David Brooks must have some kind of point, but I’m not really sure what it is. He seems to be saying that different leadership styles can be equally effective. But that’s certainly not his point. He says being led by President Obama is like being trumpeted into battle by Miles Davis. It’s not clear to me if that is a bad thing. I think I might want to enlist in that army. He repeats the often heard criticism that the president is aloof and shows open disdain for large swathes of Washington DC. I wonder…would we respect anyone who didn’t stand apart from and hold in contempt large swathes of Washington DC?
If David Brooks is concerned that the president hasn’t communicated his bottom line principles on the budget negotiations, I might be inclined to agree. But Brooks is a Republican. I don’t need to listen to his concern-trolling about the Democrats’ performance. What really annoys me is his conclusion:
If he can overcome his aloofness and work intimately with Republicans, he may be able to avert a catastrophe and establish a model for a more realistic, collegial presidency.
The former messiah will have to become a manager.
I can’t discern any predicate in the column for the concluding ‘Messiah’ knock. Was Jesus ‘aloof’? Is this column really just a waste of words intended to tell us that the president must manage the budget negotiations? But, mainly, does anyone still believe that the problem in Washington is that the president isn’t collegial? He could avoid all this gridlock if he was just more intimate with Republicans? If you want a back-slapping, collegial, intimate guy, you can’t do much better than Joe Biden, who the president put in charge of the negotiations.
The column is bad even by Brooks’s own poor standards. It really doesn’t say anything. It has no narrative arc. Its conclusion is not supported or built toward at all. And the most notable thing about it, which is his interesting take on JFK’s inaugural speech, would actually lead most readers to believe Brooks is praising the president.
…In 1961, John F. Kennedy gave an Inaugural Address that did enormous damage to the country. It defined the modern president as an elevated, heroic leader who issues clarion calls in the manner of Henry V at Agincourt. Ever since that speech, presidents have felt compelled to live up to that grandiose image, and they have done enormous damage to themselves and the nation. That speech gave a generation an unrealistic, immature vision of the power of the presidency.
President Obama has renounced that approach. Far from being a heroic quasi Napoleon who runs the country from the Oval Office, Obama has been a delegator and a convener.
I’d be willing to consider Brooks’s argument about the impact and legacy of JFK’s inaugural speech, but if it was so harmful to the country and Obama has renounced it, then it should follow that the president’s governing approach is a great step forward. I know that’s not Brooks’s point.
I know it’s a slow news cycle and we’re all struggling to find interesting content, but that’s no excuse for this Noonanesque piece of garbage.