Commentary Magazine


Topic: David Brooks

Brooks Cheers Beck — Honest!

David Brooks couldn’t find a bad word to say about the Glenn Beck rally. Really. In his conversation with Gail Collins, she certainly tried to drag something negative out of him. But he liked what he saw:

I have to confess I really enjoyed it. I’m no Beck fan obviously, but the spirit was really warm, generous and uplifting. The only bit of unpleasantness I found emanated from some liberal gatecrashers behaving offensively, carrying anti-Beck banners and hoping to get in some televised fights. … There, at Saturday’s rally, were the most conservative people in the country, lauding Martin Luther King Jr. There they were, in the midst of their dismay, lavishly celebrating the basic institutions of American government. I have no problem with that.

In fact, that is why the liberal punditocracy’s criticism was both muted and half-hearted. What was there to grip about? Well, there was all that, you know, religion stuff. Brooks is fine with it:

If there was a political message to the meeting, it was that many people think America’s peril is fundamentally spiritual, not economic. There has been some straying from the basic values and thrifty, industrious habits that built the country. I don’t agree with much of what this crowd wants, but I do agree with that.

Hmm, perhaps a spiritual revival that pushes back against the get-something-for-nothing me-ism of the 1960s and preaches delayed, not instant, gratification is socially beneficial. Next we’ll find out that stable two-parent households are the key to staying out of poverty.

But they are so angry. Not really. Brooks said “elite” was never mentioned at the rally. He explains: “There was a sense that the moral failings are in every home and town, and that what is needed is a moral awakening everywhere. … This was an affirmation of bourgeois values, but against a rot from within, not an assault from on high.”

What seems to have flummoxed the left is that the Beck rally demonstrated that the populist anti-Obama faction in the country (some might use the mundane phrase “majority”) isn’t composed of wackos. They actually understand better than elites that the economic problems are in large part a function of a collapse in values. Obama likes to rail against Wall Street. Well, that’s a location. The ralliers want to talk about what went wrong with the people who populate business and government. They would say we have lost touch with essential values — thrift, persistence, responsibility, modesty, and, yes, faith in something beyond self and self-indulgence. As Brooks put it, “Every society has to engird capitalism in a restraining value system, or else it turns nihilistic and out of control.”

The chattering class should stop chattering long enough to listen to what citizens are saying. Not only is it quite reasonable; it is profound.

David Brooks couldn’t find a bad word to say about the Glenn Beck rally. Really. In his conversation with Gail Collins, she certainly tried to drag something negative out of him. But he liked what he saw:

I have to confess I really enjoyed it. I’m no Beck fan obviously, but the spirit was really warm, generous and uplifting. The only bit of unpleasantness I found emanated from some liberal gatecrashers behaving offensively, carrying anti-Beck banners and hoping to get in some televised fights. … There, at Saturday’s rally, were the most conservative people in the country, lauding Martin Luther King Jr. There they were, in the midst of their dismay, lavishly celebrating the basic institutions of American government. I have no problem with that.

In fact, that is why the liberal punditocracy’s criticism was both muted and half-hearted. What was there to grip about? Well, there was all that, you know, religion stuff. Brooks is fine with it:

If there was a political message to the meeting, it was that many people think America’s peril is fundamentally spiritual, not economic. There has been some straying from the basic values and thrifty, industrious habits that built the country. I don’t agree with much of what this crowd wants, but I do agree with that.

Hmm, perhaps a spiritual revival that pushes back against the get-something-for-nothing me-ism of the 1960s and preaches delayed, not instant, gratification is socially beneficial. Next we’ll find out that stable two-parent households are the key to staying out of poverty.

But they are so angry. Not really. Brooks said “elite” was never mentioned at the rally. He explains: “There was a sense that the moral failings are in every home and town, and that what is needed is a moral awakening everywhere. … This was an affirmation of bourgeois values, but against a rot from within, not an assault from on high.”

What seems to have flummoxed the left is that the Beck rally demonstrated that the populist anti-Obama faction in the country (some might use the mundane phrase “majority”) isn’t composed of wackos. They actually understand better than elites that the economic problems are in large part a function of a collapse in values. Obama likes to rail against Wall Street. Well, that’s a location. The ralliers want to talk about what went wrong with the people who populate business and government. They would say we have lost touch with essential values — thrift, persistence, responsibility, modesty, and, yes, faith in something beyond self and self-indulgence. As Brooks put it, “Every society has to engird capitalism in a restraining value system, or else it turns nihilistic and out of control.”

The chattering class should stop chattering long enough to listen to what citizens are saying. Not only is it quite reasonable; it is profound.

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The Sound of Silence

The focus of Jeffrey Goldberg’s Atlantic article was, as its title indicated, the “Point of No Return” for Israel — the point at which the Jewish state will conclude it can no longer wait for the charade of non-unanimous, non-crippling, non-uniformly-enforced sanctions to work, and will find itself forced to take the action the United States, under Barack Obama, will not take.

But there is another “point of no return” that might occur even earlier. It relates not to Israel but to the other states in the region. At a certain point, they will themselves conclude that the U.S. is not going to act, and their response will be not to help bomb Iran, but to accommodate it. Once that process reaches a critical point — and it has already started — Iran will have won a historic geopolitical victory, which its eventual acquisition of nuclear weapons will simply confirm.

Perhaps the two most important paragraphs in Goldberg’s article dealt not with Israel but with the Arab states — and a message Goldberg heard multiple times:

Several Arab officials complained to me that the Obama administration has not communicated its intentions to them, even generally. No Arab officials I spoke with appeared to believe that the administration understands the regional ambitions of their Persian adversary. One Arab foreign minister told me that he believes Iran is taking advantage of Obama’s “reasonableness.”

“Obama’s voters like it when the administration shows that it doesn’t want to fight Iran, but this is not a domestic political issue,” the foreign minister said. “Iran will continue on this reckless path, unless the administration starts to speak unreasonably. The best way to avoid striking Iran is to make Iran think that the U.S. is about to strike Iran. We have to know the president’s intentions on this matter. We are his allies.” [Emphasis added].

Goldberg cited two administration sources as saying this issue had caused tension between Obama and Admiral Dennis Blair, the recently dismissed director of national intelligence:

Blair, who was said to put great emphasis on the Iranian threat, told the president that America’s Arab allies needed more reassurance. Obama reportedly did not appreciate the advice.

So the administration has not communicated its intentions to its Arab allies, even generally; the president did not appreciate advice according to which he needed to reassure them; his secretary of state told the Arab press earlier this year that the military option was off the table; Obama told David Brooks, at the beginning of his presidential campaign, that Iran wanted nuclear weapons for defensive purposes and could be contained — the approach of Jimmy Carter’s national security adviser.

You don’t have to be a weatherman (or even read a long article) to know where this is headed. The irony is that the advice of the Arab foreign minister was in fact the only way diplomacy might succeed: military force can be avoided only by convincing Iran the U.S. will use it. Obama needs to say publicly, as John McCain did, that the only thing worse than bombing Iran would be Iran with a bomb. Instead, the countries in the region hear only the silence of the lambs, the neighing of a weak horse, the strategic equivalent of voting “present.”

The focus of Jeffrey Goldberg’s Atlantic article was, as its title indicated, the “Point of No Return” for Israel — the point at which the Jewish state will conclude it can no longer wait for the charade of non-unanimous, non-crippling, non-uniformly-enforced sanctions to work, and will find itself forced to take the action the United States, under Barack Obama, will not take.

But there is another “point of no return” that might occur even earlier. It relates not to Israel but to the other states in the region. At a certain point, they will themselves conclude that the U.S. is not going to act, and their response will be not to help bomb Iran, but to accommodate it. Once that process reaches a critical point — and it has already started — Iran will have won a historic geopolitical victory, which its eventual acquisition of nuclear weapons will simply confirm.

Perhaps the two most important paragraphs in Goldberg’s article dealt not with Israel but with the Arab states — and a message Goldberg heard multiple times:

Several Arab officials complained to me that the Obama administration has not communicated its intentions to them, even generally. No Arab officials I spoke with appeared to believe that the administration understands the regional ambitions of their Persian adversary. One Arab foreign minister told me that he believes Iran is taking advantage of Obama’s “reasonableness.”

“Obama’s voters like it when the administration shows that it doesn’t want to fight Iran, but this is not a domestic political issue,” the foreign minister said. “Iran will continue on this reckless path, unless the administration starts to speak unreasonably. The best way to avoid striking Iran is to make Iran think that the U.S. is about to strike Iran. We have to know the president’s intentions on this matter. We are his allies.” [Emphasis added].

Goldberg cited two administration sources as saying this issue had caused tension between Obama and Admiral Dennis Blair, the recently dismissed director of national intelligence:

Blair, who was said to put great emphasis on the Iranian threat, told the president that America’s Arab allies needed more reassurance. Obama reportedly did not appreciate the advice.

So the administration has not communicated its intentions to its Arab allies, even generally; the president did not appreciate advice according to which he needed to reassure them; his secretary of state told the Arab press earlier this year that the military option was off the table; Obama told David Brooks, at the beginning of his presidential campaign, that Iran wanted nuclear weapons for defensive purposes and could be contained — the approach of Jimmy Carter’s national security adviser.

You don’t have to be a weatherman (or even read a long article) to know where this is headed. The irony is that the advice of the Arab foreign minister was in fact the only way diplomacy might succeed: military force can be avoided only by convincing Iran the U.S. will use it. Obama needs to say publicly, as John McCain did, that the only thing worse than bombing Iran would be Iran with a bomb. Instead, the countries in the region hear only the silence of the lambs, the neighing of a weak horse, the strategic equivalent of voting “present.”

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A Cancellation 16 Years in the Making

Joseph Epstein, well known to Commentary readers and other literate types as one of America’s most distinguished essayists, has cancelled his subscription to the New York Times.

In an article appearing in the current edition of the Weekly Standard titled “Adios, Gray Lady,” Epstein writes that while the Times once enjoyed an aura of “a certain stateliness … the the possession of high virtue,” those days are gone.

“[T]the Gray Lady,” he continues, “is far from the grande dame she once was. For years now she has been going heavy on the rouge, lipstick, and eyeliner, using a push-up bra, and gadding about in stiletto heels. … I’ve had it with the old broad; after nearly 50 years together, I’ve determined to cut her loose.”

Far from an impulsive act, Epstein’s break with the Times actually was years in the making. Though he doesn’t mention it in his Weekly Standard article, back in 1994 he wrote a lengthy essay on his problems with the paper  — “The Degradation of the New York Times” — for Commentary, in which he lamented the paper’s steady drift away from at least attempts at objective reporting to out-and-out advocacy disguised as news coverage:

[T]he news columns of the Times have become so filled with opinion that one has become all but inured to the phenomenon…. Not that one should ever read a newspaper story without a proper measure of skepticism, but in The New York Times of late the gentle whir of political axes being ground has come to serve as a kind of basso continuo to the paper’s reporting.

In his Weekly Standard piece, Epstein elaborates on his decision to forgo the Times: “For so many decades the paper has been part of my morning mental hygiene. Yet in recent years I’ve been reading less and less of each day’s paper. … With the exception of David Brooks, who allows that his general position is slightly to the right of center but who is not otherwise locked into a Pavlovian political response, I find no need to read any of the Times’s regular columnists.”

And it’s not only the paper’s columnists Epstein realizes he can live without. “I’d sooner read the fine print in my insurance policies,” he writes, “than the paper’s perfectly predictable editorials.” Here, too, Epstein’s dismay was already evident in his 1994 Commentary essay:

One can now predict how the Times will come out editorially on nearly every issue, problem, or question of the day. The only amusement, or instruction, is in watching its editorial writers squirm in defending the indefensible, or rationalizing the irrational.

Reading both of Epstein’s articles  — and bearing in mind they were writen sixteen years apart – one doesn’t know whether to marvel at his ineffable patience in waiting this long before finally kicking the Times to the curb or to ask, perhaps uncharitably but with only the best of intentions, Why the interminable delay?

Joseph Epstein, well known to Commentary readers and other literate types as one of America’s most distinguished essayists, has cancelled his subscription to the New York Times.

In an article appearing in the current edition of the Weekly Standard titled “Adios, Gray Lady,” Epstein writes that while the Times once enjoyed an aura of “a certain stateliness … the the possession of high virtue,” those days are gone.

“[T]the Gray Lady,” he continues, “is far from the grande dame she once was. For years now she has been going heavy on the rouge, lipstick, and eyeliner, using a push-up bra, and gadding about in stiletto heels. … I’ve had it with the old broad; after nearly 50 years together, I’ve determined to cut her loose.”

Far from an impulsive act, Epstein’s break with the Times actually was years in the making. Though he doesn’t mention it in his Weekly Standard article, back in 1994 he wrote a lengthy essay on his problems with the paper  — “The Degradation of the New York Times” — for Commentary, in which he lamented the paper’s steady drift away from at least attempts at objective reporting to out-and-out advocacy disguised as news coverage:

[T]he news columns of the Times have become so filled with opinion that one has become all but inured to the phenomenon…. Not that one should ever read a newspaper story without a proper measure of skepticism, but in The New York Times of late the gentle whir of political axes being ground has come to serve as a kind of basso continuo to the paper’s reporting.

In his Weekly Standard piece, Epstein elaborates on his decision to forgo the Times: “For so many decades the paper has been part of my morning mental hygiene. Yet in recent years I’ve been reading less and less of each day’s paper. … With the exception of David Brooks, who allows that his general position is slightly to the right of center but who is not otherwise locked into a Pavlovian political response, I find no need to read any of the Times’s regular columnists.”

And it’s not only the paper’s columnists Epstein realizes he can live without. “I’d sooner read the fine print in my insurance policies,” he writes, “than the paper’s perfectly predictable editorials.” Here, too, Epstein’s dismay was already evident in his 1994 Commentary essay:

One can now predict how the Times will come out editorially on nearly every issue, problem, or question of the day. The only amusement, or instruction, is in watching its editorial writers squirm in defending the indefensible, or rationalizing the irrational.

Reading both of Epstein’s articles  — and bearing in mind they were writen sixteen years apart – one doesn’t know whether to marvel at his ineffable patience in waiting this long before finally kicking the Times to the curb or to ask, perhaps uncharitably but with only the best of intentions, Why the interminable delay?

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Brooks: We Have a Narcissism Problem

David Brooks writes:

The narcissistic person is marked by a grandiose self-image, a constant need for admiration, and a general lack of empathy for others. He is the keeper of a sacred flame, which is the flame he holds to celebrate himself. … His self-love is his most precious possession. It is the holy center of all that is sacred and right. He is hypersensitive about anybody who might splatter or disregard his greatness. If someone treats him slightingly, he perceives that as a deliberate and heinous attack. If someone threatens his reputation, he regards this as an act of blasphemy. He feels justified in punishing the attacker for this moral outrage.

OK, Brooks is working his way around to discussing Mel Gibson, but, by golly, it sounds like… well, Obama. Now, stop. I’m not comparing the president to an abusive spouse. (Obama’s one indisputably good quality is that he seems to be a good husband and dad.) But the personality — super-sensitive and so very self-absorbed – is unmistakably familiar to those who have watched Obama in action.

Brooks’s description of our times (“we’ve entered an era where self-branding is on the ascent and the culture of self-effacement is on the decline”) beautifully sums up the Obama campaign. A man with virtually no public accomplishments (other than writing about himself) branded himself as a political messiah and entered office with the expectation that he would remodel not only America but the entire world.

Once in office, Obama has continued on his narcissism jaunt. The speeches are littered with “I,” and his tolerance for criticism, whether from voters or political opponents, is nonexistent. You don’t get to be president without a whole lot of self-confidence, but Obama stands out, and not in a good way.

I don’t think Brooks intended his column as an indictment of the president who was supposed to have such a superior temperament. Still.

David Brooks writes:

The narcissistic person is marked by a grandiose self-image, a constant need for admiration, and a general lack of empathy for others. He is the keeper of a sacred flame, which is the flame he holds to celebrate himself. … His self-love is his most precious possession. It is the holy center of all that is sacred and right. He is hypersensitive about anybody who might splatter or disregard his greatness. If someone treats him slightingly, he perceives that as a deliberate and heinous attack. If someone threatens his reputation, he regards this as an act of blasphemy. He feels justified in punishing the attacker for this moral outrage.

OK, Brooks is working his way around to discussing Mel Gibson, but, by golly, it sounds like… well, Obama. Now, stop. I’m not comparing the president to an abusive spouse. (Obama’s one indisputably good quality is that he seems to be a good husband and dad.) But the personality — super-sensitive and so very self-absorbed – is unmistakably familiar to those who have watched Obama in action.

Brooks’s description of our times (“we’ve entered an era where self-branding is on the ascent and the culture of self-effacement is on the decline”) beautifully sums up the Obama campaign. A man with virtually no public accomplishments (other than writing about himself) branded himself as a political messiah and entered office with the expectation that he would remodel not only America but the entire world.

Once in office, Obama has continued on his narcissism jaunt. The speeches are littered with “I,” and his tolerance for criticism, whether from voters or political opponents, is nonexistent. You don’t get to be president without a whole lot of self-confidence, but Obama stands out, and not in a good way.

I don’t think Brooks intended his column as an indictment of the president who was supposed to have such a superior temperament. Still.

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Obama Destroys the Dream of a Center-Left Coalition

I won’t spoil the very clever fictional construct that David Brooks uses to make his point in today’s column, but his conclusion bears repeating:

Surveys showed public opinion drifting rightward on issue after issue: gun control, abortion, global warming and the role of government. Far from leading Americans, Democrats were repelling them. Between 2008 and 2010 the share of voters who considered the Democrats too liberal surged from 39 percent to 49 percent, according to Gallup surveys.

Prospects for the 2010 election are grim. Election guru Charlie Cook suspects the G.O.P. will retake the House. N.P.R. polled voters in the 60 most competitive House districts currently held by Democrats. Democrats trail Republicans in those districts, on average, by 5 percentage points. Independent voters in the districts favor Republicans by an average of 18 percentage points.

By 57 percent to 37 percent, voters in these districts embrace the proposition that “President Obama’s economic policies have run up a record federal deficit while failing to end the recession or slow the record pace of job losses.”

Instead of building faith in government, the events of 2009 and 2010 further undermined it. An absurdly low 6 percent of Americans acknowledge that the stimulus package created jobs, according to a New York Times/CBS survey.

I’ll quibble with “absurdly” if he means irrationally, but he’s accurate on the rest. And his warning is equally on point:

Some Kool-Aid sippers on the left say the problem is that Republicans have better messaging (somehow John Boehner became magically charismatic to independents). Others say the shift to the right is a product of bad economic times. … But the big story is that liberals have failed to create a governing center-left majority. If they can’t do it in circumstances like these, when will they ever?

There is a self-fulfilling quality to the left’s crack-up. The rush to the left and “never let a crisis go to waste” mentality was premised on the view that the window of opportunity to accomplish the liberal agenda was brief. But in piling on one big-government proposal after another, Obama actually shortened the window and gave rise to the conservative resurgence, which threatens to rip up the one significant ”achievement” (ObamaCare) jammed through in the first half of his term. (Sigh, yes, the halfway mark is in sight.) Obama might have prolonged his window of opportunity, kept the conservatives at bay, and preserved many of his party’s seats. But that would have required compromise and moderation in pursuit of his desired remaking of the economy and vast expansion of the federal government.

It was the road not taken — the road many hopeful pundits, including Brooks, were convinced Obama would take. The president has proved to be a lot less moderate, a lot less politically savvy, and as a result, a lot less successful than his boosters had imagined. He was nevertheless an invaluable aid in discrediting liberal statism.

I won’t spoil the very clever fictional construct that David Brooks uses to make his point in today’s column, but his conclusion bears repeating:

Surveys showed public opinion drifting rightward on issue after issue: gun control, abortion, global warming and the role of government. Far from leading Americans, Democrats were repelling them. Between 2008 and 2010 the share of voters who considered the Democrats too liberal surged from 39 percent to 49 percent, according to Gallup surveys.

Prospects for the 2010 election are grim. Election guru Charlie Cook suspects the G.O.P. will retake the House. N.P.R. polled voters in the 60 most competitive House districts currently held by Democrats. Democrats trail Republicans in those districts, on average, by 5 percentage points. Independent voters in the districts favor Republicans by an average of 18 percentage points.

By 57 percent to 37 percent, voters in these districts embrace the proposition that “President Obama’s economic policies have run up a record federal deficit while failing to end the recession or slow the record pace of job losses.”

Instead of building faith in government, the events of 2009 and 2010 further undermined it. An absurdly low 6 percent of Americans acknowledge that the stimulus package created jobs, according to a New York Times/CBS survey.

