On the Campaigns

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

New York Times op-ed columnists Gail Collins and David Brooks take their web-only "Conversation" to the air and discuss the presidential race.


David Brooks and Gail Collins

Comments [29]


Rockwell did it, but Capra did it for an even greater number of people. And?
No one is arguing that marketing and pr don't matter in this election, we're well acquainted with Thomas Frank's work, and, probably more to your point, George Lakoff's "The Political Mind."
Marketing and pr is what got you a Connecticut blueblood posing as a Texas bluecollar oilman. It's effective. Just call it for what it is, and spare the values and American dream puffery. You'd be surprised how many Americans no longer give a bleep. They, like me, ALSO want an actual plan, in addition to the marketing hype.
Glad you like Rockwell, though, he's underappreciated. Having said that, I feel that looking at his work once every ten years is appreciation enough. I'm not arguing with his phenomenal talent, but a little syrup goes a very long way.

Aug. 19 2008 10:10 PM
RCT from Chappaqua via North Adams, MA


You've misunderstood my comments. The point is that people vote based on emotions and values, not merely ideas. Maybe you don't do so - -that's great -- but most people do. Rockwell has remained relevant (it's a great museum -- you should visit it if you're ever in Stockbridge) because he trips those wires. Nor are they bad wires: to believe in equality, free speech, fair play and opportunity is not so bad.

Yet those values can be manipulated, and that is exactly what the Republicans have done to win elections -- c.f. "What's the Matter with Kansas." Obama needs to figure this out if he wants to win. Sure, he's the best candidate -- I agree -- but if you want the nightmare to end, you have to recognize the source of the problem. Specifically, people are not evil or, in most cases, stupid; they are, however, susceptible to manipulation by those who recognize and exploit hopes, dreams and fears. We do have a national ethos and shared values and, if a candidate hopes to succeed, he needs to recognize and speak to those underlying beliefs.

Again, the Rockwell museum (seeing those paintings for real and up close) was a real eye-opener. Rockwell directly connected, empathically, if not to the "real" America, then at least to the America that people believed existed. There is a political lesson to be had in his work.

Aug. 19 2008 09:44 PM
Lara Kay from manhattan

I agree with the tenor of many of the posts. David Brooks has a column in the Times, as well as "The Conversation" spot with Collins; is a regular on "The News Hour"; a regular on Chris Matthews" sunday show; and those are just his regular media spots. Then he comes on Brian's show, and essentialy reiterates his Times column. There must be two other people out there in the intellectual cauldron that is NYC who you could invite on. Please don't become an echo chamber of mainstream media. Why not focus on developing more of your own voices (ie., Andrea Bernstein)?

Aug. 19 2008 09:35 PM
seth from Long Island

#24 jrd,

Great comments! I completely agree with you. I think Collins, Brooks, and Dowd are three of the worst pundits in the chattering class universe. It's lazy of Brian and his staff to settle for the usual suspects when there are many smarter, less offensive pundits from which to choose.

Aug. 19 2008 06:36 PM

With all due respect to Norman Rockwell (I happen to like some of his work) I don't really know if we care whether candidates "share our values." I don't even know what that means. I think we just want to make sure they're not going to flip out on us and have sex under the desk in the Oval Office, or plunge us into a war we can't possibly afford. It's not so much to ask.
Doubtless they don't share my exact values, but I don't really care, do you? I mean, I just want them to address some basic, practical issues so we can make it through this century and beyond.
My father served in the military. So did McCain. So what? My dad married a non-white person, just like Obama did, so what? McCain got a divorce and remarried, so did Dad, so what? Values? Give me something tangible. I just want them to address some basic practical issues. You have a need to believe in the American dream? Good for you - I don't need to, I just want to get us out of the American nightmare. Just pay down the debt. Get out of Iraq. Address health care in a somewhat rational manner. Bring back the draft, but provide a non-military option so we can get some practical work done and unite the country. The rest? The dream? Gravy, really. Bread and butter, nuts and bolts. You can dream all you want when you're sleeping.

Aug. 19 2008 06:02 PM

How much of this intellectually vacuous punditry are WNYC listeners supposed to gratefully endure?

Aren't Collins and Brooks among the worst offenders? Collins for her self-delighted "everything's about me" Dowd-lite routine, and Brooks for endless Republican advocacy masquerading as "analysis"?

