Tuesday, September 04, 2012

David Brooks, True to Form

I had a discussion with somebody about David Brooks this morning. He was asking me what I thought of various newspaper columnists, and couldn't quite remember the name, but "David" was enough. He mentioned that he thought Brooks was a pretty clever guy who put his own spin on things. I agreed. I asserted that whatever the spin was, Brooks should be recognized as the partisan he is - reiterating a point that I've made here that when he gives advice to Democrats on what they need to do to win elections it's consistently bad (for Democrats) - whether he's advising Democrats or Republicans on strategy they should adopt, he's in fact giving advice that he believes will help the Republicans win the next election. My friend agreed, but expressed in essence that Brooks is a breath of fresh air as compared to other partisan columnists (his example was Peggy Noonan).1

When I followed a link to his latest piece, I thought for a moment, "Perhaps David Brooks is going to prove me wrong." He starts out with a valid point: It's time for President Obama to tell us what he plans to do in his second term, and why he deserves a second term. Sure, he puts a light Republican spin on Obama's history, and gives undeserved praise to Paul Ryan2, but underneath that, in relation to the President, how can you argue with this:
It’s not clear what he is passionate to do if he is elected for another four years.
But from there, pure reversion to form.
First, global warming. President Obama has occasionally said he’d like to do something about climate change if he gets a second term. Given the country’s immediate economic and fiscal problems, this seems obtuse to me. But if this is really where Obama’s passion lies, he should go for it.
In other words, even Brooks can't hold a straight face when telling Obama to focus his second term agenda on global warming - yet it's his number one suggestion. When you read Brooks' specific proposals, you can't help but wonder if he's already viewed the attack ads the Republicans hope to be able to run on the issue.3

Brooks' next idea is that the President should attack capitalism. Seriously - Brooks is claiming that a President whom the Republicans have bashed based upon zero evidence of not understanding capitalism, of hating capitalism, of being a socialist (if not a communist), of hating rich people... all that nonsense... should make an attack on capitalism the centerpiece of his reelection campaign. The attack ads would write themselves.4 Again, Brooks can't help but smirk,
This agenda wouldn’t appeal to moderates, or people like me, but it’s huge, it’s serious and it would highlight a real problem.
It's a serious problem that David Brooks can describe but... doesn't care about? Brooks is mostly correct that his ideas "wouldn’t appeal to moderates, or [Republicans]", which translates into an admission that Brooks expects that such an approach would cost the President votes.

Brooks then suggests that the President should embrace wholeheartedly the report of the chairs of the failed Bowles-Simpson Commission, and finally bring to this country the sort of bad policy and austerity measures that have caused Great Britain to have a double-dip recession. After admitting that even the Republicans at most pay "lip service" to Bowles-Simpson - having apparently forgotten that Paul Ryan served on the commission and voted against the final report - he proposes that Obama could endorse a witches brew of ideas from Simpson-Bowles that even the Republicans view as toxic.

At first blush you might respond, "Well, at least the Republicans wouldn't be able to run attack ads against a plan that's to the right of Paul Ryan's deficit-increasing proposals," but nope. The ads will be running the next day, "See? We told you that Obama was taking away your Medicare and now he's also going to slash your Social Security benefit!" It's also amazingly transparent, "You really want to win this election? Well, first thing you gotta do is give the Republicans everything they want, and don't ask for anything in return." I realize that's not far from how beltway pundits define "bipartisanship" on Social Security and Medicare, but by this point does anybody still believe Brooks is sincere?5

1. This is more than damning Brooks with faint praise. As tiresome as his faux-centrism can be, unlike with many of his peers you often have to read more than the headline in order to know what Brooks is arguing and the conclusion he's going to reach.

2. Brooks wrote,
During this time, you knew what Barack Obama was about, where his priorities lay. But, since 2010, that has not been the case. Since then, Representative Paul Ryan has been driving the Washington policy debate with his plan to cut spending and restructure entitlements.
If we define "Washington policy debate" as "the issues over which beltway pundits" obsess, perhaps that's fair. But (a) Ryan's budget is junk - cowardly junk - and the debate has been anything but policy-oriented. Ryan's budget is a political statement, not a policy statement, and those who advocate its merits either do not understand it or share Ryan's political goals.

Ryan has scurried away from certain elements of his budget, particularly the manner in which he proposed privatizing and voucherizing Medicare, without any explanation for how his new voucher program is superior as a matter of policy - but it's pretty obvious how it's superior as a matter of politics.

3. First up, "He could vow to double down on green energy and green technology." Republican Ad: "Soyndra, Soyndra, Soyndra, Soyndra. Soyndra! Soyndra, Soyndra. I'm Mitt Romney and I approve this message."

4. First up, "He could vow to strengthen unions". No mention of how that might work, save in Republican attack ads.

5. Brooks laments,
I wish he’d rise above the petty tactical considerations that have shrunk him over the past two years.
Now what was it that happened two years ago that made things in Washington so petty... We had an election and then something happened that let the Republican agenda dominate in the House of Representatives and (further) stymie Obama's agenda... oh, what could it be....

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