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August 17, 2007

Red State Bait Hooks David Brooks

By Neil the Ethical Werewolf

We're not seeing a lot of this yet, because  primary season doesn't give the best opportunities for the media to obsess over the blue state / red state stereotypes that are played to make Democrats look out of touch in general elections.  But it's pretty neat to see that the biggest purveyor of those stereotypes has been hooked by John Edwards.  I'm talking about David Brooks' latest NYT op-ed, "The Ascent of a Common Man".  It's full of all the David Brooks tropes that we hate -- how the only authentic Americans are from the non-urban parts of red states, and how only cultural conservatives can connect with them.  But this time, all of that is working for us.  Brooks goes to Iowa, sees John Edwards and his southern accent connecting with rural voters, and writes things like

I came out to Iowa having read that Edwards had swung left this election campaign. He was going to outflank Clinton and Obama among liberals and then sweep his way to the nomination.

But out here it’s clear that the Edwards campaign is based on the same conviction that organized his last campaign: no one understands regular people the way he does. No one else can get out of a bus in places like Pocahontas, Iowa, and bond with the farmers, nurses and hairstylists the way he can. No one else comes from their ranks the way he does.

Brooks sees the guy with the southern accent connecting with some rural voters and gets such a regionalist crush that it's a wonder he kept his pants on.  The implication that Edwards isn't swinging left arises solely from Brooks' misplaced belief that a small-town Southerner who connects so well with other rural folks just couldn't be that far left, no matter what his health care plan looks like.  He calls Edwards a "culturally conservative anti-Washington liberal", but the only evidence of cultural conservatism he cites are, as Matt Yglesias points out, complete banalities that would be "pretty uncontroversial among secular Jews in Greenwich Village."  Matt continues: "this is one of the strongest parts of the Case for Edwards: out of his mouth, totally banal phrases strike many people as culturally conservative." 

I've liked telling people that swing voters will average Edwards' solidly left-wing policy positions and his Southern accent, and come out thinking that he's a moderate just like them.  If David Brooks is any indication, more spectacular things could happen.  It's not just a great thing for winning elections, but a great thing for transforming American politics.  If accent and cultural background can get people to think of a future President Edwards' policy proposals as moderate or even conservative, American politics could shift leftward in a way that we haven't seen for a very long time. 

August 17, 2007 | Permalink

Comments

I pretty much agree, except that it's notable African Americans, for example, pretty much don't care for Edwards' campaign; it's mostly educated white men. The fact that Edwards can so successfully moderate leftist policies says a lot about the peculiarities of racism and regionalism in American culture.

Posted by: Steven | Aug 17, 2007 10:43:57 PM

You hit the nail on the head. This is what an Edwards presidency will bring:

"American politics could shift leftward in a way that we haven't seen for a very long time."

Posted by: jsamuel | Aug 17, 2007 10:48:33 PM

Excellent post, Neil.

The cultural conservativeness Brooks sees is the best of old-fashiooned values, like hard work, responsibility, raising kids.

The Republicans demogogued so-called "family values," but they were never about real families. The Republicans were about hate, at bottom.

Most folks work hard. There is nothing wrong with hard work. When rural people hear Edwards talk about it, they understand.

Democrats always had real values, and John Edwards is able to break through barriers that prevented previous candidates from showing it.

As Brooks points out, it is Edwards' working class roots that allows him to connect with so many:


"And so Edwards tirelessly tours this must-win state, delivering presentations that have three major elements, all of them rooted in his working-class roots. First, there is his cultural traditionalism. Edwards will be talking about an issue, and his voice will rise and he'll punctuate his argument with a ringing declaration of stern common sense. On education: "Parents can't just drop their kids off at school and forget about it. Parents have to take responsibility for their children!" On immigration: "They have to learn English!" "

This point also shows that working class background:

"there is something fierce lurking inside. It comes out in his resentment toward those born to privilege (which helped sour his relationship with John Kerry). And it drives him relentlessly upward, even in the face of illness and tragedy."