And there's Brian, pretending this is vital discourse....

Aug. 19 2008 05:46 PM
RCT from Chappaqua via North Adams, MA

I've just spent the morning at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Lenox, MA, and am now catching up on Brian's show. An ironic juxtaposition, because Rockwell's paintings of "The Four Freedoms" and six-year old Ruby Bridges being escorted to school by federal marshalls are incredibly evocative and compelling, suggesting to me that the feelings and values that the Republicans are manipulating via their ads and talking points run deep, and are shared even by we talky, abstract New York City types.

The paintings also recalled for me my parents' world, one in which Americans fought bravely, worked hard and believed in the American dream. When posters here criticize Brooks and Collins for trivializing the issues, they are perhaps expressing a desire that commentators recognize such classic themes in evaluating candidates, and that, regardless of the issues, candidates are not merely experienced and practical, but also embody our underlying values.

That's what the Saddleback interviews were about and, despite the fact that those interviews were inevitably somewhat superficial, most people found them more useful than the "gotcha on your talking points" debates. Brooks and Collins both seem to miss the point that what is going on regarding all the issues is an intense values debate. I'm becoming concerned that Obama -- my candidate -- may be missing that point as well.

Aug. 19 2008 04:48 PM

elitism aside, if I had to vote on pure confidence in the person, I'd be casting my vote for Lewis Black. He's the last really honest guy I know. And he's just a stage persona, really.

Aug. 19 2008 03:53 PM

Point taken, I'd have to agree about a lack of inquisitiveness at the Times, altho I am more upset by their Judith Miller shenanigans than I am about Brooks and all the rest. Opinion is only that; to screw up WMD reporting is unforgivable.
I do think that Obama could do some work in breaking down the supposed wall between himself and the "non-elite". I mean, if they keep hammering on it, I don't necessarily think he needs to start throwing back shots and shootin' skunk, but, uh, I do think he could make an effort to be a little more casual.
I think he is an elitist, as is McCain, and I don't think that's a bad thing. So was Alexander Hamilton, and we're all better off for it. Kind of. Anyway, better off than with a non-elitist like Bush.

Aug. 19 2008 03:50 PM
seth from Long Island

Eva #19

I don't mind conservatives on NYT's op-ed page. I just wish NYT would be more creative and find a conservative who is not a neo-con(they do exist, NYT is just too lazy to find them).
I don't mind Obama being criticized. My problem is the nature of the criticism. The most dominant theme used by pundits (even some alleged to be liberal or democrats) to attack Obama is that he is elitist and arrogant. This is insane.
Any person who runs for the presidency is elitist and arrogant because he or she thinks they are smarter than 300 million other people and should make decisions affecting their lives.

Aug. 19 2008 03:29 PM

"Brooks is intellectually dishonest and morally bankrupt."
Sure, but so is every other American who supported the Iraq invasion, and outside of that circle, it turns out to be a very short list of people.
I thought Brooks was very supportive of Obama during the primary, when I really believe it counted most. I also don't want to lose conservatives from the op-ed page, because then I won't know what they're thinking.
I also worry about people getting too defensive of Barack. He always appears better when he and his supporters rise above the petty comments. Who cares what Brooks says about whether he'd fit in at an Applebee's salad bar? (Econ note: I can get a bowl of vietnamese noodles around the corner for $3.50, and on a dinner menu til 9 pm, no less.) I tend to think that the demogaphic for Obama is split between people who wouldn't go to Applebee's because they rightly suspect it will taste bad and people who wouldn't go to Applebee's because they can't afford it. Or people who fit into both categories. That's a pretty broad spectrum, and one not heavily influenced by D. Brooks, anyway.

Aug. 19 2008 02:57 PM
seth from Long Island

Eva #17

To me, David Brooks is a reality challenged neo-con who has taken many cheap, personal shots at Obama. He once wrote that Obama wouldn't fit in with the patrons at an Applebee's salad bar. Firstly, Applebee's does not have a salad bar. Second, it's a silly, childish line of attack. Brooks is intellectually dishonest and morally bankrupt.

