Moderation in a Polarized World

David Brooks tries to "describe what being a moderate means" in a way that most Americans would find puzzling.

David Brooks tries to “describe what being a moderate means” in a way that most Americans would find puzzling.

First, let me describe what moderation is not. It is not just finding the midpoint between two opposing poles and opportunistically planting yourself there. Only people who know nothing about moderation think it means that.

Moderates start with a political vision, but they get it from history books, not philosophy books. That is, a moderate isn’t ultimately committed to an abstract idea. Instead, she has a deep reverence for the way people live in her country and the animating principle behind that way of life. In America, moderates revere the fact that we are a nation of immigrants dedicated to the American dream — committed to the idea that each person should be able to work hard and rise.

This animating principle doesn’t mean that all Americans think alike. It means that we have a tradition of conflict. Over the centuries, we have engaged in a series of long arguments around how to promote the American dream — arguments that pit equality against achievement, centralization against decentralization, order and community against liberty and individualism.

The moderate doesn’t try to solve those arguments. There are no ultimate solutions. The moderate tries to preserve the tradition of conflict, keeping the opposing sides balanced. She understands that most public issues involve trade-offs. In most great arguments, there are two partially true points of view, which sit in tension. The moderate tries to maintain a rough proportion between them, to keep her country along its historic trajectory.

[…]

The moderate creates her policy agenda by looking to her specific circumstances and seeing which things are being driven out of proportion at the current moment. This idea — that you base your agenda on your specific situation — may seem obvious, but immoderate people often know what their solutions are before they define the problems.

For a certain sort of conservative, tax cuts and smaller government are always the answer, no matter what the situation. For a certain sort of liberal, tax increases for the rich and more government programs are always the answer.

The moderate does not believe that there are policies that are permanently right. Situations matter most. Tax cuts might be right one decade but wrong the next. Tighter regulations might be right one decade, but if sclerosis sets in then deregulation might be in order.

 Daniel Larison is not buying it.

Brooks’ description of political “moderation” is quite misleading. What makes Republicans “moderate” in the modern American context is that they tend to disagree with the right on social and cultural issues while still disagreeing with the left on fiscal and economic ones, and the reverse is usually true for “moderates” or “centrists” among Democrats. This is not because they are free from a priori assumptions, but because they share assumptions on different sets of issues that are not normally supposed to “go together” according to standard partisan or ideological definitions.

Brooks clearly does believe that some policies are “permanently right.” There are no circumstances in which Brooks would think that a reduced U.S. role in the world is acceptable, and there are no circumstances in which he would conceivably oppose a free trade agreement. I have difficulty imagining a scenario in which Brooks would say that immigration had reached a point where it needed to be reduced. Perhaps he doesn’t speak for most moderates, but he is a good example of how self-described moderates often endorse status quo policies.

Regular OTB commenter John Personna weighs in on Brooks’ side in Larison’s comment section:

I very much liked Brooks’ article. Sadly I should resign myself that most policy activists will just not get it. They don’t have the balance necessary. They are driven by, if you pardon the word, imbalance.

Their world revolves around ideology trumping pragmatism, and so they must suspect that every single pragmatist is a closet ideologist.

I don’t believe that’s true. I think some of us can accept that we are a diverse society, and that the best solutions work for as many of us as possible. It is a problem of population dynamics overarching the question of individual philosophy.

Larison’s right here. Brooks is, at best, describing intellectual honesty, not ideological moderation. More likely, though, he’s simply flattering those in his intellectual circles as more noble and literate than those who hold more traditional ideological alignments. But, at the end of the day, they’re just as ideological as the people at whom they sneer.

The notion that there are a large number of politically engaged people whose primary interest is in “keeping the opposing sides balanced” or “keep[ing] her country along its historic trajectory” rather than advancing their own preferred policy agenda strikes me as absurd. While balance of power is an interesting international relations strategy, it’s simply not how many people approach domestic politics.

What does exist is a class of people—and I’d put Brooks, Larison, Personna, and a large chunk of the OTB commentariat into it—who try to be intellectually honest and to maintain a genuine respect for those with different ideological viewpoints. While we maintain strong political views, we’re open to persuasion and will occasionally shift long-held views in light of new evidence. Further, we understand that the two major parties necessarily caricature each other and over-emphasize their differences.

But Brooks’ conceit that only moderates are “committed to the idea that each person should be able to work hard and rise” is just silly. That view is almost universal among Americans. Rush Limbaugh and Keith Olbermann agree on that. The difference is in how to achieve that goal, with hard core conservatives arguing that government interference is the chief impediment while hard core liberals argue that government is needed as a referee to ensure it happens. Most of us, including loyal partisans, reject the extremes, figuring that some government oversight is necessary to overcome the vagaries of life while too much regulation stymies creativity and incentive.

Similarly, almost all Americans are “moderates” if we define the term along the lines of thinking “Tax cuts might be right one decade but wrong the next. Tighter regulations might be right one decade, but if sclerosis sets in then deregulation might be in order.” According to that definition, Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter, and George H.W. Bush are moderates.

Ditto “The moderate sees three big needs that are in tension with one another: inequality, debt and low growth. She’s probably going to have a pretty eclectic mix of policies: some policies from the Democratic column to reduce inequality, some policies from the Republican column to reduce debt.” Aside from the most rabid partisans, most of us pick some from Column A and some from Column B.

And Brooks got a big guffaw out of me with this one: “There are many moderates in this country, but they have done a terrible job of organizing themselves, building institutions or even organizing around common causes.” Well . . . duh. Disagreeing with the extremes of both party platforms is by no means an organizing principle. By their own definitions, David Brooks, Thomas Friedman, and Mike Bloomberg are all moderates. Yet they have very little, indeed, in common around which to forge consensus.

Like JP, I fully “accept that we are a diverse society.” But I’m not so sure that “the best solutions work for as many of us as possible.” Indeed, I’m not even sure what that means. There’s really no compromise solution on, say, gay marriage or abortion that’s going to make the large preponderance of people living in both Oregon and Alabama happy. Old school federalism would leave those issues up to the states, allowing Alabama to be on one extreme and Oregon to be on the other extreme on those issues. But that really doesn’t work in our modern world, where someone from Oregon could very well find himself in Alabama and vice versa. It just doesn’t work to allow same-sex couples to be married in a handful of states and then have them considered not to be married if they get into a horrible accident while they happen to be passing through another state. Nor is there a “pragmatic” centrist position on those issues that can “trump ideology.” If the central belief in your life is that a deity has set a code of behavior that you must abide by, there’s really not a lot of room for ” live and let live” or “well, whatever works.”

It’s easier to be pragmatic at the margins. It’s difficult to argue that the top marginal tax rate that existed under Bill Clinton—much less Ronald Reagan—constitutes a degree of socialism that would undermine the fabric of our cherished way of life. Some have nonetheless managed. Still, it’s very difficult, indeed, to get over the notion that the leadership of one party only cares about the rich whereas the leadership of the other party wants to punish success. And a political system that rewards pandering to the extremes makes it easy to “prove” those caricatures real.

FILED UNDER: Politics 101, US Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Ben Wolf says:

    There are many moderates in this country, but they have done a terrible job of organizing themselves, building institutions or even organizing around common causes.

    This is just bizarre. As James writes, the “intellectuals” who consider themselves noble and brave moderates are primarily champions of the status quo, only doing it harder. For an unorganized mob they’ve entirely captured the lawmaking apparatus and prevented anything which even resembles serious reform of problems I would classify as pernicious. Brooks’ piece is far more a work of self-promotion than a contribution to political thought.

  2. David Brooks’s idea of “moderation” is far different from an average American’s idea of “moderation.”

    This is one of the things that makes the Op-Ed page of The New York Times annoying. I seriously wonder if any of those people have an idea what the real world is like.

