5 Questions: David Brooks

Soon after the release of his book “The Social Animal,” New York Times columnist, David Brooks, appeared at the Graduate School of Design to speak  with Harvard faculty on the topic of “Politics,  the Brain, and Human Nature.” Fifteen Minutes caught up with him for a few questions on his work as a columnist, his vision for the country, and his alleged “bromance” with the President.

1.  Fifteen Minutes: How did you get yourself into a position of such influence in the country and in the White House? What it your abilities as a social animal?

David Brooks: First, I don’t think columnists have influence. When politicians read me they don’t say, “Oh, what can I learn from David?” They say, “Is that column on my side, or against me?” So they just want to know if I’m going to be helpful to their propaganda machine or against it. So I don’t believe I have influence the way maybe Walter Lippmann did years ago. If I have any influence it’s maybe just helping people who don’t have time to do what I do, which is interview and read, just to clarify how they see the world. But I never really think I influence people in government.

2. FM: There’s been some talk abut your “bromance” with President Obama. Can you tell us a little about it? Where did you meet? How’s it going?

DB: I think we’re in therapy now. [laughs] I think it’s over-done. I don’t think he gives a rat’s ass what I think. If I didn’t work at the Times, no one would care. Times columnists have readers so they care. The only thing I would say from my side is that he’s seven days older than me, we’ve lived in the same neighborhoods of Chicago, I’ve had a lot of similar experiences and, while obviously he has many skills I don’t have, I feel some simpatica with him and I sort of admire the way he basically handles himself.

3. FM: Do you have a best Obama story?

DB: The one story that’s out in public that he’s told is that when he was a senator I would criticize the Republicans for spending too much money back when they were in the majority the first time and then I would throw in a few sentences attacking the Democrats, just to make myself feel good. And so, one morning I get an email from him and he says, “David, if you want to attack us, fine, but you’re only throwing in those few sentences to make yourself feel good.” And I thought it was incredibly perceptive of him to see that, so I was deeply impressed.

4. FM: You said in the lecture that the most important thing you can do in college is figure out who you’re going to marry. What advice can you offer to the career-driven ambitious Harvard undergrad community?

DB: Read a lot of Jane Austen. And the other thing is, read a story by Tolstoy called “Family Happiness” which is not only about the first blush of love, but about sustained love for adults. And then read Helen Fisher who writes about how we fall in love. And so those are some books that will help inform you about what’s going on. The second thing is, take your time in your thirties to make this decision. As in all decisions, your parents will go slowly crazy as you delay, but take your time.

5. FM: If there’s one thing you could change about the country right now, what would it be?

DB: Huh. The state of the New York Mets, Bruce Springsteen’s unwillingness to call me every week. I mentioned the budget. I guess the issue I care most about is early childhood education, so I would give us a much better system of early childhood education.

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