The Corner

Brooks & Obama

From a longtime liberal reader:

David Brooks nailed it! 

Nailed it like no one has ever nailed it!   I too was worried that Obama would be hoisted by other world leaders on the petard of his own liberal idealism.  Nope — we got a smart one here!

My e-friend is referring to the fact that Obama is referring to Brooks column today in which he argues that Obama is much tougher, smarter and more serious than those “saps” — AKA  Republicans — think. He concludes:

I have to admit, I’m ambivalent watching all this. On the one hand, Obama did sell out the primary cause of his professional life, all for a tiny political advantage. If he’ll sell that out, what won’t he sell out? On the other hand, global affairs ain’t beanbag. If we’re going to have a president who is going to go toe to toe with the likes of Vladimir Putin, maybe it is better that he should have a ruthlessly opportunist Fast Eddie Obama lurking inside.

All I know for sure is that this guy is no liberal goo-goo. Republicans keep calling him naïve. But naïve is the last word I’d use to describe Barack Obama. He’s the most effectively political creature we’ve seen in decades. Even Bill Clinton wasn’t smart enough to succeed in politics by pretending to renounce politics.

I thought it was a good column, but I’m not so sure Brooks’ gets it right, never mind nails it. First of all, while it’s true that Obama was canny in voting “present” whenever necessary and eschewing tough votes in the U.S. Senate. And it’s true that he’s been willing to throw people and principles under the truck when necessary. But if Obama was as savvy as Brooks suggests, than he wouldn’t have had  so much to chuck under  the truck  in the first place (just curious: when did we switch from buses to trucks when it comes to describing political defenestration?).

No one with as good and cynical a grasp on American politics as Brooks ascribes to Obama, would have had Jeremiah Wright as an albatross in the first place. No one sits in Wright’s church listening to that garbage while thinking, “this won’t hurt me in a race for the presidency.” 

Perhaps, Obama’s just got much better handlers than he used to? You know, the handlers who told Obama to drop Wright from his Springfield announcement? Or maybe Obama has simply gotten more serious, I don’t know.

But where I really disagree with Brooks — and my reader — is where Brooks says:  “If we’re going to have a president who is going to go toe to toe with the likes of Vladimir Putin, maybe it is better that he should have a ruthlessly opportunist Fast Eddie Obama lurking inside.”

Maybe indeed. But it’s worth noting that being cutthroat and savvy in electoral politics doesn’t necessarily translate into being cutthroat and savvy, never mind wise,  in power. George W. Bush — we’ve been told — was ruthless in getting elected. When in power, he discovered Putin’s soul. (Bush’s dad, who did what it took to crush Dukakis, is a better example of Brooks’ fast-eddie thesis). Ted Kennedy is arguably the most ruthless politician in America, that hardly means he’d be a great foreign policy president. In fact, I would argue that despite Kennedy’s toughminded political cynicism, he’s still naive about foreign policy.  If Brooks is right about Obama’s campaign smarts, my guess is that Obama would still be naive about foreign policy. All his throw-’em-under-the-truck maneuvering  is likely rationalized by his desire to “do good” once elected. And that do-goodery is not (necessarily) any less naive simply because he’s doing whatever bad he deems necessary to do good. 

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