It is fascinating to observe New York Times columnist David Brooks, like a fish on a hook, struggle and thrash, trying (perhaps) to break free of the Obama hook on which he first impaled himself in the 2008 campaign. One week he is throwing bouquets and the next he’s warning President Obama he is going to dump him. Aside from Brooks himself, a respected conservative pundit who has moved steadily left (no surprise) during his tenure at the New York Times, there are no doubt many upscale moderates who voted for Obama in 2008, can’t bring themselves to dislike the man but knows in their heart of hearts he’s been a poor president and has no idea what to do about the challenges that have only worsened during his term.
Today, Brooks is back in break-up-with-Obama mode. He writes:
Personally, I wish Obama would use this convention to embrace Bowles-Simpson. That would lay the foundation for decades of prosperity. It would galvanize a new center-left majority.
But, mostly, I wish he’d be for something. I wish he’d rise above the petty tactical considerations that have shrunk him over the past two years. I wish he’d finally define what he stands for. A liberal populist? A Clintonian moderate? At some point, you have to choose.
Four years ago, Obama said we could no longer postpone tackling the big problems. But now he seems driven by a fear of defeat. His proposals seem bite-size. If Obama can’t tell us the big policy thing he wants to do, he doesn’t deserve a second term.
Ouch. But when you consider the options Brooks lays out for Obama (e.g., embrace Simpson-Bowles, fix “broken capitalism”) you realize how badly the president wasted his 2008 political capital and how cowardly he’s been in his politics.
The most inauthentic part of Michelle Obama’s speech last night was when she painted him as a fearless defier of conventional wisdom, indifferent to political considerations. But that just isn’t true, is it? As Brooks reminds, the president never tackled the single toughest, most critical problem we face: our fiscal crisis.
Frankly, had Obama thrown Simpson-Bowles in the trash but come up with his own comprehensive plan (as Rep. Paul Ryan did), he and the country would be in a far different place. But for all the high-minded rhetoric, what has Obama done that has been “hard”?
Surely not letting the left-wing of his party stuff goodies into the stimulus plan. Certainly not proposing a tax-the-super-rich-and-pretend-it-pays-down-the-debt tax plan. And definitely not in turning a blind eye toward Syrian mass murder so as to avoid a messy pre-election encounter. Where has he displayed real character, taking on his own party and encountering political risk to himself?
The issues we face (a fiscal train wreck, an Iran with nuclear capability, an entitlement train wreck) require that the president, as George W. Bush tried on immigration and Bill Clinton did on free trade, be larger than his party. Obama has never, not once, in his term done this. His “tough” calls were actually liberal wish-list items (cut defense, out of Afghanistan, Obamacare, etc.) We need the un-Obama now, someone willing to tell his own side “no” and figure out how to get 75 percent (or whatever) of what he wants. Obama, if we have learned anything, is not that man.