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Monday, April 29, 2013

David Brooks, "Engaged or Detached?": Are Friedman, Krugman and Collins "Rigid and Stale"? Is Their "Mental Hygiene" Suspect?

Are you tired of listening to Thomas Friedman tell us that faster Internet is going to cure unemployment and the federal deficit? Or of reading Paul Krugman's biweekly paean's to Keynesianism and the need to spend the US out of a depression? Or of wading through Gail Collins's revelations of nefarious Republican wrongdoing? Well, apparently David Brooks is also disgusted with his fellow New York Times columnists, although he doesn't name names.

In his latest New York Times op-ed entitled "Engaged or Detached?"(, Brooks distinguishes between "engaged" and "detached" writers. Of "engaged" writers, Brooks declares:

"The engaged writer closely and intimately aligns with a team. In his writing, he provides arguments for the party faithful and builds community by reminding everyone of the errors and villainy of the opposing side. For the engaged writer, the writing is often not about persuasion. (Realistically, how many times does a piece of writing persuade someone to switch sides?) It’s often about mobilization. It’s about energizing the people who already agree with you.

The engaged writer often criticizes his own party, but from a zone of trust inside it, and he is usually advising the party to return to its core creed. The engaged writer is willing to be repetitive because that’s how you make yourself an unavoidable pole in the debate. The goal is to have immediate political influence, to provide party leaders with advice, strategy and policy recommendations."

Friedman, Krugman and Collins, devoted to Obama, are obviously "engaged."

Regarding the "detached" writer, Brooks observes:

"The detached writer also starts with a worldview. If you don’t have a philosophic worldview, your essays won’t even rise to the status of being wrong. They won’t be anything.

But the detached writer wants to be a few steps away from the partisans. She is progressive but not Democratic, conservative but not Republican. She fears the team mentality will blinker her views. She wants to remain mentally independent because she sees politics as a competition between partial truths, and she wants the liberty to find the proper balance between them, issue by issue."

Brooks's preference? Simple:

"But I would still urge you to slide over toward the detached side of the scale. First, there is the matter of mental hygiene. You may think you can become a political partisan without becoming rigid and stale, and we all know people who achieve this, but the risk is high."

Friedman, Krugman and Collins and mental hygiene? Yes, I have my opinions, given Krugman's embrace of Occupy Wall Street ("It’s clear what kinds of things the Occupy Wall Street demonstrators want, and it’s really the job of policy intellectuals and politicians to fill in the details," Paul Krugman, "Confronting the Malefactors" (, and Friedman's periodic anti-Semitic outbursts (e.g., his assertion that Netanyahu's standing ovation after speaking before Congress was "bought and paid for by the Israel lobby" ( An overweight Collins? No longer able to crack Seamus dog-on-the-roof jokes, she seems to be at a loss regarding what to write.

"Rigid and stale"? I could ghost write for Krugman and Friedman for the next six months and no one would know the difference.

Fortunately for The Times, it still has Maureen Dowd in its stable of op-ed writers. A plagiarist? Yes. Totally ignorant of foreign affairs? Yes. But rigid and stale? No, as proven by her recent outrage over Obama's impotence (e.g., "No Bully in the Pulpit" (

Can Dowd save a "rigid and stale" New York Times from ultimately filing for Chapter 11? No way.

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