David Brooks and the Organization Kids


I mostly like David Brooks just fine, but one of his most annoying habits is plucking individuals out of the news and then turning them into poster children for whatever cultural theory he’s peddling at the moment. I suppose it’s an occupational hazard for columnists. His latest stab at this was Tuesday’s column in which Elena Kagan — smart, friendly, and scholarly, but also careful and pragmatic — became a symbol for the “profusion of Organization Kids at elite college campuses” that he’s noticed lately. “They were not intellectual risk-takers,” he lamented “They regarded professors as bosses to be pleased rather than authorities to be challenged. As one admissions director told me at the time, they were prudential rather than poetic.”

Well, two can play at that game. If Organization Kids are taking over the country, then how do you explain Donald Berwick? He’s Obama’s choice to head the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and that puts him at ground zero for the healthcare rationing debate. But as Kate Pickert reports, Berwick has been anything but cautious and prudential on the topic:

Republicans are gearing up for what promises to be a very contentious hearing. Yesterday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said on the Senate floor that Berwick is “an expert on rationing.”….The reason? Berwick is, by all accounts, a huge fan of the National Health Service, Britain’s single-payer health care system.

….As he says in the video above, Berwick believes health care is a human right and systems — like taxation — are a valid means to ensure everyone gets it. He believes the NHS successfully delivers care to the UK, although it could be better….Berwick believes there is a tremendous amount of waste in the U.S. health care system that can be reduced through government policies, beginning with Medicare reform.

….It should also be noted that Berwick, who works at Harvard Medical School, is widely respected in the health policy community. His stance that money can be saved and patients better served by rewarding performance over quantity is shared by most top policy experts consulted by the Administration in the ramp up to the vote on health reform. A community disagrees with Berwick’s methods for achieving this — including most Republicans and some health policy conservatives — but he is not a radical outlier. What he is is outspoken.

Berwick is outspoken! And he’s an Obama nominee! And honestly, I doubt that it’s just because he’s older than Kagan. So maybe the Organization Kids aren’t taking over Washington DC after all. Maybe, in fact, there are just lots of different kinds of people in the world, and Kagan is one kind while Berwick is another. And maybe that’s OK.

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