David Brooks again, what a guy

David Brooks in today’s NYT:

“The public is not only shifting from left to right. Every single idea associated with the educated class has grown more unpopular over the past year.

The educated class believes in global warming, so public skepticism about global warming is on the rise. The educated class supports abortion rights, so public opinion is shifting against them. The educated class supports gun control, so opposition to gun control is mounting.

The story is the same in foreign affairs. The educated class is internationalist, so isolationist sentiment is now at an all-time high, according to a Pew Research Center survey. The educated class believes in multilateral action, so the number of Americans who believe we should `go our own way’ has risen sharply.”

It is not until one reads the concluding paragraph of this column that one realizes that Brooks intends for himself to be ranked among the educated class against which some large swath of the public is rebelling.

I think the story Brooks is telling here is probably basically correct, that there is a deep anti-intellectual, anti-technocrat, anti-expert, anti-elitist movement afoot in America and that there is nothing new here.  But it seems to me that the movement has been fueled tremendously by the Obama Administration’s horrible missteps in its handling of the financial crisis and in Obama’s failure to indulge in enough anti-Wall Street populist rhetoric or to have taken enough anti-Wall Street action.  The only explanation for these failures that makes any sense to me is that Obama is to a large extent in the pocket of Wall Street, due to past campaign contributions and anticipated future ones.  I say this because a more forceful anti-Wall Street posture would seem to be such an obvious political requirement, with virtually no downside for the administration beyond the possible alienation of some big donors.  It strains credulity that the credit-rating agencies, just to take one example, may well emerge from the financial crisis unscathed, essentially unregulated, and in better financial shape than ever.  This really is scandalous and would constitute, in and of itself, a huge indictment of the American political system.

I don’t see any conceivable workable alternative in the modern world to government by technocratic elites.  But of course being well educated does not provide immunity from error – far from it.  Obama has made a tragic error, in my judgment, in not providing better legislative and rhetorical leadership in response to the financial crisis.  The error is both political and substantive, it will hurt in the coming midterm elections, and it undermines confidence in the technocratic elites, just as Brooks says.

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The new language war in France

One of the most difficult aspects of moving to France for me has been the fact that French people want to practice their English-speaking skills with me.  When they speak English pretty well, conversations often become a linguistic turf battle between them and me.  I did not move to France in order to speak English with French people.  I could count on one hand, and perhaps on two fingers, the number of occasions on which the French person’s English is better than my French, although I suppose that this is a very difficult think to judge.  For instance, the French person might find my accent, which is a light anglophone accent and not an American one, difficult to bear.  In any event, French “hauteur” has been transformed over the past 10-20 years with regard to the question of speaking English.  Now, it can be difficult for the anglophone to speak French in France, even when he wants to.  If one betrays the slightest hint of linguistic difficulty with one’s French, certain French interlocutors will take that as a cue to switch to speaking English.

After 3.5 years of living here, I still do not have a good way of addressing this problem, and I have as yet never directly insisted to anyone that he or she not speak English to me.  I hope to find a polite way of saying this and to be able to introduce this gambit into conversation at appropriate times.