Tuesday, July 22, 2008

David Brooks on debt and responsibility

Today David Brooks worked a little of his I-used-to-be-liberal-now-I'm-a-sensitive-conservatvie magic, and comes up with a very good column on the problem of debt in American society. He finds a middle ground between the people who blame society, in the form of predatory lenders, rapacious banks, etc., for our ills, and those who demand that individuals in trouble be held accountable for their errors. A third way, if you will.

People are responsible for their actions, writes Brooks, but they are also strongly influenced by the society around them, which shapes and molds their subconscious. But when they make a conscious decision, they return the favor, shaping and molding the society around them.

It's a personal thing AND a cultural thing, which is not a contradiction, because neither of those is static, neither personality nor society. It makes a lot of sense, and is, thankfully, reason to appreciate the fact that the man has one of the most coveted spots in journalism, on the Op-Ed page of The NY Times. This is a somewhat complex topic, and he explains it cogently in one column, with some nice color.

What he DOES NOT DO is assign blame where it really belongs: at the top, with the man who believed that he could deliver Americans tax cuts without asking them to pay for them, George W. Bush. If anyone set the tone for our culture's psychotic relationship with debt over the last few years, it was him. Talk about living beyond your means.

As much as I appreciate David Brooks' excellent writing ability, and his willingness to take on subjects that defy categorization, he will have a lot more credibility writing about accountability when he takes his fair share of responsibility for enabling the most irresponsible man any of us have ever seen in the White House.

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