Interlude—David Brooks, in praise of Obama: David Brooks writes a column today in praise of Barack Obama.
(Also in praise of Barack Obama's wife.)
Brooks isn't writing his column today in praise of Obama's policy views. "Obviously, I disagree with a lot of Obama's policy decisions," he says at the start of the piece.
Instead, Brooks is writing in praise of Obama's disposition and character, especially in view of what he sees among the candidates in the current White House campaign.
"Over the course of this campaign it feels as if there’s been a decline in behavioral standards across the board," Brooks writes. "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."
Given the squalor of this campaign, it's hard to disagree with that general judgment.
For the record, Brooks is lamenting the "traits of character" of the current candidates. A similar lament could be raised about the members of the national press corps, who are covering this campaign in the most insipid manner possible.
(On this, the day New Hampshire votes, the New York Times still hasn't reported the basic effects of Candidate Trump's utterly crazy tax proposal, which would add roughly $1 trillion in deficit spending to the federal ledger each year. Meanwhile, have you seen a single attempt to report and analyze the differences between the financial reform proposals of Candidates Clinton and Sanders? Those dueling proposals form the basis for relentless, pointless partisan clattertrap over here in our own liberal tribe. But to a degree which strikes us as unprecedented, newspapers like the New York Times no longer even pretend to discuss such boring topics. Neither do TV entertainers like the horrible Rachel Maddow. It's polls and insults, and mugging and clowning, and narrative all the way down.)
Let's return to the traits of Barack Obama, whose character Brooks comes to praise.
Which "traits of character and leadership" does Brooks praise in Obama? On the down side, what sorts of "behavioral standards" does he find to be in short supply among our current hopefuls?
For starters, Brooks praises the "basic integrity" of the president. "The Obama administration has been remarkably scandal-free," he writes. "He and his wife have not only displayed superior integrity themselves, they have mostly attracted and hired people with high personal standards."
As he continues, Brooks praises the sitting president for his "basic humanity," contrasting him with Candidates Cruz and Trump. Then, he praises "a soundness in [Obama's] decision-making process," contrasting this practice—trigger alert!—with the alleged approach of Candidate Sanders.
The fourth trait Brooks stands to praise is Obama's "grace under pressure." For his fifth and final trait, Brooks praises Obama's "resilient sense of optimism."
How does the president's resilient optimism serve us the alleged so-called people? "People are motivated to make wise choices more by hope and opportunity than by fear, cynicism, hatred and despair," Brooks writes, perhaps correctly. "Unlike many current candidates, Obama has not appealed to those passions."
In the course of praising Obama, Brooks criticizes a wide range of current candidates—Sanders and Clinton on the one side, Trump, Cruz, Carson, Christie and Rubio on the other. Trump, Cruz, Sanders and Clinton each get name-checked twice.
As we'll see in a passage below, Brooks doesn't say that Obama has been "temperamentally perfect." If you want to see someone rattle off Obama's voluminous character flaws, we recommend yesterday's colloquy at the new Salon. It features Professor Dyson.
David Brooks doesn't say that Obama has been "temperamentally perfect." As he closes his column, he rattles a handful of alleged flaws—and he makes an important claim about the drift of the world:
BROOKS: No, Obama has not been temperamentally perfect. Too often he’s been disdainful, aloof, resentful and insular. But there is a tone of ugliness creeping across the world, as democracies retreat, as tribalism mounts, as suspiciousness and authoritarianism take center stage.According to Brooks, "there is a tone of ugliness creeping across the world." In Brooks' view, this tone of ugliness has been on the rise "as democracies retreat, as tribalism mounts."
Obama radiates an ethos of integrity, humanity, good manners and elegance that I’m beginning to miss, and that I suspect we will all miss a bit, regardless of who replaces him.
Today, let's forget the rest of the world! In our view, this tone of ugliness is hard to miss in our current presidential campaign, which is being conducted as the "tribalism mounts" within our own failing political culture.
Next week, our new pavilion opens at this incomparable site. Within that gleaming new pavilion, we'll be discussing a whole new set of topics and concerns.
That means that we have only three more days to explain what experts and scholars mean as they increasingly refer to last year, in an unpleasant way, as "The Year of the Liberal." In the course of those three days, we'll be asking a basic question:
Is it possible that the creeping ugliness is partially coming from Us?
This afternoon: Important perspectives on Flint, featuring real information!