A few days ago David Brooks put out a hilarious, ironical piece called: “I Miss Barack Obama.” Well, I assumed it was tongue-in-cheek for the first few paragraphs. It’s sad really, and perhaps a testament to how much politics has worn Brooks down over the years. Yes, this primary is exhausting, but Brooks looks to be coming out the other side like a statue buffeted by harsh winds and sand for a thousand years: so worn down that he offers only approximations of realism and a hint of a coherent figure. After reading it I got the impression that the poor guy really needs a vacation. As the old saying goes: if you can’t take the heat, then get out of the kitchen. Brooks is still in the kitchen, but he had a fainting couch placed conveniently beside the stove. He has approached a psychotic break brought on by stress. As an amateur student of the human psyche, that is my diagnosis. I have three observations which led to this conclusion, and each one logically follows the prior.
- Forsaking The Bigger Picture
Brooks seems to buy into the media narrative that this is the clash of titans and that it was always going to be ugly on the Republican side. He writes: “But over the course of this campaign it feels as if there’s been a decline in behavioral standards across the board. 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 is true to an extent, but the fact is that the media has helped to engineer most of the confrontations and bitter feuds between the Republican front-runners. To use the example of the Republican debates: the moderators have asked leading questions which lower the level of discourse. The CNBC debate was especially egregious at turning candidates against each-other onstage and trying to create squabbles. From the outset of this primary the media claimed this would be an ugly knock-out drag-out fight, and they have been doing everything they can to make that a reality. Like producers of a reality show, they have emphasized divisive rhetoric, highlighted personal digs, and declared scandals where minor comments would have been overlooked. It’s a win-win for them: they get more ratings from these kerfuffles and they can also focus on the negative elements of the Republicans. It has even been a media narrative that whoever wins the primary will be “bloodied” going into the general election. Brooks pins this on the individual candidates, despite the fact that many commentators have essentially lampooned themselves by attempting to dig up strife and pit people against each-other. He sees no problems there and places blame squarely on the candidates. I am not claiming that they are blameless, but Brooks has fallen hook line and sinker for the greater smear of the Republican Party.
- Nothing Necessarily is not Something
Brook’s second big mistake is seeing the lack of negative media directed toward Barack Obama as evidence that Barack Obama is better. He says: “We’ve had very little of that from Obama. He and his staff have generally behaved with basic rectitude.” The cameras are all pointed at the Republican primary because it is the clash of the titans, and the buffoons are all throwing pies in each-other’s faces. By ignoring the greater media smear, he is assuming that the lack of Obama coverage is necessarily evidence that he is not like them or somehow better. If every news outlet in America was following Obama’s every move, then his presidency would look like just as much of a reality show disaster as the Republican Party. Lame ducks are not as interesting as honking geese, so the media hacks are, to use a phrase, ‘where the money’s at’. From his view on the fainting couch Brooks sees the lack of scandal as proof of comparative superiority, when that is ridiculous. Even the most attractive person starts showing ugliness when under a microscope 24/7. Barack Obama is in a wide frame on a majestic ridge watching a sunset, so obviously he is comparatively picturesque. Hearing less about Obama doesn’t mean he is a saint. It means we are hearing less, both good and bad. We are hearing a lot of negatives from the Republican primary, and Brooks chooses to believe that this is somehow a realistic picture. For a man in media, he really doesn’t seem to understand how it works.
- Go to your Happy Place
Brooks has bought into the media narrative and fallen into despair, so what is the typical reaction to this sort of thing? In these cases, people usually escape to some deluded version of the world in which they can feel comfortable. This is where he completes his psychotic break from reality. In order to make sense of things, Brooks chooses to live in a fantasy world in which Obama is competent, gracious and collaborative. He seeks shelter in a fantasy as opposed to coming to grips with the fact that Obama under a lens would be just as broken, petty, and self-indulgent as the Republican candidates. Brooks writes: “The Obama administration has been remarkably scandal-free. Think of the way Iran-contra or the Lewinsky scandals swallowed years from Reagan and Clinton.” Only someone who has bought the media line about Obama’s legacy would make such an inane claim. Eric Holder is a prime example to the contrary. He was held in contempt of Congress, while Obama invoked a deus-ex machina executive privilege move to stay clear of the Fast & Furious scandal which lead to the death of a US border patrol agent. Holder also went off half-cocked after the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson before having all the facts. One needs look no further than Obama’s appointment of Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State to see that Brook’s claim in asinine, since her improper treatment of classified information and lies about the nature of the Benghazi attack on the US embassy are still being unraveled. Her outburst of “What difference at this point does it make” is the very face of covering one’s own ass.
Brooks, with this sentiment, is choosing to buy that there is nothing where there is something. The Obama administration has been very good at insulating itself from blame. We must look no further than the IRS targeting of politically opposed groups and the subsequent “misplacement” of scores of emails to see that the Obama administration avoids scandal by denying information access. Brooks, in this case, chooses to believe that there is nothing merely because there is not something. As mentioned before, Obama’s use of executive privilege during the gun-walking scandal can either be seen as nothing or a denial of the something he wants nobody to see. Of course none of this even touches on the still ongoing VA atrocities. Perhaps most insulting of this administrations blatant blocking of information is the secrecy which surrounded the TPP, a bill that affects the livelihoods of countless American workers. When a president is obsessed with legacy, there is a great deal of effort put into denying bad information, and the Obama administration is very good at this. This does not mean that they are better than the Republicans running in the primary. It merely means that they have enjoyed the benefits of media bias and resources to cover their tracks. Brooks, strangely, falls for the contrived image. Brooks chooses to see nothing merely because there is not something.
His folly requires no more evidence than the rather compelling argument that this administration has been the least transparent in our history. They have unapologetically targeted wistleblowers in order to protect members of the administration and “misplaced” information at very convenient times. Brooks falls for the shell game, over-corrects in his veering from the volatile republican primary, and buys the narrative of a press that sees and hears no evil coming from the white house. Personally, I would take blunt, harsh honesty over the insidious silence of an administration that is apparently so transparent that we all see right through everything and are left with very little real information.
Out For the Count
David Brooks may feel much more comfortable in his sheltered world of delusion about a president who has shown close to outright scorn for informing the American people, but I cannot buy his line. There are no fainting couches in my kitchen. Unlike Brooks, I do not give the administration the short memory they so desire from all of us, the convenient nostalgia for a time when there was less scandal and fewer candidates saying angry and honest things. People are resorting to bluntness and confrontation because they are tired of the pleasant silence which drips like sweet poison into our ears. This is what Brooks seems to miss: that the ugliness he so distastes comes from a very real frustration with the insistence, under the cover of “good manners and elegance,”that there is no problem. Brooks blatantly chooses the polite deception over uncomfortable truth. There is a massive outcry on both the right and the left that, despite how comfortable it may be, politics as usual is not good enough. There is a massive, bipartisan refusal to accept the status quo. Brooks seems to be perfectly comfortable believing that there is no problem so long as there are less angry voices and everyone chooses civility while cooler heads prevail. Brooks chooses willful ignorance to the pangs of real and honest confrontation. In that case, if there is some sweeping new change in business as usual, then he too shall pass.