I’ll quibble with “absurdly” if he means irrationally, but he’s accurate on the rest. And his warning is equally on point:

Some Kool-Aid sippers on the left say the problem is that Republicans have better messaging (somehow John Boehner became magically charismatic to independents). Others say the shift to the right is a product of bad economic times. … But the big story is that liberals have failed to create a governing center-left majority. If they can’t do it in circumstances like these, when will they ever?

There is a self-fulfilling quality to the left’s crack-up. The rush to the left and “never let a crisis go to waste” mentality was premised on the view that the window of opportunity to accomplish the liberal agenda was brief. But in piling on one big-government proposal after another, Obama actually shortened the window and gave rise to the conservative resurgence, which threatens to rip up the one significant ”achievement” (ObamaCare) jammed through in the first half of his term. (Sigh, yes, the halfway mark is in sight.) Obama might have prolonged his window of opportunity, kept the conservatives at bay, and preserved many of his party’s seats. But that would have required compromise and moderation in pursuit of his desired remaking of the economy and vast expansion of the federal government.

It was the road not taken — the road many hopeful pundits, including Brooks, were convinced Obama would take. The president has proved to be a lot less moderate, a lot less politically savvy, and as a result, a lot less successful than his boosters had imagined. He was nevertheless an invaluable aid in discrediting liberal statism.

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In Praise of David Brooks

On Jim Lehrer’s NewsHour, David Brooks — while properly castigating Rep. Joe Barton for his politically inept defense of BP and his muddled attempt to draw an important principle from what is happening — said this:

He actually had a kernel of truth at the core of what he said, which is that we’re a nation of laws. We have laws to protect the unpopular, and to even protect people who do bad things. And we have a set of laws, when somebody does something bad, does something negligent, to force them to pay and compensate those who were damaged. And that’s all on the books. And what President Obama did when he very publicly and very brutally strong-armed BP into setting aside this $20 billion, is, he went around those laws. And some people think, “Oh, it’s no problem. It’s only BP.” Well, if you’re upset about — I mean, if, imagine if Dick Cheney did it to somebody he didn’t like and said, “Oh, we don’t happen to like you. We’re going to set $20 billion aside, and I will appoint the person who is going to decide what is going to happen to that $20 billion.”

Now, I’m not personally worried about what’s going to happen to this $20 billion, because Ken Feinberg, who was on the show earlier, is a hero. He will be honest. He will be straight. So, I’m not worried about that. I’m worried about the erosion of the rule of law, which is a president using the vast powers of the federal government to strong-arm a company, no matter how unpopular and no matter how badly they may have behaved.

David’s point is well put, and, when passions among the polity are running high, it was a responsible observation to make.

In A Man for All Seasons, Thomas More and William Roper have an exchange in which Roper says to More, “So now you’d give the Devil benefit of law!”

More answers: “Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?” Roper replies, “I’d cut down every law in England to do that!” And More answers this way:

Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you — where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country’s planted thick with laws from coast to coast — man’s laws, not God’s — and if you cut them down — and you’re just the man to do it — d’you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake.

During this crisis, BP has acted horribly on almost every level; but the rule of law still matters, even — and maybe especially — in instances like this.

On Jim Lehrer’s NewsHour, David Brooks — while properly castigating Rep. Joe Barton for his politically inept defense of BP and his muddled attempt to draw an important principle from what is happening — said this:

He actually had a kernel of truth at the core of what he said, which is that we’re a nation of laws. We have laws to protect the unpopular, and to even protect people who do bad things. And we have a set of laws, when somebody does something bad, does something negligent, to force them to pay and compensate those who were damaged. And that’s all on the books. And what President Obama did when he very publicly and very brutally strong-armed BP into setting aside this $20 billion, is, he went around those laws. And some people think, “Oh, it’s no problem. It’s only BP.” Well, if you’re upset about — I mean, if, imagine if Dick Cheney did it to somebody he didn’t like and said, “Oh, we don’t happen to like you. We’re going to set $20 billion aside, and I will appoint the person who is going to decide what is going to happen to that $20 billion.”

Now, I’m not personally worried about what’s going to happen to this $20 billion, because Ken Feinberg, who was on the show earlier, is a hero. He will be honest. He will be straight. So, I’m not worried about that. I’m worried about the erosion of the rule of law, which is a president using the vast powers of the federal government to strong-arm a company, no matter how unpopular and no matter how badly they may have behaved.

David’s point is well put, and, when passions among the polity are running high, it was a responsible observation to make.

In A Man for All Seasons, Thomas More and William Roper have an exchange in which Roper says to More, “So now you’d give the Devil benefit of law!”

More answers: “Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?” Roper replies, “I’d cut down every law in England to do that!” And More answers this way:

Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you — where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country’s planted thick with laws from coast to coast — man’s laws, not God’s — and if you cut them down — and you’re just the man to do it — d’you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake.

During this crisis, BP has acted horribly on almost every level; but the rule of law still matters, even — and maybe especially — in instances like this.

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Rediscovering the Wonders of Federalism in the Gulf

In reviewing the chaos, confusion, and bureaucratic snafus associated with the response to the BP oil spill, David Brooks discovers that “we have a federalism problem.” He observes:

All around the region there are local officials who think they know their towns best. They feel insulted by a distant and opaque bureaucracy lurking above. The balance between federal oversight and local control is off-kilter. We have vested too much authority in national officials who are really smart, but who are really distant. We should be leaving more power with local officials, who may not be as expert, but who have the advantage of being there on the ground.

Umm, we have a president — who came highly recommended as “really smart” — who has decided to federalize health care and the car industry and would like to do the same with industrial emissions, financial regulation, and almost anything else he can get his hands on. And “smart,” as we have learned the hard way, doesn’t mean smart about managing a crisis, or smart about economics, or smart about the medical profession, or smart about any other area of governance. In sum, the people in Washington, especially the president, may be glib and polished, but they possess no monopoly on “smart”; rather, they have an acute shortage of common sense and business experience.

This is a good reminder to be wary of giving the federal government tasks outside its expertise — which includes more than cleaning up an oil spill.

In reviewing the chaos, confusion, and bureaucratic snafus associated with the response to the BP oil spill, David Brooks discovers that “we have a federalism problem.” He observes:

All around the region there are local officials who think they know their towns best. They feel insulted by a distant and opaque bureaucracy lurking above. The balance between federal oversight and local control is off-kilter. We have vested too much authority in national officials who are really smart, but who are really distant. We should be leaving more power with local officials, who may not be as expert, but who have the advantage of being there on the ground.

Umm, we have a president — who came highly recommended as “really smart” — who has decided to federalize health care and the car industry and would like to do the same with industrial emissions, financial regulation, and almost anything else he can get his hands on. And “smart,” as we have learned the hard way, doesn’t mean smart about managing a crisis, or smart about economics, or smart about the medical profession, or smart about any other area of governance. In sum, the people in Washington, especially the president, may be glib and polished, but they possess no monopoly on “smart”; rather, they have an acute shortage of common sense and business experience.

This is a good reminder to be wary of giving the federal government tasks outside its expertise — which includes more than cleaning up an oil spill.

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Reviewing Our First Principles

David Brooks has an excellent column on my Ethics and Public Policy Center colleague Yuval Levin’s dissertation, “The Great Law of Change: Edmund Burke, Thomas Paine, and the Meaning of the Past in a Democratic Age.”

Yuval traces the pedigree of our political ideas to Burke and Paine and examines their differences about the nature of man and society, the character of our social relations, the capacity of human reason, and the proper uses of political power. It is an important reminder that so many of the contemporary issues we face in politics turn decisively on our presuppositions, on our operating assumptions and prejudices, and, in Levin’s words, “upon our view of our own place in the great human story — past, present, and future.”

Such things are always important, but it strikes me that they are triply important today, since the debates we are currently engaged in are about political first principles. It’s vital that from time to time we step back from the fray and examine, and reexamine, our political philosophy and most cherished beliefs in light of present circumstances.

Oh, and Brooks’s column is a reminder of something else as well: Yuval Levin — who edits the indispensible National Affairs magazine — is one of the brightest stars in the conservative constellation.

David Brooks has an excellent column on my Ethics and Public Policy Center colleague Yuval Levin’s dissertation, “The Great Law of Change: Edmund Burke, Thomas Paine, and the Meaning of the Past in a Democratic Age.”

Yuval traces the pedigree of our political ideas to Burke and Paine and examines their differences about the nature of man and society, the character of our social relations, the capacity of human reason, and the proper uses of political power. It is an important reminder that so many of the contemporary issues we face in politics turn decisively on our presuppositions, on our operating assumptions and prejudices, and, in Levin’s words, “upon our view of our own place in the great human story — past, present, and future.”

Such things are always important, but it strikes me that they are triply important today, since the debates we are currently engaged in are about political first principles. It’s vital that from time to time we step back from the fray and examine, and reexamine, our political philosophy and most cherished beliefs in light of present circumstances.

Oh, and Brooks’s column is a reminder of something else as well: Yuval Levin — who edits the indispensible National Affairs magazine — is one of the brightest stars in the conservative constellation.

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Moderates Aren’t Moderate

Trying to puzzle out why it is that the country is entranced with political outsiders (how could it be that the country is in revolt against Obama? such a mystery … ), David Brooks paints a picture of an ordinary guy who’s worked hard his whole life only to discover “a political system that undermined the relationship between effort and reward.” (Brooks doesn’t say it, but the term for this is “liberalism.”) Brooks then goes on to bemoan the shriveling political center — “a feckless shell”:

It has no governing philosophy. Its paragons seem from the outside opportunistic, like Arlen Specter, or caught in some wishy-washy middle, like Blanche Lincoln. The right and left have organized, but the center hasn’t bothered to. The right and left have media outlets and think tanks, but the centrists are content to complain about polarization and go home. By their genteel passivity, moderates have ceded power to the extremes.

But that’s not exactly right. It isn’t passivity or good manners that have left moderates in the lurch. What’s happened is that the moderates have become indistinguishable from liberals. Specter and Lincoln both voted for the stimulus plan, the bank bailout, and ObamaCare. None of them opposed Obama on a single significant legislative matter.

Brooks despairs that when the average voter looked for candidates “who might understand his outrage, he only found them among the ideological hard-liners.” That would be liberals or conservatives who don’t buy the statist, corporatist Obama vision. Brooks warns the hapless voter that he “is going to be disappointed again. He’s going to find that the outsiders he sent to Washington just screamed at each other at ever higher decibels. … Nothing will get done.”

