Political Animal


September 20, 2011 8:45 AM Don’t blame Charlie Brown for learning Lucy’s lesson

By Steve Benen

About 24 hours ago, shortly before President Obama presented an ambitious debt-reduction plan, the headline on MSNBC’s homepage read, “Abandoning consensus, Obama takes a populist path.” It wasn’t an unfair assessment — President Obama and his team are adopting a new posture when it comes to dealing with congressional Republicans.

I obviously can’t read minds, but if I had to guess, I’d say this road wasn’t the president’s first choice, and his instincts likely push him in a different direction. For all the complaints that people prefer Candidate Obama to President Obama, he told us in 2007 and 2008 exactly what he wanted to do — move past bitter partisanship, strive for common ground, accept compromises as part of incremental progress, make a sincere effort to bring people together.

Love the president or hate him, he’s done what he said he would do. Obama has reached out to Republicans, even when he didn’t have to; he embraced Republican ideas as much as he could; he’s given plenty of administration posts to Republicans officials; and he’s demonstrated, to a fault, a willingness to compromise with his opponents.

And how did Republicans respond to a conciliatory president’s outstretched hand? By slapping it away. GOP officials have rejected every idea the president has ever suggested, even occasionally rejecting their own ideas after Obama accepted them. Republicans have not only forcefully abandoned the very idea of compromise, over the summer, they pushed the nation to the brink of an economic catastrophe, on purpose, rather than work in good faith with the White House.

Obama has banged his head against a wall for nearly three years, managing to do more harm to himself than the wall. And now it appears he’s done trying to appease those who refuse to even consider putting country above party.

David Brooks has seen all of these events unfold in recent years, and today uses his column to lambaste the president anyway. Apparently, Brooks believes Charlie Brown has an obligation to keep trying to kick the ball, even if he knows Lucy will pull it away.

The White House has decided to wage the campaign as fighting liberals. I guess I understand the choice, but I still believe in the governing style Obama talked about in 2008. I may be the last one. I’m a sap.

I think Brooks has reached the appropriate assessment of himself, but for all the wrong reasons.

What the columnist refuses to understand is that Obama still believes in the governing style Obama talked about in 2008. But I desperately want Brooks to answer one question: what happens when the president is the only one willing to adopt this posture, and his ostensible partners in governing — congressional Republicans — refuse to even consider compromise? In all sincerity, what choice has the GOP left for Obama?

Brooks seems genuinely disgusted that the president and his team aren’t sticking to a failed script: preemptive concessions, starting in the middle and working to the right, and a deliberately weak negotiating position built around the notion of making insatiable Republicans happy. And to be sure, the White House has tried this in the past, to no avail.

The NYT columnist apparently wants Obama to keep trying anyway, making the same mistake, regardless of Republicans’ recklessness or immaturity. The president’s willingness to ignore Brooks’ bad advice is heartening.

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.


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  • SteveT on September 20, 2011 8:49 AM:

    So while praising Charlie Brown for finally seeing the light, it it fair to point out that he should have learned his lesson after the sixth time Lucy pulled away the ball . . . or the seventh . . . or the eighth . . .

  • SW on September 20, 2011 8:53 AM:

    That is David Brook's function in this farce. To make the unreasonable seem reasonable. To make doing the absolutely stupid path seem like the virtuous path. To listen to him is to let your brain turn to mush. He is not an idiot. But he writes for them.

  • c u n d gulag on September 20, 2011 8:53 AM:

    David Brooks may describe himself as a sap, and he is one - just never a sap for Obama, but always a Conservative sap.

    But, now that I think about it, because sap and the tree's it comes from are actually useful, I'd describe Brooks as an insipid and diseased turd.

    And I'm glad Obama's veering away from kicking away at Lucy's football.

    I just hope he goes and keeps kicking some Republican ass instead.

  • Live Free or Die on September 20, 2011 8:55 AM:

    @ cundgulag::

    Usually when someone supports a bill on the basis on its opposition I consider that lazy thinking. In this case, however, once I saw Penn whining, I knew it had to be a good bill.

    I was one of those dragging Obama over the coals for the past few months. I am not a professional liberal. I am not a liberal. But I think Obama is finally in a good space. At this point there is no point in looking back and complaining anymore. If Obama keeps this up for the next 14 months, I will not complain anymore. But I will be vigilant, looking for signs of a relapse. Our President is a drug addict, the drug being Bipartisanship. He is going through withdrawals right now, but so far he has stayed clean.

    I wish the Jobs bill would have been bigger with more infrastructure. But according to reputable economists it should lower unemployment by a about a point. So it is a decent bill that I can get behind. I am ready to put on some war paint and kick some ass. It seems as if most Dems like this bill, so all Obama needs to do it sit the blue dogs down and chill those guys out.

