Entries Tagged as 'David Brooks'

Today, Read David Brooks

David Frum July 19th, 2011 at 10:06 am 48 Comments

Read David Brooks today. Then forward the column to 10 friends.

That is all.

Will Politicians Ignore David Brooks?

July 6th, 2011 at 12:35 pm 33 Comments

One of the things that has attracted me to David Brooks over the years is his willingness to not get so heated in his writing.  In a time when it seems that what sells is trying to show everyone how outraged you are, advice Brooks quiet conservations about issues has always been a breath of fresh air.  Brooks has been critical of folks across the political spectrum, but it was never done in a withering attack style.  That’s just not David Brooks.

At least it wasn’t until yesterday.

Brooks incredible tounge lashing of the GOP for it’s dance with default should be a sign to Republicans that they are in danger of losing any and all credibility.  When you get the man who has made a living on calls for civility angry, you’ve pretty much lost the independents and moderates that are needed to win.

The modern GOP is in a bit of a bind. My guess is that even within the halls of Congress there are a number of GOP members of Congress who agree with Brooks.  They want to make a deal with Democrats to avert any kind of fiscal disaster.  But I also think the GOP is trapped by its own ideology; faced with a base that doesn’t want any compromise and will punish any lawmaker that goes against their wishes. As Jonathan Bernstein notes, citing a recent New York Times piece, GOP lawmakers are kept in line using fear:

What matters here, however, isn’t what actually happens in these primaries (after all, virtually all incumbents will survive them), but what’s in the heads of Republican Members of Congress. And for that, it’s possible that the ambiguities and unclear interpretations in Steinhauer’s story reflect accurately a focus on primaries and Tea Party short leashes that dominate the thinking of those Republicans.

All of which means that, at this point, it doesn’t really matter how many establishment figures defect or how harshly they complain: as long as Republican politicians are convinced that their main vulnerability is primary challenges from the right, they’re going to get crazier and crazier.

The thing is, it’s really not that crazy to worry about challenges from the right. Several Republican incumbents went down to defeat in primaries last year because they were not “pure” enough. It happened enough in 2010 to strike fear in the the hearts of GOP lawmakers. And as Bernstein notes as long as those politicos think this is their fate if they even make a deal, they will ride that crazy train no matter what a columnist says about them.

I really don’t know what the solution is.  Of course, GOP lawmakers should make deals, but the reality is they won’t because of what could be the repercussions of compromising.  Brooks slap across the face should be a wake-up call, but I doubt it will.  So far, there hasn’t been any consequences for going crazy.  There have been consequences for making deals.  Only when a price is paid for ideological rigidity will the GOP be able to change its course.  The question then will be if it’s too late.

Originally posted at Big Tent Revue.

Obama is His Own Worst Enemy

David Frum June 28th, 2011 at 9:30 am 71 Comments

David Brooks wrote a perceptive column today about the deficiencies in President Obama’s leadership style.

He can expect a barrage of negative comment from conservatives who will reject Brooks’ criticisms as insufficiently spicy.

As president, Obama has proved to be a very good Senate majority leader — convening committees to do the work and intervening at the end.

All his life, Obama has worked in nonhierarchical institutions — community groups, universities, legislatures — so maybe it is natural that he has a nonhierarchical style. He tends to see issues from several vantage points at once, so maybe it is natural that he favors a process that involves negotiating and fudging between different points of view.

Still, I would never have predicted he would be this sort of leader. I thought he would get into trouble via excessive self-confidence. Obama’s actual governing style emphasizes delegation and occasional passivity. Being led by Barack Obama is like being trumpeted into battle by Miles Davis. He makes you want to sit down and discern.

Brooks says Obama is too passive and withdrawn? That’s it? What about the threat to the Constitutional republic? What about deliberately wrecking the US economy so as to impose a secular socialist regime upon the ruins?

Yet Brooks has laid out the most useful and effective critique of Barack Obama for Republicans in 2012: The job has overwhelmed the man. He’s not an alien, he’s not a radical. He’s just not the person the country needs. He’s not tough enough, he’s not imaginative enough, and he’s not determined enough.

In the throes of the worst economic crisis since the 1930s, the president ran out of ideas sometime back in 2009.

In the face of opposition, Obama goes passive. The mean Republicans refused votes on his Federal Reserve nominees and Obama … did nothing. Would Ronald Reagan have done nothing? FDR? Lyndon Johnson?

With unemployment at 10% and interest rates at 1%, the president got persuaded that it was debt and interest that trumped growth and jobs as Public Issue #1.

Yet even as he yields to his opponents on the fundamental question, Obama is surprisingly rigid in his political tactics. Back in 2008, Obama made two big promises: a tax cut for everybody earning less than $250,000 and an Afghan surge. I think it’s safe to say that Obama believed in neither of them. I’d argue that neither was important to electing him. Both were adopted for defensive reasons, to shield himself from conservative critique. In the very different circumstances of 2009, both promises rapidly showed themselves to be counter-productive. The “tax cut” promise caused Obama to direct almost one-third of his big stimulus into an individual tax rebate that no economist would have regarded as effective, for reasons explained by Milton Friedman more than 40 years ago. The Afghan surge promise was regretted by Obama himself as soon as he came into office, and he spent 9 months looking for ways to evade it. He proceeded with both, leading to the two biggest problems of his presidency: a stimulus that added hugely to the national debt while under-delivering on jobs and an expanded Afghanistan war that must end in a reversion to the same disappointing status quo that prevailed before the Afghan surge. Obama probably anticipated both results. And yet he staggered forward anyway. As ready as Obama is to surrender to uncongenial political pressures, he is strangely inattentive to negative real-world results.

