This week, New York Times columnist David Brooks introduced readers to his imaginary friends, Mr. Bentham and Mr. Hume, as a way of highlighting the nation's philosophical divide.
If only our ideological split were that complicated.
As it happens, I also have two imaginary friends (and boy, do I need them), named Mr. Hoover and Jim.
Mr. Hoover knows everything. He attended a highbrow graduate school and worked as a Senate aide before becoming a policy expert. (He even pretends to understand Jeremy Bentham.) He is a man who craves acceptance from the other smart people who surround him.
Jim is pretty smart, too, but hasn't squandered his talent working in Washington. Rather than theorize about economics, Jim takes an authentic risk by starting a business. He ends up employing 20 people and creating the capital that helps pay for their health insurance -- as well as fund many of the social safety net programs that Mr. Hoover dreams up.
Mr. Hoover is an awesome lunch partner, though. If you ask him to recommend an Ethiopian restaurant, he'll rattle off the six best in Washington.
Jim never would eat Ethiopian food, though he unapologetically gulps carbonated drinks containing high-fructose corn syrup while rooting for his state school's middling football team.
If you put Mr. Hoover in charge of government, he'd take to the task with an unrestrained confidence. Because he's so much smarter than you, he'd have no compunction forcing you to do the right thing on an array of issues, from your light bulbs to your health care.
If you told him to solve an intricate problem, such as global warming, he'd assemble a group of similarly dazzling thinkers to centralize the entire energy economy for the next 40 years through taxation, subsidies, mandates and corporate giveaways. He does this because he knows precisely what the weather will be like in 2050. That's how smart he is.
Now, Jim, I'm afraid, would be far less impressive. If you asked him to "solve" global warming, he'd question the costs and benefits of federally controlled energy production. He understands, from his own life experiences, that you can't decree an economic outcome.