Whatever wicked this way comes, David Brooks just dropped a column called “I Miss Barack Obama.”
Brooks began by pointing out that, “obviously,” he’s not buying into much of what Obama is selling. Indeed, he hopes the next administration offers a “philosophic departure” from the present one. Yet this was mere prologue.
“Over the course of this campaign it feels as if there’s been a decline in behavioral standards across the board,” Brooks wrote on Tuesday. “Many of the traits of character and leadership that Obama possesses, and that maybe we have taken too much for granted, have suddenly gone missing or are in short supply.”
This wasn’t a surprise. It’s not the first time that Brooks has criticized the Republican field. Sen. Ted Cruz (Tex.) is a favorite target; Brooks has referred to his tone as “satanic.”
“Cruz is a stranger to most of what would generally be considered the Christian virtues: humility, mercy, compassion and grace,” Brooks wrote last month. He added: “Cruz’s speeches are marked by what you might call pagan brutalism. There is not a hint of compassion, gentleness and mercy.”
Brooks also has been known to praise the current commander in chief. First, he damned Obama with faint praise, writing in 2008: “He is self-contained, self-controlled and maybe even a little dull.” These words, however, masked a budding “bromance,” as Salon put it, among astute political thinkers. Indeed, when Brooks first met Obama in 2005, he was delighted to contemplate the possibility that the junior senator from Illinois might be as smart as he was.
“I don’t want to sound like I’m bragging,” Brooks told Salon in 2009, “but usually when I talk to senators, while they may know a policy area better than me, they generally don’t know political philosophy better than me. I got the sense he knew both better than me.”
In 2012, around election time, Brooks sometimes avoided throwing mud at Obama, instead focusing on why Romney would be more effective in the White House. He wasn’t choosing a candidate as much as he was choosing a system.
“If Obama wins, we’ll probably get small-bore stasis; if Romney wins, we’re more likely to get bipartisan reform,” he wrote. “Romney is more of a flexible flip-flopper than Obama. He has more influence over the most intransigent element in the Washington equation, House Republicans. He’s more likely to get big stuff done.”
Compare these practical, almost surgical, arguments to Brooks’s purple prose of today. “I Miss Barack Obama” declared that Obama hadn’t just displayed “basic integrity” but “superior integrity,” “a sense of basic humanity,” “a soundness in his decision-making process,” “grace under pressure,” and “a resilient sense of optimism.” Other pretenders to the throne fell far short, Brooks said: New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) and former secretary of state Hillary Clinton are plagued by scandal. Democratic candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.) lives in a dream world. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) gets nervous. Donald Trump slammed Muslims while Obama visited a mosque.
“Imagine if Barack and Michelle Obama joined the board of a charity you’re involved in,” Brooks wrote. “You’d be happy to have such people in your community. Could you say that comfortably about Ted Cruz? The quality of a president’s humanity flows out in the unexpected but important moments.”
Obama’s humanity … flows out? Say what? Some on the right were rolling their eyes.
“Sometimes it seems like moderate Republicans are living in a different world than the rest of us,” Tyler O’Neil of the conservative website PJ Media wrote, zeroing in on Brooks’s claim that the Obama White House is “scandal-free.” “… When I first read this, I could not believe my eyes. … Tell that to the tea-party groups which were denied tax-exempt status by an activist Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Tell that to the thousands of veterans who were denied care and died, waiting in line at the VA. Tell that to the families of those heroes who died in Benghazi, Libya.”
Such arguments didn’t seem to interest Brooks. Sure, he admitted, Obama “has not been temperamentally perfect.” But Brooks was worried about “tone” — and the tone was getting sour.
“There is a tone of ugliness creeping across the world, as democracies retreat, as tribalism mounts, as suspiciousness and authoritarianism take center stage,” he wrote. “Obama radiates an ethos of integrity, humanity, good manners and elegance that I’m beginning to miss.”