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Brooks Blasts Obama But Praised Bush for "Remaking the World"

July 25, 2008

That the Republican water carrier and New York Times columnist David Brooks would blast Barack Obama's Berlin speech was utterly predictable. (Kevin Drum even predicted the title of the piece, "Playing Innocent Abroad.") To be sure, by slandering Obama's call to "remake the world" with epithets including "saccharine," "treacle," and "Disney," Brooks did not disappoint. Of course, even less surprising is that back in 2005, David Brooks had only glowing praise for President Bush's democratization agenda and its audacious vision to "imagine new worlds."
On Friday, Brooks wasted little time in excoriating Obama for his optimistic call for a new internationalism in which American global leadership restored could help tackle the challenges of terrorism, sectarian strife, economic prosperity and climate change:

"Obama speeches almost always have the same narrative arc. Some problem threatens. The odds are against the forces of righteousness. But then people of good faith unite and walls come tumbling down. Obama used the word "walls" 16 times in the Berlin speech, and in 11 of those cases, he was talking about walls coming down...
...But substantively, optimism without reality isn't eloquence. It's just Disney."

Ironically, Brooks opened by noting that "radical optimism is America's contribution to the world" and that "Woodrow Wilson and George W. Bush preached their own gospels of world democracy." Ironic, because when the optimistic preacher in 2005 was President Bush, David Brooks was all for it.
During his February 2005 State of the Union address, Bush declared that the mission of the United States was nothing less than to end tyranny and dictatorship worldwide:

"The only force powerful enough to stop the rise of tyranny and terror, and replace hatred with hope, is the force of human freedom...And we've declared our own intention: America will stand with the allies of freedom to support democratic movements in the Middle East and beyond, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world."

That Republican's radical vision was one David Brooks could get behind. Joining giddy conservatives like Rich Lowry and Charles Krauthammer in premature celebration of the Bush Doctrine, Brooks lauded the Bush agenda for bringing what then seemed like a wave of democracy around the world.
In February 26, 2005 column (titled "Why Not Here?"), Brooks' assessment was a mirror image of today's Obama diatribe. Looking to the Orange Revolution in the Ukraine, the Cedar Revolution in Lebanon, pro-democracy protests in the Palestinian territories and elections in Iraq, Brooks proclaimed that all across the Middle East - and the world - people were asking "why not here?"
Amazingly, Brooks then cited Ronald Reagan's own 1987 Berlin speech as invoking the world of possibility the visionary George W. Bush had imagined:

It's amazing in retrospect to think of how much psychological resistance there is to asking this breakthrough question: Why not here? We are all stuck in our traditions and have trouble imagining the world beyond. As Claus Christian Malzahn reminded us in Der Spiegel online this week, German politicians ridiculed Ronald Reagan's "tear down this wall" speech in 1987. They "couldn't imagine that there might be an alternative to a divided Germany."
But if there is one soft-power gift America does possess, it is this tendency to imagine new worlds. As Malzahn goes on to note, "In a country of immigrants like the United States, one actually pushes for change…We Europeans always want to have the world from yesterday, whereas the Americans strive for the world of tomorrow."

Apparently, the mere act of changing the speaker's name - and party affiliation - produces a 180-degree turn from David Brooks.
The image of tearing down walls wasn't the only historical device Obama deployed in Berlin on Thursday. He repeatedly harkened back to the 1948 American airlift which saved the city and busted the Soviet blockade. Obama's was not merely a metaphor for a reinvigorated trans-Atlantic partnership, but a call for renewed American global leadership. Alas, David Brooks is comfortable only when American dictates, not when America leads.
Back in 2005, Brooks concluded his piece by exhibiting the same symptoms of conservative hubris which have backfired so tragically for the United States. Just months before Russia's authoritarian swing, carnage in Lebanon and the Hamas triumph in Palestine, Brooks insisted Bush deserved accolades for prompting the cry of "why not here?":

"But this is clearly the question the United States is destined to provoke. For the final thing that we've learned from the papers this week is how thoroughly the Bush agenda is dominating the globe. When Bush meets with Putin, democratization is the center of discussion. When politicians gather in Ramallah, democratization is a central theme. When there's an atrocity in Beirut, the possibility of freedom leaps to people's minds."

But that was then and this is now. Barack Obama speaks of a "new dawn in the Middle East" or all of Europe choosing "its own tomorrow free from the shadows of yesterday," And that, according to David Brooks is "Disney."


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Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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