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ESL Class with David Brooks

Brooks EnglishWelcome to another ESL class with David Brooks. Our lesson today is about distraction, false equivalency and moderation for thee, but not for me.

Our moral and economic system is based on individual responsibility….[P]eople have to live with the consequences of their decisions.

Mr. Brooks is the night watchman for a regime built upon the opposite premise. Review our earlier lesson on Scooter Libby, George Bush and Wally Street.

The Bush and Obama administrations have compensated foolishness and irresponsibility [in equal measure].

It disorients the listener when you fail to complete your thought, even when the listener is able to fill in the omitted material.

The financial bailouts reward bankers who took insane risks. The auto bailouts subsidize companies and unions that made self-indulgent decisions a few decades ago that drove their industry into the ground….

The stimulus package handed tens of billions of dollars to states that spent profligately during the prosperity years.

When taking crime scene photographs, it is important to leave objects in situ when photographing them. Otherwise, unrelated objects appear related. It is also essential to provide scale. Otherwise a lorry can look like a child’s toy, and [ ] can look like nine inches.

Distraction in public discourse is essential, so that citizens will not connect the dots. Ideally, distraction should pit two harmless actors against each other, leaving the aggressor free rein:

The Obama housing plan will force people who bought sensible homes to subsidize the mortgages of people who bought houses they could not afford.

That quote also illustrates that when caught with one’s hand in the cookie jar (an idiom in next week’s lesson), it is best to say, however improbably, that that’s not your hand. It’s your little brother’s. Mr. Brooks deftly blamed the housing and financial crises and the cost of their fixes on neighbors. He omitted predatory lenders. He also omitted the pallet-loads of money trucked to Wall Street and left in the back alley.

It makes sense for government to try to restore some communal order….It has to help stabilize people who have been idiots.

Mr. Brooks is speaking in tongues (see below, on American Religion). Idiots, like beauty, are in the eye of the beholder. The idiots Mr. Brooks explicitly mentions are families that incurred debt to pay for a roof over themselves, to feed their children and to send them to school. Topics he avoided entirely include former Republican presidents, predatory lenders and lobbyists. (Terms we covered earlier under the heading "profligate bastards".)

But at least they [the Obama administration] seem to be driven by a spirit of moderation and restraint. They seem to be trying to keep as many market structures in place as possible so things can return to normal relatively smoothly.

The language of American Religion is for advanced students only. Half the course covers essential terms — the Village, Broderite, elixir, Grecian moderation and Roman excess, free markets and claptrap. The required course for it is Hypocrisy in All its Forms, a three-semester course with extended lab work.

The greedy idiots may be greedy idiots, but they are our countrymen.

I have bolded idiots here and above because they are the one word Mr. Brooks uses twice, to mean two different things. He uses idiots to mean homeowner-neighbors, whom he wants to pit against each other. Here, he uses idiots-countrymen to mean Villagers and Wall Streeters. The "tell" is his expression of empathy. "Sleight-of-word" is an idiom we will cover next week using other examples of Mr. Brooks invaluable work.

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