On David Brooks and Brett Stephens et al

Chris Braak
4 min readFeb 27, 2018


Here’s the thing about guys like David Brooks and Brett Stephen. David Brooks is, in fact, a fucking liar. He makes stuff up! This is well-known, and well-documented. Guy doesn’t give a shit whether what he’s saying *is* true, only whether or not it *feels* true. The reason for that is: he’s a lazy writer, a shallow reader, and a clumsy thinker. He’s also culturally a conservative — that is to say, he identifies “conservative” as a part of his culture, rather than as a convenient label for the set of political opinions with which he happens to align.

What that means is that, to keep his own personal identity intact, Conservativism needs to be true and also the solution to problems, even when it’s factually, obviously not. So: Brooks being a lazy writer and a shallow reader and a clumsy thinker is an asset, not a liability. If he were good at his job, and able to read deeply and then articulate his way around his ideas in a good, intellectually honest way, he’d find himself in a conundrum.

He’d find himself in the same conundrum that Brett Stephens has. The fact of the matter is this: the Conservative Position on Climate Change isn’t that it’s not real, it’s that there’s no moral basis for the Government to fix it. That’s all. And the problem is, if the GOP came right out and said, “yeah look, we’re definitely destroying the planet, but it’s no fair to use laws to make us stop,” no one would fucking agree with them. It’s a terrible position, and it sounds awful on a campaign mailer!

Fortunately, Brett Stephens is a dishonest idiot, so when he reads the data and the policy papers and so forth, he distills it into a pile of mendacious garbage that obscures the real difference between left and right: by being able to pretend that climate change isn’t real, he can obscure the fact that the GOP actually believes that it is real and just doesn’t want to do anything about it. This is why he’s a popular columnist: not in spite of being lazy and dishonest, but by virtue of being lazy and dishonest.

And we know this, because there are in fact rigorous, honest, intelligent Conservative writers who come right out and state the position that the state should not intervene in climate change. They’re wrong, but at least they’re honest and clear about the reality we’re living in. The problem is, no one likes them, because they shatter the Conservative Identity of, “I’m a responsible person and also I don’t believe in Big Government.” Climate change is the big test of identity, because if it IS real, then the only choices are: “I don’t believe in Big Government and am irresponsible when it comes to the fate of the world” and “I am responsible when it comes to the fate of the world and Big Government is the only solution.”

That’s the reason why Brett Stephens has to deny that it exists in the first place, so he doesn’t have to face that question; and that’s the reason why Brett Stephens has to be a lazy idiot, because the only way to look at the actual data and moral philosophy of being a human person in the world and come to the conclusion that it’s all fake don’t worry about it is if you don’t really look at it very closely.

This is true for all of these columnists. At a basic level, all of the policies of the GOP can be summed up this same way: “we don’t want to.” We all know that healthcare is good, and that universal healthcare is a good, effective system of getting it for people — all the data is very clear. The GOP position isn’t that it doesn’t work, it’s that they don’t want to do it. The fact that other people will die doesn’t matter. They don’t care! They don’t care they don’t care they don’t care.

But you can’t put that on a fucking mailer, so they pretend that this is about “efficiency” and “liberty” and that we all have the same values and beliefs and it’s simply a question of what mechanism is the best way to implement it, and in order to pretend that this is true they need a stable of lazy, shallow, clumsy writers, readers, and thinkers to fudge all the lines and make the case.

The question I guess is whether James Bennet is an idiot who also believes all this horseshit — like does he not know that David Brooks is a liar who makes stuff up? — or whether he’s purposefully creating a screen of idiots to protect the fundamental amorality at the heart of the conservative movement. And if it’s the latter, is it because he, too doesn’t care? Or because he thinks that, if you laid that bitter heart bare for everyone to see, it just wouldn’t seem fair to people like David Brooks, who prefer to think of themselves as good, kind, responsible people?