David Brooks didn't always dismiss policy achievements
David Brooks has a sharp column today mocking Democrats for being proud of their accomplishments despite facing a loss at the polls. He also had a sharp column in 2005 criticizing Republicans for accomplishing nothing despite having just won a major victory at the polls. The two make for an interesting contrast.
The story Democrats are telling themselves, Brooks archly explains, is that they "are lagging this year because the country appears incapable of appreciating the grandeur of their accomplishments."
Flash back to 2005: "Having skimmed decades of private-account proposals, Republicans did not appreciate how unfamiliar this idea would seem to many people. They didn't appreciate how beloved Social Security is, and how much they would have to show they love it, too, before voters would trust them to reform it."
So when, exactly, is it acceptable to blame public opinion on political communication?
Brooks goes on to suggest a drinking game. "Take a shot every time a White House official is quoted blaming Republicans for the Democrats’ political plight," he writes, joking that you'll quickly find yourself unconscious.
And if you played the same game with his 2005 column? Well, there's the part where he says "the Democrats played the Yasir Arafat role at Camp David. They made no counteroffers. They offered no plan. They just said no." There's the bit about how "the Howard Dean hotheads declare that they hate the evil Republicans, making compromise seem like collaborating with Satan." There's the sad shake of the pen at the Democrats' "demagogic speeches about Republican benefit cuts." There's the diagnosis that Democrats "are still traumatized by their own losses" and "focused on past defeats, not future opportunities, and interested in revenge, not governing and accomplishment." I'm counting 13 shots, though I admit the rules are a bit unclear (does "they offered no plan" and "they just said no" count as one or two shots?).
Finally, Brooks says Democrats are lazily telling one another that "Americans are nearsighted and ill-informed." Perhaps you will not be surprised to learn that the vox populi was less infallible in 2005, when Brooks wrote, "Oh, yes, there's one more group to be criticized: the American voters. For the past 30 years, Americans have wanted high entitlement spending and low taxes. From the looks of things today, they - or more precisely their children - are going to live with the consequences." It's funny: That sort of sounds like "Americans are nearsighted and ill-informed."
As it happens, I don't think the political environment is all that difficult to explain: Unemployment is near 10 percent. If you want some more explanations: The legislative process is bitter and angry and ugly; the media focus on conflict and encourage polarization; and presidents almost always lose seats in their first midterm election. In fact, there are only two exceptions since the Civil War.
I'm sure there are pieces of legislation that the Democrats could have passed, pieces of legislation they could have not passed or communication strategies they could have tried that would've strengthened their hand in this election. It's harder to say which exactly those were. The only clear-cut case you can make is for policies that would have done more to reduce the unemployment rate, but I've not been convinced that any of the ideas that could've done more to reduce unemployment -- twice as much stimulus, say -- really had a chance of passing. Meanwhile, the health-care bill might be unpopular, but I think it'll do more for the country than any other piece of legislation passed in the last 30 years.
Brooks doesn't agree with me in those judgments, of course. But the argument he made was not that Democrats shouldn't be proud of their record because their record is substantively bad. The argument he made was that it's prima facie ridiculous to be proud of substance when you're about to lose an election.
This seems like a weird way to think about governance. You don't win elections in order to win more elections. You win elections in order to solve problems and make the country better. In 2005, when Brooks was more favorably disposed towards the achievements on the table, he knew that, and wasn't shy about lamenting the demise of legislation the American people hated. "I hope this obit becomes obsolete," he said toward the end of his column. Back then, Brooks was focused on "governing and accomplishments," and he was angry that the Democrats were "focused on past defeats" and "revenge." Now, it seems, the tables have turned.
Posted by: davidpancost | October 26, 2010 4:59 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: lol-lol | October 26, 2010 5:29 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Hieronymous | October 26, 2010 5:44 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: constans | October 26, 2010 5:49 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: jnc4p | October 26, 2010 5:51 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: scarlota | October 26, 2010 6:29 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: RZ100 | October 26, 2010 7:32 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: ceflynline | October 26, 2010 8:19 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: SnowleopardNZ | October 26, 2010 8:51 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: staticvars | October 26, 2010 10:20 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Hopeful9 | October 26, 2010 10:26 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: suegbic1 | October 27, 2010 4:41 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: RedStater3 | October 27, 2010 7:13 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: reasonablemanMA | October 27, 2010 7:14 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: episkyros | October 27, 2010 8:20 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: fatinspanish | October 27, 2010 8:45 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: michmac | October 27, 2010 10:41 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: LouisWMcHardySr | October 27, 2010 11:30 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: emperor_penguins | October 27, 2010 11:47 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: KennethAlmquist | October 28, 2010 11:21 AM | Report abuse