Don't Worry, Be Happy
On Paradise Drive is devoted to the glorification of ordinariness, of blinkered plodding, of going along to get along, of mastering the practice of not standing out. For the mediocre, the rewards can be rich. "Millionaires," Brooks writes of his favorite kind of people, "are not exactly Einsteins. The average millionaire in the U.S. had a collegiate GPA of about 2.92, a B- average. The average SAT score for the millionaires is 1190, good but not nearly good enough to get you into an Ivy League college." It is beyond explaining how such strange statistics are gathered or, perhaps, invented, but the point of publishing them is to restate the ancient conservative suspicion of brilliance, of wit, of anything smacking of instability or unpredictability and therefore of danger to the treasure hoard.
The right-winger substitutes Sitzfleisch, unrelieved and unrelenting labor, for flashy outbreaks of genius. With pride of country, Brooks proclaims that his fellow citizens are "the hardest-working people on the face of the earth. We work the longest hours and take the shortest vacations of any affluent people." The nonaffluent, most of the population of the planet, apparently take shorter vacations, perhaps because so many live in tropical climes where life is so pleasant and the trade winds so refreshing they don't need vacations. "Polls indicate," Brooks explains, that the American reluctance to recreate "is not all forced; far more than people in other lands.... Americans take the initiative to check in with work while they're supposedly on vacation." In the real world of water coolers and cubicles people "check in" because they know that when you come back from vacation your desk and your chair may be gone. But the man can seriously write that "for most of human history, people at the bottom of the income ladder worked longer than people at the top. But that's no longer true." Doubtless he can produce yet another one of his polls to back this stuff up, but in a land of two-, three- and four-job households, it's nuts. You can't tell me that those people with the house in Telluride, the apartments in New York and London and the place on the Côte d'Azur work harder than the people who clean their bathrooms. What Brooks is describing is not what is, but what right-wingers tell themselves is.
It follows that the book includes de rigueur grousing about the French, French intellectuals and the intelligentsia in general. In place of thought Brooks offers the reader litanies of brand-name products bought and owned by various statistical categories of people. The work positively suppurates with the results of polls and surveys proving that satisfaction reigns and our investments are safe. In a passage worthy of Dr. Pangloss, he writes:
I would like to think that an idealist flame does burn in every American split level, that every day American life is shaped by grand metaphysical visions, a holy sense of mission.... I would like to believe that we are all driven by some spiritual impulsion of which we are perhaps not even aware.
You may be sure that somewhere in his papers Brooks has a survey showing that three out of four Americans are impulsed every 9.4 seconds by grand metaphysical visions and/or facial tics.
The people of the United States may need a decent system of public education or adequate healthcare, but one thing they do not need is another TV or radio program, another article or book telling them how terrific and contented they are. That is what David Brooks has given them, but isn't one of the traits of conservatism to give us more of what we already have too much of and to withhold what we have too little of and need?