Message for Republicans: you don’t have to hate Obama to be disappointed in him. In fact hating him probably blinds you to the most important ways in which Americans have been disappointed.

Listen to Brooks, he shows the way forward.

Wisconsin’s Budget Fight is Only the Beginning

David Frum February 23rd, 2011 at 11:18 pm 58 Comments

What you are watching in Wisconsin is your future.

Since 2007, Americans have lost trillions of dollars in wealth. And ever since, we’ve been arguing about who should pay and who should be protected.

Wisconsin represents the next — and most painful — round of the argument. During the good years, states and cities made retirement promises to their workers. When you total all the promises – and compare them to the money set aside to pay the promises — you reach a gap of more than $1 trillion, according to the Pew Center on the States.

Where did the trillion go? Some was lost in the declining value of investments after the dot-com crash in 2000 and the financial crisis of 2008. Some of the trillion was unexpectedly added as rising health-care costs inflated the projected costs of state-worker retirements. But the largest part of the trillion dollar gap was accumulated by wishful thinking and political cowardice: States making workers happy by promising them payouts in the future, and trying to keep taxpayers happy by neglecting to set aside the necessary funding in the here and the now.

So, now a question: out of whose pockets should that trillion come? Should state workers be disappointed? Or should taxpayers pay?

There’s no ready answer to the question.

State workers have some valid complaints: states made contracts with them, they relied on the contracts, and now they expect the contracts to be honored. But taxpayers have a complaint too: Private-sector workers earn less than government workers. They enjoy less job security. And now they’re expected to pay an unbudgeted extra trillion in taxes to support the superior health and retirement packages of the public sector?

If there’s no ready answer, then how is the issue to be settled?

In the New York Times this week, David Brooks offered a wise ideal: “The cuts have to be spread more or less equitably among as many groups as possible. There will never be public acceptance if large sectors of society are excluded.  … [T]here is going to have to be a credible evaluation process to explain why some things are cut and some things aren’t. … The process has to be balanced. It has to make everybody hurt.”

Brooks describes exactly how the job of adjustment should be done. He also is describing exactly how the job won’t be done. The United States is not the country of rational and disinterested decision-making for which Brooks and so many others yearn. Maybe it once was that country, but it is not that country now. As we have seen through the debate over TARP, over stimulus, over healthcare – and now over public-sector pensions — whoever can muster the more powerful interest groups, whoever can mobilize more public anger, that side gets its way.

Bondholders have more muscle than mortgaged homeowners. Seniors have more muscle than the young. Upper-income taxpayers have more muscle than the unemployed.

So those first three groups usually win, and the latter three groups usually lose.

The public-sector workers of Wisconsin have learned that lesson, and they are adapting it. They want to break Gov. Scott Walker before he breaks them. They chant slogans about justice. But there is no justice, there is only muscle. The unions are flexing to test how much muscle they have. The taxpayers of Wisconsin — and all the other states to which this battle will soon come — have no choice but to do the same.

Originally published in The Week.

Limbaugh: No Retraction on Nazi Comment

David Frum August 10th, 2009 at 9:57 am 87 Comments

On “Meet the Press” this weekend, David Brooks used the word “insane” to characterize Rush Limbaugh’s analogy of Barack Obama to Adolf Hitler. Byron York of the Washington Examiner contacted Limbaugh and received this comment:

Everyone seems to ignore that Pelosi started this, saying town hall participants were showing up with swastikas, etc. That’s calling them Nazis, as Dick Durbin referred to our Gitmo interrogators from the Senate floor. I’ve been listening to the left compare George W. Bush to Hitler for eight years. I’ve been listening to Democrats and the left compare conservatism to Nazis my whole career. This time I responded.  In kind, by comparing the radical left policies of the Nazis to today’s radical left leadership of the Democrat Party.  I’m not surprised they don’t like it.

Yes but Durbin tearfully apologized on the Senate floor for his foul remark.

When Moveon.org briefly hosted a member-produced ad equating Bush and Hitler, that group too hastily disavowed and retracted the ad.

Those are the only two examples I recall from the Bush years of any prominent Democrat or left-of-center group using this kind of language. I would hope that sincere regret motivated Durbin and Moveon. I suspect though that they were also aware that they had done themselves extreme political damage with these reckless comments. The American voter dislikes and punishes intemperate talk – one reason that, for example, Howard Dean never made it to the presidency.

When Rush Limbaugh talks in this way, it’s not just Democrats who do not like it. It is everybody who cares about truth. Everybody who respects the conventions of American democracy, which takes for granted the basic good faith of people on the other side of the political divide. Oh – and also – everybody who does any real honor to the memories of the Nazis’ victims.

Rush does not care about any of that of course. He’s the center of attention, which is how he likes it. President Obama likes it too. The crazier Republicans look, the more reasonable Obama looks by comparison. When Rush calls Obama a Nazi, that does not hurt Obama. It hurts every Republican who by remaining silent, seems to assent.