Sunday, March 05, 2006

David Brooks in Fantasyland

Somebody, please, save David Brooks from himself. The man is as delusional as George Bush.

He is so far out in the fantasy stratosphere that he actually believes rampant "isolationist talk" is real. Real baloney is more like it.

Fact is, nobody's talking about isolationism except the President--who, in his State of the Union address manufactured the straw dog issue--and the media, who immediately picked up on it and ran with it as if it were Olympic Gold, David Brooks being one of the proudest offenders.

Guess that's what happens when you're clueless about both world affairs and domestic sentiment and you have to come up with something to write about for the New York Times every week.

Rather than deal with real issues, which he obviously doesn't understand, he makes them up. What could be easier? Throw in a bunch of meaningless statistics, pull out a thesaurus, and 'voila': instant pseudo issue.

Can't go wrong with that. It's what the Bushies has been doing ever since the the first airplane crashed into the Twin Towers.

So, Mr. Brooks, keep on fantasizing and misleading your readers. Who knows, it just may lead to a White House political appointment. God knows, you don't need any expertise or reality base for that.

It's Not Isolationism, but It's Not Attractive
By David Brooks
The New York Times
This was going to be a column on the growing isolationism of the American people. I was going to argue that in the post-Iraq era, the quickest way for an unprincipled cynic to get to the White House is by running as a smiling Democratic-Buchananite.

Attack the Dubai ports deal to burnish your security credentials. Call for less foreign adventurism and more spending at home to win the Democratic base. Go hard against illegal immigration to win the working class. Rail against China and free trade deals to build support in the Midwest. Bash France just for the fun of it. Bingo! You're cruising to Inauguration Day.

Unfortunately, before I had finished that column, I looked at the facts. The bulk of the evidence suggests there is no rising tide of isolationism in this country, even with the bloodshed in Iraq.

A polling analyst, Ruy Teixeira, has taken the closest look at the data over at his Web site, Donkey Rising. Teixeira argues that instead of seeing a turn to isolationism, what we are seeing in poll after poll is public opinion returning to normal post-World War II levels, after the unusual 9/11 blip.

Much of the isolationist talk started when a Pew survey found that 42 percent of Americans believe that the U.S. should mind its own business internationally, a 12-point rise over three years. But Teixeira points out that the 42 percent number puts Americans back where they were throughout the Clinton years, when Americans supported more foreign interventions than ever before.

Meanwhile, the rest of the evidence shows high engagement in foreign affairs. Public support for multilateral action remains phenomenally strong. Support for foreign aid is higher than it's been. International issues like global terrorism remain among Americans' top concerns.

Attitudes toward economic globalization are, if anything, more positive than they have been historically. In 1953, 54 percent of Americans favored free trade. In 2000, 64 percent of Americans said free trade was good for the U.S. In 2004, 64 percent said globalization was good for the U.S. and 65 percent agreed international trade was good for "your standard of living."

In the late 1940's, Americans were asked if the U.S. should be active abroad or stay out of world affairs. Back then, during the heyday of American internationalism, 69 percent said the U.S. should be active abroad. Today, the share of people who say that is the same: 69 percent.

On the Republican side, there has been no surge of Pat Buchanan-style paleoconservatism. On the contrary, the influence of Reagan and Bush, and the growing evangelical interest in foreign affairs, have virtually eliminated isolationism from the Republican Party, its traditional home. Meanwhile, the likely Democratic presidential nominee is Hillary Clinton, who has been barely distinguishable from John McCain on foreign policy matters (aside from her ports pandering).

In short, Iraq, in this sphere as in so many, is not Vietnam. The Vietnam War caused America to swing from extroversion to introversion. The Iraq war has a different dynamic.

That's because in the late 1960's, the Vietnamese were not going around the world carrying out suicide attacks. Vietnamese were not rioting over cartoons. The Vietnamese did not fly planes into skyscrapers. The current conflict has an element of existential menace Vietnam did not have.

Thus the chief effect of Iraq is not to move the U.S. toward isolationism; it has been to shift American opinion from one form of internationalism to another.

George Bush's brand was based on the premise that Arabs aren't very different from anybody else, and can be brought into the family of democratic nations. This brand is, sadly, fading.

The rising internationalism is based, by contrast, on Arab exceptionalism. This is the belief that while most of the world is chugging toward a globally integrated future, the Arab world remains caught in its own medieval whirlpool of horror. The Arab countries cannot become quickly democratic; their people aren't ready for pluralistic modernity; they just have to be walled off so they don't hurt us again.

People won't express such quasi-racial views directly to pollsters, but the attitude shows up in the mammoth reaction to the Dubai ports deal, in the spike of people who want the U.S. to eliminate its dependence on Middle East oil, in the reaction to the cartoon riots. A similar attitudinal shift is evident in Europe — in spades.

As I tried to argue in a column about the ports deal, this reaction is a crude overgeneralization, but it's there. As the election season progresses, voters are going to pull candidates in a gritty, bloody-minded direction. No more uplifting talk about freedom. Soon the contest will be over who can be toughest on the crescent menace.

America isn't growing more isolationist. Americans are going to be happy to integrate with the world, just not with the Arab world.

Photo credit: David Brooks (New York Times)

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