It helped that he wrote long. He could be quick and slashing, as he often was in the comments section here. But usually when he got into a subject, he'd stretch out comfortable and give, along with needed details and logical abutments, a sense that he was talking to you, rather than composing some polemic that would wow the wide world. And even if his talk led, as often, to some scorched earth, his was in the main a friendly voice, one you could listen to awhile.
Here's a bit of Doghouse from a few years ago, on a column by David Brooks, who in a just word would be scrawling his received wisdom onto sheets of cardboard in a subway station while Doghouse wrote for the Times. Brooks was as usual telling people how "American culture was built on the notion of bourgeois dignity" and how the lesson of Ben Franklin was that we should all tighten up our assholes and get religious about the Free Market. Doghouse wasn't having Brooks' argument, and he also wasn't having Brooks, nor the whole horrible tradition Brooks represents:
Today it's Ben Franklin: Champion of the Suburbite; we might note right off the bat that the case consists of Brooks declaring it, three-quarters of the way through the piece, and then steadfastly ignoring anything that might qualify as nuance, say, or biography, or evidence. I suppose it's possible Brooks at some point opened Franklin's autobiography, in which the great man comes across as a callow, money-grubbing young printer at a time when running a printing press was the equivalent of owning the rights to a wildly popular video game title today. That's not the Franklin we revere, or at least it's not the one we used to revere before Texas re-wrote the history books.
It's not important, because Brooks has about as much interest in Franklin--even the sort of Franklin who might be invoked the way another hack might put Don Quixote on Wall Street or Hamlet in the Republican caucus--as the Texas legislature has in History. No, we are gathered here today to hear the surprising tale of how Global Capitalism just keeps making the world better for everybody, especially the American Middle Class, which really needs to lighten up on the expectation of being paid more than Mexicans, but should stick with the Hard Work/Don't Ask Questions/Vote for your Betters program which got it this far...
I know I may have said this before, but Th' fuck makes these guys go on about this shit interminably? And why are they so quick to chalk it up to the thoughtful generosity of 19th century English mill owners? The major improvement in the quality of life since 1810 is public health. Sewage disposal. Safe drinking water. Vaccinations. Food inspection. Y'know the entire litany of stuff the Brookses in this country oppose, obstruct, and applaud Ronald Reagan for gutting before turning the remnants over to industry groups to regulate for themselves. The sort of thing they spend half their allotted annual column inches trying to convince the lower classes to elect Republicans to prevent. The sort of thing they expect will be provided for themselves, gratis and regardless, of course.
Mine isn't a partisan argument--although the argument it opposes is--it's an epistemological one. Back in the perfect 50s we didn't teach children that All The Modern Advancements they enjoyed were due to a reasonable rate of return, free from confiscatory taxes. We taught them they were due to Louis Pasteur and Jane Addams, to Helen Keller and Joseph Lister and John Snow and Jonas Salk and Sara Josephine Baker. All of whom, nowadays, would apparently be running hedge funds or operating import/export businesses or social networking sites.This is not only absolutely right, it's also a pleasure to read. And there never have been that many who could make the bitter truth go down so easy. At least, not so many that we can afford to lose one.