David Brooks, Bitter Clinger?

A bit more than five weeks ago, I posed a question: “What would it take to get David Brooks to admit that Barack Obama took him to the cleaners? What would it take to get him to acknowledge that he has been had? What would it take to cause him to turn on The One?” And, citing a column entitled Obama against Obamaism, in which Brooks called himself “a sap, a specific kind of sap. . . . an Obama Sap” and listed a number of occasions in which he had believed the nonsense the President was peddling, I suggested that President Obama’s campaign against “millionaires and billionaires” had with Brooks done the trick.

Yesterday, however, I received an e-mail from a friend, citing a column by Brooks, which appeared in Monday’s New York Times and asking whether that newspaper’s self-styled moderate was not, in fact, what Obama himself called “a bitter clinger.” Instead of clinging to guns and religion, however, my friend intimated that Brooks was clinging to Obama. Here is the passage that caught my friend’s eye:

Obama, who sounded so fresh in 2008, now sometimes sounds a bit like Al Gore and Nancy Pelosi. Obama, who inspired the country, now threatens to run a campaign that is viciously negative. Obama, who is still widely admired because he is reasonable and calm, is in danger of squandering his best asset by pretending to be someone he is not. Obama, a natural unifier and conciliator, seems on the verge of running as a divisive populist while accusing Mitt Romney, his possible opponent, of being inauthentic.

Don’t get me wrong. There is much in Brooks’ column that is perceptive. He notes that “the government activism of” the President’s “first two years” drove the country to the right “on issue after issue,” and he cites the pertinent polling data.

According to a Gallup poll, 64 percent of Americans who were asked said they primarily blamed government for the economic slowdown, whereas only 30 percent said they blamed the financial institutions. According to a Congressional Connections poll, 55 percent of adults said they believed government regulation has been a “major factor” in the current economic slowdown.

The Occupy Wall Street placards advocate income redistribution, but data from the General Social Survey shows that support for redistribution has plummeted during the recession, with the sharpest declines coming among people earning between $7 and $9 an hour.

And he once again takes Obama to task for shifting decisively to the left, arguing that his electoral strategy is suicidal:

If Obama were a Republican, he could win with this sort of strategy: Repeat your party’s most orthodox positions and then rip your opponent to shreds. Republicans can win a contest between an orthodox Republican and an orthodox Democrat because they have the trust in government issue on their side.

Democrats do not have that luxury. The party of government cannot win an orthodox vs. orthodox campaign when 15 percent of Americans trust government. It certainly can’t do it presiding over 9 percent unemployment. It’s suicide.

Yet this is the course the Obama campaign has chosen. He’s campaigning these days as the populist fighter, the scourge of the privileged class. . . .

It’s misguided. It raises the ideological temperature and arouses the Big Government/Small Government debate. It repels independents, who don’t like the finance majors who went to Wall Street but trust the history majors who went to Washington even less.

The electoral strategy that Brooks recommends is just the opposite. It is, in fact, positively Clintonesque.

Obama would be wiser to champion a Grand Bargain strategy. Use the Congressional deficit supercommittee to embrace the sort of new social contract we’ve been circling around for the past few years: simpler taxes, reformed entitlements, more money for human capital, growth and innovation.

Don’t just whisper Grand Bargain in back rooms with John Boehner. Make it explicit. Take it to the country. Lower the ideological atmosphere and get everybody thinking concretely about the real choices facing the nation.

I do not know whether I would call Brooks a bitter clinger. But he certainly remains an Obama Sap. He still mistakes the pose of 2008 for reality. He is still persuaded that the real Obama is “reasonable and calm.” Back in September, I observed:

It has taken Brooks a very long time to recognize what was evident to nearly every member of Ricochet from the start — to wit, that the moderate demeanor of Barack Obama was a mask, and that behind it was a man intent on overthrowing the old America and replacing it with what he tellingly called The New Foundation.

The real question now is whether this recognition will have consequences for Brooks. He has a bully pulpit, and a decision on his part to systematically dispel the illusion of Barack Obama’s moderation could have a real impact on American life.

I can easily imagine Brooks following through on the logic of his discovery and figuring out that there never was a moment in the entire disgraceful and demeaning process in which he was not being used. I can imagine him, then, reassessing the longing for what he calls “moderation” that made him so easy a mark.

I also posed a question: “Once a sap, always a sap? Or is redemption a possibility?” I guess that I know the answer now. Brooks may not be bitter, but he certainly clings.

  1. DrewInWisconsin

    I think these are the lines that jumped out at me:

      “Obama, who is still widely admired because he is reasonable and calm, . . .”

      “Obama, a natural unifier and conciliator, . . .”

    I would never apply these descriptions to the President.

  2. David Nordmark

    It’s hard to admit you’re wrong, more so when you consider yourself to be “smarter than the average bear”, as I’m sure Mr. Brooks does. A simple, humble, and honest man can admit he is wrong right away. There’s a wisdom in that. For a member of the intellectual Harvard educated elite this type of wisdom is much harder to grasp. One of the big problems Obama has is that he can’t admit that most of what he’s believed his entire adult life is wrong, despite all evidence to the contrary.

  3. Trace

    What gets me is his insistence that Obama is pretending to be something he is not. Brooks has no evidence for this. In fact, the President’s entire personal and political history would suggest exactly the opposite — that the 2008 campaigner was the inauthentic version of Obama and now, that he is cornered and defensive, we are seeing his true beliefs.

