The XX Factor

The Mysteriously Slowing Population Growth

What’s behind David Brooks’ hand-wringing over population growth?

Photo by CRIS BOURONCLE/AFP/Getty Images

David Brooks plays a special role in the ranks of conservative punditry. His job is to take outrageous right wing ideas, clean them up with a comb to the hair and a tie to the neck, and hope that he can hoodwink readers who mistake gentility for moderation. Now he’s seeing how far he can take this strategy by getting involved in the exploding conservative war on contraception and general women’s rights. The tactic? Concern-trolling the women of the world for abusing our reproductive rights and causing a “population implosion.” Yes, while the rest of the world is noticing that every year, the actual number of human beings on the planet gets bigger and bigger–recently surpassing 7 billion people, many times larger than it was just 100 years ago–conservatives have decided that we’re actually suffering a crisis of too few people, a concern that conveniently has implications for women’s basic reproductive rights.

Brooks manages to get through his entire hand-wringing op-ed without mentioning contraception or abortion, but he doesn’t really have to. Even though he stupidly guesses women are having fewer children for mysterious reasons, he can’t really be unaware that it’s because women  don’t have to be constantly pregnant anymore. By refusing to directly address the question of force, Brooks can let the supposed problem of not-force hang in the air without getting his hands dirty.

When it comes to conservative fussing over women’s shocking unwillingness to spend years of their lives with one on ‘em and one in ‘em, the preferred rhetorical strategy is to decline acknowledging that women give birth to children, and instead portray women as specialized production mechanisms for laborer production. Brooks knows the genre well, spending most of his column worrying that we’re not going to have enough future workers to keep him well-stocked in loafers and golf clubs. With unemployment as high as it is, however, he probably should reconsider how willing the audience is to hear that we need more people flooding the employment lines and offering to work for lower and lower wages.

After all, there are other metaphors for child-bearing that accomplish the goal of dehumanizing women by reducing them to means of production. Consider Georgia State Rep. Terry England, who addressed the concerns of women who will be denied treatment for unsalvagable pregnancies under proposed abortion bans by saying, “I’ve had the experience of delivering calves, dead and alive. Delivering pigs, dead or alive. It breaks our hearts to see those animals not make it.” Sure, the women-are-livestock analogy may seem a little less modern than the women-are-labor-factories analogy, but in an age when even Mitt Romney has to pretend he enjoys spending his weekends in a duck blind, it might just be the sort of good ol’ boy strategy you need to play to that Tea Party base.