But getting nothing done is the first step to reversing the damage wrought by the Democrats’ leftist splurge. Divided government and robust debate will slow and hopefully halt the runaway train. Now, if we had a less radical president, we might actually “get something done” — that is, reverse the excesses of Obamaism and return to fiscal sanity. (As a bonus, we’d begin to restore our alliances, get out of the business of sucking up to the ”Muslim World,” and champion democracy promotion and human rights.) But that is for 2012. Step one is voting for non-statists who won’t roll over and play dead whenever Obama pushes for the next radical expansion of government.

Trying to puzzle out why it is that the country is entranced with political outsiders (how could it be that the country is in revolt against Obama? such a mystery … ), David Brooks paints a picture of an ordinary guy who’s worked hard his whole life only to discover “a political system that undermined the relationship between effort and reward.” (Brooks doesn’t say it, but the term for this is “liberalism.”) Brooks then goes on to bemoan the shriveling political center — “a feckless shell”:

It has no governing philosophy. Its paragons seem from the outside opportunistic, like Arlen Specter, or caught in some wishy-washy middle, like Blanche Lincoln. The right and left have organized, but the center hasn’t bothered to. The right and left have media outlets and think tanks, but the centrists are content to complain about polarization and go home. By their genteel passivity, moderates have ceded power to the extremes.

But that’s not exactly right. It isn’t passivity or good manners that have left moderates in the lurch. What’s happened is that the moderates have become indistinguishable from liberals. Specter and Lincoln both voted for the stimulus plan, the bank bailout, and ObamaCare. None of them opposed Obama on a single significant legislative matter.

Brooks despairs that when the average voter looked for candidates “who might understand his outrage, he only found them among the ideological hard-liners.” That would be liberals or conservatives who don’t buy the statist, corporatist Obama vision. Brooks warns the hapless voter that he “is going to be disappointed again. He’s going to find that the outsiders he sent to Washington just screamed at each other at ever higher decibels. … Nothing will get done.”

But getting nothing done is the first step to reversing the damage wrought by the Democrats’ leftist splurge. Divided government and robust debate will slow and hopefully halt the runaway train. Now, if we had a less radical president, we might actually “get something done” — that is, reverse the excesses of Obamaism and return to fiscal sanity. (As a bonus, we’d begin to restore our alliances, get out of the business of sucking up to the ”Muslim World,” and champion democracy promotion and human rights.) But that is for 2012. Step one is voting for non-statists who won’t roll over and play dead whenever Obama pushes for the next radical expansion of government.

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Obama Instructs His Lessers

Taegan Goddard calls our attention to this portion of Obama’s commencement address at University of Michigan:

Still, if you’re somebody who only reads the editorial page of the New York Times, try glancing at the page of the Wall Street Journal once in a while. If you’re a fan of Glenn Beck or Rush Limbaugh, try reading a few columns on the Huffington Post website. It may make your blood boil; your mind may not be changed. But the practice of listening to opposing views is essential for effective citizenship.

A nice sentiment — but one that reflects Obama’s assumptions and condescension toward his audience — and Americans more generally. As we know, a high percentage of Internet readers do precisely what Obama is advising. Pete, drawing on David Brooks’s column, noted, “It’s fashionable these days for many in the political class to complain about the Internet for, among other reasons, allowing people to ideologically self-segregate. But like much of conventional wisdom, this widespread view appears to be wrong.” But Obama feels compelled to instruct us to be more open-minded.

Frankly, this gets back to a lack of self-awareness. This is a president who derides political opponents, fails to engage them on the merits, and has perfected the straw-man and ad hominem attacks. It was his White House that declared war on Fox News. So it is the height of hypocrisy for him to now tell the rest of us to up the tolerance and intellectual diversity quotient in our lives. It’s sort of like Tom Friedman telling us to consume less and reduce our carbon footprint.

Taegan Goddard calls our attention to this portion of Obama’s commencement address at University of Michigan:

Still, if you’re somebody who only reads the editorial page of the New York Times, try glancing at the page of the Wall Street Journal once in a while. If you’re a fan of Glenn Beck or Rush Limbaugh, try reading a few columns on the Huffington Post website. It may make your blood boil; your mind may not be changed. But the practice of listening to opposing views is essential for effective citizenship.

A nice sentiment — but one that reflects Obama’s assumptions and condescension toward his audience — and Americans more generally. As we know, a high percentage of Internet readers do precisely what Obama is advising. Pete, drawing on David Brooks’s column, noted, “It’s fashionable these days for many in the political class to complain about the Internet for, among other reasons, allowing people to ideologically self-segregate. But like much of conventional wisdom, this widespread view appears to be wrong.” But Obama feels compelled to instruct us to be more open-minded.

Frankly, this gets back to a lack of self-awareness. This is a president who derides political opponents, fails to engage them on the merits, and has perfected the straw-man and ad hominem attacks. It was his White House that declared war on Fox News. So it is the height of hypocrisy for him to now tell the rest of us to up the tolerance and intellectual diversity quotient in our lives. It’s sort of like Tom Friedman telling us to consume less and reduce our carbon footprint.

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Brooks Struggles to Figure Out What Went Wrong

David Brooks is on a search to find out how it was that we elected such a “moderate” president and wound up with the worst of big government liberalism and a polarized electorate. He seems stumped as he explores these questions in what can only be described as evasive phrasing:

The country had just elected a man who vowed to move past the old polarities, who valued discussion and who clearly had some sympathy with both the Burkean and Hamiltonian impulses. He staffed his administration with brilliant pragmatists whose views overlapped with mine, who differed only in that they have more faith in technocratic planning.

Yet things have not worked out for those of us in the broad middle. Politics is more polarized than ever. The two parties have drifted further to the extremes. The center is drained and depressed.

What happened?

History happened. The administration came into power at a time of economic crisis. This led it, in the first bloom of self-confidence, to attempt many big projects all at once. Each of these projects may have been defensible in isolation, but in combination they created the impression of a federal onslaught.

History happened? Oh, let’s see if we can’t be more precise than that. “As government grew [by itself? did someone grow it?], the antigovernment right mobilized. This produced the Tea Party Movement — a characteristically raw but authentically American revolt led by members of the yeoman enterprising class.” History happened and government grew. (Like magic!) And now Brooks is disappointed.

Brooks writes that the Democratic party did this and that, that opposition grew, and that we wound up in the big- vs. little-government debate. What’s missing from this autopilot version of politics? Hmm … could it be Obama, the moderate fellow, who did the government-growing?

I have a rule of thumb: when a writer, especially a good one, excessively uses evasive or convoluted rhetoric, he is hiding something. Let’s try this: Obama, a very liberal politician, was smart enough to know he couldn’t win the presidency as a hard leftist. He posed as a moderate. New York Times columnists sung his praises. Pundits assured us that he was beyond ideology, a sort of philosopher-king with very neat pants. He got into office. He governed from the far Left. The president signed bill after bill, spending money we didn’t have and running up the debt. Obama insisted on a mammoth health-care bill the country hated. He egged Congress on to pass it. Meanwhile, the country recoiled. They hired a moderate on advice of pundits and media mavens and got a far-Left liberal, a ton of debt, an expanded federal government, and a slew of new taxes.

How’s that?

The bottom line: history doesn’t just “happen.” Presidents make choices. Pundits make miscalculations. Voters exact revenge. It’s not that complicated — if you are honest about who did what to whom.

David Brooks is on a search to find out how it was that we elected such a “moderate” president and wound up with the worst of big government liberalism and a polarized electorate. He seems stumped as he explores these questions in what can only be described as evasive phrasing:

The country had just elected a man who vowed to move past the old polarities, who valued discussion and who clearly had some sympathy with both the Burkean and Hamiltonian impulses. He staffed his administration with brilliant pragmatists whose views overlapped with mine, who differed only in that they have more faith in technocratic planning.

Yet things have not worked out for those of us in the broad middle. Politics is more polarized than ever. The two parties have drifted further to the extremes. The center is drained and depressed.

What happened?

History happened. The administration came into power at a time of economic crisis. This led it, in the first bloom of self-confidence, to attempt many big projects all at once. Each of these projects may have been defensible in isolation, but in combination they created the impression of a federal onslaught.

History happened? Oh, let’s see if we can’t be more precise than that. “As government grew [by itself? did someone grow it?], the antigovernment right mobilized. This produced the Tea Party Movement — a characteristically raw but authentically American revolt led by members of the yeoman enterprising class.” History happened and government grew. (Like magic!) And now Brooks is disappointed.

Brooks writes that the Democratic party did this and that, that opposition grew, and that we wound up in the big- vs. little-government debate. What’s missing from this autopilot version of politics? Hmm … could it be Obama, the moderate fellow, who did the government-growing?

I have a rule of thumb: when a writer, especially a good one, excessively uses evasive or convoluted rhetoric, he is hiding something. Let’s try this: Obama, a very liberal politician, was smart enough to know he couldn’t win the presidency as a hard leftist. He posed as a moderate. New York Times columnists sung his praises. Pundits assured us that he was beyond ideology, a sort of philosopher-king with very neat pants. He got into office. He governed from the far Left. The president signed bill after bill, spending money we didn’t have and running up the debt. Obama insisted on a mammoth health-care bill the country hated. He egged Congress on to pass it. Meanwhile, the country recoiled. They hired a moderate on advice of pundits and media mavens and got a far-Left liberal, a ton of debt, an expanded federal government, and a slew of new taxes.

How’s that?

The bottom line: history doesn’t just “happen.” Presidents make choices. Pundits make miscalculations. Voters exact revenge. It’s not that complicated — if you are honest about who did what to whom.

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No Ideological Segregation on the Web

It’s fashionable these days for many in the political class to complain about the Internet for, among other reasons, allowing people to ideologically self-segregate. But like much of conventional wisdom, this widespread view appears to be wrong. At least according to David Brooks, who cites new research by Matthew Gentzkow and Jesse M. Shapiro, both of the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. According to Brooks:

[T]he core finding is that most Internet users do not stay within their communities. Most people spend a lot of time on a few giant sites with politically integrated audiences, like Yahoo News. But even when they leave these integrated sites, they often go into areas where most visitors are not like themselves. People who spend a lot of time on Glenn Beck’s Web site are more likely to visit The New York Times’s Web site than average Internet users. People who spend time on the most liberal sites are more likely to go to foxnews.com than average Internet users. Even white supremacists and neo-Nazis travel far and wide across the Web.

Brooks’s conclusion?

This study suggests that Internet users are a bunch of ideological Jack Kerouacs. They’re not burrowing down into comforting nests. They’re cruising far and wide looking for adventure, information, combat and arousal. This does not mean they are not polarized. Looking at a site says nothing about how you process it or the character of attention you bring to it. It could be people spend a lot of time at their home sites and then go off on forays looking for things to hate. But it probably does mean they are not insecure and they are not sheltered.

