David Brooks takes us on a tour of his own psyche today:
Obama speeches almost always have the same narrative arc. Some problem threatens. The odds are against the forces of righteousness. But then people of good faith unite and walls come tumbling down. Obama used the word “walls” 16 times in the Berlin speech, and in 11 of those cases, he was talking about walls coming down.I have acknowledged that it's easy to get stirred by some of Obama's rhetoric, but that it's obvious that they're political speeches and that his rhetoric can be obviously inflated, and that inspires me to interpret Brooks' "confession" in one of two ways:
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When I first heard this sort of radically optimistic speech in Iowa, I have to confess my American soul was stirred. It seemed like the overture for a new yet quintessentially American campaign.
His early praise-verging-on-adulation of Obama, which ended the moment it became obvious that Obama was going to be the Democratic candidate, representing the height of disingenuousness; or
Brooks routinely lets his emotional responses overwhelm his ability to be rational or objectively analyze political speeches and commentary.
But now it is more than half a year on, and the post-partisanship of Iowa has given way to the post-nationalism of Berlin, and it turns out that the vague overture is the entire symphony. The golden rhetoric impresses less, the evasion of hard choices strikes one more.So how does Brooks respond? By comparing the speeches of Presidents who are already in office with those of a candidate.
Much of the rest of the speech fed the illusion that we could solve our problems if only people mystically come together. We should help Israelis and Palestinians unite. We should unite to prevent genocide in Darfur. We should unite so the Iranians won’t develop nukes.And the difference between this and the past eight years of Bush would be... that Obama thinks people must come together to effect change, while the Bush Administration expects it to happen by magic? The difference between this and the McCain campaign is that McCain wants us to accept a dismal status quo?
Since [the 1990s], autocracies have arisen, the competition for resources has grown fiercer, Russia has clamped down, Iran is on the march. It will take politics and power to address these challenges, the two factors that dare not speak their name in Obama’s lofty peroration.Now you'll excuse me for observing this, but nothing in Obama's speech is inconsistent with a recognition of the need for "politics and power" to address the problems in the world. Perhaps Brooks slept through Obama's call for a stepped up military action in Afghanistan? He caught the part where "called on Germans to send more troops to Afghanistan" - but apparently was unable to process the implication. (Hint: He doesn't expect them to go to Afghanistan to teach children to hold hands and sing Kumbaya.) But get this:
The odd thing is that Obama doesn’t really think this way. When he gets down to specific cases, he can be hard-headed. Last year, he spoke about his affinity for Reinhold Niebuhr, and their shared awareness that history is tragic and ironic and every political choice is tainted in some way.So Obama is capable of thinking like a President, being tough, and making tough choices. Then what's Brooks' problem?
But he has grown accustomed to putting on this sort of saccharine show for the rock concert masses, and in Berlin his act jumped the shark.Oh how horrible - you mean Obama is running for political office? Thank goodness Brooks alerted us to this alarming reality.
You want to talk about "jumping the shark"....