Blog Credo

The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.

H.L. Mencken

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

In Which David Brooks Exposes His Historical Illiteracy

"I told the teacher I was going to the bathroom, 
can you text me the history test answers?"

Brooks begins one of his columns with this wee nugget:

The half-century between 1912 and 1962 was a period of great wars and economic tumult but also of impressive social cohesion. Marriage rates were high. Community groups connected people across class.

Um, no.  When you begin like that I'm really not interested in anything else you have to say.

Social cohesion?

In 1919, Seattle was gripped by a general strike that was finally broken up by force.  This fed the flames of the burgeoning Red Scare, that really took off when someone exploded bombs outside the Attorney General's house and on Wall Street.  This led to the massive impingement on people's civil rights and liberties and the mass expulsion of political radicals.  In 1920, Eugene V. Debs won almost a million votes running as a Socialist - pretty much the biggest criticism of the American way of life permissible.

In the 1920s, the Klan marched down Pennsylvania Avenue and their leaders had lunch with Warren Harding in the White House.  The US passed incredibly restrictive immigration laws that singled out recent immigrants and prevented them from uniting with their families.  We excluded ALL Asians as racially inferior.  In Tennessee, we sat through an epic confrontation between evolution and religious fundamentalism.

Meanwhile, Jim Crow continued to be the law of the land.  Eleanor Roosevelt literally sat on the color line at an event in Birmingham straddling the white and Colored sections.  A. Philip Randolph had to blackmail FDR to get war industries desegregated in 1942.

We rounded up hundreds of thousands of American citizens of Japanese descent and placed them in concentration camps.

And there was also this whole civil rights movement in the 1950s.  Ask Emmet Till how impressive the social cohesion was during this time period.

There's an old saying that conservatives harken back to a time that never was and liberals point to a future that never will be.  Maybe the latter part is true.  But the first part certainly is.

Brooks has some fantastical America in his mind.  Jesus, just read Sinclair Lewis or William Faulkner or F. Scott Fitzgerald and then tell me that Long Ago America was a place of social cohesion.  Tell me about how awesome family life was in Eugene O'Neill's house.

This isn't bad-mouthing America because I hate America.  It's an honest, open-eyed assessment of American history.

The fact is we have a black President, a powerful female Secretary of State who would have been President if Obama had not won the nomination.  Neither of those things was remotely possible in the America that Brooks fetishizes.

Brooks decries the failing social fabric of our times.  Go back and read the literature of the Women's Christian Temperance Union about the astonishing alcohol abuse of the early 20th century.  Go back and examine the lives of women and African Americans and Japanese Americans.  Go back and examine the almost lethal stigma attached to homosexuality.

Brooks is the NPR conservative.  The Nice Polite Republican.  But on this he's just as reactionary as Santorum.  Just as wedded to an idea out of time and historical accuracy.

Usually, you have to read a few sentences into Brooks before you find the stupid.  Here it is right in the first sentence.

Thanks for that, I guess, Davey.

No comments: