Be Careful What You Wish For

David Brooks is a far better columnist than I’ll ever be, but he screwed up today. It’s not that he’s wrong — he makes excellent points, and in an endlessly-debatable way. (And really, isn’t that what a good column should do?) It’s not that it isn’t well-written — the New York Times doesn’t hire many bad writers, even the ones you disagree with.


Strangely though, he made his points in the wrong order, minimizing their impact. So here is today’s first-ever Revised David Brooks Excerpt. Second point first:

Kerry’s speeches in the 1990’s read nothing like that 1971 [Congresional] testimony. The passion is gone. The pompous prevaricator is in. You read them and you see a man so cautiously calculating not to put a foot wrong that he envelops himself in a fog of caveats and equivocations. You see a man losing the ability to think like a normal human being and starting instead to think like an embassy.

Tough decisions are evaded through the construction of pointless distinctions. Hard questions are verbosely straddled. Kerry issued statements endorsing the use of force in the Balkans so full of backdoor caveats you couldn’t tell if he was coming or going. He delivered a tough-sounding speech on urban poverty filled with escape clauses he then exploited when the criticism came.

Most people take a certain pride in their own opinions. They feel attached to them as part of who they are. But Kerry can be coldly detached from his views, willing to use, flip or hide them depending on the exigencies of the moment.


And now the first point:

If voters see that [1971] testimony [in the Swift Boat ads], they will see a young man arguing passionately for a cause. They will see a young man willing to take risks and boldly state his beliefs. Whether they agree or not, they will see in John Kerry a man of conviction.

Many young people, who don’t have an emotional investment in endlessly refighting the conflicts of the late 1960’s, might take a look at that man and decide they like him. They might not realize that man no longer exists.

Brooks’s version of Brooks can be found here.


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