Your move, Kathleen Parker.
[T]he Obama budget is more than just the sum of its parts. There is, entailed in it, a promiscuous unwillingness to set priorities and accept trade-offs. There is evidence of a party swept up in its own revolutionary fervor — caught up in the self-flattering belief that history has called upon it to solve all problems at once…
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.”
Moderates now find themselves betwixt and between. On the left, there is a president who appears to be, as Crook says, “a conviction politician, a bold progressive liberal.” On the right, there are the Rush Limbaugh brigades. The only thing more scary than Obama’s experiment is the thought that it might fail and the political power will swing over to a Republican Party that is currently unfit to wield it.
From there he segues into a cri de coeur for a plucky band of moderates to seize the good ship America and heroically steer her between Obaman Scylla and Palinite Charybdis, although what that would entail beyond him and Frum periodically firing off ever more dour and exasperated op-eds is unclear. The Blue Dogs’ patience with The One’s spending isn’t limitless but they’ll be reasonably good puppies so long as his approval rating stays high, so forget them. Whom does he have in mind on the GOP side to lead the moderate revolt, pray tell? Arlen Specter? Good luck getting the troops to line up behind a general known among the base as “Benedict Arlen.”
In fairness to Brooks, I worried that some of the attendees at that conservative pundit dinner with Obama at George Will’s house would end up if not completely in the tank for The One, at least partially submerged. Hasn’t happened. In fact, as unsparing as Will and Krauthammer have been, it’s Brooks’s persistent criticism of Obama’s spending over the last few weeks that’s been the biggest surprise. So, one cheer for that at least, but minus-two cheers for not realizing sooner — as the dreaded “Limbaugh brigades” did — that “Barack Obama is not who we thought he was.” You let him off the hook.
Update: Meant to link this earlier as a de facto rebuttal of last night’s “Quotes of the Day.” It’s Jay Cost, scoffing at the idea that Rush Limbaugh or David Brooks or any pundit/political evangelizer has much influence with the voting public. “Moderates” are really just voters who don’t pay much attention, and their votes will be decided less by Brooks “asserting himself” than by events.
When appealing to a political audience as broad as the voting public, you are confronting a large majority of voters who pay relatively little attention and are essentially non-ideological in their political orientation. That means the idea of converting somebody from “liberalism” to “conservatism” as a precursor to getting his vote is simply not going to yield many votes. If it did, this is what candidates – who have the greatest interest in winning votes – would try to do. Instead, they speak in sound bytes and they have Stevie Wonder or Hank Williams, Jr. open their political rallies…
[T]here is value in the discussion among conservatives about the future of their movement. But that does not mean that the payoff is going to be electoral. This is a discussion by political elites for elites. Electoral politics – at least the difference between winning and losing – is inevitably non-ideological and non-elite.
Think of it this way. Suppose the Republican Party and the conservative movement fail to “reform” or “reimagine” themselves, but the country becomes highly dissatisfied with the governance of President Obama. What happens in 2010? I’ll bet the farm that the GOP makes big gains in the House, ideological anemia aside. Now, suppose that the party and the movement do reinvigorate themselves, translate their principles into compelling policy solutions and generally begin an intellectual renaissance on the right – but the country is pleased with Obama and the Democrats. What happens? Again, I’ll bet the farm that the Republicans make little or no gains.