If this study is correct, the Internet will not produce a cocooned public square, but a free-wheeling multilayered Mad Max public square. The study also suggests that if there is increased polarization (and there is), it’s probably not the Internet that’s causing it.

For the gatekeepers of the Old Media, whose influence and dominance have so rapidly diminished since the advent of the Internet, this finding will be most unwelcome. For the rest of us, it’s more evidence that the Internet is one of the wonders of the modern world and a huge gift to the public, and to politics itself.

It’s fashionable these days for many in the political class to complain about the Internet for, among other reasons, allowing people to ideologically self-segregate. But like much of conventional wisdom, this widespread view appears to be wrong. At least according to David Brooks, who cites new research by Matthew Gentzkow and Jesse M. Shapiro, both of the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. According to Brooks:

[T]he core finding is that most Internet users do not stay within their communities. Most people spend a lot of time on a few giant sites with politically integrated audiences, like Yahoo News. But even when they leave these integrated sites, they often go into areas where most visitors are not like themselves. People who spend a lot of time on Glenn Beck’s Web site are more likely to visit The New York Times’s Web site than average Internet users. People who spend time on the most liberal sites are more likely to go to foxnews.com than average Internet users. Even white supremacists and neo-Nazis travel far and wide across the Web.

Brooks’s conclusion?

This study suggests that Internet users are a bunch of ideological Jack Kerouacs. They’re not burrowing down into comforting nests. They’re cruising far and wide looking for adventure, information, combat and arousal. This does not mean they are not polarized. Looking at a site says nothing about how you process it or the character of attention you bring to it. It could be people spend a lot of time at their home sites and then go off on forays looking for things to hate. But it probably does mean they are not insecure and they are not sheltered.

If this study is correct, the Internet will not produce a cocooned public square, but a free-wheeling multilayered Mad Max public square. The study also suggests that if there is increased polarization (and there is), it’s probably not the Internet that’s causing it.

For the gatekeepers of the Old Media, whose influence and dominance have so rapidly diminished since the advent of the Internet, this finding will be most unwelcome. For the rest of us, it’s more evidence that the Internet is one of the wonders of the modern world and a huge gift to the public, and to politics itself.

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Don’t Be Morose! Get Even!

David Brooks says he’s out on the ledge, morose, and about to have a “Howard Beale” moment. Just last week he was telling us that Obama was a misunderstood moderate. Now he confesses that Obama is aiding and abetting unlawfulness of the worst kind. He explains:

Barack Obama campaigned offering a new era of sane government. And I believe he would do it if he had the chance. But he has been so sucked into the system that now he stands by while House Speaker Nancy Pelosi talks about passing health care via “deem and pass” — a tricky legislative device in which things get passed without members having the honor or the guts to stand up and vote for it.
Deem and pass? Are you kidding me? Is this what the Revolutionary War was fought for? Is this what the boys on Normandy beach were trying to defend? Is this where we thought we would end up when Obama was speaking so beautifully in Iowa or promising to put away childish things?

Not very moderate. Not even defensible. Brooks is left, as many of us are, blinking in disbelief:

It’s unbelievable that people even talk about this with a straight face. Do they really think the American people are going to stand for this? Do they think it will really fool anybody if a Democratic House member goes back to his district and says, “I didn’t vote for the bill. I just voted for the amendments.” Do they think all of America is insane? … It’s just Democrats wanting to pass a bill, any bill, and shredding anything they have to in order to get it done.

So I think we can agree that this is not moderate, not thoughtful, and not Burkean. (And it turns out that a perfectly creased pants leg was not a sign that “he’ll be a very good president.”) What we have learned is that Obama is willing to use radical means to defy the popular will and enact a massive expansion of government. Maybe the rubes understand Obama fairly well, after all. They figured out quite some time ago that the entire campaign message — change, hope, post-partisanship, nonideological, fiscally sober — was a ruse. And they understand how immoderate both his methods and his aims are.

I personally am not out on a ledge. (But then I never bought the whole Obama campaign whoop-de-do.) Should this pass, I have infinite faith that the American people will deliver a mortal electoral blow to those politicians who thought they could shred anything to get their way. And then bit by bit — or in one fell swoop — the elected replacements for the shredders will rip out ObamaCare. So there’s no reason to be morose. Elections are great corrective exercises, and one is just around the corner.

David Brooks says he’s out on the ledge, morose, and about to have a “Howard Beale” moment. Just last week he was telling us that Obama was a misunderstood moderate. Now he confesses that Obama is aiding and abetting unlawfulness of the worst kind. He explains:

Barack Obama campaigned offering a new era of sane government. And I believe he would do it if he had the chance. But he has been so sucked into the system that now he stands by while House Speaker Nancy Pelosi talks about passing health care via “deem and pass” — a tricky legislative device in which things get passed without members having the honor or the guts to stand up and vote for it.
Deem and pass? Are you kidding me? Is this what the Revolutionary War was fought for? Is this what the boys on Normandy beach were trying to defend? Is this where we thought we would end up when Obama was speaking so beautifully in Iowa or promising to put away childish things?

Not very moderate. Not even defensible. Brooks is left, as many of us are, blinking in disbelief:

It’s unbelievable that people even talk about this with a straight face. Do they really think the American people are going to stand for this? Do they think it will really fool anybody if a Democratic House member goes back to his district and says, “I didn’t vote for the bill. I just voted for the amendments.” Do they think all of America is insane? … It’s just Democrats wanting to pass a bill, any bill, and shredding anything they have to in order to get it done.

So I think we can agree that this is not moderate, not thoughtful, and not Burkean. (And it turns out that a perfectly creased pants leg was not a sign that “he’ll be a very good president.”) What we have learned is that Obama is willing to use radical means to defy the popular will and enact a massive expansion of government. Maybe the rubes understand Obama fairly well, after all. They figured out quite some time ago that the entire campaign message — change, hope, post-partisanship, nonideological, fiscally sober — was a ruse. And they understand how immoderate both his methods and his aims are.

I personally am not out on a ledge. (But then I never bought the whole Obama campaign whoop-de-do.) Should this pass, I have infinite faith that the American people will deliver a mortal electoral blow to those politicians who thought they could shred anything to get their way. And then bit by bit — or in one fell swoop — the elected replacements for the shredders will rip out ObamaCare. So there’s no reason to be morose. Elections are great corrective exercises, and one is just around the corner.

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No Place to Hide

Although David Brooks may think Obama is the model of moderation, Obama’s fellow Democrats don’t. Politico reports:

Moderate House Democrats facing potentially difficult re-elections this fall have a message for President Barack Obama: don’t call us, we’ll call you. Interviews with nearly a dozen congressional Democrats on the ballot this year reveal a decided lack of enthusiasm for having Obama come to their districts to campaign for them—the most basic gauge of a president’s popularity.

He’s more toxic than even George W. Bush may have been late in his term. Obama, of course, is still in his first. And it seems the problem for Democrats is not limited to just a few locales. (“But the sense of uncertainty over what-to-with-Obama seen last year in Virginia — where Democratic gubernatorial candidate Creigh Deeds wrestled with whether to run with or from the president before ultimately embracing him in the campaign’s final weeks — now seems to be evolving into a firmer feeling among many centrist Democrats that they’d be better off without him appearing in their districts with them.”)

But the problem is not simply physical proximity. Democratic incumbents can try to avoid appearing on a stage with Obama. But what about all those votes they cast in favor of the agenda that is now the subject of voters’ ire? When Creigh Deeds ran, someone who’d never cast a vote in Congress for ObamaCare or cap-and-trade, his opponent pummeled him, running a campaign designed to capture disaffected independents and angry Republicans. That approach will be all the more effective against those Democrats who are now scared to appear next to Obama but who had no problem rubber-stamping his budget, the failed stimulus, ObamaCare, and cap-and-trade. For those Democrats, there won’t be any place to hide.

Although David Brooks may think Obama is the model of moderation, Obama’s fellow Democrats don’t. Politico reports:

Moderate House Democrats facing potentially difficult re-elections this fall have a message for President Barack Obama: don’t call us, we’ll call you. Interviews with nearly a dozen congressional Democrats on the ballot this year reveal a decided lack of enthusiasm for having Obama come to their districts to campaign for them—the most basic gauge of a president’s popularity.

He’s more toxic than even George W. Bush may have been late in his term. Obama, of course, is still in his first. And it seems the problem for Democrats is not limited to just a few locales. (“But the sense of uncertainty over what-to-with-Obama seen last year in Virginia — where Democratic gubernatorial candidate Creigh Deeds wrestled with whether to run with or from the president before ultimately embracing him in the campaign’s final weeks — now seems to be evolving into a firmer feeling among many centrist Democrats that they’d be better off without him appearing in their districts with them.”)

But the problem is not simply physical proximity. Democratic incumbents can try to avoid appearing on a stage with Obama. But what about all those votes they cast in favor of the agenda that is now the subject of voters’ ire? When Creigh Deeds ran, someone who’d never cast a vote in Congress for ObamaCare or cap-and-trade, his opponent pummeled him, running a campaign designed to capture disaffected independents and angry Republicans. That approach will be all the more effective against those Democrats who are now scared to appear next to Obama but who had no problem rubber-stamping his budget, the failed stimulus, ObamaCare, and cap-and-trade. For those Democrats, there won’t be any place to hide.

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To Bury Them

In a column either wickedly or inadvertently clever (for who can tell?), David Brooks gives Obama and the Democrats “credit” for their ”emotion” on health care (even though the voters want other things, and those who already have coverage and who don’t care about expanded coverage are the ones most likely to vote). Yes, like Mark Antony at the funeral, Brooks has come to bury them.

But the invocation of all that Democratic emotion is only the warm-up. Then he lists the things Democrats aren’t so interested in (like helping small-business job creation, which gets hammered by the coverage requirement/fine). He dryly notes, “Small business owners have been screaming about the health care bill that forces them to offer coverage or pay a $2,000-per-employee fine but doesn’t substantially control rising costs.” And then he reels off the list of “dodges” — the very accounting gimmicks that Rep. Paul Ryan enumerated and that render the whole effort fiscally irresponsible in the extreme. A sample:

They’ve stuffed the legislation with gimmicks and dodges designed to get a good score from the Congressional Budget Office but don’t genuinely control runaway spending.

There is the doc fix dodge. The legislation pretends that Congress is about to cut Medicare reimbursements by 21 percent. Everyone knows that will never happen, so over the next decade actual spending will be $300 billion higher than paper projections.

