By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

David Brooks almost gets it right

David Brooks’ column in today’s New York Times is smart and useful in its treatment of the similarities between the national-security policies of President Obama and those of George W. Bush after 2003 (though I think a more reasonable date to pick would be 2005), and of the differences between the Bush team and Dick Cheney during the waning years of the Bush White House.

But Brooks misses entirely why Obama has been more successful in selling those policies. It’s not just that Obama is more skillful at it, and understands public leadership better than Bush ever did. More than anything, it’s that when Bush finally moved away from the abject failures of the Bush-Cheney years, they were his failures.

Bush may have begun doing the right thing — or, at least, he may have begun doing the wrong thing less often — but he no longer had any credibility. Thus, by the time Condoleezza Rice had begun moving foreign policy in a less-insane direction, Bush had already irretrievably cast himself as a malleable tool.

Nor are the choices Obama is making today — on Guantánamo, on torture photos, on military tribunals — the sorts of things that will gain any real support on their own merits. Rather, most reasonable people see them as the least-bad decisions he could make given the “mess” that he inherited from Bush, as he put it yesterday.

Again, not an argument Bush could have made.

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  1. mike_b1

    Huh-huh. He said “tool.”Speaking of tools, did you see George Will in this week’s Newsweek? If not, it’s because the redesign (which is just heinous, btw) completely buries him. Wonder if he got the message and finally pack his bags?

  2. Suldog

    Totally off-subject: I just feel a need to say that I liked your previous blurb, top of sidebar, more than the one you have now.As for Obama, I fairly much agree with your take entirely. I’m as shocked by this as you probably are.

  3. lkcape

    Each time President Obama adopts a policy espoused and instituted by the Bush administration, Bush’s credibility increases and Obama’s decreases. Obama risks looking like a bigger hypocrite than he already is.At some point, it will be clear that the Bush strategy made a lot of sense and that Obama was mistaken to hang himself on a bar that he, himself, has set.But hey, governing is very different from the pandering of the campaign trail.The left is beginning to scream already…

  4. Brigid

    Building a consensus is an essential part of governing. It’s just as much a part of the job as building strategies. By the period Brooks is talking about, Bush just couldn’t do it. In fact, Bush was oddly absent from that column—even Brooks gives the credit for the about-face to Rice and Bush’s other advisors, not the president himself. I see that as a sign of how weak a leader he really was.

  5. mike_b1

    “Bush” and “credibility” are two words that, when used in the same sentence, are eternally destined to be met with guffaws.

  6. O-FISH-L

    Unlike Brooks, Pulitzer Prize winner Dr. Charles Krauthammer gets it entirely right in his piece today. I’ll give you the closing paragraphs:”The genius of democracy is that the rotation of power forces the opposition to come to its senses when it takes over. When the new guys, brought to power by popular will, then adopt the policies of the old guys, a national consensus is forged and a new legitimacy established.” “That’s happening before our eyes. The Bush policies in the war on terror won’t have to await vindication by historians. Obama is doing it day by day. His denials mean nothing. Look at his deeds.”

  7. mike_b1


  8. mikestucka

    David Brooks argues about Obama’s improved packaging and treating people like adults. Nothing could be further from the truth. The euphemisms hide a desperate grasp for illegal power, powers that Bush didn’t even seek. And they complete overturn his pledges to bring back American values, habeas corpus et al.Rachel Maddow had a good run:Clip here. 10 minutes, definitely worth the time.

  9. Dan Kennedy

    mikestucka: Nobody likes the compromises Obama has had to make. But Maddow is wrong to call this “preventive detention.” Obama is trying to answer an impossible question: What do you do with people who have committed horrendous terrorist acts, but whom you cannot try (and who may now be insane) because they were tortured under the previous administration?There may be a better way than the one Obama has come up with. But Maddow is just transparently off-base in describing what the policy is.

  10. mike_b1

    It’s funny watching the peanut gallery — and that’s putting it nicely — critique the Constitutionality of a man who taught Constitutional law at a top 5 law school.*Guffaw!*

  11. Dan Kennedy

    mike_b1: Just to play devil’s advocate, who better to construct a constitutional-sounding rationale for an unconstitutional policy?

  12. Dan Kennedy

    The great Charlie Savage reports that “while Mr. Obama has not embraced the Bush administration’s most expansive theories, he appears to be on his own collision course with the court.”I’ll trust Savage to get the nuances right over Rachel Maddow, a very talented talk-show host.

  13. Dan Kennedy

    Suldog: Good point. I have restored the previous blurb. Too funny not to use, even if it is taken out of context. (It was about the Red Sox. And I was right!)

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