Last week I enjoyed another one of those great lectures that I get to hear now-and-then. (I have made reference to these several times recently.) This time the presentation was an evening hosted by the Center for Applied Christian Ethics (CACE) at Wheaton College. The speaker was New York Times columnist David Brooks, one of my favorite columnists. Brooks spoke about how he began to embrace the conservative philosophy of Edmund Burke while he was a liberal undergraduate student at the University of Chicago (B.A., 1983). As he saw the impact of socially liberal political philosophy on real people on the south side of Chicago he was forced to question what he had always believed about government and people. In short, Brooks began to embrace a serious view of human sinfulness and depravity and this pushed him away from his liberal assumptions about mankind and how much government can actually serve the betterment of ordinary people. Don't misunderstand, Brooks is not a silly right-winger but a serious, intellectually thoughtful, political and social conservative. He is also a friend to evangelicals, though he remains a non-Christian Jew. This was why he was a guest at Wheaton College.
If you watch "The Newshour with Jim Lehrer" on PBS you will see David Brooks quite often. A few minutes of David Brooks is often better than an hour of most conservatives who fill up our time in the popular media. Brooks appeared, for example, on Tuesday evening's PBS coverage of the President's speech to Congress. As always, he was insightful and fair.
Brooks told us last week that he has interviewed Barack Obama on fifteen different occasions. He once listened, with real surprise, as Obama spent twenty minutes explaining his understanding of Reinhold Niebuhr's view of immoral man and society. For those who think that Obama has no theological traditioning at all this should come as an interesting insight. Brooks spoke very highly of the president's great intellect, his wonderful personality and obvious political skills. His concern is not with the character of the man but with some of the places where his confidence, Brooks argues, is misplaced.
I first heard of David Brooks some years ago by reading his book, Bobos in Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There, an excellent and entertaining book. When he became a New York Times Op-Ed page columnist in September 2003 I was pleased. I try to read him regularly and would thus encourage you to discover this sane and helpful voice for reason and faith. Brooks is one of only two major columnists in the mainstream media to have ever been an editor at the National Review, the magazine begun by the late conservative genius William F. Buckley. If anyone thinks the mainstream media is prone to hire writers from conservative magazines then this fact alone should dispossess such inclinations.
Brooks has the habit of offending populists and right wing media types by his straightforward intellectualism and common sense arguments. Here is a sample from an October 8, 2008, column written during the last election: