The puzzle about just how and why the brain eater ate Clive Crook's brain—how it was that, starting about a decade ago, one of the most interesting (and intelligent) of the Tories simply lost his grip on reality—remains, to me at least, a mystery.
Here I am hoisting from one of the first full-blown signs of it in 2007.
A little background: By 2008 the brain-eating was overwhelming. For example we had Clive Crook on the "huge success" of the nomination of Sarah Palin—meaning, that is, that she was highly qualified to be Vice President and would attract lots of new votes to the McCain-Palin ticket:
Clive Crook (2008): Democrats must learn some respect: "The problem in my view is less Mr Obama and more the attitudes of the claque of official and unofficial supporters that surrounds him... https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2008/09/democrats-must-learn-some-respect/8803/
...If only the Democrats could contain their sense of entitlement to govern in a rational world, and their consequent distaste for wide swathes of the US electorate, they might gain the unshakeable grip on power they feel they deserve.... But the fathomless cultural complacency of the metropolitan liberal rules this out. The attitude that expressed itself in response to the Palin nomination is the best weapon in the Republican armoury. Rely on the Democrats to keep it primed. You just have to laugh.
The Palin nomination could still misfire for Mr McCain, but the liberal reaction has made it a huge success so far. To avoid endlessly repeating this mistake, Democrats need to learn some respect. It will be hard. They will have to develop some regard for the values that the middle of the country expresses when it votes Republican. Religion. Unembarrassed flag-waving patriotism. Freedom to succeed or fail through one's own efforts. Refusal to be pitied, bossed around or talked down to. And all those other laughable redneck notions that made the United States what it is...
By 2010 there was nothing more left of the brain to be eaten at all:
Henry Farrell (2010): Swaggering, sneering incivility: "Clive Crook tells us that Americans are ever so much more polite than Brits, and then goes on to complain about blogs... https://crookedtimber.org/2010/01/05/swaggering-sneering-incivility/#comment-300699
...Jarringly different standards apply in politics, and especially in the political blogosphere. There, “coarsening” is too mild a word. All that swaggering, sneering incivility: maybe I find it disgusting because it’s so unAmerican.
Fair enough if you don’t like it, but I am still at a loss to understand the difference between all this twuly vewy howwid incivility and suggestions that civil liberties types would be perfectly fine with the deaths of millions of their fellow citizens if only they could get their way. Perhaps it isn’t incivil by definition when it’s an FT pundit doing it rather than a nasty little leftist blogger? Or perhaps Crook believes that he’s just telling it like it is? (the rather obvious rejoinder being, however, that the bloggers he detests so much fancy that the same thing is true of them).
I’ve previously invited Mr. Crook to explain the difference between the kinds of things that he says about lefty civil liberties types and the forms of debasing discourse that he so deplores; so far, he has unaccountably failed to do so. In the absence of such a clarification, I can only presume that his distinction rests on the Yes Minister theory of irregular verbs–I engage in vigorous yet fair truthtelling, you perhaps say things a little too stridently for your own good, he is a disgusting, swaggering and incivil boor...
Henry was writing about:
Clive Crook (2009): Why Obama owes Bush an apology: "Mr Obama... owes George W. Bush an apology for saying that the last administration’s thinking was an affront to US values... https://www.ft.com/content/55522abc-4894-11de-8870-00144feabdc0
...The Democratic party’s civil libertarians seem to believe that several medium-sized US cities would be a reasonable price to pay for insisting on ordinary criminal trials for terrorist suspects. There can be no trade-off between freedom and security, because the freedoms they prioritise trump everything...
And so, after that long-winded background windup, here is my reaction to one of the first signs of the brain-eating I noted, back in 2007:
2007: Clive Crook vs. The Populist Democratic Politicians https://www.bradford-delong.com/2007/07/clive-crook-vs-.html: It's a somewhat odd column: The Democratic economists--Summers, Blinder, Krugman, and that other guy who doesn't belong in such company--are right to say that things are complicated: globalization has not delivered the growth-accelerating flow of capital to the developing world that it was supposed to, and the Clinton focus on restoring fiscal stability to America was then immediately undone by Bush who used the running room we had created to redistribute income upward.
