You've got to hand it to David Brooks. No matter how badly the Republicans are behaving, he always finds a way to blame it on President Obama. He says the president just wasn't willing to reach out them quite enough in these so-called "fiscal cliff" negotiations, and he dismisses the fact that the only thing they really care about is looking out for their wealthiest base.
Here he was on this Friday's PBS Newshour, doing exactly that and sounding a lot like Fox's Sean Hannity, mocking President Obama for coming back from his vacation in Hawaii and pretending that the President hasn't already offered Republicans so much that he's angered the Democratic base.
JEFFREY BROWN: Well, developing fiscal cliff, walking, walking, walking, David.
A short time ago, the president came out of the meeting with the congressional leaders, and he said he was modestly optimistic. Are you?
DAVID BROOKS: No. No. No.
I think everyone is trying to look busy, so when we go over, they can say, well, we tried. He came back from Hawaii. He had to do something. And so they had a meeting.
If you don't have new offers, you are not really making progress. You could have a nice frank exchange, but they are in the business of making a deal.
And there is really, as far as we know, no real evidence that they moved. So I remain convinced, as I have been, that we are probably going to go over. And then, once that happens, then all sort of things start aligning. Speaker Boehner gets reelected as speaker. He doesn't have to worry about that.
It's a lot easier to pass a tax cut for the middle class than to try to do it beforehand. Everyone goes crazy outside. And so there is a little more pressure. So I still think it's much more likely that not much is happening.
Yeah, that's it. "Not much is happening," so just disregard the meetings that took place that same day. And we're going to go over that cliff, but in Brooks' world, we wouldn't dream of blaming the Republicans. And never mind that Boehner is angling to protect his speakership. The real problem is that President Obama wasn't willing to give them their pound of flesh from the working class for them to make a deal. And how dare Obama call them out for being obstructionists? He's the leader, after all.
DAVID BROOKS: That is what people have decided.
But that doesn't seem -- one of the things that struck me -- I think it struck Mark too -- about the president's press conference is, he is saying, oh, these politicians in Washington, they're squabbling. I should write a letter to the White House and find out who is in charge here.
Well, it happens to be you, Mr. President. You are sort of involved here. And so, to me, if I have to talk about the flaws of each side, the president still is sort of, oh, those politicians should figure it out. The Republicans have a larger problem. It's sort of a Freudian problem. What do Republicans want?
It's been unclear for a month what their message is, what their goal is. They -- sort of without defining a general strategy, they have been casting about this way and that, doing the stupid things like plan B. And they are still in that problem. They still don't know what they want to use this moment for.
At least with the president, you know he wants to pass a tax increase on the upper class.
So Brooks basically admits that President Obama had a mandate to raise taxes on the rich, but he pretends he doesn't know what the Republicans consider their mandate or why they're reacting to making any kind of deal the way they are. Let me clue you in, David. They care about one thing, and that's protecting the millionaires and the rich donors who got them elected. And they care about dismantling every New Deal program out there and our social safety nets, which they've hated from the day they were enacted.
Brooks might pretend he isn't aware of what their "goal" is but that goal is pretty obvious to any of us who have been paying attention to how Republicans have been acting for the past 50 years or so.
Brooks then goes on to pretend that President Obama might be doing something harmful by wanting to "crush and humiliate" the Republicans for their hostage-taking on the debt ceiling. I hate to break it to Brooks, but such hyperbolic rhetoric is something I'd never apply to how conciliatory the president has been from the get-go. It's over the top. And it's really disgusting that he's carrying water for Republicans who want to take our economy hostage over spending that they've already appropriated. If they didn't want to raise the debt ceiling later, maybe they should have thought about that while voting for those Bush-era tax cuts or a couple of wars they didn't want to pay for at the time. Now it's just an excuse to dismantle the New Deal and keep tax cuts for the wealthiest among us in place on the backs of the poor, the elderly, the middle class and everyone except those at the top who can afford it.
MARK SHIELDS: The president does have the political advantage. He has the card -- political cards.
The Republicans have put themselves in the position of being seen as the tribunes of the deserving or undeserving rich. That -- essentially, it comes down as the sticking point they don't want taxes raised on the richest 1 percent, one-half of 1 percent, one-tenth of 1 percent.
And it is a terrible position for them to be in. But if some agreement is not reached early in January, then I don't -- I think that the political tactical advantage that the president has and the Democrats have will be lost if the economy starts to go south on us, because it will lead inevitably to a loss of public confidence in the public sector, in the ability of our -- just to do anything...
JEFFREY BROWN: But every Friday, you guys sit here and you talk about the political calculations of our leaders. You know, we did that all the way through the campaign.
You're suggesting that if I ask you what is the political calculation of the president right now or of the Republicans, you sound like you're saying you don't know or they don't know or...
DAVID BROOKS: Well, I think that Obama knows.
JEFFREY BROWN: He knows.
