Dennis Terzola

The “Cooked Frog” Journalism of David Brooks

Posted on April 28 2010 6:00 am
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President Obama feasts on all kinds of cooked frogs.

David Brooks’ recent New York Times article (“The Government War”, April 22, 2010) illustrates the muddled brain by which many so-called centrists, independents, and other “middle-of-the-roaders” seem to operate. In Brooks’ case, he refers to himself as a self-styled “Progressive Conservative” (“. . . I try to give voice to a philosophy you might call progressive conservatism.”), and represents his latest political transmogrification which he rather cavalierly acknowledges as “silly”:

This general philosophy puts me to the left of where the Republican Party is now, and to the right of the Democratic Party. It puts me in that silly spot on the political map, the center, or a step to the right of it.

If his “silly spot” proceeds from his palpitating “philosophy”, then is it any wonder why his brain produces a new oxymoronic sunburst that he speaks of as “progressive conservatism”?

Lest anyone misunderstand Brooks’ true political posture underlying his alleged “new” conservatism, he goes on to say

The center has been losing political power pretty much my entire career. But I must confess that about 16 months ago I had some hope of revival . . . . The country had just elected a man who vowed to move past the old polarities, who valued discussion and who clearly had some sympathy with both the Burkean and Hamiltonian impulses. He staffed his administration with brilliant pragmatists whose views overlapped with mine, who differed only in that they have more faith in technocratic planning.

Ahem. Let’s see. As a proponent of “progressive conservatism” Brooks means that he is a right leaning centrist who placed “hope” in a Leftist (i.e., Progressive, i.e., Liberal Democrat) with a political track record, albeit short and unimpressive, laden with radical left or polemical political positions, not to mention the radical Leftists with whom he has ensconced his administration. These latter types are sometimes referred to as “advisors” or “czars”. (N.B. See for instance, the departed, self-admitted Communist, Van Jones). Perhaps Brooks’ “silly spot” has obscured his physical or intellectual vision, and it alone caused these whimsical ramblings. No matter. They are only a prelude.

Thereafter, Brooks carps through a number of disjointed, elementary musings which are summarized by him saying “. . . when the country is wrapped up in a theological debate about the size of government, people like me are stuck crossways, trying to make distinctions no one heeds.” Oh my, he is offended because his vapid centrist “silly spot” goes unnoticed. Apparently, he has never considered that this supposed middle-of-the-road posturing is not addressed because it is not vested in anything coherent, and simply relates mostly to the rambling visceral “knee-jerk liberalism” espoused for decades. Because the “centrism” of his politics has neither a reasoned foundation nor a reasonable arrangement of political principles, a new attempt is made to cloak “silliness” in a phony oxymoronic stoop he calls “progressive conservatism”. To me, it appears as another fantasy version of Lewis Carroll’s White Queen who could sometimes believe “. . . as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

Brooks’ political posturing reminded me of an email conversation I had some months ago, and I include a piece of it in order to illustrate what strikes me as the intellectual insobriety of many centrists, middle-of-the- roaders, and independents, to wit:


ME: “What continues to boggle my mind is how or why “older” people (exactly what age differentiates “older” from “younger” people in this regard is another subject matter altogether) never seem to be able to figure it out. They have spent probably decades watching and hearing these Leftist progressives practicing the same old “shop worn” deceptions, and never seem to “get it.” Maybe it’s a measure of some form of mental illness, personality disorder, or character flaw.”

REPLY: “A frog in a cooking pot”?

ME: “If only that were true!

It might mean that slowly cooked frogs would learn, jump out of the pot, and thereafter stay out of the pot.

However, my experience suggests that these frogs are fashioned after one-celled amoebas that will, after having been jarringly jolted on their South Poles by an electric cattle prod, reflexively lurch in the opposite direction only to return to the tepid pot for the next slow cooking.

I suspect that this is especially true of old frogs that have been cooked multiple times, so much so that they actually seem to enjoy the sport of willingly jumping into the pot because, maybe this time, the pot might chill and not turn hot.

Now, if that be true, then would it be a manifestation of amphibian mental illness, personality disorder, or character flaw? Or, perhaps _________?

Or, put another way: How many times must a cooked frog be cooked before a cooked frog knows it’s being cooked?”


It may be that the “Or Perhaps?” query is not difficult to answer in Brooks’ case. He might be a columnist for whom serious politics has become a game, and he plays it as a sport. As such, his livelihood primarily depends on simply playing the sport, independent of the outcome, and he is never required to be “on his game” let alone to have a fully vested real game. If so, and unfortunately for him, under the press of deadline or simply because he may be politically scatterbrained, his misperception of a president who leads from the Left now propels Brooks from moronic to oxymoronic ideas. If this be true, then his published notions would seem to represent nothing more than a muddled puddle of “silly” journalistic pap.

On the other hand, it is likely that Brooks is more akin to the countless number of people referred to in the email above who “. . . have spent probably decades watching and hearing these Leftist progressives practicing the same old ‘shop worn’ deceptions, and never seem to ‘get it.’” I am reminded of a personal experience some time back occurring in the locker room of a fitness center I frequent regularly. An elderly fellow (mid70s) mentioned to another old trooper that “A lot of senior citizens I know regret voting for Obama.” Being somewhat long of tooth myself and always available for political comment, I looked at him and volunteered that “I hope you kicked them in the a*s and told them to ‘pay attention’ next time.” My guess is that most of them will return to the pot to be “cooked” again.

Whatever be true, someone close to David Brooks should . . . well, as Paul Harvey used to say, “. . . you know the rest of the story.” Every “cooked frog” occasionally requires a well placed jolt. Now, that might bring “Change We Can Believe In.”

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