April 24, 2009
…So Assuredly We Shall Hang Separately

David Brooks put his finger right on our main problem as a people today, although he doesn’t seem to recognize it as a problem. We are not individuals, standing squarely and independently on our two feet like mountain men. Neither were the mountain men.

We are herd animals, social animals. We cannot and do not live alone. Anyone who tries to tell us different is either a damned fool, ignorant of history and science, or a con man trying to hustle us. Or a Republican. Or do I repeat myself?

So whom do they turn to in times like these? Themselves. Americans have always felt that they are masters of their own fate. Decade after decade, Americans stand out from others in their belief that their own individual actions determine how they fare. That conviction has been utterly unshaken by the global crisis. In question after question, large majorities say their own actions will determine how much they will make, how well they will endure the recession, how healthy they will be and so on.

The crisis has not sent Americans running to government for relief. Nor has it led to a populist surge in anti-business sentiment. In a recent Gallup poll, 55 percent of Americans said that big government is the biggest threat to the country. Only 32 percent said big business. Those answers are near historical norms.

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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at April 24, 2009 07:24 PM
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Themselves. Americans have always felt that they are masters of their own fate.

Sure, Davie. Just tell me where I can go homestead, and I'll be the master of my fate just like you want. I'll build a cabin in the woods -- just like Theodore Kaczynski did -- and clear some trees and raise sheep. And hope the cattlemen don't band together to try to drive me off.

To bring up one of the more obvious examples of how this sort of historical analysis falls flat on its face from the outset

Posted by: Roddy McCorley on April 25, 2009 1:48 PM

I never read his column, and now I remember why. He announces a new National Journal poll, thanks to his friend Ron Brownstein (who, IIRC, is married to a Republican operative), and proceeds to cite trends from it.

But he doesn't. He pulls factoids from "a recent" (just how recent? does it have a date on it, like June 2003?) Gallup poll, among other surveys, instead of actually providing readers with information from this new poll he heralds. Why is that?

He may not actually yet have access to this new poll, just some hints from his pal Ron. He may be a ditherbrain, who's just citing various interesting points he sorta remembers. He leads me to believe, however, that the actual data in this new poll are unsettling to him and he'd rather ignore them, so he does. He may even be Machiavellian enough to lead with "National Journal/Allstate poll," "very important," "Ron Brownstein," "revealing data," etc., and follow up with mush he likes from previous polls, so that when the poll is officially published, the opinion leaders and Beltway insiders will say to themselves, "National Journal/Allstate poll---hmm, I already read about that. Lemme go to the next article."

My proof (to myself) is that his conclusion to his column is standard right-wing boilerplate: (no matter what Americans actually say) this is a conservative nation (even though under-30s poll as preferring socialism to capitalism) that believes everyone (except corporations) should pull themselves up by their own bootstraps.

[So did the NYT fire all its copyeditors in a cost-cutting move? I'd never let an author get away with pontificating on a recent poll without querying for a date.]

Posted by: Joyful Alternative on April 25, 2009 3:40 PM

Brooks doesn't seem to realize that big government and big business are one and the same. If the figures cited in the Gallup poll are accurate, then 87% of Americans believe there's a threat to the country. Which means that 13% of Americans don't know what to think (also near historical norms).

Posted by: Phil on April 26, 2009 2:01 PM
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