The Pundit Class

The word pundit, as defined by the Merriam Webster dictionary, refers to a 'learned man' or teacher. This derives from the Hindi 'pandit' or 'pandita,' an honorary title bestowed onto a wise man. The second and more modern definition refers to a critic, or one who 'gives opinions in an authoritative manner.' The pundit hits a stride somewhere between a politician and a journalist, but somehow manages to be neither.

Modern pundits, it is assumed, critique politics and culture and society at large from a kind of philosophical and practical wisdom, giving them special insight into human nature, the political process, economics, history, and other factors. There are hundreds of well known pundits around the country, some espousing far left or far right ideology, but the most respected pundits are those whose views straddle the center.

I've always been fascinated by Mr. David Brooks, because unlike so many of his more rowdy, more belligerent colleagues, his center-right views are taken very seriously by Washington. He is an ivy league intellectual and a conservative that liberals don't feel dirty listening to. He's that super smart math professor you had in college who sedated a room with a low key self-effacement. Professors like Brooks only show strong emotion when expressing disappointment in a class that isn't reaching its full potential:

"I'm so disappointed in you," he clucks, visibly annoyed. "You guys are so much smarter than this, and frankly its annoying I have to even see scores like this so far along in the quarter."

Mr. Brooks recently gave a revealing talk in which he confessed his real passion as a writer and revealed a personal anecdote unlocking the mystery of how he ended up embracing Conservatism.

He and his pundit brethren get paid to do what many intelligent and political passionate writers would kill for: travelling the world, unlocking and unfolding new paradigms, being looked on as a thought guru for a confusing age, helping everyday people make sense of the senseless.

Pundits like Brooks revel in their middle of the road sensibilities. It is not true that the only brilliant modern day pundits are those with radical thoughts, but the most brilliant pundits are capable of them, and for all his considerable talent, Mr. Brooks yet to unleash one upon the world.

The personal anecdote he shared with City Arts and lectures outlined with his brilliant college paper take-down of the haughty conservative pioneer William F. Buckley, and being subsequently hired by Buckley. The ensuing months, as Brooks describes, were a glimpse into a privileged life (yacht clubs et al.). I speculate, but it seems obvious that Brooks was enamored by the lifestyle, and convinced that enough hard work could make it happen for anybody.

The Buckley indoctrination, along with his failure to make a single cogent point in a debate with Libertarian pioneer Milton Friedman, resulted in former liberal Brooks' subsequent conversion to "Weekly Standard" Reagan Conservatism.

Against the backdrop of today's Tea Party Caucus, a pundit like Brooks, with classic Conservative beliefs, appears moderate and sensible. Indeed, Brooks (along with every other sane American) expressed disgust at Congressional Republicans' recent obstructionism.  It's hard not to like the guy, even if its clear that he inherited a really toned down version of Buckley's haughtiness from his former mentor, one he sheaths smartly in a veneer of 'aw shucks' humility and common-sense clucking.

It is not my intention to simplify the life of a man, or the evolution of his belief system, but all of us with philosophical and political inclinations have defining moments that give us our voice. A 'serious' pundit like Brooks, from what I gather, and I could be wrong, found his voice as a result of both his humorous disdain of Buckley and his inability to outsmart Friedman. Such qualifications are blinding, I know, but there is a reason we Americans hold our most treasures panditas to such a high standard.

The pundit is relied on more and more to cut through the increasing din of mass media. For instance, Brooks is referred to as a journalist in his Wikipedia entry, although I have yet to hear a single analysis from him that doesn't hinge on his strong conservative beliefs, making him a pundit.

I may be unfair to Brooks, but there's no reason to feel sorry for him. He does well. In fact, most well known pundits do very well. Today's pundit is an upper class soothsayer appealed to for solutions and translations but only able to produce ideas, notions, theories and generalizations that support a pre-determined outcome. I question the value of pundits. I question whether they represent 'our' interests, and not simply the interests of upholding their own particular class of privileged philosopher. I question their qualifications, although many of have fallen upward into a notoriety that gives automatic weight to anything they say.

I suppose if pundits were not treated as oracles and wise figures, but rather articulate, biased spokespeople for a transparent set of interests, then the pretense of qualified wisdom could at last be dropped and the veil of hypocrisy that separates the pundit from the "regular Joe" could at last be lifted.


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