To lose generally sympathetic pundits in the aftermath of a speech isn’t the end of the world. But it can tell you something.
Two moderate-to-conservative columnists, Ross Douthat and David Brooks, have been as favorable to President Obama as one could reasonably hope, given their political philosophies. That’s particularly true of David. So it’s worth noting that yesterday’s jobs-and-budget speech by Obama lost both men.
The president’s remarks, in fact, caused Douthat to withdraw his earlier assessment that the president’s goal in 2012 “would be to try to paint himself as the moderate bipartisan grownup, and dismiss the Republicans as extreme, intransigent, and hyper-ideological.” Ross now argues, “Between the size, scope and design of the tax increases and the skimpiness of the entitlement reforms (nothing on Social Security, minimal tinkering on Medicare), it seems the president will be running for re-election as Nancy Pelosi instead.”
As for Brooks, he reluctantly recounts the various ways he has believed in Obama since 2008, including “when [Obama] said he wanted to move beyond the stale ideological debates that have paralyzed this country. I always believe that Obama is on the verge of breaking out of the conventional categories and embracing one of the many bipartisan reform packages that are floating around.”
Brooks no longer believes. Instead, he writes, “The White House gives moderates little morsels of hope, and then rips them from our mouths. To be an Obama admirer is to toggle from being uplifted to feeling used. The White House has decided to wage the campaign as fighting liberals.”
Brooks refers to himself as a “sap” throughout the column. In fact, both he and Douthat are first-rate writers and thinkers. They are also honest enough to admit (in their different ways) their faith in the president has been misplaced. It’s hard to know whether Obama cares. But he should. Defections like these are indicative of a broader erosion, one that seems to be accelerating by the day.