Jonathan Chait

Sort-Of Defending David Brooks

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Ramesh Ponnuru comments:

David Brooks, Jan. 9, 2009: "The conventional advice for presidents is: focus your energies on a few big things. Obama just blew the doors off that one. Maybe Obama can pull this off, but I have my worries. By this time next year, he’ll either be a great president or a broken one." Right now I'd say Obama is neither.

Well, obviously that bit of Brooksian rhetoric was untrue as far as the date goes. But it's not far from true. Right now, Obama's presidential legacy is hanging in the balance. If he signs a health care law based on the Senate bill, then I think he is a great president -- he has taken great steps to amelioriate a massive and nearly-intractable problem in American life. If he fails to pass that bill, then I think it is fair to call him a broken president. He would have time to come back, but his agenda will lie in ruins and his failure will, like Clinton's, be the most important thing about his presidency, at least on the domestic side.

All this makes the apparent lack of presidential urgency so strange. (Mary Landrieu: “He should have been more clear, and I am hoping that in the next week or two he will because that is what it is going to take if it is at all possible to get it done," Landrieu told reporters. "Mailing in general suggestions, sending them over the transom, is not necessarily going to work.”) I can't imagine what Obama is thinking.

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