Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Speciousness of David Brooks

David Brooks is the king of speciousness. His arguments seem reasonable, but fall apart when you look closely at them.

Brooks is the kinda guy who makes assumptions that are erroneous, and then extrapolates on those assumptions. It all seems to make sense; and it does in a way. The extrapolations rise out of his assumptions logically. But the assumptions are wrong--or at least are debatable.

It's like saying, "Because the world is full of ugly people, we don't really need bright colors in our wardrobe. Drab green is a fine wardrobe choice." Most people then walk away thinking about the argument he's laid out: "Yes, drab is a fine wardrobe choice" or "No, color is great; it helps things look better."

But it's rare that his readers come away thinking, "The world is full of ugly people? I don't agree with that."

In his column yesterday, entitled, “Make Everybody Hurt,” he throws out that public sector unions "tend to have workplaces where personnel decisions are made on the basis of seniority, not merit," but gives no evidence to support that. That's not logical, that's emotional. It's appealing to the prevailing emotional belief that public employees are deadbeats.

We spend an enormous amount of time in this country talking about failing teachers, but very little talking about successful teachers--especially if those teachers are working within the current system rather than a charter school. By throwing out that sentence, Brooks appeals to our prejudice in this matter, not facts.

His speciousness also comes out in his call to make everybody share the burden "equitably." Sounds like a nice word, but what does he actually mean? One percent of the richest people in the country make more than the bottom 50 percent combined. Since 1980, the top marginal tax rate has gone from 74% to 35% - and lo and behold, budget deficits have skyrocketed. He's not saying, "We should all hurt PROPORTIONATELY." He's saying that we should ignore the tax breaks for the super wealthy and all "equally" give to solve the problem--which puts the proportional burden on the middle and lower classes.

He also doesn't point out that states are in the mess they're in largely due to the recession, which was caused by people having too much money they didn't know what to do with and investing in risky derivatives. For Brooks, the people who caused the recession don't have to pay more to clean it up. We all must share that burden equally. It sounds so kumbaya. But when you look closely at it, you realize that people who worked hard and did everything they were supposed to do are getting punished, while the people who screwed up are getting away scott free.

And it's this approaching debatable ideas as ipso facto correct that has insidiously moved us to the right in this country. "Because government should be small, then we need to cut. But what to cut is the issue..." And we all walk away thinking, "Yeah, what to cut is the issue." But we don't necessarily walk away thinking, "Government shouldn't be small. It should simply work better." He doesn't give us that option.

That's not bad writing. It's a good, tightly controlled argument that leads people where he wants to lead them--and obfuscates what he doesn't want people to think about.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent and perceptive column, Carrie.

    Joanne Clarke Gunter