David Brooks bows to the inevitable and says that Barack Obama hasn’t been all that bad as a president.
In office, he has generally behaved with integrity and in a way befitting a man with his admirable character. Sure, he has sometimes stooped to the cynical maneuver. Contemptuous of his opponents, he has given himself permission to do the nasty and negative thing. But politics is a rough business and nobody comes out unsullied.
In moral terms, he hasn’t let us down. If he’s re-elected, his administration would probably remain scandal-free. Given the history of second terms, that is no small thing.
Moreover, Obama has been a prudent leader. He’s made no rash or disastrous decisions. He’s never acted out of some impetuous passion. His policies toward, say, China, Europe and Iran have had a sense of sober balance. If re-elected, he would probably commit no major blunders, which also is no small thing.
But he’s disappointed that Mr. Obama didn’t live up to the inspiring words of his inauguration, and then he gets around to his concern trolling, which you knew was coming all along.
If Obama had governed in a way truer to his inauguration, he would have used this winter of recuperation to address the country’s structural weaknesses. He would have said: Look, we’re not going to have booming growth soon, but we will use this period to lay the groundwork for a generation of prosperity — with plans to reform the tax code, get our long-term entitlement burdens under control, get our political system working, shift government resources from the affluent elderly to struggling young families and future growth.
When people say they wish Obama had embraced the Simpson-Bowles deficit-reduction plan, they don’t mean the specific details of that proposal. They mean the largeness that Obama’s inauguration promised and the Simpson-Bowles moment afforded. They mean confronting the hard choices, instead of promising more bounty for everyone with no sacrifice ever.
Given the fact that Mr. Obama had to govern against an entire political party that was united in defeating everything he did starting on the night after his inauguration, it’s amazing that he got anything done at all. Mr. Brooks acknowledges that, but still says he could have done better.
Sure, House Republicans have been intransigent, but Obama could have isolated them, building a governing center-left majority with an unorthodox agenda. Instead he’s comforted the Democratic base and disappointed sympathizers who are not in it.
That’s like saying to the crew of Apollo 13, “Oh, you’re not going to let a little glitch keep you from landing on the moon, are you? C’mon, where’s your courage, your sense of adventure? You’re letting America down!”
At least he acknowledges that the president has had it rough: “No one is fair to President Obama. People grade him against tougher standards than any other politician.” Oh, really? Why is that, d’you s’pose?
No president lives up to the hope and rhetoric of their inaugural address, and anyone who believes they should probably believes that using the right kind of toothpaste will get you laid. For someone who has been around as long as he has — and gets paid by the New York Times — Mr. Brooks is showing a naivete that is both breathtaking and but not surprising at all.
He ends it all with a tepid hope that somehow Mr. Obama in his second term will be “free of politics.” Because that always happens in a second term, according to no one.