David Brooks: ‘I’m Totally Pro-Obama’ Attacking Christianity

On Thursday, President Obama spoke at the National Prayer Breakfast and drew some sharp criticism for his decision to draw a moral equivalency between ISIS and Christians, arguing that the acts of terrorism carried out by ISIS were akin to the Christian Crusades, slavery, and Jim Crow. 

On Sunday, NBC’s Meet the Press addressed Obama’s controversial remarks with New York Times columnist David Brooks eagerly defending his comments and insisting that he was “totally pro-Obama on this. I think he said the right thing. Listen, it was a gospel of humility.” 

The discussion began with moderator Chuck Todd wondering “is our political discourse, are we too immature to have this debate?" which gave Brooks the opportunity to promote the president’s attack on Christianity: 

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 Jon [Meacham] said we're fallen. And so to underline that that's useful in Washington today that's useful always. 

Surprisingly, Andrea Mitchell, NBC News Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent, actually pushed back and argued that “you don’t use the word crusades number one in any context right now” before she criticized the president’s timing given ISIS burning a Jordanian pilot alive:

And the week after a pilot is burned alive, in a video shown, you don't lean over backwards to be philosophical about the sins of the fathers. You have to deal with the issue that's in front of you or don't deal with it at all.

As the segment progressed, Brooks continued to defend Obama’s speech and beamed that the timing was perfect for the president to attack the “self-righteousness” of Christianity:

I think this was utterly fine. This is exactly the moment you want to say this. We're at the most moral danger to ourselves when we're caught up in a righteous fervor against an evil foe which is what we have. And so, while we exercise hard power we have to take morally hazardous action, or we can be prone to get caught up in our own self-righteousness.   

For her part, Andrea Mitchell slapped down Brooks defense of Obama and concluded her remarks by insisting that the president made a poor decision during his speech: 

It’s so out of context, and it is so much in passing. If you're giving a major speech about theology, perhaps. But this is the prayer breakfast. And remember, you know, the context of that is very limited. 

See relevant transcript below.

NBC’s Meet the Press

February 8, 2015

CHUCK TODD: David Brooks, is our political discourse, are we too immature to have this debate? 

DAVID BROOKS: I know I am. 

TODD: Okay. 

BROOKS: Why are you asking me then? 

TODD: I feel like you're the guy we look to here in some ways on these cultural–but it does wonder can, can politicians have this debate? 

BROOKS: Well, I'm pro-Obama. I'm totally pro-Obama on this. 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 Jon [Meacham] said we're fallen. And so to underline that that's useful in Washington today that's useful always. 

ANDREA MITCHELL: You don't use the word crusades number one in any context right now. It just it's too fraught. And the week after a pilot is burned alive, in a video shown, you don't lean over backwards to be philosophical about the sins of the fathers. You have to deal with the issue that's in front of you or don't deal with it at all. 

BROOKS: That’s exactly when you do it. 

MITCHELL: Talk about faith. 

KATY KAY: Our political culture does not allow for much nuance debate. 

TODD: We’re not allowed to have a nuance, right. 

KAY: Unfortunately, this is as you have just shown with Jon Meacham this is a very nuanced debate to be had and that should be had. But having it in the context of 30 seconds added into a speech at a prayer breakfast where the impulse of the president's opponents is just to jump on him and criticize him for anything, whatever he said, it’s unfortunate but I don't think it's possible. 

TODD: Should the president not have done it? 

STEPHEN HENDERSON: I think it was fine to do it. I think one of the things that's bothering people here is the invocation of race, which this president doesn't do all that all that often. Talk about our racial history, and -- 

TODD: You think it was that last element that set people off? 

HENDERSON: I think that's what set people off. And I also think that it's important for him to be doing that. Think of all the context right now in which we're having a moral, frank discussion about our racial history. You see it on the big screen in movies like Selma. I think the president was trying to echo some of that at the breakfast. 

TODD: You do sit here and you say, the president himself, David, and you’ve spent a lot of time with him, he would be, he wants to have more conversations like this. But, perhaps presidents can't. You can't do it until after you leave office. I mean 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. I think this was utterly fine. This is exactly the moment you want to say this. We're at the most moral danger to ourselves when we're caught up in a righteous fervor against an evil foe which is what we have. And so, while we exercise hard power we have to take morally hazardous action, or we can be prone to get caught up in our own self-righteousness. This is exactly the moment [sic]  

TODD: There are a lot of, there are there a lot of politicians, conservative politicians, who invoke religion when talking about fighting ISIS. 
 
MITCHELL: But he's the president, and you can't really go back to 1095. 

TODD: So you think he made a mistake. 

MITCHELL: I do, because it's so out of context, and it is so much in passing. If you're giving a major speech about theology, perhaps. But this is the prayer breakfast. And remember, you know, the context of that is very limited. 

Jeffrey Meyer
Jeffrey Meyer
Jeffrey Meyer was a News Analyst at the Media Research Center.