There is the long-term care dodge. The bill creates a $72 billion trust fund to pay for a new long-term care program. The sponsors count that money as cost-saving, even though it will eventually be paid back out when the program comes on line.

There is the subsidy dodge. Workers making $60,000 and in the health exchanges would receive $4,500 more in subsidies in 2016 than workers making $60,000 and not in the exchanges. There is no way future Congresses will allow that disparity to persist. Soon, everybody will get the subsidy.

You get the idea.

In short, Democrats are so obsessed with coverage expansion, they are willing to wreak havoc on the economy generally and on the budget specifically to get it. It’s a fundamentally dishonest exercise given Obama’s promises to control costs and keep the whole shebang deficit neutral. More remarkable than the president’s chicanery is that the rubes, the ordinary folk, the Tea Party buffoons — well that’s how the Obami regard them — have more or less figured this out. They smelled a rat from the get-go. You can’t give tens of millions of people something free or very cheap and not bust a hole in the budget — so this must be a flimflam. Paul Ryan and now Brooks merely showed how the tricksterism “works.” For that they deserve credit. But the real kudos go to the voters, who had this pegged months ago.

In a column either wickedly or inadvertently clever (for who can tell?), David Brooks gives Obama and the Democrats “credit” for their ”emotion” on health care (even though the voters want other things, and those who already have coverage and who don’t care about expanded coverage are the ones most likely to vote). Yes, like Mark Antony at the funeral, Brooks has come to bury them.

But the invocation of all that Democratic emotion is only the warm-up. Then he lists the things Democrats aren’t so interested in (like helping small-business job creation, which gets hammered by the coverage requirement/fine). He dryly notes, “Small business owners have been screaming about the health care bill that forces them to offer coverage or pay a $2,000-per-employee fine but doesn’t substantially control rising costs.” And then he reels off the list of “dodges” — the very accounting gimmicks that Rep. Paul Ryan enumerated and that render the whole effort fiscally irresponsible in the extreme. A sample:

They’ve stuffed the legislation with gimmicks and dodges designed to get a good score from the Congressional Budget Office but don’t genuinely control runaway spending.

There is the doc fix dodge. The legislation pretends that Congress is about to cut Medicare reimbursements by 21 percent. Everyone knows that will never happen, so over the next decade actual spending will be $300 billion higher than paper projections.

There is the long-term care dodge. The bill creates a $72 billion trust fund to pay for a new long-term care program. The sponsors count that money as cost-saving, even though it will eventually be paid back out when the program comes on line.

There is the subsidy dodge. Workers making $60,000 and in the health exchanges would receive $4,500 more in subsidies in 2016 than workers making $60,000 and not in the exchanges. There is no way future Congresses will allow that disparity to persist. Soon, everybody will get the subsidy.

You get the idea.

In short, Democrats are so obsessed with coverage expansion, they are willing to wreak havoc on the economy generally and on the budget specifically to get it. It’s a fundamentally dishonest exercise given Obama’s promises to control costs and keep the whole shebang deficit neutral. More remarkable than the president’s chicanery is that the rubes, the ordinary folk, the Tea Party buffoons — well that’s how the Obami regard them — have more or less figured this out. They smelled a rat from the get-go. You can’t give tens of millions of people something free or very cheap and not bust a hole in the budget — so this must be a flimflam. Paul Ryan and now Brooks merely showed how the tricksterism “works.” For that they deserve credit. But the real kudos go to the voters, who had this pegged months ago.

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Turning the Tables

Michael Gerson echoes what many of us observed yesterday:

President Obama, as usual, was fluent, professorial and occasionally prickly. Some are impressed by the president’s informed, academic manner. Others (myself included) find an annoying condescension in Obama’s never-ending seminar. All the students — I mean elected legislators — were informed if their arguments were “legitimate” or not. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) was arrogantly instructed that the “election’s over.”

There was a stature gap in the room, but not between Obama and the Republicans (as at the House Republican retreat). The stature gap was between Obama and his fellow Democrats. I would bet against any legislative team that includes Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who turned in a nasty, embarrassing performance.

As Gerson notes, Republicans got the tone right. What is great fun and inspiring for the base on talk radio doesn’t necessarily do the trick in a nationally televised summit facing the President of the United States. Republicans took that to heart and conducted themselves with poise, decorum, and a certain policy sophistication we don’t always see on display. They didn’t need to beat Obama in the who-can-be-the-more-ponderous-wonk department. They needed to show they were not the know-nothings Obama had painted them to be. And in that, they succeeded handsomely. Or as David Gergen put it, the Republicans “intellectually had their best day in years.”

Nor is it so easy, as it becomes obvious that nothing has changed, to pretend there is broad-based support for Obama’s approach. It wasn’t just the poll numbers that Republicans recited at every chance. As Jake Tapper reported:

Unfortunately for President Obama, the bipartisan agreement is outside Blair House where today’s health care summit is taking place, and the agreement is among liberal and conservative protestors arguing for different reason that the Democrats’ current health care reform proposal isn’t the correct prescription. Conservatives argue that it’s too much government intrusion and socialism. Liberals argue that the various leading Democratic proposals don’t go far enough.

It took Obama and the inept duo of Reid and Pelosi to shove Dennis Kucinich, Jane Hamsher, Jim DeMint, and Olympia Snowe (who refused to show up yesterday) all on the same side of the debate – that is, in opposition to his monstrous plan. And it took the health-care summit to reveal that the rigid, unpleasant ones are not the members of “the party of no.” David Brooks observes:

The Republican leaders, Mitch McConnell and John Boehner, were smart enough to stand back and let Senator Lamar Alexander lead the way, which he did genially and intelligently. While Alexander was speaking, Reid and Pelosi wouldn’t even deign to look at him. … f you thought Republicans were a bunch of naysayers who don’t know or care about health care, then this was not the event for you. They more than held their own.

Obama then essentially failed to pin the blame on the Republicans, who generally seemed a bit more reasonable and genial than Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, and company.  (Political Rule No. 1: Get inept opponents.) As Gerson sums up: “The whole exercise, in short, was an ambush. But the quarry, it seems, got away.” And with it, mostly likely, did the Democrats’ dream of passing ObamaCare.

Michael Gerson echoes what many of us observed yesterday:

President Obama, as usual, was fluent, professorial and occasionally prickly. Some are impressed by the president’s informed, academic manner. Others (myself included) find an annoying condescension in Obama’s never-ending seminar. All the students — I mean elected legislators — were informed if their arguments were “legitimate” or not. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) was arrogantly instructed that the “election’s over.”

There was a stature gap in the room, but not between Obama and the Republicans (as at the House Republican retreat). The stature gap was between Obama and his fellow Democrats. I would bet against any legislative team that includes Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who turned in a nasty, embarrassing performance.

As Gerson notes, Republicans got the tone right. What is great fun and inspiring for the base on talk radio doesn’t necessarily do the trick in a nationally televised summit facing the President of the United States. Republicans took that to heart and conducted themselves with poise, decorum, and a certain policy sophistication we don’t always see on display. They didn’t need to beat Obama in the who-can-be-the-more-ponderous-wonk department. They needed to show they were not the know-nothings Obama had painted them to be. And in that, they succeeded handsomely. Or as David Gergen put it, the Republicans “intellectually had their best day in years.”

Nor is it so easy, as it becomes obvious that nothing has changed, to pretend there is broad-based support for Obama’s approach. It wasn’t just the poll numbers that Republicans recited at every chance. As Jake Tapper reported:

Unfortunately for President Obama, the bipartisan agreement is outside Blair House where today’s health care summit is taking place, and the agreement is among liberal and conservative protestors arguing for different reason that the Democrats’ current health care reform proposal isn’t the correct prescription. Conservatives argue that it’s too much government intrusion and socialism. Liberals argue that the various leading Democratic proposals don’t go far enough.

It took Obama and the inept duo of Reid and Pelosi to shove Dennis Kucinich, Jane Hamsher, Jim DeMint, and Olympia Snowe (who refused to show up yesterday) all on the same side of the debate – that is, in opposition to his monstrous plan. And it took the health-care summit to reveal that the rigid, unpleasant ones are not the members of “the party of no.” David Brooks observes:

The Republican leaders, Mitch McConnell and John Boehner, were smart enough to stand back and let Senator Lamar Alexander lead the way, which he did genially and intelligently. While Alexander was speaking, Reid and Pelosi wouldn’t even deign to look at him. … f you thought Republicans were a bunch of naysayers who don’t know or care about health care, then this was not the event for you. They more than held their own.

Obama then essentially failed to pin the blame on the Republicans, who generally seemed a bit more reasonable and genial than Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, and company.  (Political Rule No. 1: Get inept opponents.) As Gerson sums up: “The whole exercise, in short, was an ambush. But the quarry, it seems, got away.” And with it, mostly likely, did the Democrats’ dream of passing ObamaCare.

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ObamaCare and Political Theater

The health-care summit on Thursday will garner a huge amount of media attention — and its effect on the health-care debate will be negligible to nonexistent. It is simple political theater, a transparent public-relations game. No one believes anything important will be done, any serious negotiations will take place, any concessions will be given, any significant compromises struck. All it will do is place a debate we’ve been engaged in for the better part of a year on another stage.

The important news from this week has to do not with political “summits” but political substance — and the Obama administration’s stunning decision to double down on health care. I say stunning because ObamaCare is doing to the Democratic party what a wrecking ball does to a condemned building.

ObamaCare is, for one thing, hugely unpopular. David Brooks reports that if you average the last 10 polls, 38 percent of voters support the reform plans and 53 percent oppose. Obama’s reform is more unpopular than Bill Clinton’s was as it died, Brooks points out. And of course the intensity of opposition to the plan is far more than the intensity of support. Health care also set the context for Democratic losses in New Jersey, in Virginia, and in Massachusetts. Yet, according to press reports, “after initially reeling from the surprise election of Republican Scott Brown to the Senate in Massachusetts, Obama’s chief political strategists came to believe that voters would punish Democrats more severely in this year’s elections for failing to try [to pass health care legislation], they said.”

Liberals like E.J. Dionne Jr. and Ezra Klein of the Washington Post argue that if Obama fails to pass health-care reform, his presidency will be crippled — but if he passes reform, it will be salvaged. “This week will determine the shape of American politics for the next three years,” Dionne wrote on Monday. “No, that’s not one of those journalistic exaggerations intended to catch your attention. … It’s an accurate description of the stakes at the health care summit President Obama has called for Thursday. The issue is whether the summit proves to be the turning point in a political year that, at the moment, is moving decisively in the Republicans’ direction. If the summit fails to shake things up and does not lead to the passage of a comprehensive health care bill, Democrats and Obama are in for a miserable time for the rest of his term.”

