Political Animal


June 14, 2011 10:35 AM David Brooks’ accidental Obama endorsement

By Steve Benen

Poor David Brooks. The New York Times’ center-right columnist is looking at the 2012 presidential race from a “Hamiltonian/National Greatness perspective,” and he’s left with the impression that the major parties are “unusually pathetic,” with “unusually unimaginative” agendas, which are “unusually incommensurate to the problem at hand.”

Brooks longs for a “Hamiltonian reinvigoration agenda,” and proceeds to tell us what that might look like.

This reinvigoration package would have four baskets. There would be an entitlement reform package designed to redistribute money from health care and the elderly toward innovation and the young. Unless we get health care inflation under control by replacing the perverse fee-for-service incentive structure, there will be no money for anything else.

There would be a targeted working-class basket: early childhood education, technical education, community colleges, an infrastructure bank, asset distribution to help people start businesses, a new wave industrial policy if need be — anything that might give the working class a leg up.

There would be a political corruption basket. The Tea Parties are right about the unholy alliance between business and government that is polluting the country. It’s time to drain the swamp by simplifying the tax code and streamlining the regulations businesses use to squash their smaller competitors.

There would also be a pro-business basket: lower corporate rates, a sane visa policy for skilled immigrants, a sane patent and permitting system, more money for research.

I don’t mean to sound picky, but isn’t this effectively a recitation of President Obama’s “winning the future” agenda? In fact, forget “effectively.” Doesn’t Brooks’ column read like he copy-and-pasted from one of the president’s speeches?

As Ezra Klein explained:

The Affordable Care Act cut spending on Medicare and raised taxes on wealthy Medicare beneficiaries in order to redistribute that money toward the young and the sick. It put growth constraints on Medicare’s future spending and on the tax break for employer-provided health care to free money up for other uses. It attempted basically everything anyone could think of to figure out how to define, track and pay for quality.

It looks to me like every single items in Brooks’s “targeted working-class basket” is also on Obama’s agenda. Early childhood education? It got a Race to the Top program — a program, incidentally, that Brooks admires — in the president’s 2012 budget. Same for technical education/community colleges. As for the infrastructure bank, Obama proposed it last year. Meanwhile, Obama’s State of the Union emphasized the exact sort of tax reform and R&D investment Brooks proposes, and he’s long supported high-skills immigration reform.

Brooks said in his column that Democrats are offering “practically nothing.” He ought to pay closer attention — they appear to be offering him exactly what he wants.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.


Post a comment
  • c u n d gulag on June 14, 2011 10:40 AM:

    Wouldn't you want to see Brooks present his “Hamiltonian reinvigoration agenda,” and it's backhanded support of Obama's programs, in New Jersey, to Senator Burr?

    Or, is that a loaded question?

  • BC on June 14, 2011 10:44 AM:

    Just like the Republicans would not take yes for an answer in 2011, it seems like Brooks and the other moderate punditocracy will never recognize the agenda that Obama is pursuing is indistinguishable from one that Nelson Rockefeller might have pursued. God, I wish Obama were the flame-throwing liberal that these people keep telling us he is.

  • ManOutOfTime on June 14, 2011 10:47 AM:

    The Tea Parties are concerned about "the unholy alliance between business and government that is polluting the country" ... ? News to me. I thought they were concerned about the tax is too damn high and the deficit is too damn high and the president is not a Republican.

    David Brooks is nauseating. I cannot believe anyone takes him seriously.

  • Michael on June 14, 2011 10:47 AM:

    "...they appear to be offering him exactly what he wants."

    Except that they're Democrats. C'mon, Steve, you know how this works. A good idea is only a good idea if a Republican offers it. As soon as a Democrat likes an idea (mandates, cap-and-trade), it's automatically teh worst idea EVAR.

  • ManOutOfTime on June 14, 2011 10:49 AM:

    @c u n d gulag - Witty and historically droll! Thanks!

  • T2 on June 14, 2011 10:50 AM:

    you may call Brooks "center-right" but I'll just call him a Republican propagandist that isn't as skilled as he or others would have you believe.
    The fact that he can basically recite a good portion of Obama's positions without having the nuts to just say "Obama's postions are sound and should not be continuously obstructed by the Republican Party" tell you what you need to know. He knows right from wrong, but doesn't have the conviction to write it.

  • Stephen on June 14, 2011 10:53 AM:

    It's simple:

    When proposed by a Democrat,it's a "Socialist agenda"

    When proposed by a Republican, it's a "Hamiltonian reinvigoration agenda"

    Got it?

