Friday, December 10, 2010

Mr. Brooks on Mr. Obama's Very Good Week: A Return to First Principles

David Brooks' fulsome praise of President Obama's performance in the tax-cut deal is telling for all kinds of reasons--but most of all, for whom it addresses and what arguments it tries to overturn, more than for what it says by way of (weak and insincere) praise of the president's weakness centrism.

Brooks is, of course, delighted that Mr. Obama has just cut such a zaftig deal for the rich the Republicans.  And that says quite a bit about where centrists like Brooks are coming from, when, albeit that they are Republican in loyalty and affiliation, they praise this Democratic president to the skies.  

They're coming from the side of the rich.

And they want to convince us, even now, in the midst of the stark economic malaise through which we're living, that giving to the rich will magically enrich all of us, as some hidden (and divine) hand fans the flames of the economy after we hand over one more chunk of our own wealth to the already obscenely rich.  Mr. Brooks and the other centrists who find such great good in what the president has decided to do want us to keep believing in the voodoo economics of Reagan's trickle-down theory, despite the way in which that economic system has gutted our nation economically and brought us to the point of near ruin.

And so, of course, they now have nothing but praise for the president, and nothing but glee at seeing the purist "lefties" trampled on yet again by a sitting Democratic president whose core values are far from those of his own party, but closer to the neo-conservative values that have produced the economic and cultural malaise most of us thought we might have a chance to get out of, when we elected a Democratic president who told us he had a progressive agenda for the nation, and would do business on our behalf from the side of his principles.

And so to principles: Brooks obviously recognizes the central weakness of his argument that Mr. Obama is a  weak and vacillating pushover "network liberal" willing to concede to cut deals with the Republican party as he tramples on his Democratic base.  That central weakness is, to put the point bluntly, that the president is unprincipled.  That he is willing to cave in on and waffle about anything at all, in order to get business done.

That he has no strong commitment at all to what is for many Democrats, including those who come to their political convictions by way of religious belief, a core ethical principle of political life: putting those on the margins first, and analyzing socio-economic structures from the standpoint of the dispossessed.  And so Mr. Brooks declares that Mr. Obama's "very good week" is all about principle:

The big story of the week is that Obama is returning to first principles, re-establishing himself as a network liberal. This isn’t a move to the center or triangulation. It’s not the Clinton model or the Truman model or any of the other stale categories people are trying to impose on him. It’s standing at one spot in the political universe and trying to build temporarily alliances with people at other spots in the political universe.

You don’t have to abandon your principles to cut a deal. You just have to acknowledge that there are other people in the world and even a president doesn’t get to stamp his foot and have his way. 

Mr. Obama had to strategize, you see--he had to return to his "first principles," which are all about abandoning first principles in order to cut cold-hearted pragmatist deals with the political right--because he had a "weak hand" to play with the tax cuts.  Or so Mr. Brooks informs us.  But how this president's hand happens to have become weak when he came to office with a sitting majority of his party members in the House and Senate, and with a large popular mandate to do a different kind of business for the nation, Mr. Brooks doesn't say.

Because what has been important for the political right and its centrist shills from the outset of this presidency is assuring us that we're a center-right nation and any deviation from the political domination of the right, even when it's in a minority governing position, is unthinkable.  It's idealistic "leftie" purism.  It has no place in the hurly-burly of American political life in which real liberals, vacillating, unprincipled pushovers network liberals, roll up their sleeves, eschew elitism, and get down into the mud with Republicans.

And concede cut deals.  In the name of first principles, principles which are to wit.: 1) if you're to the left of the Republican party and have a majority behind you, you must always concede, because that's the only way business will get done in this center-right nation; and 2) pragmatist deal-cutting must always trump any and all other ethical principles, when the interests of the rich Republicans are concerned.

And so, q.e.d., we've had a very good weak week.

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