This strikes me as perfectly wrong. After a year of intense debate, the public has reacted to ObamaCare the way the human body reacts to food poisoning. It is rejecting it, utterly and completely. For Obama and the White House to convince themselves to ram through legislation that is, if anything, worse than the original House and Senate bills is an act of madness.

I rather doubt it will succeed. For one thing, there are now at least three people who voted for the House version of the bill who will not vote for a reconciliation bill (the late John Murtha, Bart Stupak, and Joseph Cao). For another, the Democrats plan is more unpopular now than it was when it passed in the House last year (by a vote of 220-215). We are also in an election year, when the Democrats are desperate to turn attention from health care to jobs. And finally, we live in a post–Scott Brown election world. Democrats have seen that ObamaCare is political hemlock. It is a cup Democrats would rather have pass from their lips.

No one is arguing that not passing Obama’s signature domestic initiative would reflect well on the president. A failure of this magnitude will undoubtedly damage him. But in this instance, with the White House having acted so ineptly, failing to pass ObamaCare is the best of bad options. Obstinacy on behalf of a bad and unpopular idea is a road to political ruin.

In redoubling his efforts to pass health-care legislation, Obama will be rejected — not simply by Republicans and the public but also, I suspect, by members of his own party. This in turn will further weaken his political standing. He will have looked obsessively out of touch, selfish, and narcissistic. But in the highly unlikely event that Obama, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and Majority Leader Harry Reid succeed in passing health-care legislation through the reconciliation process — if Democrats in the House are foolish enough to hitch their hopes to this liberal troika — there will be an even more fearsome political price to pay.

Some Democrats may believe things can’t possibly get worse, so they may as well pass ObamaCare. They are wrong. As one of my least favorite political philosophers, Mao Zedong, said, “It’s always darkest before it’s totally black.”

The health-care summit on Thursday will garner a huge amount of media attention — and its effect on the health-care debate will be negligible to nonexistent. It is simple political theater, a transparent public-relations game. No one believes anything important will be done, any serious negotiations will take place, any concessions will be given, any significant compromises struck. All it will do is place a debate we’ve been engaged in for the better part of a year on another stage.

The important news from this week has to do not with political “summits” but political substance — and the Obama administration’s stunning decision to double down on health care. I say stunning because ObamaCare is doing to the Democratic party what a wrecking ball does to a condemned building.

ObamaCare is, for one thing, hugely unpopular. David Brooks reports that if you average the last 10 polls, 38 percent of voters support the reform plans and 53 percent oppose. Obama’s reform is more unpopular than Bill Clinton’s was as it died, Brooks points out. And of course the intensity of opposition to the plan is far more than the intensity of support. Health care also set the context for Democratic losses in New Jersey, in Virginia, and in Massachusetts. Yet, according to press reports, “after initially reeling from the surprise election of Republican Scott Brown to the Senate in Massachusetts, Obama’s chief political strategists came to believe that voters would punish Democrats more severely in this year’s elections for failing to try [to pass health care legislation], they said.”

Liberals like E.J. Dionne Jr. and Ezra Klein of the Washington Post argue that if Obama fails to pass health-care reform, his presidency will be crippled — but if he passes reform, it will be salvaged. “This week will determine the shape of American politics for the next three years,” Dionne wrote on Monday. “No, that’s not one of those journalistic exaggerations intended to catch your attention. … It’s an accurate description of the stakes at the health care summit President Obama has called for Thursday. The issue is whether the summit proves to be the turning point in a political year that, at the moment, is moving decisively in the Republicans’ direction. If the summit fails to shake things up and does not lead to the passage of a comprehensive health care bill, Democrats and Obama are in for a miserable time for the rest of his term.”

This strikes me as perfectly wrong. After a year of intense debate, the public has reacted to ObamaCare the way the human body reacts to food poisoning. It is rejecting it, utterly and completely. For Obama and the White House to convince themselves to ram through legislation that is, if anything, worse than the original House and Senate bills is an act of madness.

I rather doubt it will succeed. For one thing, there are now at least three people who voted for the House version of the bill who will not vote for a reconciliation bill (the late John Murtha, Bart Stupak, and Joseph Cao). For another, the Democrats plan is more unpopular now than it was when it passed in the House last year (by a vote of 220-215). We are also in an election year, when the Democrats are desperate to turn attention from health care to jobs. And finally, we live in a post–Scott Brown election world. Democrats have seen that ObamaCare is political hemlock. It is a cup Democrats would rather have pass from their lips.

No one is arguing that not passing Obama’s signature domestic initiative would reflect well on the president. A failure of this magnitude will undoubtedly damage him. But in this instance, with the White House having acted so ineptly, failing to pass ObamaCare is the best of bad options. Obstinacy on behalf of a bad and unpopular idea is a road to political ruin.

In redoubling his efforts to pass health-care legislation, Obama will be rejected — not simply by Republicans and the public but also, I suspect, by members of his own party. This in turn will further weaken his political standing. He will have looked obsessively out of touch, selfish, and narcissistic. But in the highly unlikely event that Obama, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and Majority Leader Harry Reid succeed in passing health-care legislation through the reconciliation process — if Democrats in the House are foolish enough to hitch their hopes to this liberal troika — there will be an even more fearsome political price to pay.

Some Democrats may believe things can’t possibly get worse, so they may as well pass ObamaCare. They are wrong. As one of my least favorite political philosophers, Mao Zedong, said, “It’s always darkest before it’s totally black.”

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Brooks: Elites Are Letting Us Down

David Brooks observes, “As we’ve made our institutions more meritocratic, their public standing has plummeted. We’ve increased the diversity and talent level of people at the top of society, yet trust in elites has never been lower. It’s not even clear that society is better led.” He finds a number of reasons for this, the first (and I think most critical) has some bearing on the current predicament in which the country finds itself. He explains:

The meritocracy is based on an overly narrow definition of talent. Our system rewards those who can amass technical knowledge. But this skill is only marginally related to the skill of being sensitive to context. It is not related at all to skills like empathy. Over the past years, we’ve seen very smart people make mistakes because they didn’t understand the context in which they were operating.

Or “very smart” people lack real-world experience in leading other people. Or they lack core qualities like resoluteness and decisiveness. Or they delegate too much responsibility and blame others for their failings. You see where I’m heading, right?

We elected a president who was indisputably a member of the educated elite in America. It matters not at all that he wasn’t rich growing up. He spent his adult life at Ivy League institutions, chalked up the résumé entries (Harvard Law Review), and thoroughly adopted the intellectual bent and attributes of the academic Left in America.

What did all this have to do with being president? It turns out not all that much. But other elites — New York Times columnists, for example – swooned and vouched for him. They confused literary finesse with presidential timber. They mistook fluency in philosophy with grounding in common sense, moderation, and wisdom.

In looking for other reasons why elites are doing so badly these days, Brooks writes:

To leave a mark in a fast, competitive world, leaders seek to hit grandiose home runs. Clinton tried to transform health care. Bush tried to transform the Middle East. Obama has tried to transform health care, energy and much more. There’s less emphasis on steady, gradual change and more emphasis on the big swing. This produces more spectacular failures and more uncertainty. Many Americans, not caught up on the romance of this sort of heroism, are terrified.

Well, that sounds like a particular kind of elite leader working on a short time frame before voters have a chance to put a halt to his august plans. But not all leaders operate this way. There are many successful governors, business professionals, and others who set modest goals and work competently toward them. No one is compelled to achieve grandiose objectives unless he has a grandiose conception of himself, a messiah complex, if you will. For those who come to believe they represent the “New Politics” and have the ability to lay a “new foundation” (i.e., radically restructure the country), then, yes, they’re going to run into trouble when the rest of us freak out and don’t want to be restructured out of the health care we enjoy and the economic system we’re rather fond of.

Next time around, voters may want to assess the credentials of the presidential candidates more closely. Elite degrees may be evidence of a sharp mind and keen intellect. But they also teach a lot of foolish things at Ivy League institutions, and it behooves voters to consider which ones a graduate has adopted. Moreover, voters would also do well to look for a candidate’s accomplishments — evidence — of intellectual prowess and personal character. If the candidate hasn’t done much other than run for office, make speeches, and extol his own greatness, that should be a red flag.

David Brooks observes, “As we’ve made our institutions more meritocratic, their public standing has plummeted. We’ve increased the diversity and talent level of people at the top of society, yet trust in elites has never been lower. It’s not even clear that society is better led.” He finds a number of reasons for this, the first (and I think most critical) has some bearing on the current predicament in which the country finds itself. He explains:

The meritocracy is based on an overly narrow definition of talent. Our system rewards those who can amass technical knowledge. But this skill is only marginally related to the skill of being sensitive to context. It is not related at all to skills like empathy. Over the past years, we’ve seen very smart people make mistakes because they didn’t understand the context in which they were operating.

Or “very smart” people lack real-world experience in leading other people. Or they lack core qualities like resoluteness and decisiveness. Or they delegate too much responsibility and blame others for their failings. You see where I’m heading, right?

We elected a president who was indisputably a member of the educated elite in America. It matters not at all that he wasn’t rich growing up. He spent his adult life at Ivy League institutions, chalked up the résumé entries (Harvard Law Review), and thoroughly adopted the intellectual bent and attributes of the academic Left in America.

What did all this have to do with being president? It turns out not all that much. But other elites — New York Times columnists, for example – swooned and vouched for him. They confused literary finesse with presidential timber. They mistook fluency in philosophy with grounding in common sense, moderation, and wisdom.

In looking for other reasons why elites are doing so badly these days, Brooks writes:

To leave a mark in a fast, competitive world, leaders seek to hit grandiose home runs. Clinton tried to transform health care. Bush tried to transform the Middle East. Obama has tried to transform health care, energy and much more. There’s less emphasis on steady, gradual change and more emphasis on the big swing. This produces more spectacular failures and more uncertainty. Many Americans, not caught up on the romance of this sort of heroism, are terrified.

Well, that sounds like a particular kind of elite leader working on a short time frame before voters have a chance to put a halt to his august plans. But not all leaders operate this way. There are many successful governors, business professionals, and others who set modest goals and work competently toward them. No one is compelled to achieve grandiose objectives unless he has a grandiose conception of himself, a messiah complex, if you will. For those who come to believe they represent the “New Politics” and have the ability to lay a “new foundation” (i.e., radically restructure the country), then, yes, they’re going to run into trouble when the rest of us freak out and don’t want to be restructured out of the health care we enjoy and the economic system we’re rather fond of.

