Let me begin by confessing my weakness for pundits who produce original and/or against-the-grain ideas. I also confess to the related tendency of preferring a plausible but misguided center-right defense of President Obama’s latest offensive policy initiative to the umpteenth denunciation of the policy on sound conservative grounds.
These weaknesses help explain why I like David Brooks’ work. He’s the rare opinion-writer who comes up with ideas that I not only didn’t think of, but probably couldn’t have.
Unfortunately, original thinkers are more likely than most to make spectacular errors. As Scott points out, Brooks made one when he became infatuated with candidate Barack Obama.
Again, though, I must make a confession: in my lifetime, I have believed political propositions even stranger and more misguided than the view that Barack Obama would make a good president.
My follies are no defense for Brooks.’ But what about the fact that, unlike those of us who saw through Obama, Brooks actually spoke with him (on multiple occasions, I take it)?
I like to think that my deep skepticism about Obama would have withstood a charm offensive consisting, among other things, of the candidate speaking intelligently and sympathetically about my favorite political philosopher. But can I be sure it would have?
It doesn’t matter. Originality and independent-mindedness, not consistent sagacity, are what recommend Brooks’ work.
Peggy Noonan is an entirely different case. Little that’s original appears in her writing. She’s the voice of conventional wisdom, presented with a nice turn of phrase and, often, a moralistic tone. I can’t recall ever learning anything significant from a Peggy Noonan column.
To make matters worse, one can’t be sure that Noonan actually believes what she says. As I discussed here, during the Sarah Palin mania at the 2008 Republican convention, Noonan wrote a column in which she argued that Palin represents “a real and present danger to the American left” which therefore needs to “kill” her.
However, a few days later, when she thought her microphone was off, Noonan said that McCain had “blown it” by selecting Palin as his running mate. So much for the danger Palin’s selection presented to the left.
Brooks and Noonan both write political commentary. In a sense, however, they are engaged in different businesses. Brooks, it seems to me, is on a search, at times, perhaps, a quixotic one, for insights. Noonan appears mainly to be in the business of telling people what they want to hear.