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David Brooks at the Ath

February 27, 2008

by Sahil Kapur

New York Times columnist and conservative pundit David Brooks gave a speech at the Marian Miner Cook Athenaeum tonight. The speech was followed by an extended question-answer session, in the main dining room filled to capacity with CMC students, faculty and a number of guests. “Being a conservative columnist at the New York Times is like being Chief Rabbi at Mecca,” joked Brooks about working for a newspaper that many believe to have liberal-leaning ideologies.

A young boy with his parents at a "be-in" in Central Park ("where hippies could go to Central Park and just 'be'"), Brooks saw a man burn his five dollar bill and throw it down, so instinctively Brooks picked it up. He jested that the step to pick up the bill was his “first step to the right.”

“Good journalists tend to be aloof and emotionally detached,” said Brooks, who was both witty and personable in his speech. “They say what they think and they don’t have trouble being honestly critical of even the people they like.”

Brooks, who grew up in the highly liberal Greenwich Village neighborhood of NYC, related the influences thoughout his life that affected his political views. A former liberal himself, Brooks admitted to having been deeply inspired into the ideology of conservatism by William Frank Buckley, Jr., who passed away the same morning of this speech. Brooks spent a good portion of his talk on Buckley’s illustrious career and amiable personality.

A common conviction among conservatives is a "distrust in government,” alleged Brooks, who expressed his view that the world is too complicated for the government to fully understand and successfully fix with legislation. He addressed the state of conservatism and the Republican Party, whose base has been rapidly eroding and many of its followers dissipating into both the liberal and independent camps. Unlike the confidence in conservatism that Buckley was able to inspire, Brooks expressed the unfortunate truth that the modern conservative movement has "too many sleezeballs rather than eyeballs" (think Bill O'Reilly and Ann Coulter). The growing consensus among conservatives, according to Brooks, is that Republican leaders are not genuinely representing the ideology of their own party.

Brooks went on to address the political culture of our time, as well as a range of social issues and current events – such as health care, global warming, the occupation of Iraq, and the ongoing 2008 U.S. Presidential Election. He expressed his skepticism for “Obamamania,” but did not stop short of praising Senator Barack Obama for his many admirable qualities. He seemed certain that Senator Hillary Clinton has effectively lost the race for the Democratic nomination. Brooks also conveyed his “love” for Senator John McCain, who he believes is deeply motivated by a sense of honor.

According to Brooks, the general election will be a contest between the nonpartisan left-winger, Obama, and a nonpartisan right-winger, McCain.

The honesty, eloquence and comical nature of Brooks’ speech offered a fresh perspective which, even as a non-conservative, I believe was worth hearing.

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