Friday, June 5, 2009

The Great Tension

One of life’s great pleasures is reading David Brooks’ column in the New York Times. It always gives me that rarified, disembodied form of pure cerebral joy that high-brows claim to experience when reading Marcel Proust. Take today’s offering, “The Chicago View.”

All smart analyses of the Obama administration begin with Chicago. That’s where the top members of the administration were tested and formed. The Chicago mentality is the one they take with them wherever they go.

That means they start with an awareness of diversity. The nation and the world are a bunch of jostling wards that have to be knit together. That means they are not doctrinaire. Chicagoans like to see themselves as pragmatists, not ideologues.

That means they contain both sides of The Great Tension. In Chicago, there is a tension between the lakefront and the neighborhoods inland. The lakefront tends to be idealistic, earnest and liberal. The neighborhoods are clever, cautious and Machiavellian. In all great endeavors, the Obama administration weaves together both of these tendencies.

Ah, The Great Tension, a uniquely Chicago phenomenon which, until David Brooks identified the concept, left sociologists struggling to explain how the same city could produce both Studs Terkel and Al Capone.

I’m having difficulty grasping the idea that the world is composed of “jostling wards that have to be knit together” because I’m originally from Los Angeles, where they have no awareness of diversity and everyone lives in perfect harmony. But that’s why I read David Brooks. He helps me grow.

This unique ‘Chicago View’ is the only thing that sufficiently accounts for the fact that Obama’s speech in Cairo seamlessly combined lofty idealism with gritty realpolitik; or, in Brooks’ formulation, the earnest, liberal, idealistic traits of the lakefront with the clever, cautious Machiavellianism of the inland neighborhoods (where, I presume, all the ethnic darkies dwell). Had Obama come from, say, Albuquerque, he may not have been able to achieve this magnificent synthesis.

But wait. I seem to recall Brooks referring to Obama as a ‘rootless cosmopolitan’ and a ‘sojourner’ who most definitely was not the product of any single political or cultural milieu, a fact which accounted for his “fantastic powers of observation.” What gives, Dave?

Hmmm, I think I sense a contradiction at the heart of the Brooksian Dialectic of the Great Tension. The world awaits a resolution to this most perplexing conundrum, but it need not wait long, because I think I’ve found one: David Brooks is just plain full of shit.

1 comment:

Woody (Tokin Librul/Rogue Scholar/ Helluvafella!) said...

Had Obama come from, say, Albuquerque, he may not have been able to achieve this magnificent synthesis.

were Obama a 'vato,' he'd not only have completed the syntheses (we have gringo, hispano, and nativo indigenes, along with a growing Asian and African American communities), he'da done it en flawless Spanglish, esse!