"I’m not one of the gang anymore"

“One of the toughest things about being a columnist is that people hate you,” he said. Hate is perhaps too strong a word; it’s not a sentiment Brooks tends to evoke in people. On the contrary, his balanced views are seen as strengths, not weaknesses. “What’s interesting about David is the part that’s not on the right or the left,” says the liberal author Paul Berman. “He’s a social critic, with a talent for wry, fond criticism of the American bourgeoisie.” But he lacks “a kind of indignation,” Berman notes. He’s insufficiently shrill for Fox News, talk radio, and the conservative welfare state promoted by Washington think tanks—what the writer Andrew Sullivan refers to as “the financial-industrial complex.” “He’s in a very tough spot, like a lot of people on the right,” Sullivan observes. “We’ve all had to grapple with some difficult events, like the catastrophe of Iraq and the fiscal crisis, the seeds of which were planted in the Bush administration. David isn’t institutionally bound to the party line. He has to prove to the right that he’s not a New York Times liberal and to the New York Times liberals that he’s not a certified neocon. So why not go study neuroscience?”

There’s no denying that Brooks has fewer conservative friends than he once did. Their main complaint is that he has become too outspoken about the stridency of the Republican Party. He notoriously called Sarah Palin “a joke” (“I regret that now,” he says), and he no longer supports the war in Iraq, positions that have earned him enmity among many on the right. Brooks himself claims to be beyond such distinctions, and identifies himself as a Hamiltonian conservative—meaning that he believes in both strong government and individual liberty. He’s jettisoned “the Milton Friedman idea: that if you get government [to go] away you’ll have spontaneous order.” As for his old conservative colleagues, “I’m not one of the gang anymore. They’re not as much a part of my social life as they once were.”