David Brooks Jumps Ship?

Have you ever asked yourself, “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?”

Well, now we know. The campaign against “millionaires and billionaires” is too much for The New York Times’ self-styled moderate. In a column entitled Obama Against Obamaism, he writes, “I am a sap, a specific kind of sap. I am an Obama Sap.”

When the president said the unemployed couldn’t wait 14 more months for help and we had to do something right away, I believed him. When administration officials called around saying that the possibility of a double-dip recession was horrifyingly real and that it would be irresponsible not to come up with a package that could pass right away, I believed them.

I liked Obama’s payroll tax cut ideas and urged Republicans to play along. But of course I’m a sap. When the president unveiled the second half of his stimulus it became clear that this package has nothing to do with helping people right away or averting a double dip. This is a campaign marker, not a jobs bill.

It recycles ideas that couldn’t get passed even when Democrats controlled Congress. In his remarks Monday the president didn’t try to win Republicans to even some parts of his measures. He repeated the populist cries that fire up liberals but are designed to enrage moderates and conservatives.

He claimed we can afford future Medicare costs if we raise taxes on the rich. He repeated the old half-truth about millionaires not paying as much in taxes as their secretaries. (In reality, the top 10 percent of earners pay nearly 70 percent of all income taxes, according to the I.R.S. People in the richest 1 percent pay 31 percent of their income to the federal government while the average worker pays less than 14 percent, according to the Congressional Budget Office.)

This wasn’t a speech to get something done. This was the sort of speech that sounded better when Ted Kennedy was delivering it. The result is that we will get neither short-term stimulus nor long-term debt reduction anytime soon, and I’m a sap for thinking it was possible.

In the end, Brooks concludes, “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.” 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.

Alternatively, I can imagine the President inviting David Brooks to lunch, flashing a smile, telling him of all the nasty things that he has suffered at the hands of the Republicans, and leading the disappointed columnist gently down the primrose path once more. I have known the like to happen.

Missing from the sort of moderation that Brooks espouses is any recognition that principles have consequences, that compromise is not always possible and desirable, and that conflict and contest are sometimes necessary. Those who turned decisively against Barack Obama in the early months of 2009 examined the so-called “stimulus” bill and knew immediately what they were up against. Brooks might want to ask himself why it took him so long to see the handwriting on the wall.

In North America, in the 1770s, men of David Brooks’ temper nearly always ended up as half-hearted Tories, wringing their hands. Any bets on where this self-confessed Obama Sap ends up in 2012? Once a sap, always a sap? Or is redemption a possibility?