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Right Turn
Posted at 01:30 PM ET, 03/15/2011

David Brooks: Charmed by Obama’s non-performance

We know that New York Times columnist David Brooks has been mesmerized by President Obama from the first time he set eyes on the candidate’s “perfectly creased” pants and heard his discourse on Niebuhr. Now, if Obama worked as a tailor or a philosophy professor these things might be relevant facts to voters’ presidential selections. But these, in Brooks’s eyes, took on great meaning. And after all, what was not to like in a presidential candidate who proved himself simpatico with Brooks? (Narcissus was not the first to be absorbed by his own reflection and certainly was not the last.)

You would think Brooks would have gained some perspective in two years. But no. He’s now taken to glorifying Obama’s paralysis:

On Friday, President Obama gave a press conference that perfectly captured his current phase. He acknowledged rising gas prices but had no new energy policy to announce. On Libya, he emphasized the need to deliberate carefully our steps ahead but had no road map to propose. On the federal budget fight, he spoke passionately about the need to reach a compromise. But when given the chance to talk about what it might look like, he rose above the fray and vaguely counseled balance and moderation.

It is easy to see why the president should be striking this pose now. Prudence is always a nice trait in a leader, especially in the face of a thorny problem like Libya. At a time when the nation is anxious, Obama is coming across as a cautious and safe pair of hands. The man is clearly not going to do anything rash.

Inactivity is impressive to Brooks? Inexplicably, he suggests that independent voters who have demanded progress on debt control will now be impressed by Obama's willingness to shirk responsibility for just about everything. Brooks does meekly suggest, “Prudence can sometimes look like weakness.” Or even total paralysis. ( Yeah, “As [Moammar Gaddafi] slaughters his opposition, Western caution looks like fecklessness.” Feckless, not prudent.) Given the frequency with which Brooks is spun by . . . er . . . engaged in conversations with Obama’s aides, one can imagine that “prudence” is the excuse for inaction on the budget, on trade deals, on Libya and on entitlement reform. Can’t you see the bumper sticker “Hope and the status quo”?

To those not incessantly wooed by the White House this might seem irresponsibly partisan. (No Panama free-trade agreement to keep Big Labor content.) Or, alternatively, it might seem that Obama is simply overwhelmed by events, the proverbial deer in the headlights.

But not Brooks:

All in all, President Obama is an astoundingly complicated person. During the 2008 presidential campaign, and during the first two years of his term, I would have said that his troubling flaw was hubris — his attempts to do everything at once. But he seems to have an amazing capacity to self-observe and adjust. Now I’d say his worrying flaw is passivity. I have no confidence that I can predict what sort of person Obama will be as he runs for re-election in 2012.

Not just complicated, but astoundingly so. You see, we just don’t get it. The man is complicated. He’s deep. He’s thoughtful — so thoughtful he finds it hard to act. Who is Brooks kidding? The voters in 2010 delivered a message to our elected leader: Spur the economy, cut the debt and prune government. If Obama doesn’t do it, the voters will find someone who will, even if his pants are messy and his interest in philosophy is nonexistent.

By  |  01:30 PM ET, 03/15/2011

 
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