crime bills and welfare reform. Much like Ms. Parker, I can't imagine why anyone would accuse No Labels of being a "front for right-leaning 1-percenters"; these guys run the gamut from right to center-right.

So let's take a look at the world-changing memo that these two co-authored - "No Labels Values: A New Center in American Politics." My instinct is to assume that it's going to be chock-full of Bothsiderist trash of the exact variety we've seen so many times, but maybe I'm being unfair. After all, this is a genuine bipartisan affair:

We’ve differed on major policy issues. One of us vigorously backed the war in Iraq; the other just as vigorously opposed it. We’ve publicly debated many times, usually focusing on our differences. These disagreements persist.


But we write now to stress what we have always agreed on, because the times demand it. The basic institutions and principles of liberal democracy are under assault.


Indeed they are. The mainstreaming of neo-Nazism is disturbing, of course. We have a President with numerous conflicts of interest that Congress is unwilling to address, not to mention the possibility that he is mentally unfit and none of you are falling for this, you all know what's coming next:

..we stand together against an alternative right disdainful of the traditions of American conservatism and a vocal left that blends socialist economics with identity politics.


There's so much to unpack in this one brief statement that I feel I must employ bullet points.
  • And here we are again with the "identity politics" crap, a pair of words that ensures that you don't need a picture to be sure of the speaker's race. As we'll see in the next two parts, the "Ideas to Re-Center America" do not address issues like police-public relations, women's health, public accommodations, or anything else that might be of interest to any of those people with identities. Too controversial, y'see.
  • Note that the problems on Both Sides are not symmetrical. The problem with the left is that it's too liberal; the problem with the right is that they're the wrong kind of conservative. Thus, to achieve the New Center, liberals must move to the right while conservatives must quit reading the quiet parts out loud. And if you think I'm being unfair and reading too much into this...well, give it a minute.
  • I also love that alt-right is matched with "vocal left." Remember, We Are A Center-Right Nation (and we have the polls from the mid-70s to prove it), so one should be proud to follow in the grand traditions of American conservatism but a little ashamed to be liberal.
Next:
Our form of government, in short, is fundamentally sound. Not so our parties and our politics. It is in this spirit that we make the case for a New Center, one that does not split the difference between Left and Right but offers a principled alternative to both. Its core tenets—Opportunity, Security, Accountability, and Ingenuity—can respond to the challenges of the present and chart a path to the future.
The core tenets sound less like "tenets" and more like an acronym dreamed up by a terrible motivational speaker (tell me that this set words wouldn't seem right resonating through a catering hall at some corporate retreat) but we'll get to that.

Americans see ourselves as problem-solvers, and we’ve solved a lot of them over the centuries. If machines aren’t working, we fix them, and similarly for our institutions and policies. In the depths of the Great Depression, FDR called for “bold, persistent experimentation.” Ronald Reagan, who voted for FDR four times, emphatically agreed.

If you were looking for a generally liked Republican President, you could have gone with Eisenhower, but nope: Ronald Reagan. He's one of our calibrating points for this little project. It was at this point that I realized what "New Center" means - not a new centrist movement (even these guys can't believe that's going to happen), but a new center point that's well to the right of the current center point. Apparently, the new center is going to be somewhat to the left of Ronald fucking Reagan.

I get the impulse. Bill Kristol had an awesome time during the Dubya years - the Overton Window was shot way the hell to the right, meaning that conservatives could go on television and say whatever horrible, destructive things they wanted while anyone left-of-center kept his mouth shut lest he put his livelihood on the line. The right might run things now, but it's only in such a dysfunctional and ugly manner that conservatives are forced to constantly play defense. Make no mistake, that's what Bothsiderism is - conservatives defending the indefensible by forcing a fictitious indefensible position on the other side and then suing for peace. It can't be fun, although it's more than Kristol deserves after everything he's done to deliver us to this point.

Come on, though - even a dunce like Kristol can't think that this is a real movement. With a population that's growing more liberal and more diverse (i.e. possessing those identities that we must scrub out of politics), the notion that anyone's moving politics rightward now is preposterous. And with more and more people seeking more and more profound change, the odds on some great centrist movement (with marchers carrying placards reading "We have no strong opinions and we feel strongly about it") is similarly preposterous. These guys have no base. What they do have - and this is the important bit - is money and connections. They're never going to get their third way candidates, but they're already influencing politicians from both parties. That's why as ridiculous as these guys can be, it is essential to know what they're up to. Their ideas have weight well out of proportion to the numbers they can mobilize.

