After waxing lyrical about Ted Kennedy’s incrementalist approach to building the liberal welfare state, David Brooks takes an apparent detour to tell us:
We in this country have a distinct sort of society. We Americans work longer hours than any other people on earth. We switch jobs much more frequently than Western Europeans or the Japanese. We have high marriage rates and high divorce rates. We move more, volunteer more and murder each other more.
Out of this dynamic but sometimes merciless culture, a distinct style of American capitalism has emerged. The American economy is flexible and productive. America’s G.D.P. per capita is nearly 50 percent higher than France’s. But the American system is also unforgiving. It produces its share of insecurity and misery.
This culture, this spirit, this system is not perfect, but it is our own. American voters welcome politicians who propose reforms that smooth the rough edges of the system. They do not welcome politicians and proposals that seek to contradict it. They do not welcome proposals that centralize power and substantially reduce individual choice. They resist proposals that put security above mobility and individual responsibility.
He can’t quite bring himself to spell it out, but he’s saying that Obama is no Ted Kennedy and that he’s out of touch with the essential character of America. (Brooks no doubt gets visited by a horde of White House spinners if he’s that explicit, but that’s the gist.)
Well, to be clear, much of what Kennedy advocated—including nationalized health care—hasn’t come about because Americans are resistant to much of modern liberalism’s agenda items, whether enacted bit by bit or in huge gulps. Nevertheless, Brooks’s take, however oblique, on Obama’s radicalism is on the mark. Centralizing power and reducing individual choice in a truth-serum-required campaign would sum up Obama’s goals. Cap-and-trade, ObamaCare, consumer regulation, financial bailouts, executive-compensation regimens, and car-company nationalization all demand the centralization of power and reduction of individual (or private sector) choice. Conversely, there isn’t a single initiative that pops to mind that features “mobility” or “individual responsibility.”
If this is really what Obama is all about, Brooks hawked the wrong candidate, and we’re in for a battle royale for the remainder of his presidency. It turns out Obama doesn’t appear to understand what America is all about.