There are interesting dueling columns by Bob Herbert and David Brooks in today’s NYT. Herbert decries the racism that is coming to the fore in anti-Obama and anti-health care reform demonstrations. Brooks says the demonstrations are about class, not race, and traces the ferment back to Jefferson-Jackson v. Hamilton. Working-class whites, per Brooks, are proponents of payment according to product and are thus the unacknowledged students of Milton Friedman. Strangely, Brooks ends his column with a quote from economics blogger Arnold Kling, known to me from his appearances on bloggingheadstv, which refers to “working-class whites,” a fairly prominent acknowledgment of the importance of race, I would have thought. But American aversion to redistribution is deeply linked to the idea that the government takes money from hard-working white people and gives it to undeserving black people. Please do not confuse the issue with statistics about white people on welfare.
Brooks likes to champion everything that is least appealing in America, provincialism in all its manifestations — the nuclear family, suburban life, the anti-cosmopolitanism and perhaps slightly veiled racism of working-class whites. This is what “conservatism” is all about. And it occurs to me that it is based upon a real sleight-of-hand trick. Brooks also frequently decries the culture of narcissism, and the narcissists are always the cosmopolitan elites, bohos and the like, people who resemble me. Are cosmopolitan elites really any more narcissistic than the provincials he is at pains to defend? A narcissist is just someone who likes what he sees when he looks in the mirror.
Something I have learned since I “retired”: I don’t really trust any man who is comfortable wearing a suit. Suits are ridiculous. The point of a suit is to say, “I believe in the system, in corporations, in the worship of Mammon.” Our prior president liked to wear suits; Obama doesn’t.
I just saw the movie “State of Play” on a plane. Russell Crowe plays an investigative reporter, and he most definitely does not wear a suit. It occurs to me that one of the subtexts of this movie, which isn’t really very good, is that one cannot trust people in suits. Ben Affleck plays a character who might be based upon Gavin Newsom, the incumbent mayor of San Francisco, a suit-wearing narcissist. Most French men who wear suits don’t really wear them. For example, their tie is loose. This is not to say that there is no government/corporate sector in France that wears suits, sometimes very expensive ones, because of course there is. But the problem with David Brooks is that he’s “straight” and seems to be comfortable in a suit. You can’t trust him.