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David "Bobo" Brooks is an author and pundit. He holds the position of token conservative on the PBS Newshour and at the New York Times. He is more or less a tamer counterpart to former columnist Bill Kristol, in that both are always spectacularly wrong, but Kristol was wrong about big, serious things (like war) while Brooks tends to be wrong about small, trivial things (like the lifestyle of the residents of Franklin County, Pennsylvania).
Brooks is an odd fit with the modern Republican Party as he often writes columns against the economic principles or imaginary scandals of the party. He is not a party loyalist, having endorsed Barack Obama in 2008 and Hillary Clinton in 2016. He does not adhere to any conservative philosophy, but rather a conservative fantasy, longing for a time when families were more traditional, cultural Christianity was uncontested, and minorities quietly knew their place. He reveres small town conservatives as long as they don't live in either the South (including the border states) or the Western US; they in turn find him ill-informed and condescending. (Not that they bother to read his column. Nor should you.)
What, exactly, is a "Bobo"?
The term "Bobo" comes from Brooks's 2000 book Bobos in Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There. The word is a portmanteau of the words bourgeois and bohemian. In the book, Brooks (who self identifies as a "bobo") argues that modern American culture is controlled largely by these upper-class baby boomers who mix counter-culture with consumerism. This sort of pop psychology is Brooks's stock-in-trade.
Fun detail: Bobo is also a Spanish word meaning "dumb."
From Bobos to Social Animals
Brooks unleashed further pop psychology on the public with The Social Animal, a fictional narrative about a Beltway think tank set romance which is peppered with (often misinterpreted or out-of-context) factoids from social science research.
Brooks and politics
The leitmotif of Brooks's career is claiming that he has a special understanding of and appreciation for the salt-of-the-earth types who don't actually know who David Brooks is. His first major work of this variety was his 2001 Atlantic column "One Nation, Slightly Divisible".The column was all about the differences between the elitist, godless, self-important blue states and the hardy, honest, respectable red states.
“”Different sorts of institutions dominate life in these two places. In Red America churches are everywhere. In Blue America Thai restaurants are everywhere. In Red America they have QVC, the Pro Bowlers Tour, and hunting. In Blue America we have NPR, Doris Kearns Goodwin, and socially conscious investing. In Red America the Wal-Marts are massive, with parking lots the size of state parks. In Blue America the stores are small but the markups are big. You'll rarely see a Christmas store in Blue America, but in Red America, even in July, you'll come upon stores selling fake Christmas trees, wreath-decorated napkins, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer collectible thimbles and spoons, and little snow-covered villages.
One of the most well-known sections of the article concerned a trip Brooks took to Franklin County, Pennsylvania in search of Red America. He wanted to demonstrate the simple life enjoyed by these noble savages, so he had a mission:
“”I was going to spend $20 on a restaurant meal. But although I ordered the most expensive thing on the menu—steak au jus, "slippery beef pot pie," or whatever—I always failed.
In 2004, Philadelphia Magazine writer Sasha Issenberg followed up on several of Brooks's columns, including "One Nation, Slightly Divisible." He actually went to Franklin County, where he quickly discovered that Brooks was completely full of shit after dropping more than 20 dollars on several meals. Issenberg later talked to Brooks about this and the many, many other misrepresentations Issenberg found in his columns. Brooks didn't see anything wrong with it.
"One Nation, Slightly Divisible" is perhaps one of Brooks's most reviled columns to date. It fell flat with many liberals, who thought (with good reason) that it was cliche-ridden and intellectually insulting. It's possible that Brooks intended it an olive branch to conservatives; however, they hated it too, viewing it (again, with good reason) as condescending and snobbish.
At the New York Times
Apparently, the one group of people who actually liked Brooks's work were the New York City elite, because he managed to land a slot at the New York Times in 2003. His performance there is best expressed in bullet-point form:
- Brooks, who self-describes as a "third-wave feminist," believes that women shouldn't work, but if they insist on working, they should have kids first and wait to enter the work force until they are over 40.
- Brooks was positive that McCain's support for the Iraq War wouldn't hurt him.
- Brooks loved George W. Bush. Why? Because "[his] foreign policy doctrine transcended the War on Terror," he "thinks in long durations" and is "assertiveness on stilts."
- Brooks thought Obama was in trouble because "he doesn't seem like the kind of guy who can go into an Applebee's salad bar and people think he fits in naturally there," probably because Applebee's restaurants don't have salad bars.
- Brooks alleged that the term "neoconservative" was an anti-Semitic slur, apparently unaware that the term in its modern usage was popularized by Irving Kristol.
- More recently, Brooks argued that the real reason Haiti is poor is because of voodoo.
- David Brooks: Been There. Done That. (Also, I smoked pot with David Brooks)
- Language Log has been following the pop-scholarship adventures of Bobo for quite some time: David Brooks: Cognitive Neuroscientist, Neuroendocronologist, Social Psychologist, The Butterfly and the Elephant
- Fight! Fight! Fight!
- A Conversation With David Brooks, PBS
- Reviews by PZ Myers, Thomas Nagel, and H. Allen Orr
- Full Atlantic article link
- Boo-Boos in Paradise - It's noteworthy that Issenberg actually seems to respect Brooks, and gets genuinely disappointed when Brooks gives him the runaround.
- "The Year of Domesticity"
- "Empty Nests, And Hearts"
- Brooks: No One Will Care That McCain is Wrong on Iraq
- "Ideals and Reality"
- "Ends Without Means"
- David Brooks vs. the Real World FAIR
- "The Era of Distortion"
- American conservatism 1945-1995
- "The Underlying Tragedy"