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Now he says he'll miss Obama, but here are 7 of David Brooks' worst critiques of the President

"I'll miss Obama" the conservative NYT columnist finally admits as he realizes the depth of his party's doom


Sophia Tesfaye
February 9, 2016 11:03PM (UTC)

Barack Obama is still in the White House and is still the President, for now, but with New Hampshire poised to cast the first real votes in the Republican presidential primaries (Sorry, Iowa, but besides Ted Cruz you last picked Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee) in favor of Donald Trump, the New York Times' resident conservative, David Brooks, is already lamenting the end of "basic integrity" and "basic humanity" as President Obama's final days in office draw near.

"I miss Barack Obama," Brooks prematurely declared in his Tuesday column, noting that "as this primary season has gone along, a strange sensation has come over" him. "Over the course of this campaign it feels as if there’s been a decline in behavioral standards across the board. Many of the traits of character and leadership that Obama possesses, and that maybe we have taken too much for granted, have suddenly gone missing or are in short supply."

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If nothing else, the 2016 Republican primary has so far been a repudiation of Brooksian intellectual centrism by the rabid right-wing base of the GOP base. His nostalgia for a nearly bygone Obama era is as much due to his lingering affections for the moderate Democratic president as it is based in his disgust at the rise of more radical forces in the Republican party.

Brooks initially urged Obama to run for president after reading his 2006 book, "The Audacity of Hope" and since his early "bromance" with the President fizzled out, he's managed to recall his fondness for Obama's brand of pragmatism as a means by which to slam firebrands in his own party. Last month, he noted that under Obama "America [is] in better shape than any other nation on Earth, crime is down, abortion rates are down, and fourteen million new jobs were created in less than five years,” in an effort to rebuke what he called "the brutalism of Ted Cruz.”

Now, facing the prospects of a President Trump, Brooks worries that America has been lead to "wallow in the pornography of pessimism," lamenting that "maybe we have taken too much for granted" under Obama's leadership. But Brooks himself has spent much of Obama's time in office rattling off the myriad of ways the President has been a disappointment. Here are 7 of Brooks' biggest critiques of a President he now says he'll miss:

Obama has a "manhood problem":

In an April 2014 appearance on NBC's "Meet the Press," Brooks argued that Obama has "a manhood problem in the Middle East," engaging in a popular right-wing exercise of conflating brash bluster with foreign policy:

And let’s face it, Obama, whether deservedly or not, does have a — I’ll say it crudely — but a manhood problem in the Middle East. Is he tough enough to stand up to somebody like Assad or somebody like Putin? I think a lot of the rap is unfair but certainly in the Middle East there is an assumption that he’s not tough enough.

Obama's Iran deal is a failure on the level of Vietnam, Iraq 

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Joining his fellow conservatives in condemning the historic multi-national nonproliferation agreement, Brooks called the deal a surrender by President Obama tantamount to the U.S. defeats in Iraq and Vietnam.

"The purpose of war, military or economic, is to get your enemy to do something it would rather not do," Brooks explained to open an August 2015 columnThe "Obama administration emphasized the limits of America’s ability to influence other nations," Brooks dramatically lamented before assailing the deal: 

The U.S. and its allies lost the war against Iran, but we were able to negotiate terms that gave only our partial surrender, which forces Iran to at least delay its victory. There have now been three big U.S. strategic defeats over the past several decades: Vietnam, Iraq and now Iran. 

Obama is "weak" 

"The existential issue is one of passivity," Brooks said during a weekly appearance on PBS' "NewsHour" in December 2015, critiquing President Obama's "lack of progress" in the Middle East. 

"In my view, we left Iraq too early and destabilized the region," Brooks argued before admitting that "we made some progress recently." Still, President Obama is "arguing from a place of weakness because of the things — the mistakes that were made in the past," Brooks told host Judy Woodruff. "He hasn't reflected the fear people feel, the concern people feel, that — even the anger and outrage people feel." 

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Obama’s executive actions “destabilize the legitimacy of government” 

"The public has soured on Obama’s policy proposals," Brooks wrote less than eight months into the President's first term.

Calling "the post-midterm period [] one of the most bizarre of the Obama presidency," Brooks later complained that "Obama’s done no public rethinking," in a November 2014 column that embarrassingly negated the role of Republican obstructionism in order to freak out over President Obama's turn to executive orders: 

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Usually presidents with a new Congressional majority try to figure out if there is anything that the two branches can do together. The governing Republicans have a strong incentive to pass legislation. The obvious thing is to start out with the easiest things, if only to show that Washington can function on some elemental level.

But the White House has not privately engaged with Congress on the legislative areas where there could be agreement. Instead, the president has been superaggressive on the one topic sure to blow everything up: the executive order to rewrite the nation’s immigration laws.

He similarly lost it when reconciliation was first floated as a means to pass Obamacare back in 2009:

Some now argue that the administration should just ignore the ignorant masses and ram health care through using reconciliation, the legislative maneuver that would reduce the need for moderate votes.

This would be suicidal. You can’t pass the most important domestic reform in a generation when the majority of voters think you are on the wrong path. To do so would be a sign of unmitigated arrogance. If Obama agrees to use reconciliation, he will permanently affix himself to the liberal wing of his party and permanently alienate independents. He will be president of 35 percent of the country — and good luck getting anything done after that.

[...]

Most Americans still admire Obama and want him to succeed. But if he doesn’t proceed in a manner consistent with the spirit of the nation and the times, voters will find a way to stop him.

As Aaron Barlow writes in Salon today, "by abetting an image of a bifurcated political world, Brooks has helped further the vilification of Obama and the Republican descent into the politics of hatred." This abridged chronicle of Brooks' measured Obama bashing over seven years leaves the words of a nostalgic Brooks today ringing hollow. After all, the consevative commentator still decided to end today's column with this assessment of the Obama legacy (emphasis added):

No, Obama has not been temperamentally perfect. Too often he’s been disdainful, aloof, resentful and insular. But there is a tone of ugliness creeping across the world, as democracies retreat, as tribalism mounts, as suspiciousness and authoritarianism take center stage.

Obama radiates an ethos of integrity, humanity, good manners and elegance that I’m beginning to miss, and that I suspect we will all miss a bit, regardless of who replaces him.

Raw: Obama Releases $4 Trillion-Plus 2017 Budget

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Sophia Tesfaye

Sophia Tesfaye is Salon's Deputy Politics Editor and resides in Washington, D.C. You can find her on Twitter at @SophiaTesfaye.

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