David Brooks. . . It’s Not About Race

Somewhere along the line, over the last five or so years, David Brooks became our national political analyst. I read him this morning in the New York Times, I listened to him on National Public Radio while making dinner, and in short order I’ll watch him on PBS’s NewsHour. The DB trifecta.

Unlike most of his NYT readers, I like Brooks’ work, which doesn’t mean I always agree with him. Today’s commentary wasn’t his finest moment. Before ripping him, I acknowledge it’s impossible to be lucid, let alone insightful, perceptive, and provocative a few times a week in print and several times a week on air.

Maybe when it comes to our NPA, we’ve reached a point of diminishing returns. In today’s essay he reads way too much into his anecdote of white tea party protestors eating at an African American family reunion.

I’m supposed to find more meaning in Brook’s mid-jog Beltway anecdote than the analysis of numerous African-American and other analysts who cogently argue recent events convincingly illustrate race still clearly matters?

David, beware the “Tom Friedman effect”. Friedman, Brook’s colleague at the Times and a Pulitzer prize winning author suffers from what might be referred to as an “entrenched elite echo chamber”.

Friedman travels the world reporting on geo-politics and writing books about all things global. I’ve read him closely and concluded he’s almost completely clueless about ordinary people’s lives in the places he travels to and reports from because he almost never comes into contact with ordinary citizens in any substantive way. He almost exclusively references elites, favoring business and political heavyweights. Sometimes he’ll quote his cab driver in a strained stab at psuedo-populism.

Here’s how I suspect the entrenched elite echo chamber evolves: 1) grow up in a privileged family; 2A) attend elite K-12 schools; 2B) pick up a few degrees at highly selective colleges and universities with a majority of people from privileged families that attended elite schools and 2C) participate in extracurricular activities with other elites; 3A) enter a profession which pays well with 3B) a majority of people from similarly privileged backgrounds; 4A) move into a mostly white, well-to-do neighborhood; 4B) form friendships with neighbors whose kids attend elite schools and participate in the same extracurricular activities; 4C) attend the same kid’s activities and dinner parties with the parents of your children’s friends in the same economically homogenous neighborhood. 5) Do everything possible to get kids into highly selective colleges and universities. 6) Repeat.

I’m not immune from the echo chamber although it’s probably not quite as elite as DB’s and TF’s. My neighborhood has some cultural, but minimal, economic diversity. In all honesty, I’m not friends with many working class or poor people; consequently, I can’t pretend to understand them.

By acknowledging those two things I’m not quite as susceptible to the “Tom Friedman” effect.