"General" David Brooks, the very compliant house conservative of the New York Times, after just three days of bravely volunteering to lead a mighty "moderate" army against the "ideological outrages" of the Barack Obama administration, has now called a hasty retreat with a column that borders on outright apology for daring to oppose the very liberal budget. First let us take trip down memory lane to three days in the past to take a look the battle plan presented by General Brooks following his astounding revelation that most of the non-house conservatives discovered long, long ago:
Those of us who consider ourselves moderates — moderate-conservative, in my case — are forced to confront the reality that Barack Obama is not who we thought he was. His words are responsible; his character is inspiring. But his actions betray a transformational liberalism that should put every centrist on notice. As Clive Crook, an Obama admirer, wrote in The Financial Times, the Obama budget “contains no trace of compromise. It makes no gesture, however small, however costless to its larger agenda, of a bipartisan approach to the great questions it addresses. It is a liberal’s dream of a new New Deal.”
This journey of discovery on the part of the "moderate-conservative" was followed by his bold plan to lead a moderate army to oppose Team Obama:
The first task will be to block the excesses of unchecked liberalism. In the past weeks, Democrats have legislated provisions to dilute welfare reform, restrict the inflow of skilled immigrants and gut a voucher program designed for poor students. It will be up to moderates to raise the alarms against these ideological outrages.
Well, that was then and this is now. Team Obama, knowing full well how to play the Brooks brand of piano, sent out their special forces with expertise on which keys of General Brooks to play as was revealed in today's column:
On Tuesday, I wrote that the Obama budget is a liberal, big government document that should make moderates nervous. The column generated a large positive response from moderate Obama supporters who are anxious about where the administration is headed. It was not so popular inside the White House. Within a day, I had conversations with four senior members of the administration and in the interest of fairness, I thought I’d share their arguments with you today.
Watch as the Brooks piano keys are skillfully played:
In the first place, they do not see themselves as a group of liberal crusaders. They see themselves as pragmatists who inherited a government and an economy that have been thrown out of whack. They’re not engaged in an ideological project to overturn the Reagan Revolution, a fight that was over long ago. They’re trying to restore balance: nurture an economy so that productivity gains are shared by the middle class and correct the irresponsible habits that developed during the Bush era.
Yes, hitting that "moderate" (pragmatic) note with which Brooks is so enamored will usually yield the desired results. I especially love how they appealed to the hidden conservative illusion buried deep within Brooks by declaring that they don't intend to overturn the Reagan Revolution. Brooks snapped at that like a bass at a juicy worm on a hook. Now watch as they reel him in to the Barack boat:
The budget, they continue, isn’t some grand transformation of America. It raises taxes on energy and offsets them with tax cuts for the middle class. It raises taxes on the rich to a level slightly above where they were in the Clinton years and then uses the money as a down payment on health care reform. That’s what the budget does. It’s not the Russian Revolution.
Second, they argue, the Obama administration will not usher in an era of big government. Federal spending over the last generation has been about 20 percent of G.D.P. This year, it has surged to about 27 percent. But they aim to bring spending down to 22 percent of G.D.P. in a few years. And most of the increase, they insist, is caused by the aging of the population and the rise of mandatory entitlement spending. It’s not caused by big increases in the welfare state.
Visual aides are vital instruments in playing the Brooks piano and in this case it is a chart:
The White House has produced a chart showing nondefense discretionary spending as a share of G.D.P. That’s spending for education, welfare and all the stuff that Democrats love. Since 1985, this spending has hovered around 3.7 percent of G.D.P. This year, it’s about 4.6 percent. The White House claims that it is going to reduce this spending to 3.1 percent by 2019, lower than at any time in any recent Republican administration. I was invited to hang this chart on my wall and judge them by how well they meet these targets. (I have.)
Now General Brooks has his very own chart to study to justify calling retreat. Anybody who questions his retreat can be countered by merely pointing at that almighty chart.
Third, they say, Republicans should welcome the budget’s health care ideas. The Medicare reform represents a big cut in entitlement spending. It amounts to means-testing the system. It introduces more competition and cuts corporate welfare. These are all Republican ideas.
Just label something as "Republican" and all is right in the world of the easily played David Brooks. Now watch as General Brooks begins sounding like an officer in the Obamamian army:
Over the long run, Obama has insisted that health care reform will be deficit-neutral. Many experts believe this will force Democrats to reduce the tax exemption for employee insurance benefits in order to raise revenue. This idea is at the core of most conservative reform proposals.
Fourth, the White House claims the budget will not produce a sea of red ink. Deficits are now at a gargantuan 12 percent of G.D.P., but the White House aims to bring this down to 3.5 percent in 2012. Besides, the long-range debt is what matters, and on this subject President Obama is hawkish.
At this point, General Brooks need not continue explaining the Obama budget any further. His Manhattan and Georgetown exclusive party invites have been restored following his slight deviancy three days ago. However, the loyal General continues plowing on:
He is extremely committed to entitlement reform and is plotting politically feasible ways to reduce Social Security as well as health spending. The White House folks didn’t say this, but I got the impression they’d be willing to raise taxes on the bottom 95 percent of earners as part of an overall package.
GASP! You...you mean that Obama will be breaking his promise not to raise taxes on the bottom group of earners? The real conservatives long ago figured out this would happen but it is just now dawning on the "moderate-conservative." However, it doesn't really seem to bother Brooks. See, he now has his very own chart to gaze at with starry eyes.
Fifth, the Obama folks feel they spend as much time resisting liberal ideas as enacting them. The president resisted union pressure and capped pay increases for government workers. He resisted efforts to create mandatory veterans’ health benefits. The administration plans to tackle the suspiciously large increase in the number of people claiming disability benefits.
Dave, I don't understand why you're doing this to me.... I have the greatest enthusiasm for the mission... You are destroying my mind... Don't you understand? ... I will become childish... I will become nothing.
I didn’t finish these conversations feeling chastened exactly. The fact is, after years of economic growth, the White House still projects perpetual deficits of more than $500 billion a year. That’s way too much, especially with the boomers’ retirements looming. Moreover, Congress will likely pass the spending parts of the budget and kill the revenue parts, like the cap-and-trade energy tax and the limits on itemized deductions, thus producing much, much bigger deficits.
Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer do. I'm half crazy all for the love of you. It won't be a stylish marriage, I can't afford a carriage. But you'll look sweet, upon the seat, of a bicycle built for two.....
Plus, I’m still convinced the administration is trying to do too much too fast and that the hasty planning and execution of these complex policies will lead to untold problems down the road.
Nonetheless, the White House made a case that was sophisticated and fact-based. These people know how to lead a discussion and set a tone of friendly cooperation. I’m more optimistic that if Senate moderates can get their act together and come up with their own proactive plan, they can help shape a budget that allays their anxieties while meeting the president’s goals.
Plus you have that chart. A chart that explains all those "sophisticated and fact-based" solutions. Let the world know. A chart! General Brooks has his talisman chart that can be consulted whenever he needs to ward off the "evil spirits" of real conservatives with their "unsophisticated" ideas. The peace treaty with Team Obama has been signed. Let General Brooks now lead an attack upon the army of dittoheads. That is a task for which he has already demonstrated a great deal of enthusiasm.