By Marc Jampole
David Brooks, who frequently combines bad sociology with his yearning for a fantasy past that never existed, is the latest to play the conflation game to describe the political election, declaring that both the Clinton and Trump campaigns suffer from a lack of vision.
Brooks sees a corrupted campaign on both sides, steered by materialist concerns and far from the idealism of either the 1960s, represented by Hillary, or the 1980s, represented by the Donald. His first mistake is to consider the 1980s politics of selfishness as an expression of idealism, when in fact it was a base gambit to transfer massive amounts of wealth from the middle class, the upper middle class and the poor to the wealthy masquerading as a set of conservative ideas and (non-existent) economic laws.
In his article titled “The Death of Idealism,” Brooks says that both races display a lack of a “poetic, aspirational quality.” Here is his extended peroration against both the Trumpty-Dumpty and Clinton campaigns:
“There is no uplift in this race. There is an entire absence, in both campaigns, of any effort to appeal to the higher angels of our nature. There is an assumption, in both campaigns, that we are self-seeking creatures, rather than also loving, serving, hoping, dreaming, cooperating creatures. There is a presumption in both candidates that the lowest motivations are the most real.”
What a load of week-old fish guts.
To be sure, the Trump campaign is based on the politics of selfishness in its most extreme form, animated by an anger that is not directed at social ills, but at the loss of a special status.
But to say the same about the Clinton campaign is not just a conflation, but an out-and-out distortion.
Brooks presents as his proof that Hillary and her campaign lack idealism the fact that when asked “why she wants to be president or for any positive vision,” she responds by listing the programs she supports.
What Brooks doesn’t say is that behind each and every one of her programs—I should say the programs of a united Democratic party—is a shining vision of true equality of opportunity and an equitable distribution of wealth that enables all people to have adequate education, healthcare, access to higher education and retirement. Keep in mind that the Clintons are rich, the Obamas are rich, the Warrens are rich, the Bidens are rich, the Sanders are very well off. And yet these leaders and many others in the Democratic Party have produced the most left-wing (I hate using the word “progressive” since the historical Progressives were such racists!) political platform in history. These rich people want to raise taxes on themselves and their big donors—How is that not idealism? The Democrats could have moved much further right and still been far to the left of the current Republican Party. But unlike a large number of people who escaped their middle class backgrounds and became rich over the past three decades, or became richer than they were before as in the case of Trumpty-Dumpty, these Democratic leaders have a vision of a better world, not just for the lucky and those who have already made it, but for everyone.
What was it, if not idealism, that animated the uplifting and emotional Democratic convention? Speaker after speaker appealed to our better nature, our responsibility to our community, and a higher mission than naked self-interest.
In every speech I have heard Hillary give during the campaign, she focuses on her longtime mission to help women, children and families. If her consistent and persistent actions and statements advocating the rights, safety, future and health of women and children don’t constitute idealism, I don’t know what does.
Then there’s the not insignificant matter of nominating and potentially electing our first woman president. All the women and many of the men I know are psyched. The gradual and sometimes bloody granting of economic and political freedoms to more and more people is a cornerstone of traditional American idealism. To many, electing a woman president will fulfill a dream that goes back to the original Suffragettes. But to many others, the dream goes back even further, because they connect the long hard struggle of women to achieve equality with that of African-Americans and other minorities.
In other words, by its very nature, the Clinton campaign can’t help but be idealistic and uplifting to all real Americans, even those who don’t agree with her policies.
I’m not sure what bothers Brooks about the Clinton campaign, but I suspect he doesn’t like its progressive principles and has therefore tried to tar it with the false accusation of being materialistic and lacking vision. It probably bothers Brooks that there is very little about a deity or traditional religion in the Clinton/Democratic program, since Brooks is always invoking a higher spirituality. Maybe Brooks wants to keep his taxes low. And we can’t discount the possibility that Brooks just isn’t ready for a woman president.
Brooks ends his piece with “At some point there will have to be a new vocabulary and a restored anthropology, emphasizing love, friendship, faithfulness, solidarity and neighborliness that pushes people toward connection rather than distrust.” Earth to Brooks: your dream of a politics of connection exists already. It’s the central force behind Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and the Democratic Party.