The PJ Tatler

David Brooks Praises Obama for Calling out our 'Self-Righteousness' in Prayer Breakfast Speech

You would think after more than 6 years of listening to speeches by President Obama, that most intelligent people would have figured out that, more than any recent chief executive, Obama’s rhetoric rarely appeals to the better angels of our nature. Rather, we are constantly taken to task for our failings and shortcomings, as he reminds us of the dark places we’ve been in our history.

It’s not that what Obama says is necessarily false, although his interpretation of history can raise some eyebrows. It’s that he defeats the purpose of his speech when he believes he’s giving us “hard truths” about our past before spouting insincere platitudes about how we can become greater if we only acknowledge our sins and, presumably, feel as guilty about them as he does.

This may be an overgeneralization of the president’s rhetorical style, but it’s striking how often President Obama feels the need to remind us of our less than perfect past. Liberals listening in cheer him on because they agree with his worldview, and frankly, don’t think we deserve to be lifted out of ourselves. You must feel guilt about our past or you’re just a mindless patriot with no soul.

David Brooks apparently subscribes to this philosophy. His appearance on Meet the Press this morning was notable for his clarifying exactly what it is about Obama’s speeches that so enthralls the left.

“I’m totally pro-Obama on this,” Brooks said.

DAVID BROOKS, NEW YORK TIMES: I think he said the right thing. Listen, it was a gospel of humility. What sorts of people need a little gospel of humility, people in Washington, pundits, religious believers, I happen to be all three of those things. And so we’re told to we’re told to walk humbly in the path of the Lord, the Lord’s ways are mysterious and so you’re saying we’re prone to zealotry as John said we’re fallen. And that’s useful in Washington today, that’s useful always…

CHUCK TODD, MEET THE PRESS: You do sit here and you say, the president himself, David, and you’ve spent a lot of time with him off the record, he wants to have more conversations like this. But, perhaps presidents can’t? You can’t do it until after you leave office? Imean is that, is that where we’re at?

BROOKS: No, I think he was right. He gave the race speech. It was a beautiful speech. He’s given a whole series of great speeches, Trayvon Martin. This was really fine. This is exactly the moment you want to say this. We’re at most the moral danger to ourselves when we’re caught up in a righteous fervor against an evil foe which is what we have. And while we exercise hard power we have to take morally hazardous action or we’re going to be prone to get caught up in our own self-righteousness. This is exactly the moment we needed this.

Was making ridiculous comparisons between Christian knights who fought in the crusades and Islamic State terrorists designed to make us more humble? If so, why was this a good thing?

Putting aside the president’s dubious grasp of the complexities surrounding the reasons for the crusades, the atrocities committed by Christian knights were not done solely because they were filled with religious “zealotry.” The kind of religious fanaticism found in the Islamic State camp was missing among most crusaders, who were only acting in the same, brutal manner that conquering armies of the time acted. Islamic State fighters believes Allah is commanding them to chop off heads. Christian knights did it because it was a normal part of warfare at the time.

But why is it a good thing that the president seeks to humble us in our fight against IS? This is a bizarre notion that only someone besotted with guilt could possibly agree with. Can you imagine FDR trying to humble us in our fight against the Nazis by reminding us how evil parts of our past has been?

The only conclusion you can draw is that both Brooks and Obama don’t believe we hold a morally ascendant position over Islamic State because of events that occurred 900 years ago. While a prayer breakfast may not have been the proper venue for a rousing, martial speech — a call to arms to defeat a threat to our civilization — neither was it a place to tell us that our shortcomings make us no better than terrorists. Only a president confident in the ultimate goodness of our cause can inspire us to support a war that will probably last a decade or more. Calls to check our self-righteousness at the door are not going to fill the bill.