I doubt there will be pictures of Edwards windsurfing like Kerry. Not his thing.

We can have real change and win with John Edwards.

Posted by: Tom Wells | Aug 17, 2007 10:49:44 PM

What I like about John Edwards is that he is about change, but changing the things that need changing. And he is also about continuity, but continuing time-honored and noble values. Another way of saying it, is that he is progressive (and visionary) where change is needed, and conservative where we like to see roots. Continuity and Change. John Edwards.

I think that deep within that frighteningly domineering presence, there is another common man dormant within David Brooks just dying to get out.
I think John Edwards may have been his tipping point.
When I think about Brock, Bowie, Byrne, Brancaccio, Bloom, Beckham and others, I have found that most David B's are pretty decent folk who have little use for Goliaths. I believe Brooks' David is awakening.

I look forward to seeing how well John healed David. And if David even knew he was being treated.

Posted by: Anonymoses Hyperlincoln | Aug 17, 2007 11:08:34 PM

To give you an idea of how well Edwards is connecting with hard-working Americans of every stripe, he is the first-choice candidate of my conservative Republican Mum, who in her sixties manages dental offices as well as an extended family and thinks universal health care is long overdue, and he's the first choice of my very liberal gay pal in Georgia, too. (I'm still undecided, and I can't vote--yet--anyway, but let's say he ties for my first choice after Yearly Kos.)

Posted by: litbrit | Aug 17, 2007 11:10:37 PM

No one else can get out of a bus in places like Pocahontas, Iowa, and bond with the farmers, nurses and hairstylists the way he can.

Cute.

Posted by: Sanpete | Aug 17, 2007 11:35:45 PM

I'm glad to hear that you saw him at Yearly Kos, litbrit! I heard that he did very well there.

Posted by: Neil the Ethical Werewolf | Aug 18, 2007 12:44:28 AM

What kind of self-loathing personality disorder does Brooks have that causes him to fetishize anyone who lives outside of an urban center? I like Edwards although I haven't decided between him and Obama, but Brooks hears a southern accent and begins ascribing all sorts of political stands that Edwards just hasn't taken. I see a huge mancrush on Thompson if and when he gets in the race.

Posted by: Col Bat Guano | Aug 18, 2007 1:34:16 AM

I THINK YOU'RE ALL UNDERESTIMATING HOW DISHONEST BROOKS IS. He doesn't give a rat's whisker about Edwards (whom I support). Edwards is slipping in the polls. Brooks is developing a position now to use later against Hillary or, less-likely Obama: "oh the dems could have nominated Edwards, who could have reached real Americans, but now we have this bra-burning liberal." Brooks is a political operator. The veneer of fair-mindedness is part of his schtick.

Posted by: Alex | Aug 18, 2007 7:23:52 AM

Brooks' post is full of little crap bombs. Like his line about Edwards' resentment of people of privilege. There is not a resentful bone in Edwards body. He's proud of where he came from and what he's done. A preacher once said that "resentment is something that lives inside you rent free". Resentment takes and gives nothing back.

John Edwards is the opposite of a resentful person like a Brooks or an O'Reilly. He's mature and keeps maturing. His campaign is not about himself like Kerry's "The Real Deal." It finally gets rid of the cult of personality politics that began after the defeat of 1972. Edwards campaign is about a path to One America which will bring in the 50% of people who stopped voting because the Democratic Party told them to get lost.

Beware of the resentful weasel, David Brooks. Beware of the Republicans in donkey suits that infest the party of labor.

Posted by: MontanaMaven | Aug 18, 2007 9:59:03 AM

Brooks' post is full of little crap bombs. Like his line about Edwards' resentment of people of privilege. There is not a resentful bone in Edwards body. He's proud of where he came from and what he's done. A preacher once said that "resentment is something that lives inside you rent free". Resentment takes and gives nothing back.

