Sunday, March 14, 2010

Brooks on Obama 

I suspect David Brooks is closer to the truth on Barack Obama than most people, left or right, who write about him. If you lop off the last paragraph, Brooks wrote a good column that assesses Obama more accurately than either echo chamber, which is not hard to do. The last paragraph, though, misapprehends the nature of the country:

In a sensible country, people would see Obama as a president trying to define a modern brand of moderate progressivism. In a sensible country, Obama would be able to clearly define this project without fear of offending the people he needs to get legislation passed. But we don’t live in that country. We live in a country in which many people live in information cocoons in which they only talk to members of their own party and read blogs of their own sect. They come away with perceptions fundamentally at odds with reality, fundamentally misunderstanding the man in the Oval Office.

Brooks reads both the rest of the world and the history of the United States incorrectly if he believes that there has ever been a "sensible" democracy. Most people, most of the time, live in an echo chamber. They have their orientation, and they have neither the ability nor the inclination to consider the other side with intellectual honesty. Franklin Roosevelt was immensely popular, far more so than Barack Obama, but he built his popularity (at least before the war) by demonizing and harassing business. If you did not support FDR, you hated FDR. Looking abroad, in how many democracies, even robust ones, do politically active voters thoughtfully deliberate, weighing each argument carefully? Israel? Italy? Maybe, sometimes, in parts of the Anglosphere, but even in those cases I am not sure. The British and the Canadians can be as rancorous in their politics, in a formal but biting way, as Americans. Debate in Parliament is of much greater entertainment value than in the Congress, but there is no evidence that it is less partisan.


By Anonymous Jim Nicholas, at Sun Mar 14, 08:54:00 AM:

I think your critique is very accurate. I might add 'unfortunately', but then I would have to criticize myself for having the elitist belief that it is unfortunate that most persons are as they are.

Best wishes,


By Anonymous John, at Sun Mar 14, 09:44:00 AM:

It'd be easier to believe that if Obama didn't live in the same chamber, TH.

and in a sensible country, he'd never have been elected president.  

By Anonymous Mad as Hell, at Sun Mar 14, 09:53:00 AM:

Re: David Brooks
"The fact is, Obama is as he always has been, a center-left pragmatic reformer."
"But he is still the most realistic and reasonable major player in Washington."

I disagree with this -- a lot. Obama was branded this way in the 2008 campaign, but it doesn't fit his back story. He's no Bill Clinton. Obama wants to be a "transformative" President and will sacrifice a second term to achieve it.

Obama & Co overplayed their hand in 2009. If it weren't for the Scott Brown wrench in the works we'd already have had the Healthcare Signing -- complete with FDR pen.

"We live in a country in which many people live in information cocoons in which they only talk to members of their own party and read blogs of their own sect."

I tend to agree with this and to agree with TH's point that we've always been dumb shrieking partisans. but with this caveat: With recent Democratic declines, we're nearly equally divided into thirds. Neither major party has been good at bringing Indpependents into their fold. This has been by design. Media coverage tracks this. I submit that this is an unusual phenomenon in our history, and that it's a root problem.

Game theory tells you that a politic split in thirds can yield strange results. Weimar Germany comes to mind.

FDR's political strength came from his having an unusual coalition, and the Republicans lacking a response. It was actually Al Smith's coalition, but that's another story.  

By Blogger JPMcT, at Sun Mar 14, 09:57:00 AM:

Same old crap. It isn't that Mr. Obama is a cultured leftist, beholden to a radical past; it isn't that he is incompetent in expressing his concepts or managing his administration; it isn't that he is the least patriotic man to have found his way into the oval office.

No...none of that.

It's our fault. We don't get it because we live in "echo chambers" (the new cultural buzz-word).

In a sane world, Obama would be appreciated.

Yawwwn...get a life, Mr. Brooks. Try a new excuse...that one has been played out.  

By Anonymous alanstorm, at Sun Mar 14, 10:02:00 AM:

"In a sensible country, people would see Obama as a president trying to define a modern brand of moderate progressivism."

"moderate progressivism."?

Yeah. And the John Birch Society is a "moderate conservative" group.

What were you saying about living in echo chambers...?  

By Anonymous Jim Miller, at Sun Mar 14, 10:58:00 AM:

I think that March 11th column has to be read in the context of his March 8th column, in which he claimed that Obama was "genuinely passionate" about "exploding federal deficits". If Brooks can believe that about Obama, he can believe anything.

During the 2008 campaign, I predicted that Obama would govern as close to his leftist Hyde Park ideology as he could get away with. So far, that picture of Obama seems far more accurate than Brooks' picture.

Note that the two will often lead to similar predictions. What Brooks sees as admirable prgamatism and moderation, I see as the necessary compromises a left-wind ideologue has to make while trying to govern a center-right country.  

By Anonymous Barnabus, at Sun Mar 14, 11:40:00 AM:

just a tad arrogant...no? Certainly on Brooks part but also on yours if you accept his arguement; i.e. if "they" don't agree with me then they are not sensible. And a related point...since when did rejecting "moderate progressivism" define you as being not sensible?  

By Anonymous Boludo Tejano, at Sun Mar 14, 11:54:00 AM:

"The fact is, Obama is as he always has been, a center-left pragmatic reformer."

Given that Obama was the most liberal Senator in 2007, it would appear that David Brooks is just one more city slicker trying to put one over on the rubes. Trying to get us into HIS echo chamber.  