  3. al-Ameda says:

    Politically, we, collectively, have become far removed from ourselves as individuals. As individuals we know that there is complexity and nuance to nearly all important issues, and we know that a blended solution, contrasted with no solution, may be best for the whole. Collectively, we now want no part of a negotiated solution unless one side wins.

    I am a liberal voter, however, if you inventory my beliefs or positions on a number of issues – campaign finance, school vouchers, business regulations, and tax policy to name a few – you might be surprised to see that I have some common ground with conservatives. One reason that it is hard to get to common ground with conservatives is because of social issues – it’s hard to sit down at the table and negotiate with people who consider half the population (liberals) to be immoral.

  4. ernieyeball says:

    I am not familiar with Brooks. Does he always use “she” when “they” would suffice?
    Apparently “he” is verboten as, per my dictonary: “Until recently, “he” was used uncontroversially to refer to a person of unspecified sex, as in : every child needs to know that “he” is loved. This use has become problematic and is a hallmark of old-fashionedness and sexism in language.”
    Goddess forbid I offend the speech police but it just annoy’s me.

  5. john personna says:

    Thanks for the article and the good mentions.

    Like JP, I fully “accept that we are a diverse society.” But I’m not so sure that “the best solutions work for as many of us as possible.” Indeed, I’m not even sure what that means. There’s really no compromise solution on, say, gay marriage or abortion that’s going to make the large preponderance of people living in both Oregon and Alabama happy.

    In the constellation of things we worry about, are these typical? Or are atypical but more binary causes chosen as wedge issues? I mean, if you desire “solutions work for as many of us as possible” the last thing you want is a “wedge,” but it is a standard political weapon, used by ideologues to split the middle.

    The fiscal cliff would seem one issue that is not binary, or should not be. Non-solution is terrible. We really need to do something. There should be many solutions that are better than nothing. How will it play out though?

  6. Ron Beasley says:

    David Brooks is the type of person that stupid people think is of as an intellectual.

  7. Andy says:

    So James, then what, in your opinion, defines a moderate?

  8. PD Shaw says:

    “. . ., and a large chunk of the OTB commentariat . . . —who try to be intellectually honest and to maintain a genuine respect for those with different ideological viewpoints.”

    Funny. A large chunk of the OTB commentariat are jerks, with no interest in different viewpoints. They take pride in never reading someone they disagreed with once. They love ad hominem analysis because it saves them time to consider a different viewpoint. And they engage in clique-enforcing narratives intended to keep out other viewpoints. Perhaps I need to upgrade to OTB plus?

  9. James Joyner says:

    @ernieyeball: That’s the first time I’ve seen the “she” thing from Brooks. While I’ve seen others adopt that convention—technically, “they” is incorrect and some advocate alternatiing he and she instead—I’m not at all a fan.

    @Andy: I’m not sure that the term has meaning as a stand-alone. “Moderate Democrat” and “Moderate Republican” have meaning. “Independent” has a meaning. “Civil,” “open-minded,” and “intellectually honest” have meanings. But I’m not sure what “moderate” means without context. All but the most die-hard ideologues believe in some from Column A, some from Column B.

    @PD Shaw: Oh, certainly, there are a lot of extremists in our commentariat, whether genuinely or for trolling purposes. But that’s just the nature of being devoted enough to American politics to engage at this level day in and day out: the vast majority of passionate political junkies are ideologues. But we’ve got a disproportionate share of those interested in an actual conversation compared to all but the most esoteric sites. (Crooked Timber and Volokh Conspiracy have better overall tones and large audiences. But they largely steer clear of the controversies of the moment.)

  10. john personna says:

    One thing to think about might be the relationship between moderation and pragmatism.

    To be a pragmatist, you have to be able to compartmentalize your own preferences, as you learn the preferences of others, and try to work out a solution.

    That might be easier for someone who is moderate. Perhaps part of their balance is that they can see their choices as preferences. On the other hand, the true ideologue sees their preferences as some sort of revealed truth. For the ideologue nothing can be compartmentalized for negotiation, the truth must be accepted (by everyone else, of course).

