Brooks on civility

When a columnist at the Washington Post recommends you go read something in the New York Times, it’s probably a pretty compelling column.

That’s what the Post’s Jonathan Capehart did today, recommending David Brook’s column in the Times:

Who knows how long the calls for civility will last? Who knows how long it will take for some modicum of civility to take hold? Civility is more than talking nicely with one another and about one another. It’s a standard that requires listening to, respecting and maybe even understanding other points of view. And it’s about leading others in that direction when their better angels are pushed aside by anger, fear or frustration. Even when it’s hard, even when you know you yourself don’t quite meet the standard you hold dear.

In his column, Brooks argues for a return to modesty:

The problem is that over the past 40 years or so we have gone from a culture that reminds people of their own limitations to a culture that encourages people to think highly of themselves. The nation’s founders had a modest but realistic opinion of themselves and of the voters. They erected all sorts of institutional and social restraints to protect Americans from themselves. They admired George Washington because of the way he kept himself in check.

But over the past few decades, people have lost a sense of their own sinfulness. Children are raised amid a chorus of applause. Politics has become less about institutional restraint and more about giving voters whatever they want at that second. Joe DiMaggio didn’t ostentatiously admire his own home runs, but now athletes routinely celebrate themselves as part of the self-branding process.

Is he right? Is the problem with the lack of “civility,” our obsession with ourselves?

Brooks is a fine writer, to be sure, but his points in his Times’ column often grate more than when he speaks. Fortunately, he spoke this week in a speech carried by MPR’s Midday this afternoon. In it, he emphasized that civility isn’t about “tone.” It’s about deeds. Give it a listen.

He said everyone he talks to in Washington believes there will be a national bankruptcy, and every politician says there won’t be action until there is. “There will be a mass movement at a time when soldiers are sacrificing themselves in Iraq and Afghanistan,” he said are you really not willing to give up a cost of living adjustment?”

The comments section is open. Go!

  • The language used by Driftglass to respond to Brooks’ column may not be appropriate for some News Cut readers, but he did his homework and used Brooks’ former columns to prove that Brooks’ standards in these things are remarkably elastic and consistently applied in whatever manner proves most convenient to Brooks.

    David Brooks is a very reasonable fellow who, frankly, cheats like the devil when it comes to moving the goalposts as he needs to. Driftglass has been writing a lot about Loughner and Tucson this week, and I would recommend all of his posts to anyone who wants to know what the lucid left thinks about these things.

  • CHS

    I was lucky enough to be driving to grab some lunch over the program and was able to hear a good deal of his speech, and I agree, VERY much worth the time to listen to. It was an angle I hadn’t considered much before, but as I sit and think about it more, a lot of the points are very well reasoned. I would like to be as optimistic as he in believing that within 5 years the population will create a centrist movement dedicated to fixing the financial problems, but I’m just not so convinced yet. Here’s hoping.

  • andy

    I for one agree with Mr. Brooks’ assessment. We are self absorbed and everyone is raised to think they are special. If every single person is special, then nobody is.

  • I don’t much care for Brooks’s dissembling when convenient, but he said something during the above-referenced speech that I’m still chewing on.

    Absolute political positions are nothing more than narcissism.

    Or words to that effect.