  • berttheclock on September 20, 2011 8:55 AM:

    "I'm a sap"

    So terse, David Brooks, yet, so true.

    Trying to be co-operative with the RepuGs, is akin to being in the middle of a group of LAPD baton wielding thugs and saying, "Can't we just get along". I rather enjoy the new Joshua Chamberlain approach by our President of saying, in effect, "Fix bayonets, show 'em steel boys and Charge".

  • FRP on September 20, 2011 8:55 AM:

    a) Brooks seems genuine

    b) Bringing speculation into banking

    c) A land invasion of Asia

    D) A little torture

    Which phrase , or statement provides a basis for further hilarity ?

  • Todd for VT House on September 20, 2011 8:57 AM:

    SAP = Stupid Assed Pundit.

  • ElegantFowl on September 20, 2011 9:00 AM:

    Brooks' column is seriously confused from the outset. He calls Obama's deficit-reduction proposal the "second half of his stimulus" and complains that it's not a jobs bill. Deficit-reduction plans are not stimulative jobs bills, that's Econ 101!

  • just bill on September 20, 2011 9:04 AM:

    great reference berttheclock, and so appropriate. as with little round top, this may be the turning point in the battle.

  • Bob M on September 20, 2011 9:10 AM:

    An excellent expose of Brooks's hypocrisy. Keep it up.

  • gelfling545 on September 20, 2011 9:11 AM:

    I do think that it was necessary for the President to demonstrate that bipartisanship, which most voters want, was not a practical possibility before he could move into this space. Perhaps he demonstrated it at greater length than necessary, but I think it WAS necessary.

  • bleh on September 20, 2011 9:13 AM:

    I'm not willing to be quite so nice to Brooks. He was, after all, the editorial page editor of the Journal, at a time when it was almost as much as today the house organ of the blood-sucking sociopathic lizard-people.

    He's a solipsist, a saboteur, and a snake. That he has wormed his way in to a position of "moderate conservative" respectability in some of the most expensive journalistic real-estate in the world may be testament to his talents but not to his methods or his motivations.

    When David Brooks weeps, I'm happy. And when he gets angry, I celebrate, because then I know the Black Hats have taken a serious hit.

  • Brenna on September 20, 2011 9:16 AM:

    David Brooks wanted Obama to be the sap all the way to the election when dems would have sat at home. It was certainly heading that way. This is a winning path for Obama and it's killing the republicans. They were pretty quiet yesterday. I'm sure they'll gather their forces and come out swinging. But their position is weak and they'll have to walk very gingerly through this mine field of 'oh pity the rich.'

    No one's buying it anymore.

  • Live Free or Die on September 20, 2011 9:17 AM:

    David Brooks reminds me of Morning Joe. Whatever they advise, Obama should do the opposite. Obama got in trouble by listening to people like them. Now that Obama is going in a new direction, these pundits are freaking out. You should have seen Morning Joe after Obama's speech. The first half hour of the show was dedicated to trashing the speech as bowing down to the liberal base.

  • Live Free or Die on September 20, 2011 9:22 AM:


    "But their position is weak and they'll have to walk very gingerly through this mine field of 'oh pity the rich.'"

    Brenna, you are anachronistic with your lingo. They are not "the rich". The are the "job creators".

  • KSMIAMI on September 20, 2011 9:22 AM:

    David Brooks is a toxic, self-absorbed preening Republican cog in their propaganda machine - Obama has it right - it's just math...

    Anyone who votes Republican and makes less than 600k per year is a rube

  • walt on September 20, 2011 9:24 AM:

    What is the point of David Brooks, the human being? I think it's just to embody a civilized wedge in liberal America. He's so reasonable! And nice! And what he does with this persona is further Republican talking points by mind-fucking the few liberal instincts left at the highest reaches of the power elite. It's always our fault because America is a center-right nation. Chuckle, chuckle.

    David Brooks is different from a Villager in this respect. The Village really does believe in "bipartisanship" (i.e., give Republicans what they want but a few crumbs should go to the poor). David Brooks is a Republican shill first and last.

  • square1 on September 20, 2011 9:31 AM:

    Not sure why Benen chooses to waste the precious seconds of his life reading Brooks. But, yes, Brooks is wrong. And the Sun rose in the East.

  • bcinaz on September 20, 2011 9:49 AM:

    In Brooks world, mean and intransigent on the Right = Principled Opposition, while any sign of strength, consistency, and problem solving on the left is Mean and Intransigent.

  • thisdave on September 20, 2011 10:20 AM:

    Poor David Brooks. He groans, he gags, then splashes forth a frothy puddle of half-digested group-think. He's sorry that he had to produce this wretched slick. But his tummy feels so much better now. Time for beddy-bye.

