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Ronald Reagan, RIP Why America is Different

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On Reagan's Paradise Drive

by Christopher Chantrill
June 12, 2004 at 8:00 pm


WHY WOULD THE New York Times Book Review put out a contract on David Brooks and his latest book of “comic sociology,” I wondered, after reading its scathing review of On Paradise Drive: How We Live How (And Always Have) in the Future Tense?  After all, isn’t Brooks supposed to be the liberals’ favorite conservative?  Isn’t that why he got the tame conservative spot on the Times Op-ed page?  Why then would they commission Michael Kinsley, master of the snarky putdown, to review his latest book?

On Paradise Drive seems to be a fairly innocuous sequel to the Brooks’ blockbuster Bobos in Paradise.  In Bobos, Brooks proposed that bourgeois and bohemian had patched up their century-long quarrel.  The fight was over; we were all bourgeois-bohemian now, Brooks assured us.  In his new book we are introduced to the rest of middle-class America, Patio Man and Realtor Mom heading home from the mega-stores loaded with loot, he in his huge Yukon XL and she in her top-of-the-line Dodge Grand Caravan.  We learn that Americans are regarded world-wide as Cosmic Blondes “that float through life on a beam of sunshine” even though, of course, your average liberal spends her whole life as a Cosmic Brunette that “writes and reads books, worries, condemns and evaluates, judges, discerns and doubts.”  We learn about Ubermoms that program their kids’ lives down to the nanosecond starting from the moment of conception.  We find out that the Organization Kid that results is so busy in college that she has no time to date or fall in love, so she claims that “hooking up” makes sense.  We learn that almost all glossy enthusiast magazines are devoted to the “contempt of people who haven’t taken the time to master their pathetically small sphere of expertise.”  We learn that the secret of business success is to “find your Fry!”  A Fry! is “one small thing, or a few things, [you] could do better than anyone else in the world.”  It is the obsession that drives every entrepreneur (and every artist as well) to success. 

The funny thing about us is that despite our mega houses, our mega SUVs, our mega malls, all we Americans seem to want to do is work.  It is as though someone has hung up a sign over the nation that reads “No admission here, except on business.”

What is it that drives us, and why have Americans worked, worked, and worked, ever since the first Puritans arrived and decided that Americans were destined to build a city on a hill, the last best hope of mankind?  It is hope, Brooks writes, the motivation of a “Paradise Spell... the feeling that there is some glorious destiny just ahead.”

What’s wrong with that, and why should Michael Kinsley take the trouble to shoot it all down as neither serious sociology nor serious satire?   After Reagan Week, the answer is obvious.  It is not just David Brooks who likes to invoke John Winthrop and the city on a hill.  It is not just Brooks or Lincoln who spoke of America as the last best hope of earth.  It is not just Brooks who talks about glorious destiny just ahead. 

It was Ronald Reagan. 

Ronald Reagan spoke again and again about the United States as a shining city on a hill, and the last, best hope on man on earth.  And above all, he insisted again and again that America’s best days lay ahead.

No wonder Michael Kinsley is enraged.  If Americans were to keep listening to Ronald Reagan, it would be the end of liberals.  For liberals the shining city on the hill is not America, it is liberalism.  If it weren’t for liberals, women wouldn’t have the vote.  If it weren’t for liberals, working people still wouldn’t be able to organize unions.  If it weren’t for liberals, Jim Crow still would rule in the South.  If it weren’t for liberals the rivers would still seethe with pollution.  If it weren’t for liberals, the coat hanger would still rule the nation’s back alleys.  America is not the last best hope of man on earth, no indeed. The last best hope is liberals.

David Brooks begs to differ.  In his America, people are working away, driving their SUVs, buying loads of loot in big-box stores, and even liberals living in their trendy inner-ring suburbs end up filling their tasteful homes with tasteful toys.  For America is not a land of helpless victims waiting to be rescued by liberals.  It is a nation of proud pioneers that know how to govern themselves.

Ronald Reagan doesn’t get so much as a single mention in the index of On Paradise Drive.  He ought to file a complaint.  He wus robbed.

Christopher Chantrill blogs at www.roadtothemiddleclass.com.

Buy his Road to the Middle Class.

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