  11. Andre Kenji says:

    The problem is not moderation. In fact, that word probably is meaningless. Moderate only makes sense if you compare someone or some group to another group. For instance, the Daily Kos crowd can be considered “moderate” if you compare then to Trotkystes or Stalinists. Pragmatist is a word that makes better sense.

    Besides that, there are nuances. Someone can be a perfectly Democrat and also be extremely anti-abortion. That´s a position that´s historically aligned with the Roman Catholic Church and some Protestants That´s not necessarily moderation. Besides that 2, there are deeper problems here.

    The problem of the United States political scene is not the absence of moderation. It´s the absence of real fiscal conservatives. Defending endless wars and endless tax cuts, regardless if they are paid for is not fiscal conservatism. There are very few people doing what fiscal conservatives were supposed to do and defend.

    Finally, the biggest problem is that in the past a politician was expected to show results. That´s do not happen anymore. A politician just have to go to cable news and yell at something and people will think that he is a hero. Take a look at Paul Ryan, that became a hero among “conservatives” after presenting a “plan” that makes no sense at all.

  12. john personna says:

    @Andre Kenji:

    If you do a Venn diagram, I think you’ll get more moderate/pragmatist overlap than certainly partisan/pragmatist. So the linkage is natural.

  13. gVOR08 says:

    @ernieyeball:
    Courtesy of Wiktionary:

    moderate (plural moderates)
    1. (politics) One who holds an intermediate position between the extremes relevant in a political context
    While the moderates usually propose political compromise, it’s often only achieved when the extremists allow them so
    2. Similar middle-grounder in any other context.
    The moderates are the natural advocates of ecumenism against the fanatics of their churches

    pragmatism (countable and uncountable; plural pragmatisms)
    1. The pursuit of practicality over aesthetic qualities; a concentration on facts rather than emotions or ideals.
    2. (politics) The theory that political problems should be met with practical solutions rather than ideological ones.
    3. (philosophy) The idea that beliefs are identified with the actions of a believer, and the truth of beliefs with success of those actions in securing a believer’s goals; the doctrine that ideas must be looked at in terms of their practical effects and consequences.

    For those of you unfamiliar with David Brooks, he is the world’s greatest concern troll. Early in his career he went to work for William F. Buckley at National Review. He apparently thought he was being groomed to take over for Buckley, but was disappointed because Buckley wanted a Catholic and Brooks is Jewish.

    Now he makes his living at the supposedly liberal NYT. He plays the role of a bipartisan moderate, although his point, when he has one, always seems to serve Republicans. (His writing is so obtuse that it’s often hard to be sure what his point was.) Barack Obama has a reputation, well deserved, of being centrist, and pragmatic almost to a fault. Mitt Romney is trying to pivot to the middle, trying to appear to be “moderate” Mitt.

    The money quotes are,

    Over the past month, Mitt Romney has aggressively appealed to moderate voters. President Obama, for some reason, hasn’t. But, in what he thought was an off-the-record interview with The Des Moines Register, Obama laid out a pretty moderate agenda for his second term.

    and

    There are many moderates in this country, but they have done a terrible job of organizing themselves, building institutions or even organizing around common causes.

    What Brooks is trying to do is say that Obama may want to be moderate, but unfortunately he’s tied to that radical Democratic Party. Meanwhile, Romney is now Moderate Mitt, which Brooks is trying to redefine as pragmatic. He’s obscuring that the Republican Party has become radical, and the Democrats now are in fact the institution of moderation.

    FYI, Mitt is both an ideologue and a pragmatist. He believes deeply in country club conservatism, the belief that ‘We’re the good people, so we should have everything.’ (Please render that in Buckley’s patrician intonation.) He will also very pragmatically pursue tax cuts for himself and his buddies.

    For further study, please Google “charles pierce david brooks”. Charlie Pierce, with the help of Brook’s fictional dog, Moral Hazard, regularly cut Brooks a new one with ridicule. And if anyone deserves ridicule, it’s David Brooks.

  14. Andre Kenji says:

    @john personna:Not necessarily so. A good example: someone may be a stauch conservative, that´s wants very limited government. That same person may accept tax increases if it´s not possible to cut government spending.

  15. Dazedandconfused says:

    Fine post, Mr. Joyner.

    Something sprang to mind while I was trying to define a moderate to myself.

    “Judge Learned Hand described as ‘that ever-gnawing inner doubt as to whether you’re right.’ If you don’t have that, if you think you’ve got an inside track to absolute truth, you become doctrinaire, humorless and intellectually constipated.

    The “she” selection? “A” would have served, but David knows that however modern and sophisticated women of today may think themselves to be, there are some things which never change! Their words may be saying “Obama”, but the eyes, the eyes…they never lie. And what do they appear to be saying to David? “You had me at “moderate”, Mitt. Now sweep me off my feet and charge me to the nearest polling place, you fool!”

  16. Janis Gore says:

    @Dazedandconfused: Of course. That never occurred to me, but it’s a likely explanation.

  17. john personna says:

    @Andre Kenji:

    We have moderates in the US who will accept tax increases if it´s not possible to cut government spending. Staunch conservatives? Not by the Norquist test.

  18. Andre Kenji says:

    @john personna: That´s the problem. Fiscal Conservatism should not be something defined by Grover Norquist.

  19. Moderate Mom says:

    I consider myself a moderate – hence the handle. People like Michael Reynolds, however, consider me a far-right ideologue. For some reason, he suspects I’m actually a man and employed by the GOP. I’m not. I’m a 54 year old mother of two, the wife of a small business owner, a small business owner myself, and until 2008 had not voted for a Republican candidate for President since 1976. I’ve been fascinated by national politics since the 2000 election.

    On social/cultural issues, I tend to be fairly liberal. Pro-choice? Check, although I agree with some limits. Pro-immigration? Check. You can’t feasibly deport millions of people, and I’d rather have them given legal status and have them paying taxes, than them hiding in the shadows. Pro-gay marriage? Check. My son is gay and I want him to have all the same rights that my husband, daughter and I enjoy. Preemptive war? Absolutely against it. Was vehemently against the invasion of Iraq and was less than thrilled with Obama’s foray into the Libya conflict. And no, I have no desire to involve ourselves in Syria and hope that we can deal with Iran without military involvement. De-criminalize marijuana? Yes, it’s a waste of taxpayer money to send anyone to jail for something so benign.

    On fiscal issues, I tend to be fairly conservative. I worry about the amount of debt we are racking up, and I worried about that when George Bush was President. I worry about the financial future my children, and their children will have, and if they will have the opportunities that their parents and grandparents had. I look at the amount of taxes we pay and then read about government waste, fraud and abuse and feel ill. While I understand and agree with the poor not having to pay federal income taxes, I resent people well within what is considered the middle class also not paying federal income taxes due to our insane tax code. I worry about the financial health of Social Security and Medicare and wonder if those programs will be there for my kids. Hell, will they be there for my husband and me?

    Am I willing to pay a little more in taxes? I don’t want to pay more, but if cuts in spending can be made too, I’m willing to chip in some more from my pocket to reduce our debt. Am I willing to have the contribution cap on Social Security lifted? Absolutely, as long as the benefits cap is removed as well.

    To me, my basic political beliefs/preferences seem to be fairly moderate, but your mileage may vary.

  20. An Interested Party says:

    On social/cultural issues, I tend to be fairly liberal. Pro-choice? Check, although I agree with some limits. Pro-immigration? Check. You can’t feasibly deport millions of people, and I’d rather have them given legal status and have them paying taxes, than them hiding in the shadows. Pro-gay marriage? Check. My son is gay and I want him to have all the same rights that my husband, daughter and I enjoy. Preemptive war? Absolutely against it. Was vehemently against the invasion of Iraq and was less than thrilled with Obama’s foray into the Libya conflict. And no, I have no desire to involve ourselves in Syria and hope that we can deal with Iran without military involvement. De-criminalize marijuana? Yes, it’s a waste of taxpayer money to send anyone to jail for something so benign.

