Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Summer Rerun

David Brooks hauls out his semi-regular argument that “the liberals” are over-reaching.

It’s not that interesting to watch the Democrats lose touch with America. That’s because the plotline is exactly the same. The party is led by insular liberals from big cities and the coasts, who neither understand nor sympathize with moderates. They have their own cherry-picking pollsters, their own media and activist cocoon, their own plans to lavishly spend borrowed money to buy votes.

I guess since he thought this line worked in 1993 and 2007, he’d use it again. This time he uses a recent Washington Post/ABC poll to support his claim that “Most Americans love Barack Obama personally, but support for Democratic policies is already sliding fast. Approval of Obama’s handling of health care, for example, has slid from 57 percent to 49 percent since April.” But as Steve Benen points out, perhaps that’s because “some” Americans (to use one of Mr. Brooks’ more common adjectives) aren’t happy that the president’s health care reforms don’t go far enough or that he’s still making noises about being bipartisan on the formulation of the policy. Some of us are saying, “Hey, you won the election and the Republicans are at their lowest point since Barry Goldwater corkscrewed into the desert in 1964. Act like it.”

Mr. Brooks then hauls out his tut-tutting over the deficit and budget-busting. “Instead of allaying moderate anxieties about the deficits, the budget is expected to increase the government debt by $11 trillion between 2009 and 2019.” I’m not sure where he gets his numbers — he doesn’t cite any facts to back up this claim — and yet all of a sudden he’s joining the amen chorus of Republicans who have suddenly discovered that, contrary to what Dick Cheney once said, deficits do matter. There’s no sinner like a reformed saint.

Finally, he gets around to Obama’s real problem: he’s not feared by the Democrats on the Hill and therefor they think they can roll him. He cites Machiavelli; “a leader should be feared as well as loved.” I guess it must be a mystery to Mr. Brooks and the rest of the Republicans how a president can get his agenda through Congress and make his case to the American people without scaring the crap out of them. Mr. Brooks seems to have forgotten that the most worshiped president the Republicans ever had in modern memory, Ronald Reagan, didn’t get his agenda passed by instilling fear in people, and neither did the icon of the Democrats, Franklin D. Roosevelt. However, the legacies of the presidents who did get their way on the Hill by using fear — Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon — speak for themselves. Fear turns to defiance when those who are being cowed perceive that their tormentor has been weakened, and both LBJ and Nixon lost support among their own party when they needed it the most.

Actually, the fear factor has been chugging right along, but not in the way that Mr. Brooks envisions. The right wing nutsery has tried to stoke opposition to President Obama by screaming about socialism and imminent dictatorship; cultivating the culture of whiny white male Christianist victimhood to a high art; creating a cottage industry of bug-eyed paranoids like Michele Bachmann and Glenn Beck; and conversely accusing him of being weak-willed and cowardly. Perhaps it’s a gauge of right-wing discombobulation that they can’t even get their invective messages straight. All that has done is provide us with a rich trove of oddball entertainment ranging from Sarah Palin’s dithery dead-fish metaphors to the beetle-browed death threats of G. Gordon Liddy and the blatant racism of Pat Buchanan. In a way, that’s helped the president; it’s easy to pass legislation when your opposition does nothing more than foam at the mouth.

Mr. Brooks closes with one of his patented aphorisms: “Every new majority overinterprets its mandate. We’ve been here before. We’ll be here again.” Look, I realize we’re in the middle of the lazy hazy crazy days of summer, but could he at least try to come up with something both a little more original and is at least within the ballpark of reality?