  • biggerbox on September 20, 2011 10:22 AM:

    You know, Brooks does bear a slight resemblance to Charlie Brown. More as he loses his hair.

    Do you suppose we could get him a shirt with a horizontal zig-zag stripe?

  • berttheclock on September 20, 2011 10:40 AM:

    Of course, many on the right would relish seeing Rick Perry kick Lucy, instead.

  • kathy k. on September 20, 2011 10:43 AM:

    The problem with the current crop of Republicans is that if you offer them an olive branch they're likely to beat you half to death with it. And then except you to pay for your own health care.

  • clevergirl on September 20, 2011 10:55 AM:

    The administration understands that they are in a better bargaining position now than they were in August. The Defense Budget is at risk and both the administration and the Republican leadership have leverage where, with default looming, they did not.

    It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

  • mmpd on September 20, 2011 10:56 AM:

    The thing you have to remember about David Brooks is that he is fundamentally an intellectually dishonest writer. He only acted smitten with Obama as long as Obama remained "centrist" and "reasonable" -- i.e., ineffectual in the face of rabid obstructionism by Republicans.

    Take a look at the comments on Brooks' column over at the NYT --post after post points out Brooks' misrepresentation of the tax statistics he cites and the illogic of his argument. There is always a subtext and a barely hidden agenda with Brooks, which is the preservation of the Republican structures put in place over the last thirty years. . He's not a sap but rather a hypocrite.

  • mmpd on September 20, 2011 11:01 AM:

    The thing you have to remember about David Brooks is that he is fundamentally an intellectually dishonest writer. He only acted smitten with Obama as long as Obama remained "centrist" and "reasonable" -- i.e., ineffectual in the face of rabid obstructionism by Republicans.

    Take a look at the comments on Brooks' column over at the NYT --post after post point out Brooks' misrepresentation of the tax statistics he cites and the illogic of his argument. There is always a subtext and a hidden agenda with Brooks -- the preservation of the Republican economic structures put in place over the last thirty years. He's not a sap but rather a hypocrite.

  • Ahcuah on September 20, 2011 11:34 AM:

    You really need to have this drawn up as a political cartoon: the usual first three panels (though with a black, Obama-looking person opposite Lucy), and the final panel having him refusing, saying, "Who do you think I am, Charlie Brown?"

  • Mrs Brown on September 20, 2011 11:36 AM:

    While it has been correctly celebrated that I have a lovely daughter , abiding even a 'jocose' comparison of mein sohn mit that irritating casuist D Brooks from up in a heavenly here seems just to be adding more dim to low glow chorus .
    I suggest a charitable event where our dear , imaginative , friends on the frightened right can be consoled with their favorite substitutes for patriotism , candy and cash . While the bitter hatreds mix with the high fructose corn syrup , those so inclined may be permitted a moment to wash off all the persistent fine coating of excellent counter factual* ooze (Times Up !) . A now generic slimy irritant accompanying the mass produced grist of finely overwrought concern , routinely dispatched in as a knee jerk reflex which is aside from , NO , for any possible misunderstanding of stalwart support the wealthy now expect as the just plain old ordinary standard . Shifting the mass of people from policies based on facts into narratives of M C Escher style woodcuts , and other diagrams , is a successful campaign whose fundamental demonizing of the obvious has been effective beyond the dreams of a Bernard Madoff . The fealty towards facts that might become popular sans propaganda catapults which first being mass produced by chinless and booschie , are rooted in a paramount fear of folks remembering pain hurts . It is an understandable , if awkward , position .

    *may be substituted with argumentum ad hominem and other popular logical fallacy blathering points adopted by the authoritarian darlings of fear for power . As an American right wing schweety perk , first amongst being taken seriously for the daily vagaries , slanders , and general ill will they so stoutly carry towards America .
    Thank you

  • Texas Aggie on September 20, 2011 11:37 AM:

    It is worthwhile going to Brooks' article and reading the comments that unfortunately are now closed. Practically every one of them makes a similar observation to what Steve has pointed out and take Brooks to task for his stupidity.

    Just read mmpd's post while writing this one, and want to second his/her observations.

  • jjm on September 20, 2011 11:38 AM:

    "And how did Republicans respond to a conciliatory presidentís outstretched hand? By slapping it away."

    Slapping it away? They practically chewed it off.

    But he has now shown the people how HIDEOUS the GOP is.'

    No small accomplishment in a few short years.

    The negotiations he did in the first two years were mainly with his own blue dogs, not the GOP, though he courted the last sem-reasonable GOP members like Snowe and Collins.

