David Brooks, Line, and Sinker

For my money, the best single pre-election quick-hit analysis of Barack Obama's governing style came from former Reason Foundation political director, and current Big Government Editor in Chief, Mike Flynn. Flynn, who had dealings with the future president in the trenches of Illinois state policymaking, said that when Obama meets with you–particularly when you come from the opposite side of the issue or political aisle–he makes you feel like the smartest guy in the room, surprising and flattering you with his genuine intellectual curiosity and non-dogmatism. Then you leave, happy, and he turns around and votes like a dogmatic progressive.

A year into the Obama presidency, you'd think the non-ideological, open-minded pragmatist narrative would have melted (at least among non-hardcore Democrats) under the hot lights of bailout/stimulus-4-ever policymaking. But you'd be wrong. At least when it concerns Obama's old dance partner David Brooks. Here's Brooks just today:

A year ago, the country rallied behind a new president who promised to end the pendulumlike swings, who seemed likely to restore equilibrium with his moderate temper and pragmatic mind.

In many ways, Barack Obama has lived up to his promise. He has created a thoughtful, pragmatic administration marked by a culture of honest and vigorous debate. When Obama makes a decision, you can be sure that he has heard and accounted for every opposing argument. If he senses an important viewpoint is not represented at a meeting, he will stop the proceedings and demand that it gets included.

If the evidence leads him in directions he finds uncomfortable, he will still follow the evidence. He is beholden to no ideological camp, and there is no group in his political base that he has not angered at some point in his first year.

Such a characterization, I reckon, depends in part on your proximity to the president's pant leg (go ahead and click the link). Out here on the perimeter the "culture of honest and vigorous debate" is not nearly as detectable.

For instance, when Obama said that opponents of health care reform "don't have" any proposed "solution," and sought instead to "preserve the status quo," that was not an honest and vigorous debating point, it was a dishonest attempt to demonize opponents and airbrush from the debate those many, many people–including David Brooks–who just have different ideas about how to reform a deeply flawed system. When the president wrote, on the eve of pushing through the stimulus package 11 months ago, that criticisms of that massive government excretion were echoing "the failed theories that helped lead us into this crisis" with their "notion that tax cuts alone will solve all our problems," he was doing the exact same thing: Demonizing opponents and insinuating they have no substantive arguments. That's a "culture," all right, but of "honest and vigorous debate"?

Day after day, and probably tomorrow more than ever, the president has reduced the health care debate ad absurdium by claiming it's a simple Manichean struggle between noble reformers and dastardly "special interests." Even while the specific special interests in question are helping set new lobbying records in Washington, larding in particular the nookie jars of the most powerful Democratic Party "reformers." He continuously makes claims that "every" reputable expert sees the wisdom of this or that White House policy, despite the widespread existence of reputable experts who do not. Such a debate tactic may indeed be "vigorous," but it's certainly not "honest."

What about that whole "follow the evidence" regardless of ideology thing? How about asking the stranded kids who used to be in D.C.'s gratuitously euthanized vouchers program? I'm sure they're very impressed with the president's campaign pledge to follow "solid, unimpeachable information that identifies what's working and what's not working in our schools...regardless of ideology." No more false choices, indeed!

To pre-empt the rebuttal: Yes, I'm aware that he's a politician, being political. But that's precisely the point. Why on earth are some people still giving this man nearly extra-terrestrial powers of intellectual nobility and non-ideological catholicism? He ain't God, man.

Bonus video from a more innocent age: Mike Flynn, Delaware Dave Weigel, Thumpin' Tim Cavanaugh and myself discuss Obamanomics, 60-seat majorities, gilded corporate lobbyists and more, all from an awkward camera angle at the 2008 Democratic National Convention:

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  • ¢||

    nookie jars

    Tell us what you know!

  • Jeff P||

    As we speak some leftist is doing preliminary sketches for "The Apotheosis of Obama" dome mural.

  • Tim Cavanaugh||

    If he senses an important viewpoint is not represented at a meeting, he will stop the proceedings and demand that it gets included.

    He's clearly thinking of this incident, in which Romer and Obama busted Larry Summers trying to keep Austan Goolsbee's important viewpoint. In the event, the president listened with curiosity and non-dogmatism, then did what Larry Summers wanted.

  • ||

    That is one excellent bitch slap of an article, Mr. Cavanaugh!

  • Attorney||

    It pains me to think that my NYT-reading relatives' concept of conservatism is probably based solely on David Brooks.

  • Slap the Enlightened!||

    With friends like Brooks, conservatism doesn't need any enemies.

  • ||

    I'd like to be the highly compensated libertarian voice not heard at the table.

    Oh, he said "important viewpoint." Right, I imagine they'd quibble with the importance of the libertarian view.

  • Old Mexican||

    If the evidence leads him in directions he finds uncomfortable, he will still follow the evidence. He is beholden to no ideological camp, and there is no group in his political base that he has not angered at some point in his first year.

    Translation - he practices politics by expediency. Who would've thunk it?!?

