David Brooks and Ted Cruz

In a stunning display of moral arrogance and effete pique, David Brooks recently savaged Ted Cruz as a purveyor of “pagan brutalism” unfit to call himself a Christian, let alone lead a nation.

Mr. Brooks, whose career rests on his role as liberal elites’ arbiter of conservative conduct, lost his well-coiffed cool as he descended into attack mode against the only enemies he appears to recognize: conservatives. He began with a willful distortion of a legal case in which Senator Cruz, while Texas Solicitor General, sought to uphold Texas’ interpretation of its own laws in relation to the sentencing of a habitual offender. Senator Cruz did not actually lose that case. But Mr. Brooks gleefully repeats a caustic remark made in that regard by Justice Anthony Kennedy, whose pseudo-intellectualism and aura of self-regarding piety make him Brooks’ own intellectual twin. Mr. Brooks’ point is not merely that Senator Cruz was wrong (itself highly debatable, whatever that giant intellect of Anthony “sweet mystery of life” Kennedy may dictate). Rather, Mr. Brooks presents this incident as proof that Senator Cruz is a vicious hypocrite who would lead Christians down a road to political and personal perdition.

ted cruz and obamaThe criticism is not of the most subtle variety. Opines Mr. Brooks: “Cruz is a stranger to most of what would generally be considered the Christian virtues: humility, mercy, compassion and grace.” One also doubts whether Senator Cruz’ slacks have quite the sharp crease Mr. Brooks so famously admired in those of President Obama. Indeed, one gets the definite impression that Mr. Brooks already is pining for the “good old days” when someone of Mr. Obama’s sartorial splendor could captivate the nation with promises of “hope and change.”

For Mr. Brooks the essential beginning assumption in judging people like Senator Cruz, Mr. Trump, and their supporters is that the times are not, as most Americans are convinced, particularly bad. According to Mr. Brooks, Mr. Obama, has not, in fact, produced serial disasters for the people, economy, and culture of the United States:

The Obama administration has done things people like me strongly disagree with. But America is in better economic shape than any other major nation on earth. Crime is down. Abortion rates are down. Fourteen million new jobs have been created in five years.

Obama has championed a liberal agenda, but he hasn’t made the country unrecognizable. In 2008, federal spending accounted for about 20.3 percent of gross domestic product. In 2015, it accounted for about 20.9 percent.

One might ask Mr. Brooks “whose side are you on, anyway,” or even, “what planet are you on,” for it does not appear much like planet earth. But the answer is self-evident. Mr. Brooks and his friends among the well-dressed on planet upper-crust New York are doing fine, so there certainly can be no need for panic, let alone unpleasantness or, worse yet, a loss of decorum. One might lose a cuff link, after all.

The myopia intrinsic to the argument that America is “not unrecognizable” because federal spending as a percentage of gross domestic product has increased only marginally is itself beyond measure. Nit-pickers may point out that the early figures are from the immediate post-real estate bubble explosion, or that the Bush figures themselves make Bill Clinton’s trailer-park presidency look good. And some may note the riots in Ferguson and across the country, may observe the statistics and real-life tragedies clearly showing that middle-class and working people are noticeably worse off now than before Mr. Obama took office, or have the temerity to complain about civil prosecution of Christians for refusing to participate in same-sex celebrations or fund abortion. Some knuckle-dragging bigots (the wrong Christians) even may have a problem with court-mandated legal status for same-sex marriage. But Barneys still sells the right suits, so everything is good.

Except that those terrible people like Ted Cruz are stirring up the villagers again. And that must be stopped.

Cruz’s programmatic agenda, to the extent that it exists in his speeches, is to destroy things: destroy the I.R.S., crush the “jackals” of the E.P.A., end funding for Planned Parenthood, reverse Obama’s executive orders, make the desert glow in Syria, destroy the Iran nuclear accord.

Mr. Brooks is genteel enough to say that he agrees with some of these positions (he does not say which). “But the lack of any positive emphasis,” he continues, “any hint of reform conservatism, any aid for the working class, or even any humane gesture toward cooperation is striking.”

As one who is sartorially challenged, I still dare to ask, “cooperation with what? With a President who rules by decrees, insisting that he can suspend immigration laws, impose new regulations, and conduct wars without so much as a by-your-leave to Congress?” Then again, Mr. Brooks seems to believe that insistence on constitutional forms—you know, proper law-making—might lead to rudeness, and so should be soft-pedaled, especially by Good Christians.

And what is a Good Christian, for Mr. Brooks? Someone who takes other people’s money and gives it to those he deems worthy of receiving it.

The best conservatism balances support for free markets with a Judeo-Christian spirit of charity, compassion and solidarity. Cruz replaces this spirit with Spartan belligerence. He sows bitterness, influences his followers to lose all sense of proportion and teaches them to answer hate with hate. This Trump-Cruz conservatism looks more like tribal, blood and soil European conservatism than the pluralistic American kind.

