September 13, 2003

IS CHARACTER UNIMPORTANT NOW?

Bred for Power: The Protestant Establishment, which produced both the Deans
and the Bushes, had a formula for producing leaders. Our culture, which is freer and fairer, does not. (DAVID BROOKS, 9/13/003, NY Times)

If you were to pick a presidential candidate on the basis of social standing -- and really, darling, who doesn't -- you'd have to pick Howard Brush Dean III over George Walker Bush. The Bush lineage is fine. I'm not criticizing. But the Deans have been here practically since Mayflower days and in the Social Register for generations. It's true Bush's grandfather was a Wall Street financier, a senator and a Yale man, but Dean's family has Wall Street financiers going back to the Stone Age, and both his grandfathers were Yale men.

The Bush family properties were in places like Greenwich, Conn., and Kennebunkport, Me., which is acceptable, but the Dean piles were in Oyster Bay, on Hook Pond in East Hampton and on Park Avenue, a list that suggests a distinguished layer of mildew on the family fortune.

Again, I'm not suggesting the Bushes are arrivistes. Howard Dean's grandmother asked George Bush's grandmother to be a bridesmaid at her wedding, and she wouldn't have done that if the family were in any way unsound. I'm just pointing to gradations. Dean even went to a slightly more socially exclusive prep school, St. George's, while Bush made do with Andover before they both headed off to Yale. [...]

Both Bush and Dean have amazing faith in their gut instincts. Both have self-esteem that is impregnable because it derives not from what they are accomplishing but from who they ineffably are. Both appear unplagued by the sensation, which destroyed Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon, that there is some group in society higher than themselves.

Both are bold. Bush is an ambitious war leader, and Dean has set himself off from all the cautious, poll-molded campaigns of his rivals.

Both were inculcated with something else, a sense of chivalry. Unlike today's top schools, which are often factories for producing Résumé Gods, the WASP prep schools were built to take the sons of privilege and toughen them into paragons of manly virtue. Rich boys were sent away from their families and shoved into a harsh environment that put tremendous emphasis on athletic competition, social competition and character building. [...]

The Protestant Establishment is dead, and nobody wants it back. But that culture, which George Bush and Howard Dean were born into, did have a formula for producing leaders. Our culture, which is freer and fairer, does not.


He lost me there. We do want the leaders produced by the Protestant Establishment but we don't want the Protestant Establishment? Does that even make sense? It's unsurprising that a system designed to build young mens' character has served up our leaders. Why wouldn't we want to maintain such a system?

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 13, 2003 9:11 AM
Comments

Brook strikes me as trying to be too clever by half right now in an attempt to impress his new readership in the Times that he is not a "conventional widsom" conservative, and is looking at things from a different angle. Hopefully, after he gets this all out of his system, he'll start producing some columns that have a little more weight behind them.

Posted by: John at September 13, 2003 9:33 AM

It's not a bad column -- just strange. At first the impression is that he is trying to kind of gently belittle the media obsession with Bush as an aristocrat, but he never gives up the game. It is valuable to Times readers to be reminded that Dean is as much an aristocrat as Bush.

Posted by: Paul Cella at September 13, 2003 9:47 AM

I figured he was just trying to stick a stilleto into Dean's left kidney.

Posted by: David Cohen at September 13, 2003 10:05 AM

It IS a strange column. Doesn't satiate any appetite.

I do hope, however, that Brooks stays above the twaddle written by Krugman, Dowd, Herbert. I don't want him to get to their level. By contrasting his cool, analytical pieces against their hysterical silliness, the latter's emptiness and shallowness is shown.

SMG

Posted by: SteveMG at September 13, 2003 12:56 PM

The problem with Krugman, Dowd, et. al. is that they think they have arrived because they write for the Times. Let's hope David Brooks has higher aspirations.

Posted by: jim hamlen at September 13, 2003 2:21 PM

jim:

Safire didn't.

Posted by: oj at September 14, 2003 3:39 PM

I find it amusing to compare pedigrees on GWBush and HBDean. They are both from wealth and privilege, true. The former used his to raise hell for 40 years, avoid all responsibility and climb the ladder on someone else's name & dime. the latter apparently had his irresponsible period too, but eventually grew up and became of use to humanity.
I think one of the reasons that the Bush dynasty hate the Clintons sooooo much was that the Bushes believed they were better than most Americans because of their background. Then along comes this unknown poor hick out of Arkansas, parentage in question, with his sax and sex, who knocked old George Herbert Walker Bush on his can. No wonder Sonny was willing to sacrifice almost 500 US soldiers,thousands of Iraqis & tens of billions of dollars - to bring daddy one of the men who humiliated him, Saddam Hussein. Not to restore honor and dignity to the White House as enunciated, but to restore the Bush House. yuk.

Posted by: B. Hannon at December 27, 2003 5:37 PM
« SECURITY TOO IS A VALUE: | Main | LISTENING TO THE LOSERS: »