June 09, 2005

Column 2005-6-9 Commentary

I have to admit that my first reaction upon reading today's Brooks column, in which Brooks goes to Namibia to see how AIDS treatment is going there, was to wonder what would happen when Kristof read it. Would he be flattered by this imitation? Would he go out and beat Brooks up? Would he sue Brooks for violation of copyright? It's easy to understand Brooks's motivations here: as John Tierney threatens to take over the niche of "moronic conservative columnist who occasionally tries to be funny", Brooks feels the need to expand into someone else's territory, and there really aren't that many options. He can't be Maureen Dowd for obvious reasons. Bob Herbert is too liberal. Being Paul Krugman would require actual intelligence. Frank Rich hates the Christian Right too much. That leaves only Kristof and Friedman, and presumably Brooks chose Kristof as being less likely to defend his territory, so off he goes to Africa. To be fair to Brooks, he's not copying everything that Kristof does: he's a lot more optimistic than Kristof is, though that may have something to do with the fact that he's not going anywhere nearly as dangerous as the places Kristof goes.

As for the column itself, it seemed pretty unobjectionable: Brooks does say "I came here aware of controversies about abstinence versus condoms in AIDS prevention programs, about U.S. aid versus multilateral aid, and now realize that all that nonsense is irrelevant on the ground" which sounded a little iffy, but on the other hand he asserts that "we should be redoubling our efforts," so things seem to balance out. Also, to my discredit, I don't know much about AIDS in Africa. Luckily, Jeanne d'Arc at Body and Soul does, and she can explain the problems with this column and why David Brooks is still a moron much better than I can. Having read her, I can also say that the second-to-last sentence of the column, which I skimmed over the first time I read it, stands out a lot more now. Brooks writes "Many are backed by money from the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, finally doing the work they've always dreamed of doing." Could he be going to Africa in an attempt to re-establish Bush's compassionate conservative credentials? Perhaps he's even trying to counteract Kristof's columns from Darfur, with their heartrending descriptions of atrocities and calls for Bush to take action, with his own upbeat series about how Bush is curing AIDS in Africa by sheer force of will. Or maybe he just wanted a paid foreign vacation. We insinuate and strongly suggest, you decide (hey, at least we're honest about it).