    You may consider yourself a moderate, but if you really hold these views, you certainly couldn’t be, much less vote for, a Republican, as the GOP is opposed to all of these things that you are for…

  21. ernieyeball says:

    I live in a college town. I spend a lot of time in restaurants and cafe’s that are staffed by high school and college students and other citizens in their 20’s to 40’s or so.
    By far the most common greeting I hear the help (male and female) convey to customers of all ages and genders is: “Welcome to Chili’s guys.” or “I’ll be with you guys in a minute.”
    On the street or in the grocery store or anywhere a social encounter might occur I commonly hear guys and dolls meeting up with acquaintances of all sexes address each other as guys. “What are you guys doing tonight?”
    It is a far cry from 40 years ago when I greeted Jill Pope and her female friend when I saw them about town.
    “Hi guys.” I said.
    “@!#%!&!! DO WE LOOK LIKE GUYS TO YOU?”
    She yelled as she ripped me a new one.
    I propose that instead of he/she or they we use guys as a pronoun to refer to persons of unspecified sex.
    We’ve come a long way baby!

  22. Moderate Mom says:

    @An Interested Party: But, these days at least, the Democratic party seems to be against most of what I believe as to fiscal issues. Thus, a conundrum – do I vote my social beliefs, or my economic ones?

  23. anjin-san says:

    @ Moderate Mom

    My son is gay and I want him to have all the same rights that my husband, daughter and I enjoy.

    Then how can you possibly support any Republican? Forcing gays and lesbians to live as second class citizens is a fundamental part of GOP politics.

  24. anjin-san says:

    do I vote my social beliefs, or my economic ones?

    How exactly do Republicans represent fiscal conservatism? They are not serious about debt reduction, and they are not serious about cutting spending. They are serious about corporate welfare and continued tax cuts in an era of historically low taxes – in spite of the rather clear evidence that lower tax rates do not create jobs.

  25. Coop says:

    @anjin-san:

    Not true. Tax cuts for the rich (economic growth=revenue!!), plus the elimination of PBS subsidies and funding for planned parenthood. Boom. Debt problem solved.

  26. Rafer Janders says:

    Still, it’s very difficult, indeed, to get over the notion that the leadership of one party only cares about the rich whereas the leadership of the other party wants to punish success.

    It was all going so well, James, and then….this “the leadership of the other party wants to punish success.” Even when you write a post about working without partisan blinders, you can’t remove them yourself.

    Please cite the programs and policies of the Democratic Party that “punish success.” (And by that I mean actually punishing success, not just trying to make sure that a few table scraps are left over after the rich have gorged themselves). If you were being honest, examples should be easy to find.

  27. Ben Wolf says:

    @Rafer Janders: I don’t think you’re interpreting that quote the way James intended it.

  28. MM says:

    What is utterly hilarious is that Doug thinks himself to be in touch with average America more so than Brooks, when at the end of the day, neither of them has a damn clue how a real person lives.

  29. Stephen1947 says:

    “She” is currently the best pronoun for an individual of unspecified gender, being grammatically correct and not depersonalizing. Its use makes the lack of a more inclusive term visible to the ‘other half’ of the population. Since healthy languages constantly evolve, I doubt that it will be the ultimate solution.

  30. Console says:

    Rich privileged white guy likes things like they are and is suspicious of change. News at 11.

  31. john personna says:

    @Ben Wolf:

    I think it’s a fair cop. It is a bit much to suggest that is the motivation on the left. Their motivation is clearly a strong network of social services.

  32. john personna says:

    @ernieyeball:

    And so now when girls call each other “dude” I roll with it.

  33. john personna says:

    @Stephen1947:

    I often use “he” in a gender-neutral way. Wikipedia supports me in this.

