The archetypical David Brooks political column locates a position between the two parties and defends it against the unreasoning extremes. Maintaining this symmetry sometimes requires him to invent an extreme that does not exist, such as when he angrily flayed President Obama for allegedly failing to propose the exact thing that Obama was in fact proposing.
A good case study in the method can be seen in his latest entry. Brooks’s column, published yesterday, concedes that President Trump is making some very poor choices with regard to cooperating with congressional oversight. But, as happens to be the case with all situations, “Trump is far from the only villain in this showdown.” Brooks locates a corresponding sin on the other side in Jerry Nadler, the House Judiciary Committee chairman. Nadler’s sin is “declaring a constitutional crisis” solely over the minor issue of “the redaction levels of the Mueller report.”
Brooks explains that the merits to redacting the Mueller report are murky, and Nadler is making a big mistake saying this question alone amounts to a constitutional crisis: “The fact that the House Judiciary Committee chairman, Jerry Nadler, decided to go to the mat over this — to invoke the term ‘constitutional crisis’ over this — suggests that the disagreement is just a pretext for the media battle many Democrats and Trump want to have.”
If you read the column, you’ll see that this is not just one example in a list of complaints Brooks has about Nadler. It is his sole complaint, the foundation of the entire column. On Twitter today, he notes that if Nadler was referring to a broader pattern of Trumpian behavior, not just redacting the Mueller report, then never mind:
Well, was he? In fact, if you just spend 90 seconds watching the interview from which Brooks plucked his quote, it is 100 percent clear that Nadler was not applying the “constitutional crisis” phrase solely to the Mueller redactions. He was describing the blanket refusal to comply with any subpoenas. Pressed about why he would call it a constitutional crisis, Nadler explained, “We’re in one because the president is refusing all information to Congress.”
So, the wee little amendment upends the entire argument. As happens so often, Brooks built his entire argument around a false assumption that pretended the Democrats have a more unreasonable position than they actually hold.
It’s good that Brooks is willing to concede his error in the hypothetical. But maybe he should go a step further and recognize that the situation he says might be true clearly is true? And maybe — though surely I am now asking far too much — examine his backward method of reasoning that keeps leading him to make the exact same mistake?