The Lileks Zone

Eavesdropping with Gail and David!

This is a post about the New York Times. Ritual half-hearted praise for being good at this and that, but only to set up my bona fides for subsequent criticism. Rote acknowledgement of the role of major dailies that can afford to cover the world; stinging reminder of past egregious biases. Overarching conclusion that sets you up to enjoy the latest folly.

So: Someone at the Times thought it would be jolly and perky to have Gail Collins and David Brooks banter back and forth, and print it as though we’d intercepted their emails. It’s the sort of thing that would be interesting in 1973, perhaps, but given the robust farrago of chatter on the internets, it seems a bit thin. Maybe they were forced to do this, in which case you can’t blame them any more than you could blame Grandpa for lack of innovative dance moves because the orderlies at the rest home tased him and said Do the Funky Chicken, Pops! But really:

Gail Collins: I’m so glad we have columnists living in different cities. If a trillion Tea Party types gather at the Lincoln Memorial you’re there. And then of course if Justin Bieber makes a personal appearance at MTV in Manhattan, I’m right around the corner. Really, we’ve got all of American culture covered.

David Brooks: Gail, forgive me, but I think you’re being complacent here. We have no Op-Ed columnists in Los Angeles so we have missed out on all the issues raised by the Lindsay Lohan phenomenon. Can we look ourselves in the face and say we have given proper weight to the Miley Cyrus-Hannah Montana dichotomy? I don’t think so.

And these are the smart, with-it people. Here’s more!

Gail Collins: So Tuesday was a big night for G.O.P. insurgents. Thanks to your recent column I am a little clearer about why Republicans are acting as if passing the health care law was the equivalent of imposing martial law or that Woody Allen dictator who required all citizens to change their underwear every half hour. (Why does this entire campaign keep reminding me of scenes from “Bananas”?

The new right believes every new government program is one step forward on the road to serfdom. They’re winning. But I still don’t quite get it. Do they believe everybody in Sweden is a serf?

This chatty, casual, gut-bustingly hilarious format reveals not answers the question of what expired conventional wisdom smells like, it shows the chasms between Bosnywash scribblers and the inhabitants of flyoverland. I have no doubt that Gail Collins doesn’t quite get it, and while I salute the bleeding-edge reference to a 39-year-old movie (with a link to imdb, no less!) this is rather lame stuff. Pow! A Sweden reference! Isn’t there some other perfect nation they can hold up as a model of perfection? As for whether they’re serfs, they have the second-highest tax rate in the world, and pay almost half their income in taxes. On average. It can get worse, as the Guardian notes:

Swedes’ personal income tax can be as little as 29 per cent of their pay, but most people (anyone earning over £32,000) will pay between 49 and 60 per cent through a combination of local government and state income tax.

That was 2008. It’s down a bit since then, but that’s not the point. I don’t care that they get all sorts of things in return; any system that uses the power of the state of take away half your property is, you could say, trending serf-wise. So yes, Ms. Collins: every new program that takes away personal property and imposes new restrictions on your freedom to do this or that is one step forward on the road to serfdom, and it doesn’t really matter if it’s been resurfaced with stimulus money.

Brooks countered with a line about . . . oh, who cares.

By the way, you can expect the left to stop using the Swedish example, now that they’ve gone all tea-party on us.

PS: I am certain she would applaud Michelle Obama if she switched from telling us what to eat to the frequency with which we should change our drawers, Gail would think it’s a fine thing. You should wear clean underwear. What if you’re run over on the road to serfdom? Like your mother said, you wouldn’t want the ambulance drivers to see you weren’t wearing clean shorts.

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September 2010