Commentary Magazine


The Politics Of Mush

David Brooks smartly analyzes the difference between Barack Obama’s politics and Hillary Clinton’s, recollecting their very distinct styles at Iowa’s Jefferson-Jackson dinner in November:

But Obama sounded like a cross between a social activist and a flannel-shirted software C.E.O. — as a nonhierarchical, collaborative leader who can inspire autonomous individuals to cooperate for the sake of common concerns. Clinton had sounded like Old Politics, but Obama created a vision of New Politics. And the past several months have revolved around the choice he framed there that night. Some people are enthralled by the New Politics, and we see their vapors every day. Others think it is a mirage and a delusion. There’s only one politics, and, tragically, it’s the old kind, filled with conflict and bad choices.

You do not have to be a fan of Hillary Clinton to say, “How the heck does Obama-speak work in the real world?” It’s nice for ideas to bubble up from below, indeed we have an institutionalized system of such bubbling in America called “federalism” (which I imagine Obama is not too fond of). However, when push comes to shove, presidents have agendas, fight with and cajole Congress, occasionally go over their heads to the public, and eventually settle for what they can get. In all that, there is not much room for people to come together in a nice fuzzy group hug. That is, after all, what elections are for: to debate the issues and, if the race has been focused on real issues, invest the winner with a mandate to take the country in a certain direction.

I may be hopelessly old-fashioned, but after the election there won’t be a lot of space for “autonomous individuals to cooperate for the sake of common concerns.” If the good people of Ohio or Texas can figure this out, more power to them. If there are more people who have a “huh?” reaction, I suspect Hillary Clinton will do just fine.