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Spring 2004 | Volume 26, Number 6 | Features
Good Morning, Seattle

The New York Times’ David Brooks Addresses 900 Business and Community Leaders at SPU Breakfast

A New York Times columnist, best-selling author and political analyst for “The NewsHour With Jim Lehrer,” David Brooks also happens to be a witty, self-effacing man of faith.

As headline speaker for Seattle Pacific University’s Greater Seattle Community Breakfast on April 27, he brought his own comic style and keen analysis to a discussion of “The Landscape of American Politics.” Brooks offered a tour of suburban culture, describing the predominantly Democratic “inner-ring” suburbs and the mostly Republican “outer-ring” suburbs. “Society is filled with good people working together on problems,” he said. “Yet when you get into the world of politics, it’s Hatfield and McCoy. We’re in a politically polarized era. … My question is, why are we so upset with each other?”

Brooks doesn’t fit the media stereotype of a right-winged commentator with an axe to grind. He has a comic, pointed style that falls somewhere between William Safire’s and Garrison Keillor’s. Recently labeled “the hothouse flower of The New York Times — its token conservative,” he has also been called “red-hot” and “one of the must-reads in this country.” SPU President Philip Eaton describes Brooks as “in the grand tradition of the American essayist and one of our important cultural observers.”

On “The NewsHour,” Brooks takes on liberal commentator Mark Shields as they interpret the week’s news. But Brooks says he makes a point of not hammering people with his brand of politics. “If conservatives ran the world,” he muses tongue-in-cheek, “it would be terrible.” Half of his best friends are liberals, he tells Response. “I’m not one of those who thinks that one side is morally superior.”

The importance of faith and character is something Brooks does hammer on in his essays, editorials and self-described books of “comic sociology,” Bobos in Paradise and his upcoming On Paradise Drive. A practicing Jew, he argues that the decline of ethics and rise of superficiality are dangerous trends in America. Rather than researchers trying to figure out why folks are so religious, he once wrote, “religious groups should be sending out researchers to try to understand why there are pockets of people in the world who do not feel the constant presence of God in their lives.”

Brooks’ breakfast remarks were preceded by comments from Eaton on how to lead with vision, direction and purpose in a world where people’s “maps” are always colliding. “Those were some of the more on-point and eloquent remarks I’ve heard from a college president, ever,” said Brooks as he came to the podium.

The work of Seattle Pacific is significant, he continued. “Many universities instruct their students on every tiny aspect of life — except character-building and values. It’s nice to be at a university where students are provided with a vocabulary to talk about the most important issues in life.”


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