  4. Paul A. Rahe
    C

    I agree with every word said in these comments. Perhaps at The New York Times, one lives in a bubble — a species of alternative reality.

  5. BThompson

    I think that Brooks believes he has the president’s ear. I remember hearing him tell a story about how Obama had contacted him after reading one of Brooks’ columns and how Brooks had been amazed by Obama’s insight into his motivations for writing the column. My guess is that Brooks still thinks Obama is reading him and he is being overly conciliatory because he wants to continue to believe he has some sort of influence over Obama. Brooks’ problem is that I think his head tells him that conservatives are right, but in his heart he wants to believe that there is still a Santa Claus and someone will figure out a way to implement utopianism.

  6. Leslie Watkins

    Yes! It’s like Brooks is following the lead of Bill Clinton who said about Democrats: they want to fall in love.

    BThompson: I think that Brooks believes he has the president’s ear. I remember hearing him tell a story about how Obama had contacted him after reading one of Brooks’ columns and how Brooks had been amazed by Obama’s insight into his motivations for writing the column. My guess is that Brooks still thinks Obama is reading him and he is being overly conciliatory because he wants to continue to believe he has some sort of influence over Obama. Brooks’ problem is that I think his head tells him that conservatives are right, but in his heart he wants to believe that there is still a Santa Claus and someone will figure out a way to implement utopianism. · Oct 28 at 8:47am

  7. Fredösphere

    The sap always rises. That’s it’s nature.

  8. tabula rasa

    Just another narrative inspired by the old song “My Boyfriend’s Back.”

    Brooks had a crush on Obama; Obama went out with other girls; but the crush lives on (and Brooks, despite all evidence to the contrary, keeps waiting for Obama to call). 

    David:  he’s not a moderate–he dumped you–get over it!

  9. Jerry Carroll

    Brooks has to get along with the publisher and the rest of people who work at the Times. Stray too far off the reservation even as the false in-house conservative and he might find himself looking for work at the Brookings Institute.

  10. Stuart Creque

     David Brooks took the measure of the man in 2008, found the crease in his pants leg suitably impressive, and pronounced him breathtakingly intelligent, deeply thoughtful, and profoundly moderate.

    Do you now want Brooks to admit that he’s not only a poor judge of horseflesh, but in fact a gullible fool?  The closest he can come at present is to say that he misjudged Obama’s will to resist the Progressive wing of the Democrat Party;  it will take him the perspective of some years’ remove to work up the courage to admit that Obama is and always has been on the Left flank of that Progressive wing and that he fell for Obama’s moderate facade because he so very much wanted to believe that here at last was the well-qualified, highly competent and non-ideological Black man that would bring America to a watershed moment of racial conciliation.

  11. Chris Johnson

    I was inclined to believe you gave Brooks to much credit for his original comments, as he had never earned them with effort and time.

    I am inclined to believe that you now are giving him the gimlet eye, as he suggested that certain history majors may not win the trust of independents.

    In both cases, you give a gas-bag like Brooks unearned credit.  To credit Brooks with insight is to underwrite an intellectual sub-prime loan.

  12. Percival
    CJRun: To credit Brooks with insight is to underwrite an intellectual sub-prime loan. · Oct 28 at 3:02pm

    Ow! Spot on, but that was a Dick Butkus-style hit!

  13. Paul A. Rahe
    C
    CJRun: I was inclined to believe you gave Brooks to much credit for his original comments, as he had never earned them with effort and time.

    I am inclined to believe that you now are giving him the gimlet eye, as he suggested that certain history majors may not win the trust of independents.

    In both cases, you give a gas-bag like Brooks unearned credit.  To credit Brooks with insight is to underwrite an intellectual sub-prime loan. · Oct 28 at 3:02pm

    You are no doubt right. I wondered about Brooks’ reference to history majors. To the best of my knowledge, no one higher up in the Obama administration was one. His people have no historical sense at all. If they did, they would say a word or to BHO about Herbert Hoover.

  14. James Gawron

    As long as he lives in Sulzberger Sodom and Gomorrah (Writing for the Times) Brooks will be as corrupt as Lot.  Lot chose his fate.  Abraham his righteous relative saved Lot when Gd’s wrath came down.  Unfortunately, Lot then spawned a whole nation of evil.

    Brooks corrupted himself let him uncorrupt himself.  Let Brooks really attack Obama and the left on conservative principles.  Let him realize what it’s like to fight for conservative ideas while being smeared as an extremist by people who are just trivial.  Once he realizes what he has been doing to others then he will be ready for redemption. 

  15. Charles Gordon

    If it’s true our historic first Islamic apostate president calls Brooks to inform him of the real meaning of the column he had just written, is he toying with Brooks like the scorpion with the frog, coaxing Brooks to carry him across the river of next November?

    Should Brooks be warned of the common compulsion of leaders of the vanguard to devour their own? Like Lenin’s Red Terror, whose Bolsheviks had no problem treating Mensheviks as if they were Kulaks? Or the purges of Stalin, who didn’t wait for photoshop to airbrush away those closest to him? Or Mao’s Great Leap Forward? After all, a cable network is already Leaning Forward. The New York Times’s commentariat cannot be far behind.

    Or is Brooks simply a racist? After assessing the crease in his pant leg, Brooks looked inside the man’s soul, and has convinced himself he had seen more light than dark?

    Who still has an appetite for what is stuffed into “All the News That’s Fit to Print”? Why Prometheus, oh why can’t you break the chain of punishment of reading daily, like taking cod liver oil, the New York Times?