Although the United States may remain politically divided after last fall’s presidential election, New York Times op-ed columnist David Brooks told lecture attendees on Tuesday that such fractures are reparable and that the nation remains culturally united.
Brooks said that despite what some pundits suggest, the United States is not engaged in an internal “cultural war or a divided world” and that whatever differences may exist are not so great as to constitute polarization. A conservative journalist and author of best sellers such as “Bobos In Paradise,” Brooks delivered his lecture, co-sponsored by the Poynter Fellowship and International Security Studies, to an overflow crowd at Linsly-Chittenden Hall, capping off a two-day visit to campus during which he met with students and faculty.
“We always have a center,” Brooks said of American culture. “It’s reflected in politics. It’s always reflected in the country that there is a center. We still have differences between Utah and New Haven, but they’re not that wide.”
The country, he said, is characterized by individuals who are either predominantly Democratic and live in inner-ring suburbs or largely Republican and reside in outer-ring, relatively rural counties. He said observers could look toward church attendance, as well as marriage and fertility rates, as sound indicators of political allegiance, rather than income disparities. Ultimately, people generally determine their party affiliation based on the political stances of their family members, he said.
Brooks said he is optimistic that the economy will continue its recovery, but Americans will at some point need to address the $44 billion in unfunded government benefits that he said are creating a deficit.
“Eventually the numbers become too imminent to ignore,” Brooks said. “In a very short time, we will be in a position when it will swallow up government.”
Holding up recent issues of The Economist and Newsweek magazines that focus on democracy in the Middle East, Brooks said recent elections and other developments in the region constitute a watershed similar to historical landmarks of 1968 and 1989.
“There are certain moments in history when there’s some sort of thought contagion,” Brooks said. “I think in the Arab world we could be seeing such a contagion.”
In one of the talk’s final moments, Brooks responded to an audience question posed about perceived biases in the American media.
“People select the reality that flatters their own partisan affiliation,” Brooks said. “People choose the reality that makes them feel good.”
Although she identified herself as a liberal, Erica Newland ’08 said she felt Brooks has an interesting perspective in his columns that she was pleased to see come through in his lecture.
Cameron Page MED ’06 said he appreciated the manner in which Brooks engaged the audience.
“I thought he was an incredibly generous speaker,” Page said. “He never talked down to the audience. He always treated the audience and the audience’s questions respectfully.”
After Brooks concluded his official remarks, one audience member asked the columnist about his thoughts on the president, eliciting one of Brooks’ lighter moments.
“The question is what do I think of your president. I think Levin is doing a great job,” Brooks said laughingly, pretending to sidestep the question by referring to Yale President Richard Levin. But Brooks continued by discussing Bush. “I wasn’t a huge supporter when he ran. He dominates Washington and the world like no other president. He has certain deficits but he has certain skills.”