NPR logo David Brooks Calls Himself 'A Sap' For Forgetting Obama Is A Politician

David Brooks Calls Himself 'A Sap' For Forgetting Obama Is A Politician

The first rule for a politician is to get elected. The second rule is to get re-elected. Cynical, yes but you have to go where the evidence leads.

Not everyone is so cynical, however. Even some seasoned political observers who have observed Washington for decades haven't lost their idealism, apparently.

That's certainly one way to read the disappointment reflected in David Brooks' New York Times column.

With a self-flagellation rarely seen in a Washington pundit Brooks, who's also an NPR political analyst, calls himself a "sap" for believing that President Obama was seeking a compromise with congressional Republicans on his pass-this-bill jobs package announced earlier this month and his deficit-reduction proposal announced Monday.

But after President Obama made clear during his Monday speech that he planned to portray Republicans as trying to place the burden of deficit reduction on the lower and middle income while protecting "millionaires and billionaires" from tax increases, Brooks is so over Obama.

Yes, I'm a sap. I believed Obama when he said he wanted to move beyond the stale ideological debates that have paralyzed this country. I always believe that Obama is on the verge of breaking out of the conventional categories and embracing one of the many bipartisan reform packages that are floating around.

But remember, I'm a sap. The White House has clearly decided that in a town of intransigent Republicans and mean ideologues, it has to be mean and intransigent too. The president was stung by the liberal charge that he was outmaneuvered during the debt-ceiling fight. So the White House has moved away from the Reasonable Man approach or the centrist Clinton approach.

Actually, even "reasonable men," slow to anger, can get to a point where they decide reasonableness has been unavailing and they need to fight fire with fire.

Also, President Bill Clinton had an entirely different hand to play when he ran for re-election in 1996. Clinton's economy had created 10 million new jobs and was booming. When most Americans asked themselves if they were better off than they were four years earlier, they answered yes. Clinton had nothing to fear if the election was to be a referendum on his presidency.

Not so for Obama, however. If the election is a referendum on him, chances are good he's a one-term president, as he himself admitted was probable in a February 2009 Today Show interview with Matt Lauer. (It's a safe bet Obama wishes he could take that one back.)

One of the most frightening results in recent polling has been the erosion of support for Obama in his base because of the perception of many Democrats that the president wasn't fighting hard for their values.

If he doesn't come close to matching the 2008 turnout of base Democrats, it's hard to see how he gets to 270 Electoral College votes.

It was unlikely that Obama would get much if any of his economic agenda, even one close to what Brooks imagined, through the Republican House or even the Democratic-controlled Senate, for that matter.

If he once again appeared to retreat from his demand for a balanced approach to deficit reduction, with spending cuts and selected tax increases on higher income taxpayers, that would only potentially further his base's unhappiness with him.

And not just the base; polls suggest that independents and even many Republicans favor a balanced approach towards deficit reduction.

So it wasn't much of a surprise when the president approached the presidential podium set up in the Rose Garden Monday and declared that his deficit-reduction plan included higher taxes on the nation's richest taxpayers and big companies.

He was just following the second rule of politics to do whatever he can to get reelected.