So. Let’s take a quick look and see what David Brooks is writing about this morning. Why, it’s a witty look at inside-the-Beltway dinner party know-it-alls! He describes the behavior of these insufferable boors:
He begins his dinner party performance with a combination of impressive name-dropping and crushing banality: “I was talking to Karl the other day – Karl Rove – and he mentioned that winning the most electoral votes is the key to winning the election. And when I bumped into Tim – Tim Russert – at Colin and Alma’s place, he agreed.”
Boy, don’t you just hate that? When you’re at a fabulous dinner party and some tedious name-dropper starts recounting his conversations with Karl and Tim? Talk about a universal, shared experience to which we can all relate! Hoo, boy!
Or maybe not.
Sarcasm aside, the column veers into such apparently unselfconscious self-parody, you really have to wonder if somebody hacked the Times’ computer system before the paper went to press. Consider the following:
Now dominating the table, the pundit should indulge in the sort of storytelling beloved by swing-state-travel braggarts. He should speak in counties, about his trips through Cuyahoga, Macomb, Muscatine and Broward. If somebody mentions she has an aunt living in Ridgeville just south of Dayton, he should fondly recall the exceptional Waffle House there.
Donning the false modesty worn by Those Who Talk to Voters, he should describe how he humbly listens to the volk, while making it clear that only someone as brilliant as himself could discern national trends from 13 conversations.
Now, remember, this is David Brooks writing this stuff. David Brooks is denouncing pundits who make quick forays into the hinterlands in order to draw facile conclusions about Real Americans. David Brooks, who famously took a journey to Franklin County, PA, in order to compare and contrast the many differences between red states and blue states and just as famously got it all wrong, as writer Sasha Issenberg discovered:
As I made my journey, it became increasingly hard to believe that Brooks ever left his home. “On my journeys to Franklin County, I set a goal: I was going to spend $20 on a restaurant meal. But although I ordered the most expensive thing on the menu steak au jus, ‘slippery beef pot pie,’ or whatever I always failed. I began asking people to direct me to the most-expensive places in town. They would send me to Red Lobster or Applebee’s,” he wrote. “I’d scan the menu and realize that I’d been beaten once again. I went through great vats of chipped beef and ‘seafood delight’ trying to drop $20. I waded through enough surf-and-turfs and enough creamed corn to last a lifetime. I could not do it.”
Taking Brooks’s cue, I lunched at the Chambersburg Red Lobster and quickly realized that he could not have waded through much surf-and-turf at all. The “Steak and Lobster” combination with grilled center-cut New York strip is the most expensive thing on the menu. It costs $28.75. “Most of our checks are over $20,” said Becka, my waitress. “There are a lot of ways to spend over $20.”
The easiest way to spend over $20 on a meal in Franklin County is to visit the Mercersburg Inn, which boasts “turn-of-the-century elegance.” I had a $50 prix-fixe dinner, with an entrée of veal medallions, served with a lump-crab and artichoke tower, wild-rice pilaf and a sage-caper-cream sauce. Afterward, I asked the inn’s proprietors, Walt and Sandy Filkowski, if they had seen Brooks’s article. They laughed. After it was published in the Atlantic, the nearby Mercersburg Academy boarding school invited Brooks as part of its speaker series. He spent the night at the inn. “For breakfast I made a goat-cheese-and-sun-dried-tomato tart,” Sandy said. “He said he just wanted scrambled eggs.”
I’ll bet David Brooks is familiar with the sort of crushingly banal pundit he describes. Very, very familiar.