Fire David Brooks; don’t vote for Barack Obama

By Matt Barnum

This article in The New Republic, written by Sean Willenz and published a couple of weeks ago, is the best piece of political commentary I’ve read in a long time. It’s main point is that most of the pontificating about the presidential candidates—most commonly, Barack Obama—is not based on any facts, but rather “intuition.” One example that Willenz cites as evidence of pundits’ intuition about Obama is David Brooks’ unbelievable column in The New York Times Brooks starts off by basically saying that Obama was a lazy Senator–“Obama has some accomplishments under his belt, but many of his colleagues believe that he has not bothered to master the intricacies of legislation or the maze of Senate rules”–and that he would vote for Hillary over Obama in a Senate election. This, I think, is a stupid argument, but I guess it’s not completely unreasonable. What follows, however, is not at all reasonable.Brooks goes on to say, “With the presidency, character and self-knowledge matter more than even experience.” I think I disagree with this, but fair enough. Brooks continues,

Obama is an inner-directed man in a profession filled with insecure outer-directed ones. He was forged by the process of discovering his own identity from the scattered facts of his childhood, a process that is described in finely observed detail in “Dreams From My Father.”

Never mind that Obama’s memoir is riddled–as Obama himself admits–with fictionalizations and “composite characters.” What is an “inner-directed man” anyway, how does Brooks know that Obama is one? From his (partially made up, obviously biased) autobiography?Brooks claims, “Like most of the rival campaigns, I’ve been poring over press clippings from Obama’s past, looking for inconsistencies and flip-flops.” I’m sorry, but I simply don’t believe that NYT op-ed columnist David Brooks has spent hours and hours searching through old Hyde Park Herald issues feverishly looking for Obama’s inconsistencies.Anyway, after his apparently exhaustive search for Obama flip-flops, Brooks proclaims, “There are virtually none.” But after my own meticulous investigation–five minutes on Google–I’m ready to point to a couple issues where Obama has been, at best, unclear, and at worst, inconsistent: free trade and gay rights. (Just look at Obama’s statements on fair trade from his website.)The Obama lovefest continues:

[Obama] has a core, and was able to maintain his equipoise, for example, even as his campaign stagnated through the summer and fall. Moreover, he has a worldview that precedes political positions. Some Americans (Republican or Democrat) believe that the country’s future can only be shaped through a remorseless civil war between the children of light and the children of darkness.

He has equipoise? Do Hillary Clinton and John Edwards not have cores? What about their “equipoise”? Brooks’ second sentence here is a textbook case of a strawman argument: Nobody in politics wants a “remorseless civil war.”Brooks spends another paragraph waxing poetic–I think he uses the word “dichotomy”–about Obama’s many virtues. He then asserts, “Obama did not respond to his fatherlessness or his racial predicament with anger and rage, but as questions for investigation, conversation and synthesis.”Umm…actually Obama responded to theses struggles by abusing, as a teenager, alcohol, marijuana, and cocaine, in order to, as Obama puts it, “push questions of who I was out of my mind.” I don’t hold this against him at all–but unlike Brooks, I don’t give him credit for it either.Brooks continues in the same vein for a bit longer, all the while providing not a shred of evidence for any of his claims.It’s amazing that the Times‘ token conservative would get so worked up over a liberal like Obama and [insert joke about how Brooks is a U of C alum and should investigate thing more closely, or something].