Next time around, voters may want to assess the credentials of the presidential candidates more closely. Elite degrees may be evidence of a sharp mind and keen intellect. But they also teach a lot of foolish things at Ivy League institutions, and it behooves voters to consider which ones a graduate has adopted. Moreover, voters would also do well to look for a candidate’s accomplishments — evidence — of intellectual prowess and personal character. If the candidate hasn’t done much other than run for office, make speeches, and extol his own greatness, that should be a red flag.

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David Brooks Doesn’t Buy It Either

This was the reaction to Joe Biden’s defense of the Obami anti-terrorism approach on the Sunday talk shows:

The KSM trial has become a total mess. What Joe Biden said today on the program doesn’t pass the laugh test. The idea that we’re going to try a guy, not acquit him, apparently, if, beforehand, are we going to make Dick Cheney the foreman of the jury? I mean, how do we know that? …  And then the second thing I think Cheney’s actually right about is Mirandizing. We, if we–say we’d captured the 9/11 guys on September 10th, or one of them, should we have read that guy his rights and given him a lawyer? No. We should have tried to get some intelligence out of the guy.

Cliff May? Andy McCarthy? Nope. David Brooks. And yes, when the Obami can’t even pass the “laugh test” with a moderate, sympathetic pundit who vouched for Candidate Obama and has dutifully reported the Obama’s best arguments, then you know the gig is about up. And Brooks didn’t stop there:

Eric Holder, the attorney general, took this decision without consulting the president, without consulting the national security apparatus, did it on his own. And slowly, and now quickly, the White House is pulling that back. And so they are going to try to, I think, take–well, take it out of New York. But they’re not there yet. The idea that we can try someone and, and guarantee a conviction and guarantee they won’t walk free, I mean, this, this is a betrayal of our values. I mean, what–the, the correct charges against Gitmo were that it’s a betrayal of our values. We’re fighting our values in a way that–we’re fighting this war in a way that betrays who we really are. And this is the essence of that. What Joe Biden said on the program today will be laughed at around the Arab world.

If Brooks can spot the not-Bush anti-terrorism policy collapsing in on itself, then Biden’s full-court press on the Sunday talk shows was all the more troubling. No one inside the White House can grasp how implausible the spin is? No one sees that a walk-back will be required — and be all the more embarrassing when preceded by another round of “how dare Dick Cheney say those awful things about us”?

Each day spent trying to beat back bipartisan opposition to their not Bush policies is a lost one for the White House, confirming that they are isolated, out of touch with our values (yes, irony alert), and not yet serious about fighting enemies who regard our foolishness as weakness. The president has not distinguished himself by decisiveness, but that’s certainly what he could use: a swift and decisive break from a year-long experience in reviving a failed criminal-justice model. The longer this goes on, the more of a mess it becomes and the harder it will be to unwind the self-inflicted damage (both from an intelligence and a political standpoint). So far, however, there is no a clear signal that Obama recognizes that such a firm, emphatic course change is required. He and the country will be the worse for it.

This was the reaction to Joe Biden’s defense of the Obami anti-terrorism approach on the Sunday talk shows:

The KSM trial has become a total mess. What Joe Biden said today on the program doesn’t pass the laugh test. The idea that we’re going to try a guy, not acquit him, apparently, if, beforehand, are we going to make Dick Cheney the foreman of the jury? I mean, how do we know that? …  And then the second thing I think Cheney’s actually right about is Mirandizing. We, if we–say we’d captured the 9/11 guys on September 10th, or one of them, should we have read that guy his rights and given him a lawyer? No. We should have tried to get some intelligence out of the guy.

Cliff May? Andy McCarthy? Nope. David Brooks. And yes, when the Obami can’t even pass the “laugh test” with a moderate, sympathetic pundit who vouched for Candidate Obama and has dutifully reported the Obama’s best arguments, then you know the gig is about up. And Brooks didn’t stop there:

Eric Holder, the attorney general, took this decision without consulting the president, without consulting the national security apparatus, did it on his own. And slowly, and now quickly, the White House is pulling that back. And so they are going to try to, I think, take–well, take it out of New York. But they’re not there yet. The idea that we can try someone and, and guarantee a conviction and guarantee they won’t walk free, I mean, this, this is a betrayal of our values. I mean, what–the, the correct charges against Gitmo were that it’s a betrayal of our values. We’re fighting our values in a way that–we’re fighting this war in a way that betrays who we really are. And this is the essence of that. What Joe Biden said on the program today will be laughed at around the Arab world.

If Brooks can spot the not-Bush anti-terrorism policy collapsing in on itself, then Biden’s full-court press on the Sunday talk shows was all the more troubling. No one inside the White House can grasp how implausible the spin is? No one sees that a walk-back will be required — and be all the more embarrassing when preceded by another round of “how dare Dick Cheney say those awful things about us”?

Each day spent trying to beat back bipartisan opposition to their not Bush policies is a lost one for the White House, confirming that they are isolated, out of touch with our values (yes, irony alert), and not yet serious about fighting enemies who regard our foolishness as weakness. The president has not distinguished himself by decisiveness, but that’s certainly what he could use: a swift and decisive break from a year-long experience in reviving a failed criminal-justice model. The longer this goes on, the more of a mess it becomes and the harder it will be to unwind the self-inflicted damage (both from an intelligence and a political standpoint). So far, however, there is no a clear signal that Obama recognizes that such a firm, emphatic course change is required. He and the country will be the worse for it.

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What Obama Could Do Now

To his credit, David Brooks delivers the harsh news to the Obami:

Voters are in no mood for a wave of domestic transformation. The economy is already introducing enough insecurity into their lives. Unlike 1932 and 1965, Americans do not trust Washington to take them on a leap of faith, especially if it means more spending.

The country has reacted harshly to the course the administration ended up embracing. Obama is still admired personally, but every major proposal — from the stimulus to health care — is quite unpopular. Independent voters have swung against the administration. Voters are not reacting to the particulars of each bill. They are reacting against the total activist onslaught.

Brooks suggests some things Obama now could do, ranging from the innocuous (“propose some incremental changes in a range of areas and prove Washington can at least take small steps”) to the unlikely (Who thinks Obama has the patience or the inclination to “take several of the Republican health care reform ideas — like malpractice reform and lifting the regulatory barriers on state-based experimentation — and proactively embrace them as part of a genuine compromise offer”?) to the scary (please, no “constitutional debate” with “amendments of one sort or another”).

Frankly, Obama shows none of Brooks’ passion for the nitty-gritty of governance. Aside from sporadic rhetoric, Obama has rejected true bipartisanship at every turn. So the prospects for a successful domestic agenda are not great. But because they are already touting their great achievement in Iraq, the Obami might stop husbanding resources for a domestic agenda that is going nowhere and instead start using their capital on some historic foreign endeavors. Obama could complete the job in Iraq (and actually call it “victory”), spend the resources (financial and otherwise) to do the same in Afghanistan, and help bend history in Iran.

So far, Obama’s performance on Iran has been pathetic, as Jamie Fly sums up:

The administration’s public statements on Iran in the days leading up to today’s protests have been shameful.  One wonders whether they might be more successful if instead of playing rhetorical games with the Iranian regime, this administration was focused on rallying international support for and implementing those “crippling sanctions” they used to threaten if Iran did not accept President Obama’s outstretched hand. All in all, another missed opportunity to stand on the right side of history and support the protesters who represent the best chance for resolving the Iranian nuclear crisis.

But it’s not too late. The country (ours and theirs) would respond favorably. He could deploy his vaunted eloquence to rally world opinion and support the oppressed and imprisoned. He could make “hope and change” more than a punch line. And here at home, Republicans would rally to his side.

Think that’s unlikely, too? Well, maybe if he wants that “one really good” term, he could use it to achieve something truly important. If the alternative is dickering with Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid over a fiscal commission, it might seem like the thing to do. But then again, maybe all he really wanted was to win the presidency.

To his credit, David Brooks delivers the harsh news to the Obami:

Voters are in no mood for a wave of domestic transformation. The economy is already introducing enough insecurity into their lives. Unlike 1932 and 1965, Americans do not trust Washington to take them on a leap of faith, especially if it means more spending.

The country has reacted harshly to the course the administration ended up embracing. Obama is still admired personally, but every major proposal — from the stimulus to health care — is quite unpopular. Independent voters have swung against the administration. Voters are not reacting to the particulars of each bill. They are reacting against the total activist onslaught.

Brooks suggests some things Obama now could do, ranging from the innocuous (“propose some incremental changes in a range of areas and prove Washington can at least take small steps”) to the unlikely (Who thinks Obama has the patience or the inclination to “take several of the Republican health care reform ideas — like malpractice reform and lifting the regulatory barriers on state-based experimentation — and proactively embrace them as part of a genuine compromise offer”?) to the scary (please, no “constitutional debate” with “amendments of one sort or another”).

Frankly, Obama shows none of Brooks’ passion for the nitty-gritty of governance. Aside from sporadic rhetoric, Obama has rejected true bipartisanship at every turn. So the prospects for a successful domestic agenda are not great. But because they are already touting their great achievement in Iraq, the Obami might stop husbanding resources for a domestic agenda that is going nowhere and instead start using their capital on some historic foreign endeavors. Obama could complete the job in Iraq (and actually call it “victory”), spend the resources (financial and otherwise) to do the same in Afghanistan, and help bend history in Iran.

So far, Obama’s performance on Iran has been pathetic, as Jamie Fly sums up:

The administration’s public statements on Iran in the days leading up to today’s protests have been shameful.  One wonders whether they might be more successful if instead of playing rhetorical games with the Iranian regime, this administration was focused on rallying international support for and implementing those “crippling sanctions” they used to threaten if Iran did not accept President Obama’s outstretched hand. All in all, another missed opportunity to stand on the right side of history and support the protesters who represent the best chance for resolving the Iranian nuclear crisis.

But it’s not too late. The country (ours and theirs) would respond favorably. He could deploy his vaunted eloquence to rally world opinion and support the oppressed and imprisoned. He could make “hope and change” more than a punch line. And here at home, Republicans would rally to his side.

Think that’s unlikely, too? Well, maybe if he wants that “one really good” term, he could use it to achieve something truly important. If the alternative is dickering with Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid over a fiscal commission, it might seem like the thing to do. But then again, maybe all he really wanted was to win the presidency.

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