Aug. 19 2008 02:37 PM

I found the reintro of Collins refreshing - I think the problem is that you now have two "lite" columnists. Dowd is exhausted and should be given a vacation, even though I agreed with her that Hillary is not going to let Obama have the nomination without a fight -even at this late date. Actually, reading the recent columns of Paul Krugman, Hillary's stalwart defender, sheds some light on that.
I also think the notion of a column is inherently screwy - Brooks is always too eager to come to a point at the end of every piece, whether it's rational or not. Last week's "Where's the Trauma" article was a perfect example of that. He butchered the reality on the ground (even as reported in his own paper) to make the point that Americans are wimpy and Chinese are tough. I didn't make that up, it's the conclusion of the article. It's not that Chinese aren't tough - it's how Brooks had to torture the truth to get there. Still, when he's good, he is really worth reading. They should be allowed to end their columns with questions, or to continue one thought through several different columns to avoid the false conclusions.

Aug. 19 2008 01:47 PM
seth from Long Island

Megan #16

You totally missed my point. The NYT had superior op-ed columnists at BOTH ends of the political spectrum (liberal democrat and conservative republican) 30 years ago than it does today. The NYT op-ed columnists I dislike the most are the ones I agree with on many issues. My problem with them is that their writing style is too juvenile, childish, and silly. They're more interested in creating punchlines than offering intelligent analysis or critiques. Maureen Dowd and Gail Collins have debased and trivialized the NYT op-ed page. They have lowered the bar for serious journalism.

Aug. 19 2008 01:27 PM
Megan from ParkSlope

Te "quality" of the NY Times op-ed writers is really bad............when you disagree with them...


Aug. 19 2008 01:12 PM
seth from Long Island

The quality of op-ed writers at the NY Times 30 years ago was head and shoulders above the current line-up. Brian should have more political science and history professors on his show. They'd offer far more insight than Collins and Brooks and the rest of the NYT op-ed line-up.

Aug. 19 2008 12:32 PM
seth from Long Island

The media is giving McCain a free ride by covering up his lack of intelligence. They are doing so to help bolster his poll numbers because a close race is great for ratings and ad revenue. If the public saw that McCain was an empty suit, his poll numbers would fall thru the floor. David Brooks is far more elitist and out of touch with working class voters than Obama.

Aug. 19 2008 12:16 PM
Aaron from Brooklyn

Brooks and Collins are a huge part of the problem. The problem being journalists who are happier as novelists and have incredible psychic powers.
Brian why do you indulge tools like these two?The NYT op-ed page is a cancer on the political discourse in this country and needs to be frozen out not encouraged. You really need to look farther afield for your 'experts' and that doesn't mean the A list blogs like Daily Kos, Politico, HuffPost or TPM who are just as bad as the mainstream rags they emulate and aspire to be a part of. Give time to Bob Somerby or a panel of C list bloggers or god forbid give callers more than 30 secs and if they're lucky one response when the 'expert' fails to answer their question.

The 30 Issues in 30 Days is a commendable idea and I realise you are more committed than most to citizen journalists but you need to go a lot further if you want to elicit tangible change. I would suggest that firstly you have a dedicated and long-running series examining the media itself, especially the veracity of the major news orgs pundits columns (and TV appearances) and also the amount of space/time given to different stories.
Secondly why not try having a month of shows without any paid pundits. I'd be willing to bet you'd get a more expansive, detailed, issue-oriented discussion.

Aug. 19 2008 12:12 PM

On that note, why not finally come to terms with this question? It goes without saying that media discourse in this country has a great deal to do with who gets elected. We know, for example, that the American media, including Collins and Brooks, killed the Gore campaign, with disastrous results for everyone but pundits.

And yet that's the one subject -- the quality of the punditry and the corporate media -- that never gets discussed on the Brian Lehrer Show. Instead, these people are honored guests.

Or we hear that WNYC offers an alternative to commercial media -- but then invites on all the usual multimillionaire, corporate-employed suspects.

Aug. 19 2008 11:24 AM
Sharon David

"the cost of moving is expensive"

maybe WNYC shouldnt' have moved. also, why does the WNYC has to be in an expensive location like West Soho? I'm sure there are other parts of Manhattan that you guys could have moved--like maybe FIDI, since the gov't is subsidizing tenants to move to that neighborhood. how about Long Island City, Brooklyn, or the Bronx. and you're placing your expense to its listeners.

Aug. 19 2008 11:21 AM

Impossible to know exactly why "several comments" were deleted or edited, but it's not difficult to guess.