Starting next time, we'll look at their ideas - the good, the bad, and the aggravating.

(Part 1 - - - Part 2 - - - Part 3)

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Essay: What David Brooks Means When He Says "Modesty"

This post is a deviation from the usual content of this blog, but it's still somewhat on point because it involves David Brooks. As one of the few people who has read The Road to Character in full (as opposed to mining the first chapter for arguments to use against the Kids These Days and then skimming every fifth page thereafter, as most reviewers clearly did), I feel I have some small insight to add to the ever-growing field of Brooksology. I will explain something that is inexplicable to those not versed in the creole tongue of Both Siderism and will proceed to make a prediction as to what Brooks will do next.

Many of you have seen Brooks' latest discharge, a sad little attempt to rescue "Both Sides Do It" from the infant-like hands of the Cheeto Emperor. For those of you who have little tolerance for undiluted political cowardice, I recommend the analysis of fellow Brooksologists Driftglass and Yastreblyansky, who make their own efforts to dissect thoughts such as:
Over the next few months I’m hoping to write several columns on why modesty and moderation are superior to the spiraling purity movements we see today.
Apparently, the statement "Nazis Are Bad" is a hyperpartisan purity creed that is fundamentally no different than the statement "Nazis Are Great," and a President should never be expected to utter either aloud. This is even true after one of said deranged racists tries to kill a large group of people - indeed, is there any better time to reflect on how the killer and victims are fundamentally united in their irrationality and how both bear responsibility for the murder?

There's another statement I'd like to draw into focus, as it's caused a bit of confusion and I can probe deeper. It is thus:
In fact, the most powerful answer to fanaticism is modesty. Modesty is an epistemology directly opposed to the conspiracy mongering mind-set.
This column is rich in modesty, or at least calls for it. That's perplexing enough as is - what fool looks at the aftermath of that violent racist hootenanny and concludes that neo-Nazis and Klansmen are best dealt with by keeping our heads low and speaking softly? Brooks being Brooks, he then compounds it with "epistemology," a word that has traditionally signaled that the user is a serious conservative thinker, but what the hell does it mean?

The phrase "epistemological modesty" is straight out of The Road to Character, specifically the "Humility Code" at the end. The words didn't make any more sense then, but with the benefit of context it was at least possible to discern what Brooks was saying - no one can really know anything, so don't be rash. It's a curiously po-mo line of thought for a paleocon, but it makes a sort of sense in light of Brooks' call for a return to a vague form of tradition. He doesn't want anyone making big changes.

There's another entry in that "Code" that's also on point. This one was so odd that, after copying part of it for the post, I ended up running back to the library to read the rest in hopes that I could make sense of it. For those of who you didn't read the comments, here it is:
The best leader tries to lead along the grain of human nature rather than go against it...he prefers arrangements that are low and steady to those that are lofty and heroic. As long as the foundations of an institution are sound, he prefers change that is constant, gradual, and incremental to change that is radical and sudden. He understands that public life is a contest between partial truths and legitimate contesting interests. The goal of leadership is to find a just balance between competing values and competing goals. He seeks to be a trimmer, to shift weight one way or another as circumstances change, in order to keep the boat moving steadily forward on an even keel. He understand that in politics and business the lows are lower than the highs are high. The downside risk caused by bad decisions is larger than the upside benefits that accrue from good ones. Therefore the wise leader is a steward for his organization and tries to pass it along in slightly better condition than he found it.
A couple things:
  1. David Brooks is considered by many to be a brilliant writer;
  2. This book was professionally edited;
  3. Neither 1 nor 2 are jokes;
  4. The TL;DR takeaway is: Don't be bold, it's not worth the risk.
The core of this argument was in Chapter 3, in which Brooks argued for Dwight Eisenhower as an icon of "moderation" and concluded that his own brand of squishy centrist equivocation was the best way to lead. Given the figures he claimed to have studied for this book, this is a bizarre conclusion: I don't see how you can read about people like Frances Perkins and Bayard Rustin and conclude from their lives and work that bold action is a mistake. To quote my own joke: "Look Frances, we know things are bad for the workers, but there are competing interests at play, and the lows will be very low if we change things too quickly. How about we get the factory owners to promise to think about safety issues, and then we can revisit this whole 'weekend' thing in another decade or two. Fair?"

