New York Times columnist David Brooks is supposed to be the house conservative of PBS’s NewsHour and convention coverage, but he dripped contempt for conservatives from Mitt Romney to Rush Limbaugh on Wednesday’s night live coverage. He decried Romney’s speech as extreme "He drifted so far right, I’m sort of, my mind is boggling." But he said the rhetoric wasn’t genuine, just a "strategic choice" in case McCain loses. When one panelist said the Sarah Palin speech would be "a huge hit among Rush Limbaugh Republicans," Brooks insisted Palin’s humor was light with a common touch, not "biting, belittling" Limbaugh humor. Earlier, he lamented the presidential choices didn’t include someone who hated tax cuts: "There might be a candidate who says ‘Actually, at this time in our country we can’t afford these massive tax cuts anyway,’ but that candidate is not running for president."
UPDATE: On the Charlie Rose show, Brooks grew even wilder, saying of Romney's speech: "I thought it was borderline insane," and proclaiming Palin was "not ideological in a Rush Limbaugh sense."
After the Mitt Romney speech, Brooks was expressive: "I heard through the grapevine that Republican apparatchiks had lost control of the Romney speech, and now I can see what it was all about. Mitt Romney is thinking ‘If John McCain loses, the party is going to be tired of mavericks. They’ll want a hard right-winger, and that will be me!" He drifted so far right, I’m sort of, my mind is boggling. Who was this guy? I remember a few years ago, a moderate Republican, but he’s made a strategic choice. That is as right-wing a speech as we’ll hear, maybe as right-wing a speech as we’ve heard at a Republican convention in many conventions."
Mark Shields agreed that it was calculated (for 2012), and then anchor Jim Lehrer grew uncharacteristically sarcastic: "He was also, correct me if I’m wrong, it seems to me he was coming out against liberals." Brooks added: "It was ingenious to describe the Roberts Court as a bunch of liberals. He’s really gone out there." Amid laughter among the pundits, Shields chimed in, "Sam Alito as a lefty is a new concept."
Earlier, the PBS pundits discussed the two candidates’ plans on taxes. Obama’s tax cuts had much better appeal, since they’re redistributive. Said Brooks:
The crucial issue here is the distribution of the tax cuts. The Obama campaign has this tax cut, 1000 dollars for 95 percent of Americans. Maybe too good to be true, but that’s what they’re offering. The McCain campaign doesn’t have that. They have some child exemptions for families, but that have a lot of cuts in corporate trates, which I think is good, but may be a tough sell. They have a cu t in dividend taxes so they’ve structured toward incentives. And it’s economics, frankly, circa 1988, 1992...the Obama people are stunned they can promise bigger tax cuts on the middle class than the McCain people have.
Shields agreed, and added "What they’ve played out is the negative caricature of Republicans as tilting toward the corporate and the well-off." Then Brooks lamented: "There might be a candidate who says ‘Actually, at this time in our country we can’t afford these massive tax cuts anyway,’ but that candidate is not running for president. "
Brooks also expressed relief that neither McCain nor Obama was encouraging "nativistic" sentiment in this time of an uncertain economy:
When people are pessimistic about the future of the economy, they get very hostile toward immigrants, they get very hostile to people of other races. They get very hostile in general. And periods of reform, whether it’s conservative reform or democratic reform, have generally been periods of vast economic growth and high optimism. That's when the biggest progress has been made.
I still think there was a market this year for a really dark pessimistic vision to come out of one of these two parties. I think we're fortunate in these two candidates that it did not come out and some of the more nativistic tendencies, anti-globalization tendencies have been really repressed by these two candidates.
After the Sarah Palin speech, Brooks was very impressed (as was every single person in the PBS studio), but when historian Richard Norton Smith declared the speech would be "a huge hit among Rush Limbaugh Republicans," Brooks insisted: "I disagree with Richard, uncharacteristically. I don’t think it was a Rush Limbaugh speech at all. One of the great lines was ‘being a mayor of this town was like being a community organizer with responsibilities.’ That’s not the Rush Limbaugh type of humor. It’s a much more personal, I’m-just-regular-folks kind of humor than the biting, belittling type of humor."
On the Charlie Rose show, Brooks went even further: "She sounded like a regular person. Mitt Romney gave a speech. Frankly, I thought it was borderline insane. He kept talking about liberals, liberals, liberals. He talked like a politician screaming. She talked like a regular person. She was not ideological in a Rush Limbaugh sense."