  34. Tsar Nicholas says:

    To me what’s more “puzzling” than Brooks’ mealy mouthed pontification of nothingness is that the NYT still is being published. Seriously. If you graphed the declines in that rag’s circulation it would look like a skydiver without a parachute. Shit, the Times Company’s financial trends are so catastrophic its stock several years ago somehow managed to lose half its value during a raging bull market.

    In any event, Brooks would be the star in a conservative parody of effete liberal poseurs who for selfish reasons pretend not to be liberals and who are divorced from reality. The lack of a utilitarian degree. The utter dearth of any real world experience. The faux intellectualism. That he writes for the most partisan and spaced out newsrag in captivity merely adds to the unintentional comedy.

  35. john personna says:

    Heh, maybe a few people should “compartmentalize” their feelings about Brooks

  36. C. Clavin says:

    Speaking of moderate views…remember that as you get NOaA updates on Sandy and FEMA starts to show up…that Romney would cut their funding by 20%.
    And he is going to do that to fund lowering already historically low taxes.
    That’s no whacky mis-characterization….it’s an accurate statement of Romney’s “moderate” positions.

  37. ernieyeball says:
  38. OzarkHillbilly says:

    If the central belief in your life is that a deity has set a code of behavior that you must abide by, there’s really not a lot of room for ” live and let live” or “well, whatever works.”

    I have a question James: Why?

    Do we not live in a country where religious freedom is enshrined in our Constitution? Where Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, Protestants, Catholics, Baptists, Muslims, Jehova Witnesses, Mormons, Presbyterians, Scientologists, Atheists, etc etc etc all get along fairly well with a minimum of violence? I can’t remember the Jews and Muslims coming together to outlaw bacon, Can you? Or Mormons trying to tell everybody else what kind of underwear to wear? Or Muslims or Jews telling us what hats to wear or how to keep our facial hair….

    So why is it that “If the central belief in your life is that a deity has set a code of behavior that you must abide by,…” is true? And it is, for the Christians in this country. What is it about Christians in America that they think they are special and their religion should take precedent over all others?

    And for the obtuse, I am not talking about how Muslim extremists in the Middle East are worse because of their push for Sharia. They are. But that is beside my point. I am talking about here, in America. No where else.

  39. Lynn says:

    @ernieyeball: Goddess forbid I offend the speech police but it just annoy’s me.

    annoys… not annoy’s

  40. al-Ameda says:

    @Tsar Nicholas:

    That he writes for the most partisan and spaced out newsrag in captivity merely adds to the unintentional comedy.

    No need to trash the Washington Times like that Nick.

  41. Rafer Janders says:

    @Ben Wolf:

    I don’t think you’re interpreting that quote the way James intended it.

    Well, upon re-reading, you may be right. In my defense, it was very very late when I read it. So….withdrawn.

  42. ernieyeball says:

    @Lynn: Sorry about the typo. Didn’t mean to bug you.
    By the time I saw it I had already clicked on the “post comment” button.
    I try to proof my prose at least 4 or 5 times for errs ears errorz (damn) mistakes.
    Maybe in some future Internet Utopia there will be a working edit function on this otherwise excellent site.

  43. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @ernieyeball:

    Maybe in some future Internet Utopia there will be a working edit function on this otherwise excellent site.

    I have a working edit function here. Firefox might be the diff, but I certainly would not know.

  44. Andre Kenji says:

    @Tsar Nicholas:

    To me what’s more “puzzling” than Brooks’ mealy mouthed pontification of nothingness is that the NYT still is being published. Seriously. If you graphed the declines in that rag’s circulation it would look like a skydiver without a parachute

    The real value of the NYT is not the print ediiton of NYT, the one that is used to clean dog poo in Manhattan The real value of the NYT is the web edition, that has a pretty huge audience. And a pretty qualified audience. It´s the elite not only of the United States, but of the world. You can place ads of Fighter Jets or Locomotives in the NYT, and that would make sense. Having access to the opinion makers all over the world is something that has no price.

    Note that hating and loving the NYT columnists is not something reserved for Americans. I can see David Brooks columns being printed in Portuguese, and even people that does not read in English that have a opinion about Paul Krugman.

