Brooks: Democrats Acting Like Republicans
I could not agree more with a David Brooks column than I agree with the one published in today’s NYT. The premise, in short:
It was interesting to watch the Republican Party lose touch with America … It’s not that interesting to watch the Democrats lose touch with America. That’s because the plotline is exactly the same … They [each] have their own cherry-picking pollsters, their own media and activist cocoon, their own plans to lavishly spend borrowed money to buy votes.
In prior posts, I’ve praised Obama’s deference to Congress on the grounds that said deference is what the founding fathers intended when they ratified a Constitution that boasts as its distinguishing feature a careful and comprehensive division of power.
Brooks has been less understanding about Presidential deference. In fact, he has been outright critical of it. To be clear, Brooks’ criticism does not appear to be an argument for Executive overreach; Brooks is not asking Obama to behave more like Bush/Cheney. Instead, he is primarily concerned that, without the flexing of greater Executive muscle, there will be nothing to stop this particular Congress (led, for all intents and purposes, by Nancy Pelosi) from a “leftward surge,” ignoring the fact that we live “in an era in which independents dominate the electoral landscape.”
Brooks’ argument assumes, of course, that Barack and Nancy are not of similar mind; that the President’s instincts and “policy values” are much more pragmatic/centrist than those held by the Speaker and her cadre of committee chairs. I tend to agree with that assumption. I’m inclined (for now) to believe there is a meaningful policy delta between the White House and Congress’ House, despite the growing percentage of voters who think otherwise (reference Addendum #2, below).
Of course, if that assumption is correct — if the President is, in fact, more pragmatic than the Democratic leadership in Congress (and if, despite the Mike Ross’s of the world, the Blue Dogs are not the antidote they aspire to be, as Brooks also argues in today’s column) — then I’m compelled to temporarily suspend my purist fixation on the Constitutional division of powers and join Brooks in encouraging this President to go much farther than he has already in flexing his policy muscle with this Congress.
Addendum #1: Though Brooks characterizes “the plotline” — of the Republicans’ recent and the Democrats evolving self destruction — as “exactly the same,” the balance of his column suggests a notable difference: In the Republicans’ case, Congress failed to check an unbridled White House. In the Democrats’ case, according to Brooks, it is the White House that is failing to check Congress.
Addendum #2: Yesterday, I argued that the same polling data that Brooks cites was overly simplistic; that it noted the flight of Independents away from Obama on health care reform but failed to explore and explain their motivations for said flight. As it turns out (mea culpa), this perceived error of oversimplification may have been mine, not the poll’s. Other data cited by Brooks (apparently from the same source) hints that the estimated costs and proposed taxes of health care reform are likely Independents’ central concern, to wit:
As recently as June, voters earning more than $50,000 preferred Obama to the Republicans on health care by a 21-point margin. Now those voters are evenly split … In March, only 32 percent of Americans thought Obama was an old-style, tax-and-spend liberal. Now 43 percent do.
Lesson learned: I should read a poll in its entirety before critiquing it.