Pass the Smelling Salts – David Brooks Comes Unhinged Over Hillary

By Peter Daou and Tom Watson

The New York Times has been on a self-destructive mission to undermine Hillary Clinton’s candidacy, ditching any claims to neutrality or journalistic ethics in a desperate institutional effort to take her down.

We’ve tracked their transgressions, from the outright lies about her State Department emails to Maureen Dowd’s Rove-fueled vendetta. 

Now we have David Brooks with a self-righteous and frankly, unhinged column about Hillary’s position on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Here's Brooks:

Nobody had figured this out until, brilliantly, Hillary Clinton. She is campaigning on a series of positions that she transparently does not believe in. She’ll say what she needs to say now to become Bernie Sanders in a pantsuit (wait, Bernie Sanders already wears a pantsuit!). Then, nomination in hand and White House won, she will, it appears, transparently flip back and embrace whatever other positions she doesn’t believe in that will help her succeed in her new role. It was so naked it amounted to a bold and clarion statement of faith on behalf of flip-flopping itself. It suggested a whole style of campaigning and method of governing based on the principle of unprincipledness.

Even if, for the sake of argument alone, we grant Brooks his premise that Hillary’s position involves a calculus that combines policy with politics (something every other politician and person does), his bitter tone betrays something deeper. Men like Brooks feel viscerally threatened by a strong woman. Their defensive crouch is disdain and disrespect. Nothing about Hillary’s posture on TPP warrants the dripping sarcasm and anger spilling out of Brooks.

“Bernie Sanders in a pantsuit”

“Politically convenient”

“Opportunist”

“Lack of authenticity”

These phrases are so common on the op-ed pages of the New York Times that opinions editor Andrew Rosenthal might as well order the composition room to keep them permanently in type, so easily are they dropped into the latest Dowd, Brooks or Frank Bruni column. Saves time and money and fits the paper’s institution-wide offensive against the most viable female presidential candidate in American history.

The latest Brooks column is remarkable for its bow-tied emotion; it reads like a red-faced tiff with a waiter at the Yale Club. Privilege drips from every outraged syllable. And the cry at the end is like a prep school debate club’s freshman team summation: “In an era of polarization and dysfunction, maybe authenticity, conviction, consistency and principle are the hobgoblins of little minds!”

Yes, those pesky hobgoblins in pantsuits. And by God, this woman has no “authenticity, conviction, consistency and principle” either! This is just a light bespoke seersucker shroud tossed over a crude, less “intellectual,” more manly narrative – the kind that haunts the fevered hate dreams of a wannabe David Brooks like Jonah Goldberg.

Goldberg’s tweet is the ur-text of low-brow sexist invective only partly masquerading as political analysis. That any politician Goldberg or Brooks can name has changed positions on major issues to reflect the concerns of the electorate (i.e., that thing called “democracy”) is of little consequence to them. Women are always held to a higher standard. Thus, terms like “polarizing” or “inauthentic” or “devious” or “unlikeable” are tossed around so readily. This is the standard Wall of Words used against women who lead public lives, and in particular, Hillary Clinton.

As we’ve demonstrated time and again, there is a linguistic double standard in national politics, one that seems designed by men like David Brooks to serve as an easy and well-thumbed thesaurus to use against Hillary.

  • A male candidate is smart, while Hillary is “calculating, scheming, crafty, manipulative.”
  • A male candidate values privacy, while Hillary is “secretive, suspicious, paranoid, uncommunicative.”
  • A male candidate takes strong positions, while Hillary is “polarizing, divisive, alienating.”
  • A male candidate deserves the benefit of the doubt, while Hillary is “untrustworthy, corrupt, deceitful, dishonest, unethical.”
  • A male candidate is an achiever while Hillary is “over-ambitious, will do or say anything to win.”
  • A male candidate is diplomatic while Hillary is “inauthentic, disingenuous, fake, unlikable, insincere.”
  • A male candidate is solid and unflappable, while Hillary is “machine-like, robotic, abnormal, cold.”
  • A male candidate is a confident leader, while Hillary is “inevitable, defiant, imperious, regal, testy.”
  • A male candidate is experienced, while Hillary is “old, out of touch, represents the past.”

Let’s face it, columns like the one squeezed out by David Brooks come from deep emotion and insecurity, and there is an ugliness about them that can still seem like a splash of filthy water from the gutter, even in 2015.

No less a prominent conservative woman than Ann Romney knows this (as all prominent women do). In a remarkable Washington Post profile by Dan Zak, Romney recalls her remission from MS and work on behalf of those who suffer from that disease as well as the startling realization that even women who are her husband’s political foes share a common experience:

After she miraculously went into remission, the brutality of presidential politics became a new source of pain — which she re-lived when she saw Hillary Rodham Clinton on the “Today” show Tuesday.

Voters “just don’t connect with you,” co-anchor Savannah Guthrie said to Clinton. And “they might not like you.”

Horrible, Romney thought.

“Oh that really hurts my feelings, I have to tell ya,” Clinton said, and Romney believed her, because she has felt those feelings.

The judgments of likability.

The accusations of inauthenticity, of out-of-touchness.

“It’s like: ‘We don’t like you; how come?’ ” Romney says, mimicking the querulous media. “It’s like, really? I know her. And she’s obviously an extraordinary mother, she’s extremely brilliant, with unbelievable experience. The whole thing, with the attacks from everything, you develop — a bubble. From that. A protective bubble. Which you have to do. You have to. Whatever that bubble then projects to somebody is really not what’s inside the bubble.”

That Hillary Clinton continues to step outside that bubble, to listen to voters, to meet people every single day across America, and to hear their concerns is a singular source of strength for her campaign. When she first ran for U.S. Senator 15 years ago, her “listening tour” was mocked by the David Brooks set. Yet she persevered and learned from the experience. She’s still listening today and that projects an authenticity that is far greater than a candidate who gives the same stump speech over and over and over again.

She clearly listened on trade to working people, to organized labor, to progressive economists. Her position on the TPP frankly echoes that of a young Senator from Illinois on the stump in 2007, himself a politician who listens and adjusts, and looks farther down the road.

Unhinged by the specter of Hillary Clinton in the White House, David Brooks invents the word “unprincipledness” and the New York Times prints it up. But it’s just another word for the Hillary Thesaurus, and another angry little diatribe from a man lashing out against the first woman he'll have to call his President.

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Peter Daou and Tom Watson founded #HillaryMen to provide actionable analysis of the 2016 campaign focusing on the gender barrier in U.S. politics. Peter is a former senior digital adviser to Hillary Clinton and the Clinton Global Initiative. He is a veteran of two presidential campaigns (Kerry '04 and Clinton '08). Tom is an author and Columbia University lecturer who advises companies and non-profits on social activism.