PLAYBOY: Do you relate the changes to higher divorce rates? For a while there was also a backlash against monogamy.
BROOKS: I do. I don’t think it serves anyone, least of all children who grow up in disorganized families and communities. I think the ideal number of sexual partners to have in a year is one.
PLAYBOY: One? Presumably some of our readers would disagree.
BROOKS: There’s a lot of research that supports my view. I often tell my liberal friends that the American women who have the most orgasms are evangelical Christians.
PLAYBOY: You’re joking, right?
BROOKS: It’s true. They have more sex. They’re in monogamous relationships a long time. They have sex with one person.
PLAYBOY: Wouldn’t that lead to less sex, not more? Most people assume that, for a variety of reasons, married couples have a lot less sex than people who are single.
BROOKS: The research shows they have more fulfilling sex lives than the people who are swinging.
PLAYBOY: You’ve said the most important decision anyone makes is whom to marry. Doesn’t that mostly come down to luck?
BROOKS: Some of it, maybe, but it’s worth thinking about before you get married. If you get two optimistic people together, they’re going to look on the bright side of everything. You get two people with temperaments that clash, it’s probably going to be a problem. Recently I did something called Life Reports, asking readers over 70 to write in about their lives. There were about 4,000 or 5,000 responses. The people who had the best marriages were happy, no matter what else happened in their lives, and that, I think, was luck. I don’t think anybody knows how to choose a marriage partner. Maybe they are just the sort of people who are agreeable to be around, and they happened to marry other agreeable people. That’s what they should teach in college.
PLAYBOY: What else accounted for happy lives?
BROOKS: Unfortunately there was no easy relationship between depth and happiness. A lot of the people who were impressive at writing about their lives were pretty unhappy. It’s like in Annie Hall when Woody Allen walks up to this incredibly good-looking couple and asks, “How come you guys are so happy?” The woman says, “Well, I’m incredibly shallow, and so is he.” Maybe that works. None of us would choose that, but maybe it works.
PLAYBOY: If the sexual revolution did away with the guardrails, and marriage is even better for long-term sex, why was the sexual revolution positive, at least on balance?
BROOKS: Women were unhappy in the 1950s, and guys were repressed, so I would say that was a net gain. And also, by the way, we overestimate the degree to which people in the 1950s were not having sex. We think they were all repressed. We think that PLAYBOY came along and everybody changed, but in fact it was World War I and World War II. It was the act of going to Paris, people getting out of their farm towns, going abroad and coming into contact with different lives. The wars were also a time of separation of men and women. When men returned, there were celebrations.
PLAYBOY: Back to your evolution from the left to the right. After witnessing the results of welfare and the breakup of the family, what finally led you to vote Republican for the first time?
BROOKS: College, for me, was living in the fourth century—I studied a lot of ancient Greek. But I began to shift, and I always had a bourgeois-immigrant thing inside. Margaret Thatcher was elected in 1979, and I sort of liked her. I think I’m typical of everybody in that politics is less about the ideas than the personalities you like. As I said, I came to like Reagan.
PLAYBOY: And now you’re the conservative voice on the Times op-ed page. Is it a lonely place to be?
BROOKS: As I’ve said, being a conservative on the Times op-ed page is like being chief rabbi in Mecca—yes, it’s lonely.
PLAYBOY: Did your fans and foes switch when you wrote and spoke positively about Obama?
BROOKS: I guess so. There’s a lot of “He’s the liberals’ favorite conservative.” But I was a defender of the Iraq War, and Times readers didn’t like that. There was a lot more hostility the first few years, but today it’s still surprising. A lot of conservatives don’t regard me as a member of the team anymore, but a number of people on the left don’t seem to see a difference between me and Ann Coulter. I get a lot of hate mail. It’s not the majority, but people come up and tell me how much they hate me.
PLAYBOY: Does it bother you?
BROOKS: No one likes to be hated. Not long ago I was at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and a stunningly beautiful woman walked right up to me and said, “I hate you.” You don’t like that, but it’s part of the job. After my first six months on the job, I cleaned out my e-mail folder, and there were 290,000 messages with the core message “Paul Krugman is great; you suck.” For the first six months on the job, I was bothered by it. I’d never been hated on a mass scale before, but my skin got thicker. I’m still bothered by it, but that’s part of the job.
PLAYBOY: Do you feel you can have a different kind of influence than, for example, Ann Coulter or Rush Limbaugh, because they’re preaching to the choir, whereas in writing for the Times you’re injecting another perspective into the dialogue between many who aren’t in your choir?
BROOKS: Coulter and all of them accuse me of being a coward and a sellout, and I counter that by saying, “You’re in a little ghetto where everybody agrees with you. How brave is that?” At the same time, I get plenty of appreciation, so I don’t feel I’m in the wilderness. Actually, I don’t feel far from many Times readers. If Ann Coulter were writing at the Times, that would take more bravery than I have.
PLAYBOY: Do you also feel isolated from the far right?
BROOKS: Very few things about the job give you sheer pleasure, but when Rush Limbaugh goes after me, I feel happy. Or on the other side, when MoveOn.org goes after me, I feel happy. I’m happy to have them not like me.
PLAYBOY: You’re frequently on talk shows, including some that get contentious. Does it bother you that so much of politics on TV is shouting matches in which few people get to finish a sentence?
BROOKS: I don’t do those shouting shows. Nothing like Laura Ingraham or even Rachel Maddow. Rachel is plenty smart, but she’s in a fundamentally different business. She’s in the provocation and rallying troops business, and in that I put her a level above most. I’ve never met this guy Ed Schultz, but I don’t think I’d like to be on with him or Keith Olbermann.