The Good, the Bad and the Hackneyed

The Good, the Bad and the Hackneyed October 21, 2003

Congratulations to David Brooks of The New York Times who Saturday became the 100,000th pundit to submit a column titled "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly."

Times staffers gathered for a special ceremony commemorating the event, at which Clint Eastwood presented Brooks with a plaque marking the occasion.

"When we were shooting this film, we knew we had something special," Eastwood said. "A classic Western in the grand tradition. But we didn't realize then that something else was happening, something magical. We had no way of knowing that our film would enter the lexicon as a last resort for deadline-desperate columnists, clamoring for an overused pop-culture reference on which to hang their otherwise disjointed observations."

"You know what else would make a great title for a column?" he added. "'Mystic River.'"

The column itself is a rant against Democrats like Nancy Pelosi who had the nerve to question what Brooks calls "the Bremer plan" for Iraq:

These Democrats voted against Paul Bremer's $87 billion plan for the reconstruction of Iraq. … if Pelosi's arguments had carried the day, our troops in Iraq would be reading this morning about the death of the Bremer plan and the ruination of our efforts to rebuild Iraq.

"Bremer plan?" There's a plan? What exactly is this plan? I mean, besides throwing $87 billion at Halliburton and Bechtel.

Brooks, like many of the defenders of the Bush administrations (non)plan for rebuilding Iraq, never provides any specifics about what this plan entails. He only argues, with a mix of anger and condescension, that opposing this undefined plan is wrongheaded.

This was the same line of nonargument that Sen. John McCain pursued this weekend on NBC's Meet the Press. McCain earns points for staying "on message" and not straying from his talking points:

There’s only two arguments you can make with regards to Iraq, is we shouldn’t have gone there in the first place and so therefore we should pull out, or pay for and do whatever is necessary to win. … We can and we must prevail. …

Look, we’re either going to pay up or pull out. …

If you cut off the money to reconstruct Iraq or announce that we’re going to pull out, then, of course, things would descend into a quagmire. But it will not, when we send the signal that we’re there to stay and we’re going to have a free and democratic Iraq and we’re going to do whatever is necessary …

I still say, again, we either should pay up or pull out, and we cannot afford to do the latter. …

The senator, like Brooks, displays a great conviction that we must not "pull out" of Iraq, but rather, must "pay up" and "do whatever is necessary."

Great. Conviction is good. Lovely. But somebody, somewhere along the line needs a more specific plan than just "do whatever is necessary." What is necessary? Give us details.

And McCain should note that if we simply agree to "pay up" this next installment of $87 billion without asking any questions and without insisting on any accountability, then it seems naive and foolish to expect that we won't be asked to "pay up" even more next year, and the year after that.

Finally, three things that John McCain and I both know to be true: 1) the people who disagreed with him on the blank check for the $87 billion are not calling for America to "pull out" of Iraq; 2) it's distasteful for him to engage in dishonest demagoguery by implying that they are; and 3) he's not very good at such tactics, he seems ashamed of himself and that visible shame undermines his persuasiveness when he pulls garbage like that.

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  • chris

    None of BushCo’s policies appear to have any coherent plan behind them (other than enriching contributors) so why should Iraq be any different?
    David Brooks is obviously a hack drone who does his thinking from the pod. Gets his “talking points” from the Bush/Cheney blog.
    This presidency has produced such devastation in so many directions, it is a constant amazement the 2004 election will even be considered a contest. (Unfortunately, I’ve learned never to never overestimate the voting public or underestimate the Republican dirty tricks department, though, so I fully expect to see a Bush motorcade racing through the protestors to get to the inauguration.)

  • Claudius

    On MTP, McCain (1) said he believes the adm. is wrong on global warming; (2) he believes the adm. is stonewalling the 9/11 commission and (3) as you point out, obviously didn’t really believe what he was saying about the $87 billion.
    Then he says he supports Bush’s reelection.
    Straight Talk, indeed. He must really know that Bush is failing to really protect us. How can he live with himself?