George W Bush

Mr. Brooks references George W. Bush as the kind of “happy and hopeful warrior” he thinks a conservative should be. Perhaps Bush II’s massive deficits, spending sprees of colossal proportions, and re-regulation setting the stage for Mr. Obama are what Mr. Brooks considers conservative and Christian. But conservatism, for those outside Manhattan, is about protecting the actual communities in which actual Americans (many of whom do not even know how to use cuff links) actually live. Those communities are being destroyed by an intrusive federal government, including the IRS with its tax code that punishes the thrifty, the hard-working and especially those who cannot afford accountants and tax shelters. They fear an EPA that can declare their land “wetland” and close their place of work. They know from the lawsuits, the vitriol being spewed on college campuses, and the indoctrination being forced upon their children in public school—that people of faith now are expected to live that faith only at home or in church and hide their deepest beliefs whenever they come in contact with those, especially in the school system, who despise them.

There is more, of course. Mr. Brooks is careful not to actually accuse evangelicals of bigotry for their opposition to same-sex marriage. But he does say they are on the losing side of history and will only be “further marginalized” by opposition to it. And this is the crux of his effete pique. Mr. Brooks, for all his increasingly silly claims to be conservative, is quite convinced that “history” is on the side of those like Mr. Obama who seek a new order, in which the state distributes goods and status to all people. Confident he will always get or keep “his,” Mr. Brooks can only define Christianity as encouraging the state to see that the masses are kept quiescent with handouts.

Bill de Blasio

Bill de Blasio

That this vision is not conservative, and that it bears little relationship to America outside Mayor Bill de Blasio’s realm should be obvious. That our chattering classes, should they continue to adhere to this vision, either will become irrelevant or eventually find themselves fighting over the last silk stockings at Barneys even as the mobs break down the doors, also should be clear. Unfortunately for Mr. Brooks, it appears that sufficient attention to one’s cuff links precludes recognition of unpleasant realities until it is too late to do anything about them. Best, then, to leave Mr. Brooks to his well-upholstered kennel to defend the standards of a rotted-out ruling class.

Mr. Obama long ago showed what happens to those poor, trusting creatures kept in the Left’s kennel. Let Mr. Brooks, Mr. Kennedy, and others of their country-club ilk continue with their unselfconscious parody of William F. Buckley, Jr. Let them stand athwart history, saying in well-modulated tones, “would you please slow down a bit?” The rest of us must look for conservative leaders who will help us do the uncouth work of salvaging what we can of our national character.

Books on the topic of this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore.

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16 replies to this post
  1. “Best, then, to leave Mr. Brooks to his well-upholstered kennel to defend the standards of a rotted-out ruling class.”

    That last was very well said. It’s no longer the old Republican vs Democrat fight, but rather regular folks vs the snooty elites of both parties.

  2. I happened to read Brooksie’s column dissected above. I usually don’t read him, and suspect that Dr. Frohnen doesn’t either. I’ve always admired, however, the far-left tactic of purchasing nominal conservatives who have a weakness for sniffing at the hems of power. The NYT and the WP have been quite good at this for a long time. Great Screwtape stuff, in this case; cause confusion whenever and wherever you can. Dr. Frohnen here not only exposes Screwtape, he (with his astute legal mind) implicitly sentences Brooksie to a term in small towns. His pants-crease might survive the sentence, but his combover probably wouldn’t.

  3. The last few years a good friend, very liberal and very libertarian, confusing both, gives me a 3 month complimentary gift of the NYT. Each year I’ve let it expire. NYT, though, continues to send me articles as alerts to this or that. I find it useful to read NYT’s headlines in these alerts and once in a while actually read a partial of an article. It is useless to read Brooks, Blow, Krugman, etc beyond a few sentences.

    Dr. Frohnen’s essay on Brooks explains why. Minds of rubble can only throw rocks. They do not have the consistency, cogency or even cognition to build an edifice. It is emotion here and there and a slip over the moon when flights are not cancelled by sudden, unexpected (to them) reality. We cannot converse with them because they have only ending points from any “beginning” – they begin only where they wish to end.

    Dr. Frohnen has given a great service writing so plainly of a particularly political form of excessive human vanity.

  4. If conservatism is really about protecting communities where Americans live, then conservatism must recognize two possible threats: elites from the public sector, elites from the private sector. And we should note that the threat from elites from the private sector is not contingent on the size of government. This means that what regulations that come into existence do so at the behest of all the communities. That means that those who represent us must represent all of us and our conflicting rights and concerns. But that has not occurred. What is the case is that our representatives have learned to market policies that represent the elites from the private sector to the extent that it is difficult to understand which elites are the puppet mast and which set is the puppet.