If the presence on the radio of Brooks and Collins, and their kind of commentary, isn't open to discussion on this board, or the program itself, perhaps Brian is missing the real story...

Aug. 19 2008 11:08 AM
BL Producer from WNYC Studios

Several comments have been removed or edited for violating the WNYC posting policy. Please remember to keep your comments civil, on topic and productive to the discussion on the air. You can certainly contact Listener Services with any comments or questions about WNYC programming decisions.

Their telephone number is (646) 829-4000. If you prefer, you can email them at anytime.

Aug. 19 2008 10:37 AM
kevin from new york

mccain's responses at saddleback were simple and trite. i found his response to "does evil exist" silly and politicized my christian faith.

similarly, in response to a question about what his christian faith means to him he said something along the lines of "i'm saved and am forgiven". really? is that it john?

his responses remind me of bush - simple, and lacking in depth. christian faith is neither.

Aug. 19 2008 10:30 AM

We're hearing how those evil consultants have turned Maverick McCain into a conventional politician. Have Collins or Brooks ever looked at McCain's actual right-wing voting record? Does espousing the interests of America's richest and most powerful people, over the life on an endless political career, turn a politician into a "maverick"?

[[BL Moderator Writes: This comment has been edited to adhere to the WNYC posting policy. Please keep your comments civil and productive to the discussion taking place on the air. Thanks.]]

Aug. 19 2008 10:24 AM
Jeffrey Slott from East Elmhurst

McCain is becoming more appealing to American votres by touching all the buttons that Bush hit. That's what worries me. But it seems that your guests major complaint is that the candidates are doing the same-old, same-old and are therefore boring. As if the election for the powerful position in the world is supposed to be a piece of entertainment for them.

Aug. 19 2008 10:22 AM
Joe Corrao from Brooklyn

yada yada yada...I see a RP segement...thanks, but why now? He needed the airtime 6 months ago when u ignored him...

Aug. 19 2008 10:14 AM
RCT from Chappaqua via North Adams, MA

Hello from the sunny (sorry, Brian) Berkshires. We are very pleased to be able to listen to the Brian Lehrer show while on vacation.

I want to ask David Brooks whether he believes that he is being reasonable in asking Obama to either channel Niebuhr or be criticized as a crass politician or empty suit. That was the message of a recent Brooks NYT op-ed in which he chastized Obama for allegedly switching positions on key issues.

Don't you think, David, that a politician with principles and credible goals needs also to be practical? And don't you think that Obama's seeming refusal to try to "swiftboat" McCain demonstrates that he really does want to run a different kind of campaign? (C.f. your column today, in which you credit McCain's intentions and state that good guy McCain has been prevented by "the system" from running his campaign as planned. Why won't you give Obama the same benefit of the doubt as you accord John McCain?)

Aug. 19 2008 08:06 AM

I've heard so much of Gail Collins!
Go to Bob Somerby's site at
and search for "Gail Collins" there.
He's a huge fan.

Aug. 19 2008 04:10 AM

Thank you for hosting two of my favorite columnists. I have two questions for them: 1) If McCain had not been sabotaged by the GOP in 2000 and had won the election would the US have, post-9/11, gone into Iraq? I know that McCain was advocating for action in Iraq before the Bush admin did, but I always believed his advocacy was based on erroneous information that wouldn't have existed if Cheney-Rumsfeld-Tenet weren't at the helm. That is, if Bush hadn't won.
2) Brooks recently wrote about interviewing Chinese-government-approved subjects about the loss of their loved ones in the earthquake, and projected these individuals' stoicism as representing an overall feeling among earthquake survivors. This was in total contradiction to many reports in the Times about parents so devastated that they had, with great risk, spoken out against the Chinese government. The piece belied, as does so much writing about China, two essential facts: a) that the Chinese government is TERRIFIED about the level of unrest, protest and dissatisfaction among ordinary Chinese, and b) Chinese parents are as neurotically obsessed with and attached to their only child as any American parent would be. So my question for Brooks: "Is it just too tempting on deadline to make a sweeping statement that Chinese are ineffably tough and Americans are wimpy?" Also: where is your skepticism when dealing with interviewees hand-picked by the central authority?

Aug. 19 2008 01:49 AM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.

Get the WNYC Morning Brief in your inbox.
We'll send you our top 5 stories every day, plus breaking news and weather.