This seems like proof that, as suggested in one of the book's very few negative professional reviews, Brooks is mistaking his own fundamentally conservative beliefs for objective values. He never tried to learn anything himself so much as he was looking for object lessons - parables, if you will - to explain why his paleoconservative brethren were right all along.

Gather 'round and be enlightened. (Image shamelessly lifted from Driftglass)

Opposition to dramatic change and skepticism of utopian thought are classically conservative traits, but they're also a key part of Brooks' (still fairly conservative) cowardly centrist philosophy. The main difference is that this used to be tied up in unease around liberals and lefty types whereas now, naturally, Both Sides Do It. It's not a fundamentally bad idea - utopianism generally leads to heartbreak whenever it's tried because the true believers are just so damn sure that they don't question themselves. But Brooks has taken it to an odd extreme, arguing that any policy change entailing risk is unacceptable no matter how big or immanent the problem to be addressed. The economy may be on the verge of collapse, the weather may be growing catastrophically hazardous, we may be facing a surge in nakedly violent racism, but doing anything more than a few tweaks in the status quo is too dangerous.

I do have to love the analogy in the above piece of the mushy centrist leader as a "trimmer" who keeps an "even keel." I know fuck-all about sailing on the high seas, but I'm fairly certain if a storm or a pirate flotilla was bearing down on me, I'd want the captain to do something other than stay the course and hope the problem resolved itself.

Even given that this is so central to the Brooks persona, I have a hard time believing that this was Brooks' first thought after hearing about the events in Charlottesville, especially given that he boldly announced a mere week ago that he wasn't going to write about politics for an indefinite period. He probably meant it initially, and I'm sure that the thought of bailing on that promise must have been a tough call. But then...then those sacred words of the High Holy Church of Both Siderism emerged from the lips of that Error of the Electoral College, and those words were praised by the likes of Robert Spencer and David Duke.

The cognitive dissonance must have been agonizing. I can picture Brooks sitting on the floor of his office, digging through those piles of notes he allegedly uses to compose his columns, stopping from time to time to rock back and forth and mutter the words "both sides...both sides..." through sobs. Once upon a time he could have talked his way out of this, tossed in a joke about the suburbs or a mangled factoid from some ev-psych text or name dropped a historical figure, and moved on to the next topic...but he'd done it so many times that it was losing its zing, and with more and more people on One Side echoing those sacred words, it simply wouldn't fly. Failing at last to come up with some brilliant maneuver, he hauled himself to the laptop, took a few slugs straight out of a bottle of Absolut, set his fingers on the keys...and doubled the fuck down.

That's just my headcanon, though.

So what should we expect in this coming flurry of commentaries on sacred modesty? That depends on just how lazy Brooks has become. My bet is that he'd already planned a series of posts on the subject, and we'll be seeing what he'd planned to publish all along with just a few tweaks here and there - staying the course, per his own advice. You're certainly not going to see anything specifically on point, as that hasn't been Brooks' bailiwick in quite a few years. If he's feeling really lazy, he might just revive some material from The Road to Character and remix it. That would be hilarious, as Chapters 2-9 of that wretched book were merely recycled content from his own columns and borderline plagiarized material from popular biographies. In effect, he would be making a hash out of several casseroles that were themselves cobbled together from a series of culinary mistakes.

Either way, the content is easily predicted: All big ideas are bad, quit trying to fix problems, trust authorities, let's all just fold our hands and quietly wait for the centrist messiah to come. The key points will be trying to find ways to suggest that whatever fresh hell may come, it will be no one's fault because it is everyone's fault, that the Nazis Are Bad crowd and the Nazis Are Great crowd are exactly equidistant from the true and proper center, that both are equally misguided in that they no longer trust their betters to advise them on the proper way to live.

In short: It'll be the same goddamn thing as always, only much more defensive. It should be interesting (for certain definitions of "interesting").