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Saturday, October 18, 2008

A sentence written by David Brooks was so bizarre that I considered blogging about it.

Matthew Yglesias wrote about the column. His post is excellent but strangely gentle with Brooks. I comment

Excellent example. Brooks suffers from the error you describe to an astounding degree. Consider this sentence "With that cool manner, he would see reality unfiltered." Now a manner is a way of presenting oneself to the world a form of showing, yet Brooks just states that it is a way of seeing reality.

You claim that Brooks mistakes appearances for essences, manner for character. You are typically blunt even harsh, but he is much blunter. He says that a "manner" helps one "see". This is almost insane.

How did Brooks get into that sentence ? I think a serious part of the problem is going horse race. Often pundits shift from talking about who they think should be President to who they think will win. If the aim is to handicap the horse race it doesn’t matter if a “presentation of self” which convinces people one is of good character really is correlated with good character. Whether it is or not it is equally useful to a candidate.

Now the strange thing is that the focus on who will win is based on a desire to be positive not normative and talk about facts not opinions. However, it often leads to the exact opposite. Even in cases in which the facts can be demonstrated (e.g. what fraction of US federal spending goes to foreign aid) a political handicapper cares more about the median opinion (10%) than the fact (1%). If my aim is to predict who will win the election, I care about voters’ opinions, including voters opinions on matters of fact where the opinions are demonstrably false.


Anonymous said...

Yes; a manner adopted makes one see after the manner, which is why Matthew Yglesias was incapable of seeing how horridly rotten he was to Hillary Clinton was after the manner in which he has learned or decided to conduct himself with regard to women.

Anonymous said...

The way in which so many self-styled liberals have conducted themselves with regard to women through the entire campaign is disgraceful or beyond disgraceful. But, I know all that matters is winning no matter what is lost in winning.