John Edwards is the opposite of a resentful person like a Brooks or an O'Reilly. He's mature and keeps maturing. His campaign is not about himself like Kerry's "The Real Deal." It finally gets rid of the cult of personality politics that began after the defeat of 1972. Edwards campaign is about a path to One America which will bring in the 50% of people who stopped voting because the Democratic Party told them to get lost.

Beware of the resentful weasel, David Brooks. Beware of the Republicans in donkey suits that infest the party of labor.

Posted by: MontanaMaven | Aug 18, 2007 10:01:06 AM

Alex, if it's a position to use against Hillary it's one she'll have brought upon herself/ Nobody forced her to be the enemy of working people that she is. Nobody forced her to work tirelessly for the bankruptcy bill. Nobody forced her to back every 'free' trade bill she ever got a look at (except those she couldn't during this election campaign). She mad being an enemy of working Americans a priority in a way she would never make anything that helped them. The right won't have made that up, they'll just be ignoring the fact that they are worse. But that's expected, they are a right wing party. What is Hillary's excuse?

Posted by: Soullite | Aug 18, 2007 10:33:32 AM

Any time I find myself agreeing with David Brooks, I usually wait for someone to disabuse me of whatever notion it is I think he's explained so clearly - Brooks' shtick as the "reasonable moderate conservative" (hello, oxymoron!) has been so widely dissed, it's a wonder we all still fall for it at times.

So now he likes Edwards. In addition to what Montana and Alex note, I'd point out that if Edwards gets the nomination it won't be long before a sorrowful Brooks comes around to tell us that, oddly, he misunderstood what Edwards stood for, or something to that effect. He wil tell us that "if only Dems understood x" (or y, or z) that Edwards would still be the guy... but they don't, and he's not.

Moreover, it's not that I think Edwards doesn't connect with folks - he's good looking and he sounds nice - but I actually don't think Edwards is much more than a politician who says what audiences want to hear. That Brooks hears what he likes, while folks like Neil and Yglesias hear something else altogether, suggests that Edwards is getting better (Hillary-esque, almost) in managing to be all things to all people. If so, I've probably underestimated (oddly, I was mistaken, if you will) his potential for success. But despite all the assertions, I'm more with Brooks: I don't buy that an Edwards presidency would turn out to be a remarkable left turn. He'd make a fine Democratic President; but I still think progressives are overly optimistic that he'd represent an especially radical shift in governing. But as I've said, I remain comfortable with the notion that any of these folks could get the nomination and I would vote for them in November 2008. My jury's still out. But leaving my choice to David Brooks? No thanks.

Posted by: weboy | Aug 18, 2007 11:08:49 AM

Brooks is one of those NY/DC media elites, who as you say is most responsible for creating the Liberal Latte Blue State Straw Man. But the great thing about Straw Men is how relatively easy they are to knock down, someone like Edwards with the proper bio and requisite charm can definitely knock it down.

And if John Kerry showed us nothing else, he demonstrated how important it is knock that one down.

Posted by: AJ | Aug 18, 2007 11:45:14 AM

It was surprising and refreshing to hear a talking head on On The Media this morning openly say that the press was out to get Edwards. Importantly, this particular talking head was from Media Matters; that's what happens when OUR talking heads get some exposure for a change.

The press has been hitting the "Rich guy advocating for the poor must be a hypocrite" theme really hard, so hard, I think, that it could be overplayed and turned to his advantage if his campaign, and liberals who get the chance to talk about it publicly, can use it to counterattack the press.

Posted by: cerebrocrat | Aug 18, 2007 12:42:33 PM

As I have said of Edwards he has the potential to move the center left because of how people perceive of him. He says progressive things, but people see him as a moderate. Contrast this with Clinton who says conservative things and people perceive of her as a liberal. For the progressive cause, it's the former rather than the later we should be supporting because the end result is we get more of what we want through osmosis than with a candidate such as Clinton who will always have to be proving she's not too liberal.