    The grand bargain was intended, I fully believe, as an object lesson to the public: the GOP won't take yes for an answer, and are willing to ruin the country to try to humiliate me.

    So inevitable outcome: no more Mr. Nice Guy. They had their shot.

  • Ted Frier on September 20, 2011 2:49 PM:

    I wonder if David Brooks even realizes how preposterous he is, and by preposterous I mean someone who fails to embrace the logic of his own arguments. Just two months ago Brooks wrote a widely-discussed column eloquently spelling out precisely why President Obama couldn't negotiate with the Republican Party in the way Brooks seems to want Obama to today, when Brooks wrote of the GOP that it was no longer a "normal" political party even able to negotiate in good faith as a real political party.

    Hanging himself today with the rope he created two months ago, Brooks wrote of the GOP:

    "Over the past few years, it has been infected by a faction that is more of a psychological protest than a practical, governing alternative.

    "The members of this movement do not accept the logic of compromise, no matter how sweet the terms. If you ask them to raise taxes by an inch in order to cut government by a foot, they will say no. If you ask them to raise taxes by an inch to cut government by a yard, they will still say no.

    "The members of this movement do not accept the legitimacy of scholars and intellectual authorities. A thousand impartial experts may tell them that a default on the debt would have calamitous effects, far worse than raising tax revenues a bit. But the members of this movement refuse to believe it.

    "The members of this movement have no sense of moral decency. A nation makes a sacred pledge to pay the money back when it borrows money. But the members of this movement talk blandly of default and are willing to stain their nationís honor.

    "The members of this movement have no economic theory worthy of the name. Economists have identified many factors that contribute to economic growth, ranging from the productivity of the work force to the share of private savings that is available for private investment. Tax levels matter, but they are far from the only or even the most important factor."

    And yet, this is the party that Brooks wants the President to seek out as a governing partner, scolding Obama for adopting a more confrontational posture instead.

    If it were only David Brooks it would not be such a problem. But Brooks represents an afflication common among mainstream pundits today. Every once in awhile they have an epiphany, an ah ha momen, when the realize just how radical the Republican Party has become, and how potentially lethal to the American political tradition. Even Howard Kurtz had such a moment not long ago.

    But then the full implications of their discovery hits them. They will have to become partisans and do everything they can to destroy this dangerous radical right movement before it completely engulfs our political system. How awful! Think of the friends and contactcs and cocktail parties they will have to abandon. And so like Brooks they scurry back to the comfort of the stable two party system where both sides are always equally to blame for anything that goes wrong.

  • Neo on September 20, 2011 2:57 PM:

    You have the right analogy but in the wrong direction.
    Analysis of Obama's latest debt reduction plan has so many of his reductions as already in the pipeline, that the actual new reduction amounts to about $82 billion, a rather insignificant amount in the debt debate.
    Until the Republicans see something without all the accounting tricks, they won't even try to kick the football.

  • notLMML on September 20, 2011 3:58 PM:

  • Al Swearengen on September 20, 2011 7:22 PM:

    When I was a kid I never could understand why Charlie Brown didn't just aim a few feet to the right and kick the shit out of Lucy. She deserved it, so does the GOP.

  • Doug on September 20, 2011 8:42 PM:

    Neo, unless you can produce some verification, I'll take it for granted that you either pulled that number out of your *ss or it came from the Heritage Foundation or some other Republican propaganda mill.

  • Invisible Eye on September 20, 2011 9:36 PM:

    Brooks has always written like this. Does he realize just how obvious his crap has become -- to enumerate all the relevant issues, then draw the most non sequitur conclusions in spite of facts he's perfectly aware of? Why can't he alter a formula that comes off more bizarrely after each repetition?

    He may well be conscious of this signature method of gaming the rubes, and I'm sure it's rewarding, as he's made a respectable career at it. But I also suspect he's deeply neurotic -- the man has been rebelling from his parents' values in a public forum for a very very long time. These days, he's in dire need of pundit intervention.

  • Procopius on September 21, 2011 7:39 AM:

    I really hope Obama follows through with this for more than the fourteen months until the election. I'm afraid what he's going to do is get reelected and then claim a "mandate" to destroy Social Security. He's demonstrated he doesn't understand economics and has some crank ideas that he just won't give up, and I've come to believe that he really, really wants to cut Social Security "entitlements." I think he truly does not understand how Social Security works and has refused to understand people who try to explain it to him. Anyway, what we really need it not to get David Brooks to understand what an idiot he is, we need to find a way to get him out of his high-paying gig as a commentator. Don't these people ever have to pay any penalty for being wrong?

  • Mary on September 21, 2011 12:59 PM:

    "I think he truly does not understand how Social Security works ..."
    If that is what you think, then you are truly stupid!