The Flat, Flat World of David Brooks's Brain

Oh, to be an Olympian with an unlimited capacity to re-draw the political landscape according to one's whimsies! Few have been vouchsafed such privilege, so those who do had better ground their thought experiments on something more than a stale re-shuffling of the current options.

David Brooks fails this test miserably in his "Changing Bedfellows" column in today's New York Times. Habits of silky oversimplification appear to be migrating from Tom Friedman's cortex over to the gray matter of the normally more sober Brooks.

Brooks writes that a more coherent ordering of political arrangements would pit a "populist nationalist" faction against a "progressive globalist" party. The "populist nationalists" would promote government solutions to the looming health care and retirement crises facing American workers; they would be protectionist in trade policy and strongly supportive of holding back the tide of illegal immigration. They would bring a swift end to the waste of blood and treasure that is Iraq. They would stand for family values and demand stern action against a torrent of Internet porn. Their paladins would be people like Kevin Phillips, Lou Dobbs, and James Dobson.

On the other side in this new dispensation, "progressive globalists" would continue to push trade liberalization as the great beneficent engine of growth and prosperity; they would reiterate still more strongly the mantra that education and training can open the benefits of trade to everyone; they would continue to privatize health care and retirement and pare back public entitlements in these areas; and they would promote an ultra-muscular foreign and military policy out of their conviction that, in the end, only the American military can guarantee open trade and beat down jihadism in all its forms. The globalist champions would include figures like John McCain, Hillary Clinton, Mark Warner, and Rudy Giuliani.

Brooks says "left" and "right" no longer matter as much as his new shorthand of "closed" vs. "open": the nationalists vs. the globalists.

What's left out in this Brooksian re-alignment is, well, just about everything that keeps us from shooting ourselves before breakfast. His airless bifurcation leaves us yet again with an evil of two lessers, a tweedle-dee and tweedle-dum of two narrow and dangerous mindsets. There's no room in his scheme for the true visionaries of our time, the Wendell Berrys and Medea Benjamins and Jonathan Schells and Cornel Wests and David Kortens and many, many others who see a future in which there's no zero-sum tradeoff between "green" prosperity at home and a multi-polar, demilitarized world outside our borders. Brooks seems unable to imagine "elites" who have the moral sense to reject the cruel core premises of neoliberal economics: elites who accept and even welcome globalization, but not this globalization that inflicts so much misery--that tells two million Mexican peasants (for example) that their maize no longer meets the market test and they must therefore quit the land and re-invent themselves.

Brooks spends too much time inside the Beltway. He needs a vacation. I recommend Oaxaca.
If all that's left in America is going to be the politics of Lou Dobbs versus the politics of Hillary Clinton, we'll all be needing a vacation soon. A very, very long one.