Posted by: akaison | Aug 18, 2007 12:45:22 PM

Two points. As commented elsewhere, Brooks, the political journalistic hack, is preparing in advance the post primary narrative of the "out of touch" liberal elitists of the Democratic Party rejecting the "man of the people" in favor of a feminist or a black guy.

Second, Brooks is obscuring the compelling appeal of Edward's economic populist message to constituencies previously supposed to be deep in the GOP's pocket by nattering on about Edward's "social conservative style." This makes perfect sense if the politics of social resentment, untethered from economics, has been a winning hand for the past 30 so years. Particularly if your side can't compete in the economic debate. Taking this blinkered view is a way of pumping oxygen into this classic right wing political formula even as events seem to signal its exhaustion.

Whether Brooks is making these journalistic ploys out of calculation or simple myopia is beside the point. His noodlings are a good indication of the general state of mind among the upper crust political theorists of the right. The sort that have spent the last 7 years playing variations on the theme of "George W. Bush is middle America." As if they had some special insight into the mental life of countless, faceless "Joe Sixpacks" across the nation from their perches in elite journals and magazines.

Posted by: WB Reeves | Aug 18, 2007 1:28:42 PM

Neil:

It is consistently the case that your posts, and your posts only, render in my RSS reader (NetNewsWire Lite on OS X) as source code. Your entries are not formatted correctly, at least on my reader, like the other weekend posters to Ezra's blog. (Though, when I open your posts with an internet browser, they're perfectly fine.)

Has anyone else experienced this problem or might have some clue as to its solution? I enjoy your posts but because I don't want to be switching applications every few seconds, I often simply skip on to the next blog. Any suggestions?

Posted by: Devics | Aug 18, 2007 1:39:50 PM

I can't sense Brooks' motive in his Edwards loving, but his modus operandi is sure clear. I suspect the commenters above have it correctly that Brooks is setting up the Dems for having chosen someone other than the man of the people. But, like so many of the elite pundits, he may have been smitten by witnessing a few connections that Edwards made and generalizing from that.

I do believe however that the prospects for a more progressive Presidency are highest with Edwards and lowest with Hillary. But aside from his well-earned (hard work!) lead in Iowa, his polling and fund-raising are unimpressive, at best. The major media and the Repubs have already visited their HHH meme vengence on Edwards (haircuts, hypocrisy, handsome).

My take is that Hillary will sweep the early primaries except perhaps Iowa, for reasons that aren't clear given the low enthusiasm levels among the progressives.

I worry that that part of the left that actually does the grassroots work to win an election will be less involved, and the election could be taken by one of the Repub. dumbasses because it will be all about image and nothing about content/policy.

I don't get to have my vote matter (OR primary in April), so all I have to do is ratify what the earlier states have decided - so I guess I should just shut my mouth and bear the result.

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | Aug 18, 2007 2:37:45 PM

I THINK YOU'RE ALL UNDERESTIMATING HOW DISHONEST BROOKS IS. He doesn't give a rat's whisker about Edwards (whom I support). Edwards is slipping in the polls. Brooks is developing a position now to use later against Hillary or, less-likely Obama: "oh the dems could have nominated Edwards, who could have reached real Americans, but now we have this bra-burning liberal." Brooks is a political operator. The veneer of fair-mindedness is part of his schtick.

As commented elsewhere, Brooks, the political journalistic hack, is preparing in advance the post primary narrative of the "out of touch" liberal elitists of the Democratic Party rejecting the "man of the people" in favor of a feminist or a black guy.

Evidence?

Beware of the resentful weasel, David Brooks. Beware of the Republicans in donkey suits that infest the party of labor.

Brooks is openly Republican. Not all that resentful, really.

Nobody forced her to be the enemy of working people that she is.

You're just making stuff up, soullite. She's got a solid pro-labor record. And you made up the part about bankruptcy bills too, which she has opposed and supported in different forms; she opposed the most recent one.

Brooks' shtick as the "reasonable moderate conservative" (hello, oxymoron!)