  • emjayay on June 14, 2011 10:55 AM:

    He did however package mostly Obamalike policies in a clear and understandable way, something the Obama crew has failed to do. Not that difficult, but one of their main failures.

  • walt on June 14, 2011 10:58 AM:

    David Brooks is the aw-shucking, chin-stroking nice guy you'd like conservatives to be. Unfortunately, he's a virtual Leninist, which means he will lie for the sake of the Party. He's maddening precisely because of columns like this where he takes the positions of the other side and then applies his own label to them. He knows what he's doing. We know what's he doing. And there's nothing we can do but shrug our tired shoulders and wish there was still a decent press corps in this country.

  • emjayay on June 14, 2011 10:59 AM:

    Wow, I was pretty sure I got the first Captcha right, but maybe it was that I couldn't figure out how to get the foreign language whatever it was extra tildas or accents or whatever in there. Then I got the second one, which I was pretty much guessing at because the blurry letters could have been almost anything.

    Victory against all odds!

  • T2 on June 14, 2011 11:09 AM:

    emjayay, good point about the "package" of Obama policies. I've always wondered how a guy who can write and deliver such eloquent speeches doesn't seem to communicate his policy positions so well. I'll grant that obsfucating his words has become a cottage industry on the Right, and the Media offers little help, but the president does seem to have a problem with plainly telling us what he wants to do.

  • LauraNo on June 14, 2011 11:10 AM:

    I resent people giving the tea party credit for opposing the unholy govt/ corp alliance. Liberals always have, the tea party didn't reinvent the wheel. And I have not seen any real evidence the tea party does oppose corp welfare. Have they marched? Have they screamed at town halls about BP or BOA or Pharma ripping us off? Did they object to energy corps being involved with their bus gimmick? Do they call for the elimination of DHS, NCLB, Medicare Part D? The tea party objects only to help for the middle class when that help may also help minorities.

  • TCinLA on June 14, 2011 11:20 AM:

    Brooks said in his column that Democrats are offering “practically nothing.” He ought to pay closer attention — they appear to be offering him exactly what he wants.

    Yeah, but he's a Republican so he can't admit that.

    c u n d gulag: Burr's the senator from North Carolina not New Jersey (I know, I know, all those words that start with "N" they're so much alike :-))

  • danimal on June 14, 2011 11:24 AM:

    That can't be Obama's agenda. I didn't see any references to death panels, Mau Maus, socialism, Hitler, or czars.

    Do these people ever engage beyond their ridiculous, offensive slogans? (rhetorical question...I know the answer already) Brooks is supposed to be the thoughful, intellectual honest broker and yet he demonstrates that he is clueless about the actual Obama policy agenda.

  • Doctor Biobrain on June 14, 2011 11:25 AM:

    Funny, as I keep seeing the same thing from Obama's critics on the left, who keep insisting that he needs to say all the things he says all the time. It's like they don't even bother reading his speeches, but instead take the cherry-picked parts and insist that that's the important part of the speech.

    Like how Obama mentions the need for deficit reduction, before pivoting to tax increases on the rich and needed investments in infrastructure; yet all they hear about are deficit reductions and completely miss the second part. Yet the second part is the nut, while the deficit reduction is the hook; and he's only mentioning it as a way of using the conservative line to lead into the liberal rhetoric and policies. He's been doing that for months; giving a few toss-out sentences to deficit reduction and then focusing the rest on liberal policies.

    As it turns out, the only reason they don't think he's saying this stuff is because they never bother reading his speeches. I'd be fine if they simply thought he was lying to us, but don't understand how they can possibly suggest he's not saying this stuff. He promotes full-throated liberalism in every speech he gives.

  • max on June 14, 2011 11:26 AM:

    emjayay on June 14, 2011 10:59 AM:

    "Wow, I was pretty sure I got the first Captcha right, but maybe it was that I couldn't figure out how to get the foreign language whatever it was extra tildas or accents or whatever in there."

    That is funny. Yesterday the second Captcha word consisted of five letters - two of them almost indistinguisable, but the kicker was they were part of a giant fraction, i.e., beneath a solid line with a small "n" above it. Sometimes I just proceed to the Preview option and usually - but not always - get something I can read. By the way, Brooks writes some head scratching columns that probably drive the purists insane, which I enjoy.

  • slappy magoo on June 14, 2011 11:33 AM:

    Brooks is part of the Republican Inaction Committee. If he can't convince you that the Republican agenda, then the least he can do is convince you that both parties suck. So maybe the less-involved will stay home on Election Day. So the Republicans will win.

