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The America of David Brooks’ Imagination

Pictured: a typically modest American athlete, ca. 1921.

Here’s David Brooks today in the New York Times, writing yet another version of — “things were so much better in this country before liberals ruined it.”

The problem is that over the past 40 years or so we have gone from a culture that reminds people of their own limitations to a culture that encourages people to think highly of themselves. The nation’s founders had a modest but realistic opinion of themselves and of the voters. They erected all sorts of institutional and social restraints to protect Americans from themselves. They admired George Washington because of the way he kept himself in check.

But over the past few decades, people have lost a sense of their own sinfulness. Children are raised amid a chorus of applause. Politics has become less about institutional restraint and more about giving voters whatever they want at that second. Joe DiMaggio didn’t ostentatiously admire his own home runs, but now athletes routinely celebrate themselves as part of the self-branding process.

What utter bullshit.

Joe DiMaggio may not have admired his homers, but Babe Ruth sure as hell did.

“Sixty, count ’em, sixty! Let’s see some son-of-a-bitch match that!

Such ostentatious, self-celebratory branding. And in 1927!

And even if we go back 40 years, as Brooks suggests, it’s still not enough.

I want everyone to bear witness, I am the greatest! I’m the greatest thing that ever lived. […] I shook up the world, I’m the king of the world. You must listen to me. I am the greatest! I can’t be beat!

And for goodness sakes — if George W. Bush wasn’t raised amid a “chorus of applause” — I don’t know who was. And he was born in the ’40s.

What wingnuts like Brooks really mean when they wag their fingers at Terrell Owens or bemoan the loss of “institutional restraint” is, “liberalism and the welfare state have eroded our values and ruined the country.”

They believe that the New Deal, Dr. Spock, and 4th place ribbons are responsible for wrecking America, and always will.


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