David Brooks: The Spell Ends

by Jonathan Chait | July 26, 2011

When David Brooks had his Lisa Simpson moment denouncing Republicans as extremists for rejecting President Obama's deficit deal, I predicted that he would soon revert to the posture of even handedness, sadly laying blame upon both sides with an emphasis on Democratic culpability. Today's column actually fulfills that prediction sooner than I expected. Brooks today describes three reasons the Grand Bargain died:

First, it was always going to be difficult to round up the necessary Congressional votes. Republicans didn’t want the tax increases. Democrats didn’t want the entitlement cuts.

Right, it's true that Democrats didn't want to cut entitlements, just as Republicans didn't want to increase taxes. Except there's the key point that Democrats did agree to cut entitlements if Republicans would increase revenue, while the reverse was not true. (John Boehner agreed, but discovered that his caucus did not.)

Second, the White House negotiating process was inadequate. Neither the president nor the House speaker ever wrote down and released their negotiating positions. Everything was mysterious, shifting and slippery. One day the president was agreeing to an $800 billion revenue increase; the next day he was asking for $400 billion more.

You had private negotiations, yes -- so that John Boehner could have plausible deniability if a deal fell through, deniability he has since been exercising. In any case, there was an offer of $800 billion in revenue -- an absurdly generous offer, with less than half the new revenue put forward by various other bipartisan plans. It's true that Obama then floated (without, he says, demanding) an additional $400 billion. But he also endorsed the Gang of Six plan, a proposal Brooks himself enthused over.

Finally:

Third, the president lost his cool. Obama never should have gone in front of the cameras just minutes after the talks faltered Friday evening. His appearance was suffused with that “I’m the only mature person in Washington” condescension that drives everybody else crazy.

So the argument is that Obama offered a bunch of wildly generous deals, Republicans declined those deals, Obama appeared angry with them, Republicans refused to negotiate any more because he got angry, and all this shows that Obama is to blame for the collapse of the Grand Bargain. This account, taken at face value, suggests that Republicans have abandoned what Brooks regards as a civilization-saving agreement out of personal pique, yet he presents this account as an indictment of the guy who keeps trying to save the agreement.

Again, I'm not surprised. One could write a great analysis of the reportorial, sociological, and ideological pressures of being David Brooks, and how those forces require Brooks to revert to a political equilibrium regardless of world events. I sort of wish we could clone Brooks so that the other one could write that piece. He'd do a masterful job of it.

Source URL: http://www.newrepublic.com//blog/jonathan-chait/92640/david-brooks-the-spell-ends