David Brooks has been writing these extraordinary columns recently – providing a remarkable sense of historical perspective in his commentary on contemporary events. First was his column on Obama’s Christian Realism, placing Obama firmly in the tradition of Cold War Liberalism, of Reinhold Niebhur, of George Kennan and George Marshall, of Scoop Jackson and Peter Beinart. Brooks explained a core difference that he saw between Obama and many other contemporary “secular” Democrats and liberals:
Obama’s speeches [at West Point and Stockholm] were thoroughly theological. He talked about the “core struggle of human nature” between love and evil.
These speeches are grounded in an approach – according to Brooks – that acknowledges our own human frailty:
[A]s you act to combat evil, you wouldn’t want to get carried away by your own righteousness or be seduced by the belief that you are innocent. Even fighting evil can be corrupting.
Then Brooks attempted to explain the long-term shift in America’s economy from manufacturing to “protocols.”
In the 19th and 20th centuries we made stuff: corn and steel and trucks. Now, we make protocols: sets of instructions. A software program is a protocol for organizing information. A new drug is a protocol for organizing chemicals. Wal-Mart produces protocols for moving and marketing consumer goods. Even when you are buying a car, you are mostly paying for the knowledge embedded in its design, not the metal and glass.
Brooks examines the implications of this shift moving forward. He doesn’t address the long-term consistency of America’s manufacturing output as a percentage of global output though – as we continue to produce large numbers of “things” while employing fewer workers to do so. He also doesn’t address the extent to which government policy, most specifically under Ronald Reagan, deliberately favored the financial sector over manufacturing. But, in only a few hundred words, he conveys quite a bit of this broad shift.
His next two columns were his annual Sidney Awards (Part I and Part II) for best long-form magazine reporting. Always interesting.
And then finally, in his latest he makes the same points I did regarding the infantile response of so many citizens and reporters to the latest attempted terrorist attack.
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