    Using that to answer the question from the title of this article, the answer is rather obvious: NONE OF THE ABOVE.

    • To me, the “Money quote” of this article was the term “Rotted out ruling class”, in which the terms private elite and public elite merge under our present system of crony capitalism. And “Journalists” like Mr. Brooks comprise a third leg of that elite, meaning today’s corrupt, generally left wing press which has long since abandoned telling the truth in favor of pushing a political agenda.

      • Eric,
        But with the emphasis put on maximizing profits and the reliance on greed and competition, how is it that you will not get any other form of Capitalism other than Crony Capitalism? Can you cite a historical example of when we had Capitalism that wasn’t Crony Capitalism?

        As for Brooks, it seems that, to you, everyone on the left, whether they are liberas or actual leftists, are corrupt.

        • 1. Crony capitalism: that’s where success at business is as much a factor of which politicians are your friends and will give you favors, paid by the taxpayers, that your competitors do not get. The bank and car company bailouts are examples of this, as well as huge subsidies to outfits like Solyndra and Tesla. Indeed, it was outrage over this sort of abuse of government power that led to the rise of the Tea Party.

          2. Corruption: my specific comment was aimed at the press, who are corrupt because they favor pushing a political (left wing) agenda over reporting the truth. But, that said, the left wing is inherently corrupt because they nearly always choose evil over good, their rabid support of the abortion industry being a prime example.

          • Eric,
            Always choosing evil? In other words, when the Left stands up for workers who being are exploited by owners, that is evil? When the Left protests the destruction of the environment, that is evil? When the Left pushes for more democracy, that is evil?

            Remember the parable of the two men praying. It was the professional religious person, the pharisee who saw evil in others, but not in himself.

        • As for the rest, there is nothing wrong with profits and competition. Indeed, without either, we’d still be living in caves. As for “Greed”, that is a term thrown around by the left wing with remarkable inconsistency. Thus the Koch Brothers and Mitt Romney are “Greedy”, Hillary Clinton and George Soros are not.

          • Eric,
            It is the costs that others must pay for the profits of some as well as the competitive environment. In fact, the more competitive the environment, the more people are pressed to cheat. That is especially true when one is trying to maximize profits.

            In addition, competition doesn’t always contribute to the solving of problems.

            Finally, neither Hillary nor Soros are leftists. They are liberals. But no group has a monopoly on greed and no group is immune to it.

  5. It’s interesting that Brooks picks 2008 budget numbers and uses that as the basis of comparison for 2015, holding down spending?. However the 2008 budget was in large part signed into law by Obama in 2009 and was considerably larger than the earlier Bush/Republican spending bills and deficits, trillions yearly? It helps to remember that $trillion dollar budgets have become common of late. As well it bears remembering that defense funds have been stripped from the budget for crucial things like desert windmills, and our, sigh, perpetually run down infrastructure .

  6. As usual, Professor Frohnen is spot-on. And the Barney’s line is precious!

    But, he fails to note that Cruz, though better than Brooks, is a far cry from an ideal conservative either. Brooks is right about Cruz neglecting the working class. Though, concerns should extend to the middle class as well, and of course the proper response isn’t hand-outs, which is what Brooks may have in mind. The proper response is structural.

    In at least some policy spheres, Cruz appears to be ideologically wedded to a dogmatic classical liberalism that, though having some commonality with conservatism, really isn’t conservatism. Why must we admit unlimited guest workers? Why must we have unlimited free trade with countries that lack our wage and regulatory structures? Etc. Part of Trump’s appeal is that he has been the only Republican candidate willing to mention such issues. And, despite recently forswearing ‘nation-building’, Cruz does not inspire a great deal of confidence re the Middle East etc. Unfortunately, we appear to have yet another Presidential election with a highly questionable selection of candidates.

    • Cruz is the best we are going to get this cycle. Face it that no one is perfect and deal with it. Dragging him down is a blow to the movement, which puts you in league with Brooks and Trump for that matter.

  7. “It is the costs that others must pay for the profits of some as well as the competitive environment. ”

    That’s called zero sum economics, the belief that no one person can win unless someone else loses. Or, as PJ O’Rourke once put it – Marxists think the economy is a pizza, and if one person gets two slices, someone else gets none. It never occurs to the Marxist to bake a bigger pizza.

  8. “Finally, neither Hillary nor Soros are leftists. They are liberals.”

    They certainly identify as left wing, and so do their supporters. Oh, I’m sure the “Purists” would prefer Bernie Sanders, but if Hillary (most likely) defeats him, they will enthusiastically support her.

    Personally, I think liberalism died the day Kennedy was shot, and has been replaced by an aggressively secular, atheist left wing that is mainly in love with political power.

  9. I think it was Sam Francis who said “what neoconservatives hate most about paleoconservatives is that they are conservative at all. I think that’s about the size of the matter for David Brooks and his ilk.

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