Knowing what we know now about the morals, competence, and values of the bush administration and the Republican congressional leadership, I do not know a single Democratic economist who does not wish that we had raised taxes on the rich more, reduced the deficit less, and spent more on infrastructure and social programs than the Clinton administration actually did. And while we are frantically and desperately trying to mark our beliefs to market with respect to international monetary and financial affairs so that we can give good policy advice, we have not yet succeeded in doing so.
This is how things are: Would Clive Crook rather we sent our time telling lies?
It's a somewhat odd column: As best as I can tell, Clive Crook approves 100% of the Democrats' substantive policy agenda: "There is an excellent centrist case to be made for tax reform, to lift the burden of income and payroll taxes from the low-paid and to increase the burden on the better-off. Universal healthcare is long overdue, a shameful state of affairs in so rich a country. Americans pay more than they should for their medicines. More generous and more imaginative assistance for Americans who lose their jobs because of trade – or because of changing tastes and technology – is needed." If this be "populism," let us make the most of it.
What Clive Crook wants, I believe, is Whig measures sponsored by Tory men (and women). But that would require a very different Republican Party than America has today.
Perhaps Clive Crook should devote himself 24/7 to trying to build such a party--certainly nobody else is.
But until those reality-based Tory men (and women) supporting Whig measures whom Crook wishes we could vote for emerge, we have the politicians we have.
The constructive strategy is then not to lament that they have populist goals, but to demand that they pursue their populist goals by adopting policies that might actually work rather than policies that sound good in focus groups. And the constructive strategy is also to demand that America's business elite that they support policies that make them partners with rather than adversaries of the rest of America.
I was writing about:
Clive Crook (2007): Hitched to the old bandwagon https://www.ft.com/content/3a10acce-3559-11dc-bb16-0000779fd2ac: "Whoever wins their party’s presidential nomination, the Democrats are preparing to fight the next election on a platform of left-leaning populism...
...The contrast with Bill Clinton is evident. He was a centrist, pro-trade, pro-enterprise president – an avowed “New Democrat”. The next Democratic occupant of the White House, if the candidates’ campaigns are to be believed, will be old-school.
Mr Clinton campaigned against the odds to secure passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement. Today the party is against such deals. Mr Clinton worked hard to get China into the World Trade Organisation. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are Senate co-sponsors of a new China-bashing law. And the move to the populist left is not confined to trade. All the Democratic contenders are turning up the volume on stagnating middle-class wages, soaring profits, swindling bosses, dwindling union membership (Mrs Clinton and Mr Obama back the abolition of secret ballots on union representation), tax loopholes for the super-rich, oil company gouging, insurance company gouging, drug company gouging and every other kind of gouging....
Mr Clinton’s conviction that globalisation was good for America owed a lot to the experts – including economists of the highest professional standing – who surrounded him. Recently, eminent economists such as Alan Blinder, Paul Krugman, Larry Summers (who served as Mr Clinton’s Treasury secretary) and Brad DeLong have all expressed new doubts about the benefits of globalisation for the US. It is all more complicated than we thought, they say. It was hard enough for Mr Clinton to fight for freer trade when every highly regarded economist in the country said it was good for the US. Now that their message has changed to “We might have been wrong about this. We’ll get back to you”, the prospects for liberal trade have dimmed....
Economic populism traditionally marries scepticism on trade with fear of big business: “It’s all about profit.” A striking feature of many Democratic proposals is the belief that cheaper petrol, cheaper drugs, universal health insurance, higher wages, more generous employment benefits, almost any good thing you can think of, can be achieved by demanding them, in one way or another, from companies, or else by raising taxes on the super-rich....
There is no question that the Democratic contenders are talking about the issues that concern most Americans. There is an excellent centrist case to be made for tax reform, to lift the burden of income and payroll taxes from the low-paid and to increase the burden on the better-off. Universal healthcare is long overdue, a shameful state of affairs in so rich a country. Americans pay more than they should for their medicines. More generous and more imaginative assistance for Americans who lose their jobs because of trade – or because of changing tastes and technology – is needed.
The present administration has little to offer on any of these questions. But the costs of reform cannot be confined to foreigners and plutocrats.