Does David Brooks Really Think Student Loans, Public Universities, Public Infrastructure, and Small Business Loans Are Attempts at Socialist Central Planning That Undermines Creativity and Private Enterprise? I Mean … REALLY?* [Appended 1/23]

I’m a political junkie, born and bred.  And so the number of political opinion pieces I’ve read in my life, dating back to my teenage years (me being a child of my parents, they of the ardent liberal Democrat variety– “Oh, no, Bevy!  You have to return that purse.  That company is anti-union!”  “Okayyy, Mom.”)–run probably into the thousands.  (Yikes.)  

And I’ve certainly read, ah-hem, a few pieces by established, mainstream columnists in respected newspapers and magazines that have made my eyes roll or made me shake my head in dismay because of some obvious flaw in logic or some clearly false representation of fact upon which the writer’s premise lies.  

But I don’t think I’ve ever before read such a mystifyingly wacky, whiplash-inducing, incomprehensibly-false-fact-based commentary as the one I just read, by David Brooks, in today’s New York Times.  The premise: That Obama’s argument for returning the federal government’s domestic-policy emphasis to trying to increase economic and social mobility, improving public infrastructure, encouraging individual creativity, inventiveness and risk-taking, and trying to help limit climate change, Obama was arguing for … you guessed it! (at least if you read Brooks’s columns even occasionally, as I do) … European-style central-government control (commands from “headquarters”; seriously) over the private sector and the private sector’s creativeness and innovativeness.  

No, sir!  Wouldn’t want any of that socialist German-style engineering expertise to make its way across the Atlantic. Especially since all those engineers at, say, Siemens got their engineering degrees at — and this is really dangerous–places like the University of Heidelberg!  Which is, OMG, a public university!  Supported by German taxes.  And financially accessible by some students whose families are not upscale!

Yup.  And that engineering and computer science school at the University of Illinois, regularly rated among the top such programs in the country, can’t possibly have produced someone who, say, while attending the school, developed the World Wide Web by developing the first Internet browser, called Mosaic, which became Netscape.  Uh-uh.  Marc Andreessen only thinks his college memories of life in Champaign, Ill. But they’re really of life in Palo Alto.  Or maybe Cambridge, Mass.  And how did that Wisconsin native even manage to invent anything at all, given the “hammock” (Paul Ryan’s term, not Brooks’s) he found himself in when he (probably) took out a low-interest, no-repayments-required-until-five-years-after-graduation loan to pay that out-of-state tuition back in the late 1980s, and early 1990s, under a federal Great Society program?

The whiplash-inducing stuff in Brooks’s column appears at two points. The first one comes about midway through the column, when Brooks switches from praising the Obama speech as a strong argument for collective government policies to, say, assist in economic and social mobility.  The second one comes late in the column, after paragraphs in which he says such things as that we have a much more dynamic and innovative private sector than does Europe because colleges and universities in the Unites States are private rather than public and Europe’s are public rather than private (I’m not joking or exaggerating; he says this), and that the programs Obama supports, such as student loan programs and financial support for schools and medical and scientific research and the like, are attempts by political progressives to undermine private enterprise and control the private sector from Washington.  He then concedes, apparently unwittingly–he seems unaware, at least, of the irony–that public programs and financial regulations can (and do!) assist creativity and innovation.

You really have to read the whole column to get the full flavor.  Just put on a neck brace first.

And while you’re reading it, remind yourself that Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, and Henry Ford did not attend a private college.  Nor did Enrico Fermi or some of the other great physicists who emigrated to this country in the late 1930s after receiving their education at public universities–in Europe!  

And that David Brooks did attend a private university: the University of Chicago.  And that his Philadelphia Main Line parents probably paid his tuition and room and board, free and clear.

Enough said. I think.  Unless of course he’s invented something that I don’t know of.  And that’s useful.

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*PS: Indulge me in my obsession with idiocy from big-name, mainstream political pundits, writing in (or on) prestigious, widely read political-commentary forums.  Neither David Brooks nor Dana Milbank is, after all, all that important, I recognize.  But Brooks, if not Milbank, flatly crossed the line into misrepresentation of fact in a way that is really beyond the pale. And no one but me probably even noticed.  

Frustrating.

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ANOTHER PS: As I said in response to a comment in the Comments thread, Brooks’s longtime shtick is anti-European–as in, Europe’s standard of living is lower than ours and that’s because their socialist policies deter creativity and innovation and therefore “dynamism.” He’s apparently run out of plausible-sounding arguments to support his belief, so he just blathers the claim incoherently, as needed.

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