  • ||

    Weigal needs to lay off the Suzy Q's.

  • ||

    I heard he's trying Nutrisystem.

  • SIV||

    At the least buy bigger clothes.

  • zoltan||

    You guys are vicious.

  • ed||

    "Barack Obama....has created a thoughtful, pragmatic administration marked by a culture of honest and vigorous debate."

    What the

  • Hope and Changer||

    "I hate Bush!"

  • Jerry||

    David Brooks is such a second hander.

  • OMG||

    I don't think he's a second hander … to do what he does every time he writes most likely requires no more than tweezers

  • ||

    Brooks is definately a useful idiot.

  • ||

    Alright, Welch: anytime you post the Obamessiah painting you have to post the Lobster Girl twice. This is not negotiable.

    -jcr

  • Finish Line||

    "claiming it's a simple Manichean struggle between noble reformers and dastardly "special interests." Even while the specific special interests in question are helping set new lobbying records in Washington, larding in particular the nookie jars of the most powerful Democratic Party "reformers."" Great we agree that the health insurance companies have their hand in the nookie jar. Don't you think any movement toward lessening the power of insurance companies is the solution? There is no chance of reform when the staus quo remains

  • ||

    Don't you think any movement toward lessening the power of insurance companies is the solution? There is no chance of reform when the staus quo remains

    But this is movement towards increasing the power of the insurance companies to work hand in glove with the government. Perhaps if other reformers showed any interest in alternative proposals, of which there have been many (presented here and elsewhere), instead of claiming that theirs is the only way, we could have had a conservation.

  • Finish Line||

    I agree that the insurance companies are in control but any competition from the government is better than no competition.

  • ||

    There is no competition from the government in this bill...

    And even if there were, you would just be transferring heath insurance from a competitive market to a monopoly. That's what happens when an institution with unlimited cash and legislative power (the government) enters a market.

  • Finish Line||

    Heller,"And even if there were, you would just be transferring heath insurance from a competitive market to a monopoly." Thank you, because you make my point for me. The diminution of private power for insurance companies will force them to compete for business.

  • Hank||

    Don't you think any movement toward lessening the power of insurance companies is the solution? There is no chance of reform when the status quo remains

    There is no chance of reform when the status quo remains is exacerbated. And any meaningful measures of reform are completely and utterly ignored. Well, except the mandate - that'll show those fucking insurance companies.

  • ||

    It is spelled ad absurdum. Please use αρχαία ελληνικά instead; then the effort itself counts, no matter how fucked up your grammar and diction are.

  • OMG||

    Fuck yeah

  • ||

    Interesting that Greek doesn't trigger the no-English comment spam. A mere inverted exclamation mark got me earlier today, subduing my enthusiasm.

  • ||

    Did anyone read all 20 embedded hyperlinks? Anyone click through to 5? Yeah. Me neither.

  • ||

    They would be so much more enjoyable if they popped up somewhere else instead of taking over the article you are in the middle of reading, amirite?

  • Jeffersonian||

    He ain't God, but he might be the Messiah.

    Of the increase of his government...there will be no end. Isaiah 9:7

  • Jeffersonian||

    You know what made Isaac Newton so smart? The way he was able to accurately perceive reality and then describe it in mathematical terms.

    Yet somehow today we handsomely reward people like David Brooks for steadfastly refusing to recognize reality in the cleverest and most erudite terms, calling him "intelligent." He's not. He's a well-spoken fool. The societal consequences of this shift in what we call intelligence cannot help but be dire.

  • ||

    Is that another one of those ironic Lacey paintings?

  • ||

    "He continuously makes claims that "every" reputable expert sees the wisdom of this or that White House policy, despite the widespread existence of reputable experts who do not. Such a debate tactic may indeed be "vigorous," but it's certainly not "honest."

    I don't think it's that he's being willfully dishonest though. ...and there's a difference!

    I think it's just that he has no experience with private enterprise, and he doesn't have any trusted advisers who've even seen that side of the world either. So he's really callin' it like he sees it.

    It's a lopsided view, no doubt, but I think that really is his view of the world. The purpose of industry, including the healthcare industry, is to serve the people, just like he does. And if you have some other view, you're not representing a divergent viewpoint, you're an aberration of something evil.

    Free markets working for the good of everyday people? That's just not on his map. I don't think that really exists for him--he probably thinks it's a joke!

    I just glanced through the bios of 21 of his cabinet people, people in other high ranking advisory positions, and not one of them had any private enterprise experience. They all came from academia, government or were lawyers. I don't think there's a willful lack of objectivity from the Obama bunch, I just think private enterprise as a solution to anything isn't on their radar. To them, I bet those kinds of solutions just look like a gag.

    It is remarkable that he doesn't have anyone with private industry experience, isn't it?! That's really remarkable!

  • Hank||

    No shit, you'd think they would get Internet access at the White House. Google, Obama, Google!

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Is that unicorn behind the President galloping on water?

  • ||

    Geez, you guys have gotten fat.

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