If his December 16 New York Times column, “Strengthen the Presidency,” is any indication, faux-conservative David Brooks has been hitting the spiked Christmas eggnog early and hard. Or maybe, as we’ve seen before, when it comes to the Obama presidency, Brooks was transported to la-la land. Who can forget the 2009 profile of Brooks in The New Republic, in which he recounts his first encounter with Obama four years earlier: “Usually when I talk to senators, while they may know a policy area better than me, they generally don’t know political philosophy better than me. I got the sense he knew both better than me.”
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Brooks then dug the hole deeper: “I remember distinctly an image of – we were sitting on [Obama’s] couches, and I was looking at his pant leg and his perfectly creased pant, and I’m thinking, a) he’s going to be president and b) he’ll be a very good president.” And still deeper: “My overall view is ninety-five percent of the decisions [Obama and his administration] make are good and intelligent. Whether I agree with them specifically, I think they’re very serious and very good at what they do.”
A clear majority of Americans, not only conservatives, now disagrees with Brooks.
In the December 16 column Brooks endorses Francis Fukuyama’s view that our Madisonian system of checks and balances “has morphed into a ‘vetocracy’, an unworkable machine where many interests can veto reform”; and because the president has become constrained by “interest group capitalism” and political polarization, “you’ve got a recipe for a government that is more stultified, stagnant and overbearing.” According to Brooks and Fukuyama, things would be better if only we had a “unified parliamentary system,” in which one party has absolute control.
But since we don’t, Brooks has a simplistic answer: Make the executive branch more powerful. Now? Yes, says Brooks: “This is a good moment to advocate greater executive branch power because we’ve just seen a monumental example of executive branch incompetence: the botched Obamacare rollout.” (The italics are mine: I needed to add emphasis to one of the most extraordinary non-sequiturs I have ever encountered: We should increase the power of the executive branch because its officials have demonstrated their incompetence.)
Perhaps over-imbibing the eggnog dulled Brooks recollection of the first two years of the Obama administration. The Democrats controlled the White House and both houses of Congress and had a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, which made our system function effectively like a parliamentary system. The Democrats rolled the Republicans repeatedly during that time, boosting spending, crippling the economy, and increasing government intrusion into our lives, most notably by passing ObamaCare without a single GOP vote in either house. Putting it another way, even absent the elements of a vetocracy, on its own the Obama administration became stultified, stagnant and overbearing.
The sorts of arguments advanced by Brooks are anything but conservative, but they are not surprising to anyone familiar with his commentaries. In a 2007 column, “No U-Turns,” Brooks urged the Republican Party to distance itself from its fundamental limited-government, conservative principles, arguing that these supposedly outdated concepts are no longer mainstream and must be discarded if Republicans hope to win elections. “Goldwater and Reagan were important leaders, but they’re not models for the future,” Brooks concluded. Instead he seems to prefer Barack Obama’s vision for America: redistribution of wealth, stultifying regulation, class warfare, political cronyism, vacillating foreign policy, lack of transparency and relentless incompetence.
But let’s return to Brooks’ December 16 plea to give the executive branch more power, which, he believes, would overcome the problem that “Congressional deliberations, to the extent they exist at all, are rooted in rigid political frameworks.” But isn’t that what we’ve gotten from the likes of ideologues like Valerie Jarrett, John Podesta and the Obamas themselves: all-politics-all-the-time and a belief that big government is the solution to all ills?
Brooks asserts that “some agencies, especially places like the Office of Management and Budget, are reasonably removed from excessive partisanship.” Dream on, David; have another eggnog.
Brooks contends that “executive branch officials, if they were liberated from rigid Congressional strictures, would have more discretion to respond to their screw-ups, like the Obamacare implementation.” How much more discretion to respond to the Obamacare disaster could the administration (and Brooks) want? The feds have spent tens of millions of dollars since October 1 to fix the website problems and to advertise the dubious advantages of Obamacare to the younger, healthier demographic they need to sign up if it is to succeed.
Moreover, in order both to fix screw-ups and to implement policies that conflict with the law, the president has repeatedly violated Article II, Section 3, of the Constitution, which states that the president “shall take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed.” Stanford Law School Professor Michael McConnell has emphasized that “this is a duty, not a discretionary power. While the president does have substantial discretion about how to enforce a law, he has no discretion about whether to do so.” With the president already arrogating extra-Constitutional authority when it suits him, Brooks wants to give him even more power?
Brooks is the kind of pseudo-conservative beloved by the liberal elites – he fawns on Obama, never rants and uses big words; hence, his regular gigs at the New York Times, NPR and PBS. However, Brooks’ views are neither liberal nor conservative, merely illogical.
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