In the Arena

Two Columns

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I’m a great admirer of David Brooks’s relentless civility and intelligence, even when I disagree with him. So I was a bit surprised to see him expressing this sentiment  about the President in today’s column:

Obama came to be defined by his emergency responses to the fiscal crisis — by the things he had to do, not by the things he wanted to do. Then he got defined as an orthodox, big government liberal who lacks deep roots in American culture.

Over the next two years, Obama will have to show that he is a traditionalist on social matters and a center-left pragmatist on political ones. Culturally, he will have to demonstrate that even though he comes from an unusual background, he is a fervent believer in the old-fashioned bourgeois virtues: order, self-discipline, punctuality and personal responsibility.

Say what?  I can’t imagine more fervent believers in old-fashioned bourgeois virtues than Barack and Michelle Obama. They’ve been demonstrating those values from the moment they entered the White House–and insisted that their daughters make their own beds. The Obamas have the sort of marriage and family I want for my children. They are, clearly, smitten with each other. They are devoted to their daughters. In my experience, the President is so punctual that he is sometimes early for meetings. If anything, he has been criticized–occasionally by me, on days when I’m frustrated–for being too orderly and responsible. Those who argue that the President doesn’t have “deep roots in American culture”  are people who don’t understand American culture. It has been hilarious, and infuriating, watching drug-addled radio blowhards and paranoid telecharlatans who peddle palpably fake versions of American history questioning the Americanness of this most American, and traditional, of family men.

And then we have Bomber Boy Krauthammer–who professes a conservative belief in order and responsibility, but is really a radical nihilist–expressing his desire that gridlock continue for another two years, leading to the defenestration of the current President. To which I can only say: Go for it, Charlie! Gridlock is precisely what the American people don’t want. They want Washington to work. And guess what? Their desires run in no clear ideological pattern. They hate big government (health care reform)–except when they like it (socialized medicine like Medicare). They certainly don’t like Krauthammer’s  non-stop neoconservative warmongering (which is why George W. Bush called him and Bill Kristol the “Bomber Boys” in the first place). And above all, outside the Fox News bubble in which Krauthammer and Kristol reside, Americans hate the egregious rhetoric and attacks (from both sides). They want to see the leaders of both parties sit down and find common ground.

Barack Obama made a mistake common to Democratic Presidents: he over-valued the importance of legislation, and legislative leaders like Nancy Pelosi. He tried to do too much–and then failed at explaining what he’d done and why. But in his extremely traditional demeanor and personal life, and his No Drama desire to work across partisan lines, he stands much closer to where most Americans are than the leaders of the Republican Party, including the bizarre reality tv show that is Sarah Palin. This will stand him in very good stead as we move toward 2012.