Reprinted from Smirking Chimp
Stipulated: David Brooks isn't that smart.
As editor of The Weekly Standard -- the neo-con rag that served as the warmongering Der Sturmer of the Bushies -- he endorsed the unprovoked U.S. invasion of Iraq.
He wrote a book, "Bobos in Paradise" (the "bobos" are "bourgeous bohemians") that, aside from having the lamest title in the history of movable type attempted to coin a phrase to alongside "yuppies" and "hipsters" but never stood a chance.
Every now and then, however, the New York Times op-ed writer whose take on things uncannily mimics whatever happens to be the 50,000-yard line of mainstream corporatist politics writes something worth reading. (This distinguishes him from fellow militant centrist Tom Friedman.)
Brooks' October 23rd column "Lady Gaga and the Life of Passion" is one of his more thought-provoking pieces, though probably not for a reason he might have hoped.
Born of staring-down-a-deadline laziness, "Gaga" came out of that most bobo of activities, sitting on one's ass at a benefit dinner in a hotel banquet room. The shindig was thrown by Americans for the Arts, but that's not important.
Brooks was enthralled by the musician Lady Gaga, who received an award. He quoted her: "I suppose that I didn't know what I would become, but I always wanted to be extremely brave and I wanted to be a constant reminder to the universe of what passion looks like. What it sounds like. What it feels like."
Brooks mused: "That passage stuck in the head and got me thinking. When we talk about living with passion, which is sort of a cliche, what exactly do we mean?"
I won't rehash Brooks' discourse about living with passion. Click the link if you're so moved; he's competent enough at expressing himself.
What struck me was Brooks' hypocrisy.
Here is a man who, whatever else one can say about him, decidedly does not live his life with passion. He does not take risks. He does not say what he really thinks or really means, because doing so would greatly reduce his income stream. I mean, invading Iraq -- seriously? No one with a brain thought that would go well. Even Brooks' vocal delivery, as seen on NPR and PBS, defines the term "flat affect."
More damning, he does not endorse the struggles of those who do live with the passion he praises in people like Lady Gaga.
To read him, you'd almost believe Brooks really, truly admires artists and others who take a chance. "[A] trait that marks them is that they have high levels of both vulnerability and courage. As Martha Nussbaum wrote in her great book 'Upheavals of Thought,' to be emotional is to attach yourself to something you value supremely but don't fully control. To be passionate is to put yourself in danger," Brooks writes.
In this Brooks is absolutely right.
My chosen profession, political satire and commentary, is a high-wire act. To be really funny, to be really incisive, you have to be willing to express opinions that are unpopular -- not provocation for its own sake, but in the service of ideas that are necessary to express.