Guest post: Brooks himself seems to think that writers should do better than this

Originally a comment by Steven on The mix of condescension and entitlement is stunning.

Brooks has nothing to say.

He writes two paragraphs of sharp criticism of Clinton (one at the beginning; one near the end). But rather than support his criticism with evidence–you know, things she’s said, things she’s done–he fills out the rest of the column with a paean to grace.

Reading this stuff is painful: both tedious and cringe-inducing. I skimmed it the first time through; later I circled back and read the whole thing, mainly out of a sense of duty. (I read Brooks…so you don’t have to.)

What is striking on a careful read is that the column is virtually content-free. It is grounded in no facts; no analysis; no narrative; no personal experience–nothing at all. It is just barely above lorem ipsum.

And yet, Brooks himself seems to think that writers should do better than this. In 2005, he wrote a column arguing that Harriet Miers lacked the qualifications to be a Supreme Court justice. He began

Of all the words written about Harriet Miers, none are more disturbing than the ones she wrote herself. In the early 90’s, […] Miers wrote a column called ”President’s Opinion” for The Texas Bar Journal. It is the largest body of public writing we have from her, and sad to say, the quality of thought and writing doesn’t even rise to the level of pedestrian.

He continued with 5 direct quotes from Miers’ writing that very much support that assertion, and concluded

I don’t know if by mere quotation I can fully convey the relentless march of vapid abstractions that mark Miers’s prose. Nearly every idea is vague and depersonalized. Nearly every debatable point is elided. It’s not that Miers didn’t attempt to tackle interesting subjects. […] she presents no arguments or ideas […]

Surely the threshold skill required of a Supreme Court justice is the ability to write clearly and argue incisively. Miers’s columns provide no evidence of that.

I don’t know how Brooks went from calling out others for empty writing to becoming his own poster child for “the relentless march of vapid abstraction”.

I do know why the New York Times continues to publish his column: it is marginally less embarrassing than filling the op-ed page with lorem ipsum.

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