By Anonymous Mr. Ed, at Sun Mar 14, 12:02:00 PM:

There is much to respect and admire about David Brooks. I think he is smart, sincere, educated and entertaining.

I wish though, apropos of the topic, he could be a little more critical of his assumptions. He seems to have bought into the hope thing, got seduced by the slightly intellectual edge of Obama's mind and the attention Obama payed to him, and now seems to see mainly the bright side of the President and the dark side of those who are so appalled by what the President is trying to do, which as some have noted, is not left of center by any stretch of the imagination. Well, I suppose you could say far left is still left of center.

Brooks inhabits his own echo chamber.


By Anonymous Mad as Hell, at Sun Mar 14, 12:23:00 PM:

How's this for reasonable, center-left pragmatism:

Bart Stupak is now a terrible inconvenience to Obama-Pelosi, for having worked up the anti-abortion compromise that's in House Healthcare that's not in Senate Healthcare. Nancy may need the votes of some or all of Stupak's Dirty Dozen before Obama jets off to Indonesia next weekend. Stupak has said publicly that in addition to other pressures being applied, that he's been personally threatened with trumped up ethics charges if he doesn't fold. I believe him. It fits the Obama & Co "MO." NY AG Andy Cuomo -- in league with Obama & Co and The New York Times -- is doing a similar thing to NY Governor David Patterson.

Come November, if included in final Healthcare, "abortion funding" alone will cost the Democrats the moderate Catholic vote -- which is 5% or more in many districts. Convent-schooled Nancy Pelosi should know better, but she's been in her San Fran-DC bubble for too long. It's exactly these same voters that Ronald Reagan got to vote Republican.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sun Mar 14, 02:18:00 PM:

"In a sensible country, people would see Obama as a president trying to define a modern brand of moderate progressivism."

There is nothing 'moderate' about his progressivism -- just consider his advisors and appointees.

I think Brooks is caught up in assessing the situation as he would like it to be. Don't get caught up in the words; pay close attention to the actions.  

By Anonymous matt, at Sun Mar 14, 03:23:00 PM:

Brock says"Obama is center-left pragmatic reformer" and then"everytime he articlulates a grand philosophy"----aren't these in conflick,and revealing about the stance Brook is taking as a Obama suporter,although he says Obama is 4 steps left of him?  

By Blogger Gary Rosen, at Mon Mar 15, 04:35:00 AM:

"There is much to respect and admire about David Brooks."

Like what? Did he help an old lady cross the street one time?  

By Anonymous Just Because, at Mon Mar 15, 09:00:00 AM:

Drum roll, please ... Does Nancy have the votes, or not?
The outcome of this week may define the future of the Democratic Party -- not just Healthcare.

My sense is that before Scott Brown came along Nancy used to have the votes -- even without the Stupak Dirty Dozen -- but that she let ten or more in Congress vote "No" the last time as a favor. It says a lot about Healthcare that getting such a pass from Nancy was one of the most valuable favors she could hand out.

It's true that if Nancy had the votes, they'd have voted already. I expect there's a lot of nasty infighting going on among Democrats. I wouldn't count Nancy out -- but the things she needs to do to get these votes will define the Democrats quite narrowly going forward. Nancy lives in a bubble.

Meanwhile, here was Republican Senator Lindsey Graham responding to Axelrod yesterday:

"And the interview I just heard is spin, campaigning.  I thought the campaigning was over.  Are you trying to tell me and the American people that Scott Brown got elected campaigning against a Washington bill that really is just like the Massachusetts bill?

The American people are getting tired of this crap."

Stron words for a Sunday morning.  

By Anonymous Mad as Hell, at Mon Mar 15, 10:03:00 AM:

The New York Times can't go broke fast enough.

They just called for Stupak to fold: "a handful of House Democrats who oppose abortion may be the ones to decide whether health care reform goes forward or not." "How did a small group get so much power?"

This is a tell that Obama & Co need a few of Stupak's Dirty Dozen to fold.

Whatever you think of abortion, this is dirty political pool. I'm not a maven on political inside baseball, but I have to believe that LBJ honored his deals. Pelosi and Reid have welched. This can't not have consequences within their own caucuses.

Whatever you think about abortion, the NYT's position makes my blood boil. It ignores completely that some people have religious convictions that can't be compromised.

I'd bet that Axelrod and Punch Jr have each other on speed dial.

The NYT eked out a profit in 2009 -- 3X Punch Jr's bonus! But ad revenue dropped another 20%. NYT isn't trading on current earnings. In theory, they should sell out to the likes of google.  

By Anonymous Mad as Hell, at Mon Mar 15, 04:08:00 PM:

Lighter side:

Beware the Ides

One hit wonders, they were barely out of high school. The song's Helen was the hot high school chick and ex-flame who love-sick guitarist-singer Jim Peterik was chauffering around to her Chicago modelling tryouts.  

By Blogger Cassandra, at Mon Mar 15, 07:47:00 PM:

Echo chamber?

My oldest friend is a Dem who voted for Obama.

My best friend in HS (who I still keep in touch with and discuss politics with) is a Dem who voted for Obama.

My kids' godfather - and my husband's oldest friend - is a Dem who voted for Obama.

My DIL and her family are all Dems who voted for Obama.

My sister in law is a Dem who voted for Obama.

Guess what? I STILL don't agree with Obama. And neither do about half the folks who voted for him last November.

Echo chamber? Sounds like projection to me.  

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