With Michael Kinsley soon to become a half-time Angeleno and fulltime overseer of the L.A. Times op-ed and opinion lineups, what he writes is being read for clues to his likes and dislikes. In the latter category count the rhetorical techniques of New York Times op-ed pundit David Brooks, whose new book Kinsley mostly scorns in a NYT review that ran Sunday. Kinsley also disparages Brooks as "every liberal's favorite conservative," which is to say not much of a conservative at all. Of more value to local Kinsley parsers, though, might be his take on the styles of some other NYT op-ed writers.
With Brooks, The Times continues its probably unintentional experiment in reinventing the political column. First came Frank Rich, who added culture, high and low, to the traditional tired stew of Washington concerns. Maureen Dowd added psychiatry -- trying to understand politicians as real people, usually not to their advantage. Thomas Friedman added parables, circling the globe in search of small but sturdy anecdotes to support huge structures of metaphor.
Brooks adds social anthropology. His distinctive combination of wisdom and wisecracks, now available to readers of this newspaper, was perfected in his previous book, Bobos in Paradise, a funny examination of the 1960's generation as it negotiates the twin perils of aging and prosperity. His new book, On Paradise Drive: How We Live Now (and Always Have) in the Future Tense, applies the Brooks technique to the whole darn country....It's a bravura performance and always entertaining, if not always convincing.