Victory means exit strategy, and it's important for the President to explain to us what the exit strategy is.    The Honorable Governor of Texas, George W. Bush

I hate quotations. Tell me what you know.    Ralph Waldo Emerson

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Bobos* Are So Cute, Then They Grow Up

BOBOS* in Paradise, by David Brooks, is my latest read. I’m a little behind the Times, as this was a bestseller published in 2000. Mr. Brooks is a member of a most insidious class. Like William F. Buckley and Ben Stein, David Brooks is a conservative with a sense of humor, and a darned good one. Try watching the Dennis Miller show if you think this is easy to do.

In Brooks’ view the “two cultures” of Gertrude Himmelfarb have merged into a kind of virgin olive oil based oligarchy of counterculture “meism” and bourgeois self control, served from “an object that looks like a nickel-plated nuclear reactor but is really the stove” in redwood bowls (from a fallen tree) sitting on half a New Hampshire mountain of granite in a 1200 square foot kitchen. This new, more robust elite is a result, he says, of a more productive selection process, one based on merit and ambition rather than social position.

Much of the book is a delicious send up of the Range Rover bunch, so much so that one begins to wonder where the book is heading. There is no attempt to involve the remaining 70% of society in this tale of the transformation of the elite class. Mr. Brooks does not travel in working class circles and, to his credit, doesn’t in this book (or generally) purport to having any extensive overview of the “lower” classes’ travails.

In fact it would seem that this Bobo (bourgeois/bohemian) establishment exists in perfect harmony with its minions, as Brooks takes the time to refute Thomas Frank’s notion that the business elite are using the old radicalism to de-radicalize the working classes:

In fact, it’s not so sinister or so one-sided. These renegade executives are both corporate and genuinely countercultural. The two cultural rivals have embraced and co-opted each other.

The cuteness continues to nearly the end of the book, and then the real Mr. Brooks stands up. Apparently the rampant “pluralism” of today’s elite has led to a big hole where absolute values used to live. In a matter of a few pages the Bobos transmogrify into potential neocon reactionaries, as Mark Knofler sings it, “Boom! Like that.”

At the time of publication in 2000 Brooks and his Weekly Standard buddies had a honey do list ready to go for this lot:

That suggests a course of action that is reform at home and activism abroad. Reform of these institutions and practices that no longer make us proud: the campaign finance system, which has become complex and alienating, the welfare state, which needs to be debureaucratized. And at the same time on an international sphere, it means picking up the obligations that fall to the world’s lead nation: promoting democracy and human rights everywhere and exercising American might in a way that reflects American ideals.

Odd that the leader of this “meritocracy” was not accepted at Yale on his own merit.


At 11:27 AM, Blogger Bullock said...

I haven't read BOBOS* in Paradise but have been observing Mr. David Brooks for the last few months especially during the political conventions and election. He served as a point/counterpoint depending on the argument, on the MacNeil/Leherer News Show, which, in my opinion, is about the best you can get these days.
Brooks comes off on this show as a mild-mannered intellectual cum reporter and interpreter of GOP policies, speeches and philosophies. He seems to be the consensus-builder, reaching out a middle ground. But, as you say, when the chords change, he can go to E minor real quick; no commonality, gut reactionary S.O.S.
Elitism? I think all New Yorkers with an audience think they are elitists, even the blues player on the street with hat on the curb.
In today's L.A. Times, there is an article(Jonanthan Chait, Opinion section) why the (non-business) academia shun Republican professors, following up a pair of studies that hold that Dems vastly outnumber Republicans at leading universities.
"'Republicans from Reagan to Bush, admire leaders who are straight talking men of faith. The Republican leader doesn't have to be book-smart. Democrats, on the other hand, are more apt to emphasize...being knowledgable and thoughtful. They value leaders who see complexities, who possess the virtues of the well educated.'" wrote Brooks a week before the election. Brooks also blames academia for its ideological discrimination but fails to realize the GOP will be rejected by those academia types who not only want their leaders to think instead of react but be complex thinkers themselves.
There is a middle ground out there somewhere...but not in BOBO-land.

At 10:51 AM, Blogger sequoit said...

It seems to me that the Republicans should be calling for the abolition of the state university. Perhaps that is coming, certainly UW Madison is under constant barrage from conservatives in this state and is feelng the tax cuts severely.

Add to this that UW is a pioneer in stem cell research and there is a panic to keep this school and Madison in the forefront, especially considering California's stunning committment. The gigantic health care industry, heavily church led, has to take a stand somewhere. These things are confusing the heck out of the right and straining it's alliances.

Middle ground? I increasingly believe that this will arise as a function of median, or as Brooks calls it "lower middle" class conscienceness, or not at all. I watched Bill Kristol describing how 56% of those in the middle voted republican. He then did his crinkly nose thing and said "well, slightly above the middle."

Big, big qualifier.


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