David Brooks, man without a political party, is embittered today that President Barack Obama didn't create a political party for him. I have to admit, the party that David Brooks seems to want sure sounds like a wonder! It will declare the end of politics as usual, and stoke positivity, and popularity will trump populism, and -- I suppose through the sheer force of its goodness! -- quash all other political interest-seekers of their interest seeking. Life will be one long campfire song. But Obama now wants to pass the "Buffett rule," and so the dream of a country for self-described "saps" is dead. What is a self-described "sap" doing writing about politics, anyway? That seems to demonstrate that Brooks is a glutton for disappointment.
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.
Why did David Brooks need Barack Obama to tell him that the unemployed couldn't wait 14 more months for help? Does he not know that there's a rampant unemployment crisis in America? Had he found this out on his own instead of waiting many, many years for Obama to give a speech, he might have used his influence to push Obama into doing something about the unemployed many years ago, thus avoiding the problem he identifies in his next paragraph.
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.
Emphasis mine. For the record, Brooks is absloutely right. The American Jobs Act is absolutely about having something to say -- if not do -- about the key issue of the 2012 race. There is now an "Obama Jobs Plan" to go along with the "Perry Jobs Plan" and the "Romney Jobs Plan." The American Jobs Act has no chance of being enacted into law (neither does any bill that would raise taxes on the wealthiest 1%) and Obama knows this. Everyone knows this. Let's definitely get cynical! But let's also try to remember that a big reason it won't pass has to do with another "campaign marker," thrown down long ago:
"The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president."
-- Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY)
Brooks says that he supported the payroll tax cut and "urged Republicans to play along." They didn't. And this is Obama's fault? Is Brooks withering away wondering what it was that Obama personally did to sour the GOP on making a tax cut? Read Mitch McConnell's quote: what Obama did was "exist" and "become President."
So now, Brooks is upset that Obama, "in his remarks Monday ... didn't try to win Republicans to even some parts of his measures." But he went to great lengths to do just that in presenting the American Jobs Act ... which Brooks now calls a "campaign marker" ... because it won't pass Congress ... because the GOP is lockstep against it ... which ... kind of makes trying to win over Republicans pointless.
Meanwhile, Brooks is similarly aggrieved that Obama "repeated the populist cries that fire up liberals but are designed to enrage moderates and conservatives."
Let's take a measure of this rage, shall we? In a SurveyUSA poll conducted on August 31, respondents -- by an 82% to 5% margin -- said that raising taxes on the richest Americans and closing corporate tax loopholes would make them more likely to vote to re-elect Obama (11% said it would make no difference). Within the cohort of independent voters, support for these policies was 79% to 10%.
This is nothing new. Back in June of 2010, America Speaks (a Peter G. Peterson joint) conducted a series of nationwide focus groups and found that people "overwhelmingly supported proposals" that included, among other things, the raising of "tax rates on corporate income and those earning more than $1 million."
So, go right ahead and call this a "campaign marker," if you like. But let's not kid ourselves into thinking that these proposals "enrage moderates." They don't! (They enrage conservatives, sure, but conservatives are enraged that the president, like many presidents that both preceded him and will follow him, did things like raise the debt ceiling and use a teleprompter.)
Brooks keeps calling himself a sap. And he keeps testifying to the fact that he always thinks Obama is going to do certain things, like propose reforms, but "each time he gets close, he rips the football away." Yes, Obama fought for a center-right health care reform package that imitated the one Mitt Romney instituted in Massachusetts and ran for president in 2008 on the premise that it would be a model for the nation. The GOP rejected it. During the debt-ceiling crisis, Obama offered John Boehner a package that included $4 trillion in spending cuts, $1 trillion in revenues, and a change in the Medicare eligibility age. Boehner rejected it.
Obama is not the Lucy Van Pelt in these scenarios. Is Brooks not up on current events? Does he not pay attention to the politics? My working theory is that Brooks decides that he "thinks" Obama is poised to do something he likes. Then he blisses out for several months, and when he comes out of his reverie, he sees that nothing's been done and gets upset that Obama hasn't changed politics wholesale through the sheer force of his personality. I know that seems implausible! I'm just trying to get my head around how Brooks could have possibly arrived at these conclusions.
Brooks writes: "To be an Obama admirer is to toggle from being uplifted to feeling used." On that sentiment, there are many, many Obama supporters who feel the same way. But you know why they feel used? Because Obama keeps going back to the GOP, seeking to bring them into the policymaking fold, long after it has become apparent that they have no intention of playing a part in the enactment of almost anything. What prevents them from being "uplifted" is that by trying and failing to play the compromise game, Obama fails to exert a gravitational pull on the rightward drift of what's considered "mainstream," leading to the elevation of extremes that I am led to believe Brooks nominally opposes.
What makes them "feel used" is that Obama keeps trying and trying and trying to be the President that David Brooks wants him to be. Well, it hasn't worked out, and like it or not, I don't imagine that "making David Brooks feel good" is the hill that the Obama administration wants to die on, however honorable a death Brooks thinks it is.