  45. ernieyeball says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: Thanks for the tip. I have attained the internet state of Nirvana. (I hope it’s not a swing state.)
    Apparently my past did not follow me as I know I had reasons for using Safari most of the time but now I can’t remember what they were.

  46. john personna says:

    I like Chrome too much, so I suffer without edting.

  47. Lynn says:

    @ernieyeball:

    That stuff really doesn’t bug me (though I do notice it, obviously). I just couldn’t resist after you made the comment abut the language police.

  48. wr says:

    @Andre Kenji: “The real value of the NYT is not the print ediiton of NYT, the one that is used to clean dog poo in Manhattan ”

    Excuse me, but we dedicated Times readers don’t use the paper to pick up dog poo — why would we do that? We use those wonderful blue bags, which are perfectly sized to pull over the hand as a glove for picking up, then easily turned inside out for disposal.

    Since I got my iPad I’ve switched my subscription to digital only, which is much cheaper, easier to read, and cleaner, since I no longer get ink on my hands. But man, I miss those blue poo bags…

  49. ernieyeball says:

    @Lynn: Believe me I have given my fair share of grief to violators of the King’s English.
    I know I am the pot calling the weed green sometimes but I just can’t help myself.
    Today I attribute my lame attempts at humor to the side effects of the sinus medication that is actually managing my nasal drip.
    I am driving I 70 West Bound for 4 hours across the Heartland to Columbia MO to visit my sister in a few minutes. I see by GasBuddy that Regular No Lead is $2.999/gal in Wentzville so I better get moving before the price goes back up!

  50. swbarnes2 says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    I can’t remember the Jews and Muslims coming together to outlaw bacon, Can you? Or Mormons trying to tell everybody else what kind of underwear to wear? Or Muslims or Jews telling us what hats to wear or how to keep our facial hair….

    Or Catholics telling their non-Catholic employees what kind of health care they can get.

    Oh wait, I remember that fine.

  51. michael reynolds says:

    Sorry I missed most of this thread (Texas Book Festival, ie: getting drunk with other kidlit writers) it’s an interesting one. But as usual I find I’m impatient with discussions centered around definitions, labels, categories, etc…

    I’m more interested in motive, and I think it tells you a great deal more about a person or a group than does any label. What are they after? What do they want? Not just what do they say they want, what do they actually want? Tribalism, greed, fear, a craving for relative power dominate politics, with a seasoning of altruism and a soupçon of logic. I think that’s why poor Mr. Brooks seems so silly: he thinks the garnish is the main course.

  52. Rafer Janders says:

    @swbarnes2:

    Or Christians putting “In God we trust” on our currency….

  53. Ebenezer_Arvigenius says:

    The lack of a utilitarian degree.

    That’s rich coming from someone with a law degree …

  54. Steve Verdon says:

    @PD Shaw:

    This. A different view point here will invariably be shouted down by the dung hurling monkeys in the commentariat.

  55. ernieyeball says:

    Citizen Shaw sez: “They love ad hominem analysis…”
    Citizen Verdon sez: “…will invariably be shouted down by the dung hurling monkeys…”

    Question for Steve: The Ad Hominem attacks. Are you for them or are you against them?

  56. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @ernieyeball: The “she” thing is a convention that some writers were trying in order to get past the grammar problems of singular “they” (not necessarily a problem in popular literature, such as the NYT hopes that it is) while still allowing for “gender inclusiveness.” The plan was that an author would alternate “she” with “he” by paragraphs.

    What happened at the time was that essayists who used the convention needed to include an explanation of how to read in their end notes. I haven’t been teaching composition for about 7 years now, so I don’t know how the convention is taking hold. Based on your comment, I would conclude that it isn’t.

  57. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @anjin-san: That may well be, but Moderate Mom might be willing to vote for a tax cut since she’s not going to get the balanced budget that she wants.

  58. Nick says:

    David’s very good at political commentary, but his columns on society and values is suspect.