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NY Times columnist Brooks speaks at ND

Diaz, Dolores | Wednesday, November 19, 2003

David Brooks, a New York Times columnist and a best-selling author, traced the polarization of American politics through the last 50 years in a talk given Tuesday in Carey Auditorium.Brooks is best known for the book “Bobos in Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There” and his work as a political analyst on “The News Hour with Jim Lehrer.”In his talk, Brooks said that the American public had become isolated within its individual groups and that government, the only common ground that these sectors had to interact, had become increasingly divided.”We’re segmenting off into different cultural zones and what I think happens is that every place becomes more like itself,” Brooks said. “You have less and less in common with other people 30 miles down the road.”Brooks presented his Five Book Theory that traced the polarization of politics through five influential books of the past 50 years. The books began representing a traditional politic that altered through the Vietnam War and various scandals and resulted in the polarization of American government.The first book, Theodore H. White’s “The Making of the President, 1960,” was representative of traditional American politics, said Brooks.”The message of that book was white men in power; when you read that book you get a sense of how Washington was in the 1960’s – white men, white shirts,” he said.Brooks said tradition then tumbled with the Vietnam War and the release of David Halberstam’s “The Best and The Brightest.” Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward’s “All the President’s Men,” saw the Nixon years and the infamous Watergate scandal in which President Richard Nixon was implicated in the involvement of the 1972 break in and electronic bugging of the Democratic National committee.”The politics of scandal began to overtake,” Brooks said.In his opinion, “The Real Anita Hill” by David Brock was “the politics of scandal turned into blood-sport” and gave birth to the age of Clinton in which scandal became deeply entrenched in the political system.”During that period what happened was the machinery of scandal became institutionalized [and] became politics itself,” Brooks said. “One of the things I discovered was that scandal could destroy legislation.”The final book of the theory described the complete polarization of American politics. “You’ve got a monopoly on virtue. …The other side is wrong, but not only are they wrong, they’re illegitimate. It’s a team sport – your team versus our team,” Brooks said.However, he also pointed to the education system as a possible factor in this polarization, citing that the educated are more likely to vote straight ticke, and may be partly responsible for the disappearance of the middle voter that now makes up a mere eight percent of the vote as opposed to the previous 17 percent.”It could be that as you get more educated, you get more partisan, which would be ironic.”Brooks concluded with a hope that the American public may be the one to break the cycle of scandal politics. He cited the October election of Arnold Schwarzenegger to the California governorship despite scandal as a possibility that the public could rise above the “us-and-them” mentality.”It could be that American people are just sick of scandals. From now on maybe scandal mongering won’t have such a big effect. Maybe that’s the way out of it,” Brooks said. Brooks visited Notre Dame as journalist-in-residence, sponsored by the University’s John W. Gallivan Program in Journalism, Ethics and Democracy.