American Discourse Is Fundamentally Broken

David Brooks and Bob Herbert offer similar calls for a new national discourse on the same op-ed page

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It's been a long, hot summer of partisanship, but The New York Times's op-ed page may have the antidote this morning. On almost any other day, David Brooks, who fills most of the page's quota for conservative commentary, and Bob Herbert, who has focused on his liberal lens on urban policy and national politics since 1993, have the same message: American discourse is fundamentally broken. In a rare moment of harmony, the writers take a break from the day's news cycle, hold up a mirror to the national debate, and, each in their own language, make two earnest, strikingly nonpartisan calls for change.

  • We Must Recapture the American Character, David Brooks writes. "When you get into the core problems, whether in Washington, California or on Wall Street, you keep seeing the same moral deficiencies: self-indulgence, irresponsibility and imprudence." But it is just as important, Brooks says, to ask, "how does government alter culture?" He celebrates the creation of a new conservative magazine that renews a "fierce desire to see the human whole, to be aware of people as spiritual beings and not economic units or cogs in a technocratic policy machine." 
  • We've Forgotten the Fundamentals, says Bob Herbert: "How to live within our means, the benefits of shared sacrifice, the responsibilities that go with citizenship, the importance of a well-rounded education and tolerance." He writes that Americans seem to be in need of therapy, unable to confront the enormous challenges that face them. There is a kind of "disturbing behavior, coming from our political leaders and the public at large, that is also symptomatic of a society at loose ends," Herbert says. "We seem unable to face up to many of the hard truths confronting the U.S. as we approach the end of the first decade of the 21st century."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.