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David Brooks, Report for Reeducation

March 12th, 2010 - 8:54 pm

David Brooks would have us believe that the Tea Partiers are much like the New Leftists of the sixties.

…the core commonality is this:  Members of both movements believe in what you might call mass innocence. Both movements are built on the assumption that the people are pure and virtuous and that evil is introduced into society by corrupt elites and rotten authority structures. “Man is born free, but he is everywhere in chains,” is how Rousseau put it.

I think he misunderstands the Tea Party movement, and he’s surprisingly uninformed about the New Left, which was anything but a bunch of Rousseauan romantics.  In 1962, when I was at the University of Wisconsin in 1962, the Port Huron Statement, the formal origin of SDS, Students for a Democratic Society, was drafted. I knew several of the drafters (the main author was Tom Hayden, at the University of Michigan).  They would gather in the Rathskellar of the Student Union, where I spent a lot of time playing bridge, and we’d talk.

The Port Huron guys fancied themselves serious intellectuals, not street theater people.  And they didn’t think that “the people are pure and virtuous;” they thought most people were alienated, apathetic, and manipulated. They were Marxists and Marcusians, students of the Frankfurt School, and the like. And they saw the university as the logical headquarters for a movement that could transform society.  Just read the first paragraph of their definition of a new left:

Any new left in America must be, in large measure, a left with real intellectual skills, committed to deliberativeness, honesty, reflection as working tools. The university permits the political life to be an adjunct to the academic one, and action to be informed by reason.

Brooks seems to believe that the New Left wanted greater individual freedom — as the Tea Partiers surely do — but in fact the Port Huron Statement calls for more centralized control.  Lots more: “not only solutions to our present social needs but our future expansion rests upon our willingness to enlarge the ‘public sector’ greatly.” Some of the language has become very familiar to us (and rejected by the Tea Partiers). For example:

.…medical care must become recognized as a lifetime human right just as vital as food, shelter and clothing — the Federal government should guarantee health insurance as a basic social service turning medical treatment into a social habit, not just an occasion of crisis, fighting sickness among the aged, not just by making medical care financially feasible but by reducing sickness among children and younger people.

Brooks confuses the New Left with the Yippies, which is a pretty  serious confusion and it’s confirmed by his comparison of Glenn Beck with Abbie Hoffman.  Hoffman couldn’t pass the entrance exam to the New Left.

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