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Ron Radosh

David Brooks and Obama: Will the President Listen to the Columnist?

September 1st, 2009 - 3:03 pm

Brooks has no sympathy for those liberals who lash out at Obama “because the entire country doesn’t agree with the Huffington Post.”  Certainly, Obama would be foolish were he to take the advice of the radical writers Peter Dreier and Marshall Ganz, who argue in The Washington Post that Obama must show real “audacity” and fight the “entrenched interests” from the Left and stand with the “progressive” movement. If Obama ditches the public option and assuages the insurance industry, they argue, he will end up “angering many of his progressive supporters.” Instead of bi-partisan compromise, they favor “movement building” which they claim is responsible for Obama’s becoming president. While criticizing citizen activists who come to town-hall meetings to express their opposition, they call for “ ‘movement’ tactics” including leaflets, vigils and civil disobedience to get the administration to act as they wish. Protest is evidently good and permissible, when it comes from their side.

These authors, and those who think like them in the vicinity of The Nation magazine, do not understand what Brooks notes: “You can’t pass the most important domestic reform in a generation when the majority of voters think you are on the wrong path.”  It would be a disaster, Brooks writes, for Obama to “permanently affix himself to the liberal wing of his party and permanently alienate independents.” A president cannot succeed by representing only 35 per cent of the nation.

So Brooks provides some wise words for President Obama. But the last sentence of his column presents a problem. “That doesn’t mean,” Brooks writes, “giving up his goals.” It means only that he has to align his “proposals to the values of the political center: fiscal responsibility, individual choice and decentralized authority.”

True enough. But the rub is that what if President Obama himself does not want to align his policy propels to the center?  What if it is not “events” that have pushed him to the left, as Brooks thinks, but his own beliefs?

How Barack Obama responds in the coming days will answer this question.

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