  • boatboy_srq on June 14, 2011 11:34 AM:

    Brooks seems to do a remarkable job of thinking as a moderate Democrat without actually paying any attention whatsoever to actual Democratic policy proposals or achievements. One wonders whether he reads the very paper for which he writes.

    @TCinLA: I think CUND meant Aaron Burr - who was, incidentally, Senator from New York (among other things). Good one, CUND.

    ... and Captcha says "PARK thertu." You be the judge.

  • Joe Friday on June 14, 2011 11:41 AM:


    The Tea Parties are concerned about "the unholy alliance between business and government that is polluting the country" ... ? News to me. I thought they were concerned about the tax is too damn high and the deficit is too damn high and the president is not a Republican.

    You mean they're concerned that the president is not WHITE.

  • Johnny Canuck on June 14, 2011 11:45 AM:

    TCinLA:Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton duel:The location of the duel lies in Weehawken, N.J.

    but then some Canadians were taught American history in school.

  • DAY on June 14, 2011 11:47 AM:

    gulag doesn't fight fair- he reads BOOKS!

    I'm almost distantly related to a president (his niece; Mary Burr Hull), except the Gentleman Aaron said to Jefferson, "you go first".
    And then there was that Mexico thing. . .

  • Grumpy on June 14, 2011 11:54 AM:

    emjayay: "I couldn't figure out how to get the foreign language whatever it was extra tildas or accents or whatever in there."

    You can bring up a fresh challenge at any time using the "recycling" arrows button above the "audio challenge" speaker button. That way, you don't have to re-submit the entire post after a failed Captcha.

  • AK Liberal on June 14, 2011 12:15 PM:

    Brooks will never take "yes" for an answer. His job is to confuse independents and moderate Republicans (the few left) to vote against their own interests by pulling the lever for the GOP.

  • c u n d gulag on June 14, 2011 12:28 PM:

    Thanks, but I know.
    I lived in NC and supported the icky Erskine Bowles over him.
    Hey, he couldn't have been worse. No, not even Bowles...

    The NJ reference, as Johnny Canuck said, was to where the duel took place.

  • emjayay on June 14, 2011 12:37 PM:

    Thanks. Also if you use the back button after you get it wrong your comment is still there.

    Anyways, Brook's grouping of policies into three baskets is one way to make them understandable to people not paying much attention (almost everyone). As far as reading all of O's speeches, not just sound bites...no one does that either, except the kind of people who read WM, occasionally. That's why simplifying and repeating the catchy simplifications is necessary.

    Today on WNYC someone was called in to complain about the ACA (O-Care) not doing anything. A program which hasn't started yet. On NPR. In NYC.

    Oh Boy! "sea rectal" I think. Maybe "reetal".

  • Anonymous on June 14, 2011 12:41 PM:

    Johnny Canuck, ROTFLMAO! Being a transplanted American in Canuckistan, I'll attest to you guys being pretty bright (which explains Harper's win...how? Nevermind. :-)

    cund, brilliant!

    Stephen, I tweeted that most awesome quote (w/a h/t to you). @MsJoanne

    And Captcha gave me an 'official mestie' which pretty well defines politics these days.

  • MsJoanne on June 14, 2011 12:56 PM:

    Dr. B, I forgot to mention...adding to what you said. The people speaking with the loudest voices against Pres BHO (take that wingers!) are passionate but not too bright. Ed Schultz and Jane Hamsher. Ed is passionate but truly a dullard. After equating Wiener to OJ yesterday, I'm completely washing my hands of him. That was wrong on so many levels it stunned me. Hamsher and add both worked hard at the anti-GOTV in 2010 and look what happened. I think Hamsher is a GOP plant, myself. I find it hard to believe any lib would spend as much time and energy as she did trying to defeat the AHCA because there was no public option. If she's that stupid to not realize that incremental is better than nothing, she should remove herself from public view. And if she's not, how dare you speak for me, Jane you ignorant slut (I loves me some SNL).

  • tanstaafl on June 14, 2011 3:40 PM:

    Sorry Steve, there are two items on David Brooks' list that President Obama has not endorsed -- lower corporate tax rates and "streamlining" regulations. Also, he does not mean the same thing you or I do when he suggests simplifying the tax code.

    These are the only things he cares about, he would gladly throw out everything else on the list to get those three things. He only included them to camouflage his far right wish list to look like a more reasonable, centrist one.