New York Times columnist and go-to broadcast commentator David Brooks spent years building a reputation as a reasonable conservative voice, but reasonable conservatives are no longer in vogue. Brooks now seems a bit at sea. In the past month he has written columns on the ways a trendy lunch spot can expose a class divide and how it’s sad that we live in a world where people don’t keep their happy hour commitments. I’m sympathetic. A man can only spend so much time bashing the leadership of his own party before he starts casting around for something else to fill the column inches. Even so, his latest column on the demise of manliness seems incredibly silly. (Before Manliness Lost Its Virtue)
To David Brooks and to all the men who spent too many years wanting to be cowboys; I hate to break it to you, but your manliness was never a virtue. Brooks bemoans the current iterations of manliness on display at the White House and elsewhere. I agree that there’s plenty of bad behavior, but I’m not sure manliness is the problem. I know for certain it isn’t the solution.
Brooks praises two men for a level of manliness he deems appropriate. He admires the new White House Chief of Staff John Kelly for elbowing out that innapropriately manly hooligan Anthony Scaramucci, and he expresses particular admiration for John McCain, who “flipped his thumb down on the pretzeled health care bill.” McCain’s received an awful lot of praise for his maverick bravery in facing down misguided members of his own party, but it is worth remembering that his thumb flip would have been an idle gesture if it weren’t for the steady opposition of Republican senators Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins. McCain’s grandstanding and proselytizing was neither virtuous nor particularly manly. The female senators are the ones who showed virtue. They stood strong against threats from their own colleagues and the President. They didn’t wait until the final hour to do the right thing.
If being manly means snatching credit and attention from the women you work with, I could provide a list of manly men as long as my arm. Manliness is not a virtue. Womanliness is not a virtue. Behaving like a decent human being is a virtue and it has no gender.
Try again, David Brooks. I’m rooting for you.