Great googly moogly. I have never read a more ‘meh’ opinion piece than today’s David Brooks column. It is both incredibly boring and wildly inaccurate; something I thought only freshmen college papers could achieve.
Brooks tries to claim that the first two years of Obama’s presidency were like Kennedy’s, proactive and idealistic, but now Obama is acting like the opposite of that, like Eisenhower. I don’t understand this at all. What was so rash about Obama’s first two years in office? He offered a stimulus package that filled in the current rates of spending. There was nothing fiscally expansionary about the stimulus package; it just kept government spending at normal
The other “risky” or “visionary” (ugh Brooks has me quoting terms) thing Obama did in his first two years was pass Mitt Romney’s Republican health care plan on a national level. To Americans this is, of course, socialism at worst and a deep government intrusion into our private lives at best, ex post facto. But while the early Obama administration was making its plans, it seemed like a pretty conservative move. Copy what Republicans did in the 90s on health care to get their support in the 2000s. There was nothing idealistic or creatively revolutionary about Obama’s health care plan. If anything, it was a pretty jaded, conservative calculation that blew up only because the administration underestimated just how bigoted and single-minded Republican politicians are.
Prudence is always a nice trait in a leader, especially in the face of a thorny problem like Libya. At a time when the nation is anxious, Obama is coming across as a cautious and safe pair of hands. The man is clearly not going to do anything rash….
Yet this current cautious pose carries dangers, too. Eisenhower was president at a time when American self-confidence was at its zenith; Americans were content with a president who took small steps. Today, most Americans seem to think their country is seriously off course. They may have less tolerance for a president who leads cautiously from the back. David Brooks
So self-confident, that an interstate highway system was created to repel potential Soviet invasion and school children practiced hiding under their school desks in preparation of nuclear annihilation. Not only were we so self-confident to prepare for our own annihilation by foreign invasion and nuclear holocaust, but the nation so totally bought into McCarthy’s belief that average Americans were turning into communists, like some Muscovite vampire invasion, that even the US military was under suspicion by lunatic congressmen. Eisenhower was such a prudent leader, that he did not publicly oppose McCarthy. Because that’s what good leaders do, prudently avoid speaking the truth. Obama’s really good at that.
And yes, for Brooks prudence in a leader is always a good thing, except when it isn’t. ‘Always’ is a tricky word; it helps you sound definitive and knowledgeable but then when you offer an alternative in the next paragraph that contradicts the 100% implication of ‘always’, it usually shows you’re just muddled beyond hope.
Obama is not governing like any other president, he is governing by his own philosophy and in the circumstances of the times. That philosophy is talk big and do the politically feasible as he perceives what that is before testing the resolve of Congress. He prefers to come to the table with a compromise already formed as he expects arguments to unfold, and that has not worked well for him.
Unfortunately, his political circumstances also limit what is feasible to accomplish. The nation has a population of 40% that is suspicious of the party he leads and a majority of that percentage resent the color of his skin; the nation is governed in part by a legislative branch that is historically dysfunctional and populated by an opposition party set on destroying his political agenda at all costs. It also did not help him that the electorate shellacked a very active Democratic congress – preferring the gridlock of Republican rule.
Obama’s approach has been pretty consistent throughout all that. We’re in the Obama Phase.