Heaven knows only liberals are reasonable, weboy! Brooks isn't endorsing Edwards, only remarking on his genuine ways with the midwestern grassroots. Of course he'll (probably) oppose him if he gets the nomination. Brooks is a Republican; what do you think?

But leaving my choice to David Brooks? No thanks.

Huh?

It was surprising and refreshing to hear a talking head on On The Media this morning openly say that the press was out to get Edwards.

On what evidence? I don't buy it. That a liberal thinks so, though, especially one in the business of finding conservative bias in the media, couldn't be less surprising.

Importantly, this particular talking head was from Media Matters; that's what happens when OUR talking heads get some exposure for a change.

For a change? Don't listen to On the Media much, I take it. The hosts, stories and guests have plenty of liberal perspective.

Akaison. the clash between what people perceive and what the candidate says only lasts do long. Even with a southern accent. Cp. Bill Clinton, now viewed as more liberal than he is, probably, despite initially being viewed as a moderate.

This makes perfect sense if the politics of social resentment, untethered from economics, has been a winning hand for the past 30 so years.

WBR, why untethered from economics? How does "Two Americas" fit in?

As if they had some special insight into the mental life of countless, faceless "Joe Sixpacks" across the nation from their perches in elite journals and magazines.

The claims about middle America are based on extensive polling, focus groups, etc.

Posted by: Sanpete | Aug 18, 2007 3:13:27 PM

It's not that I don't think Brooks is "reasonable", Sanpete, it's that "moderate conservative" is an oxymoron. I think Brooks is eminently reasonable... he's frequently mistaken, too, but he sure is nice about it; but the part where Brooks tries to carve out some unique space that represents the sensible middle and makes him a moderate conservative... doesn't seem to me to really exist. He's a Republican who wishes Democrats were... less like Democrats. I wish Republicans were less Republican, and wishing will not make things so. But really, he's very nice about it. Long live reasonable!

If David Brooks were the only person in the room with a watch, I still think I'd have to double check the time, so no, I don't really want to use his opinion as a guide to anything. Which is why who he likes among the Dem contenders seem useless to my consideration set. Clearer?

Posted by: weboy | Aug 18, 2007 11:31:05 PM

WBR, why untethered from economics? How does "Two Americas" fit in?

The line in question refers to Brooks' perspective, not Edwards'.

The claims about middle America are based on extensive polling, focus groups, etc.

Really? Where did Brooks cite these?

Posted by: WB Reeves | Aug 19, 2007 12:07:00 AM

Which is why who he likes among the Dem contenders seem useless to my consideration set.

Granted, weboy. The point of this post wasn't that David Brooks' opinion is a reliable guide to the truth, and thus that you should support John Edwards. It was that David Brooks' opinion is a nice example of how a certain segment of the national political media will regard Edwards, and that this has nice implications for an Edwards general election candidacy and presidency.

Posted by: Neil the Ethical Werewolf | Aug 19, 2007 12:47:28 AM

Sorry I mistook your intended oxymoron, weboy. I see no problem with "moderate conservative," which is of course contrasted with "extreme conservative" (same with "moderate liberal"). I don't think Neil or Brooks or anyone else expected you to decide who to vote for on the basis of what Brooks said. Especially since he wasn't endorsing Edwards.

WBR, why do you speak of class resentment untethered from economics, as opposed to just class resentment? Wouldn't "Two Americas" also tap into class resentment?

The politics and related tendencies of middle America have been extensively reported. I see no reason for Brooks to cite sources on such common knowledge.

Posted by: Sanpete | Aug 19, 2007 3:06:01 AM

WBR, why do you speak of class resentment untethered from economics, as opposed to just class resentment? Wouldn't "Two Americas" also tap into class resentment?

Where do you imagine I ever said anything about class resentment?

The politics and related tendencies of middle America have been extensively reported. I see no reason for Brooks to cite sources on such common knowledge.

In other words, you have no such citations and likewise no actual knowlege of what Brooks bases his scribblings on. You just "know it".

Posted by: WB Reeves | Aug 19, 2007 3:15:25 AM

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