David Brooks, Rankling Folks Right and Left

The columnist says he is
The columnist says he is "disappointed" with both McCain and Obama, and has expressed reservations about Sarah Palin's readiness for the presidency. (By Leah L. Jones For The Washington Post)
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By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 22, 2008

David Brooks is used to hanging around with liberals -- his wife and three children, among others, support Barack Obama -- but has grown angry at the condescending talk about Sarah Palin.

"Three times someone told me they thought she was trailer trash," the New York Times columnist said.

When it came time to judge the Alaska governor's fitness for high office, however, Brooks watched her ABC interviews and turned thumbs down. "She looked fine," he said, "but not like someone I'd be comfortable with as president in time of war."

An erudite author and talking head, Brooks, 47, is sometimes cast as the left's favorite conservative. At times he seems to delight in taking on his own side, drawing fire from the likes of Rush Limbaugh, and yet he drives some liberals up the wall.

"I look at a lot of commentary, and so much of it is campaign advocacy for one side or another," he said. "That turns me off in a visceral way." Brooks pronounces himself "disappointed" in both Obama and John McCain.

The Palin nomination has been a moment of truth for the right. While many conservatives have embraced her as a fresh-faced reformer, a handful -- David Frum, George Will and Charles Krauthammer among them -- have questioned her meager experience. In the heat of a close election, their defection is as unusual as the small number of liberal columnists who have criticized Obama.

Brooks wrote last week that Palin "has not been engaged in national issues, does not have a repertoire of historic patterns and, like President Bush, she seems to compensate for her lack of experience with brashness and excessive decisiveness."

Radio host Laura Ingraham distributed an e-mail chiding Brooks for elitism. "Sarah Palin might not have read all the books David Brooks has read, but she has an ability to galvanize an electorate," she says now.

While Ingraham likes Brooks, she describes him as "a conservative intellectual of the East Coast variety who thinks everyone else should be more intellectual. I'm sure there are a lot of people who don't know David who think he's a snob. He spends a lot of time around a lot of people with similar backgrounds."

Brooks often displays his witty side on television, where he has a regular debating slot on PBS's "NewsHour" and appears on such programs as "Meet the Press" and "Face the Nation."

"There's a happy tweediness about him," said Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne, a regular sparring partner on National Public Radio. "He's half-intellectual, half-'Saturday Night Live.' He veers back and forth between academic studies and great lines from stand-up."

National Review's Frum, a longtime friend, praises "the suppleness of his mind and a really warm personality." As for criticism from the right, Frum said, "David always seems so affable and fun-loving that you assume he's unbothered."

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