DAVID BROOKS: He knows. He looks at the next four years and he thinks, what do I want to do? I want to do some economic stuff. I want to do some climate change stuff. I want to do immigration, but I can't do that if we're going have a budget showdown every six months. So I need to crush them with this and get us out of the showdown era.
And that's why they have put so much emphasis, the White House has, on getting rid of the debt ceiling limits and having at least a two-year agreement we won't do this, because he needs to get us out of the showdown era. So I think the White House has thought this through.
JEFFREY BROWN: And crushing means even if we go over the cliff.
DAVID BROOKS: They will take the short-term hit...
JEFFREY BROWN: Blame the Republicans.
DAVID BROOKS: ... ... because they need to get beyond the showdown era.
Now, I should say I don't think it's fiscally sensible, what they are doing. But, politically, at least I understand what they are trying to do. With the Republicans, I really don't understand what they are trying to do.
MARK SHIELDS: David Rogers, the very competent and professional reporter, congressional reporter for now Politico, formerly for The Wall Street Journal, I thought raised the central question here.
And that is everybody in Washington is enamored of Lincoln, and the movie, and how he horse-traded, and how brilliant he was, and the people he -- the things he did in order to pass the 13th Amendment to the Constitution.
And David Rogers' point is, it ought to be -- instead of Lincoln, it should be Grant, that you have got to figure out a way, as Grant did, that the defeated troops can leave with their horse and their mule, so that they can go home for planting.
And David used the word crush. And I think that -- I have heard that from Democrats as well. I think you have got to figure out. You are going to have to have a partner for the next four years, at least to some degree, on an ad hoc basis, not that the Republicans are all going to be collegial all of a sudden.
But to crush and humiliate, I think, would be a mistake.
DAVID BROOKS: I should say, when I was saying that, I was trying to simplify what their strategy was.
JEFFREY BROWN: Right. Right.
DAVID BROOKS: I totally agree. You have to give people a chance to get to yes.
And I have to say that I do think the only real concession that has been made since the election was Boehner essentially saying, we will at least give you $800 billion in new revenue, and we will probably go up on the rates.
JEFFREY BROWN: Right.
DAVID BROOKS: And I don't think the Democrats did enough to sort of draw him out on that.
Now, maybe his caucus wasn't there yet, and they will get there in January, but I don't think there was enough seduction, saying, we're going to get you that, and we will give you this in exchange for that.
The president apparently, reportedly, at one meeting said, you get nothing for that. You have got to go further if you want something from me.
JEFFREY BROWN: Yes.
MARK SHIELDS: It might be easier for John Boehner if it passes the Senate, and it comes to the House and say, look, this is the only train that is leaving Dodge.
JEFFREY BROWN: And is the only train just about the tax rates or hikes or is it a grander deal?
MARK SHIELDS: No, I think it is -- the president is right. I think it's unemployment extension. And I think it will be the tax rates.
But I think there's going to be enough matters left. The Alternative Minimum Tax would be in there as well. But I think there will be enough matters left, Jeffrey, that it will force them. And that's why you want to have at least a minimum of goodwill. It will force them to have to deal with the larger issues still remaining. And they're considerable.
JEFFREY BROWN: You think so?
DAVID BROOKS: Yes.
JEFFREY BROWN: Those will still be out there.
DAVID BROOKS: There's still the debt, the general debt problem. There's still the crushing deficits. So they still have to do some big things, let alone do immigration reform and all the other stuff.
It's a little like TARP, I think, what is going to happen. When they -- remember, the House voted no, and then the markets just collapsed. I think we might see something like that in the first week in January, and then there will be a focusing of the minds. But there will still be the need to cooperate for the next year or two.
MARK SHIELDS: But we have already seen an erosion of public confidence. And we have seen a slowdown of economic activity.
So, I mean, it's like this is already built in. I agree with David that the TARP analogy is a valid one. But I think TARP was so dramatic and so immediate. This has almost been a slow change. It is like it's built in.
JEFFREY BROWN: And having what impact on the public?
JEFFREY BROWN: ... cynicism and...
MARK SHIELDS: Yes, I think there is a loss of consumer -- or, certainty, a diminution of consumer confidence.
And I come back to -- not to sound like good government 101, but I come back to the fact of confidence in the public sector. You want to do something about immigration. You want to do something about climate change.
In order to do that, there has to be a public reservoir, a public confidence that we can act effectively, the government can be an instrument of change for the better.
If the government can't even keep government open, I don't see how you then say we can be transformational.
DAVID BROOKS: And even speaking in strictly economic terms, lifting the top rates from 36 to 39, whatever it is going to be, is bad. It's not good for economic.
But the arm of doing that is minuscule compared to the harm of the country losing confidence in its government. And so even if you are the sort of person who doesn't really like tax increases, I think you have to weigh these two harms.
JEFFREY BROWN: This is a depressing conversation.
Yes it is. And it's a misleading one when you invite Republican water carriers like Brooks week after week with the useless Mark Shields as his counterpart for the weekly non-existent pushback to Brooks' bullshI*t.