Does David Brooks have a Twitter account? Is he not aware that the New Yorker has already hired a bad comedian to write pithy blurts about politics, and is no longer hiring for that position? These are some of the questions I asked nobody in particular while reading his offering today, titled "The Real Romney."
The interesting thing about a column titled, "The Real Romney," is that it sets up the reader to expect something that might be of great interest. Mitt Romney, as far as public figures go, is famously opaque. "What makes him tick?" is not an illegitimate inquiry at this point. We know that Romney is a very wealthy man, and that his wealth took a tremendous amount of skill to acquire. He seems, by all accounts, to have been a great boss and colleague. He has a large and loving family. From there, though, he's a mystery. His political positions are famously malleable -- his critics say he lacks a core, and his nominal political allies in the conservative commentariat have had to keep a close watch on him, for signs of apostasy. And his overweaning desire for privacy begins with his tax returns and ends with -- well ...with specifics about what policies he would pursue, if elected.
More than anything else, as a member of the wealthy elite, he just doesn't seem that interesting. He is at the opposite end of the spectrum from that guy from the Dos Equis commercials.
So, if David Brooks wants to take a stab at plumbing Romney's depths to see if there's anything there, I'm all for it. But David Brooks isn't actually interested in that. He just wants to burn off all of his remaining one-liners about Romney before he officially has to start taking him seriously as a candidate.
The piece literally reads like a bunch of deleted tweets strung together. Here's a sample line: "He was given the name Mitt, after the Roman god of mutual funds, and launched into the world with the lofty expectation that he would someday become the Arrow shirt man."
Har! See, it's funny because the Romans had weird names for gods, and Arrow shirts and accessories are fancy weeds for rich jerks. There's probably a second-level joke there about how the Romans strategically acquired all those gods through a leveraged buyout of the culture of ancient Greece, or maybe one about how the "Arrow Collar Man" was a successful ad campaign that suggested that their detachable collars, when worn, turned an ordinary man into something extraordinary, but Brooks doesn't find these second-level jokes. That's okay, though, because these are not particularly good second-level jokes anyway.
Brooks, for whatever reason, gets to the point where an ordinary blogger would click "CTRL-A" and "Delete," and just presses on into terrains of humor so well-trod that they are practically caving in. Seamus joke? Check: "The Romneys had a special family tradition. The most cherished member got to spend road trips on the roof of the car." Mitt gave his kids some weird names? Yep: "Mitt helped Ann raise five perfect sons -- Bip, Chip, Rip, Skip and Dip -- who married identically tanned wives." Car elevator, PowerPoint, hairstyle, NASCAR owners, they're all here. There is a brief foray into an Amish joke that doesn't really work and is quickly abandoned.
What's really impressive about the column is how awesomely effortless it all is. Brooks just straight up opened a Word document, spat a bunch of dull quips into it, and handed it in to whoever is in charge of turning it into a newspaper column. You could do this, too: start with something like, "What's the deal with sweetbreads? They're not sweet, they're not bread ..." and then you write 500 more words about thymus glands, give it to some guy at The New York Times and then that guy thanks you and he hands you a bunch of money and then it's off to the Aspen Ideas Festival or whatever.
I will say this, though. The piece does contain one wonderful line, right at the end, where you read it and discover that it is a legitimately laugh-out-loud punchline to the whole thing.
That line? "Joe Nocera is off today."
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