Oh jeez. David Brooks is giving Obama advice again.
And don't get me wrong, Obama could use some advice. But sadly, Brooks' current advice does not involve inventing a time machine and going back to February 2009 to fire Tim Geithner. Because that's really the only advice at this point that would do Obama any good.
At any rate! Brooks is once again upset that the President has, for the time being at least, decided that allowing the Republicans to defecate on his face is not a winning political strategy. In fact, he thinks that Obama learn from Bill Clinton circa 1995 and start focusing on school uniforms:
But Democrats can win elections in this climate if they defuse the Big Government/Small Government ideological debate. With his Third Way approach, Bill Clinton established that he was not a Big Government liberal. Once he crossed that threshold, he could get voters to think about his individual policies, which were actually quite popular. Clinton made a national election feel like a state election (state and local governments are still trusted and voters are less ideological when voting for those offices).
Well, OK, but Brooks seems to be forgetting that the big reason that Clinton actually won the election: The economy, stupid. Unemployment was coming down from its peak in the early '90s and people were feeling pretty good about their financial situations.
Oh, and of course Clinton was helped by the fact that Newt Gingrich was the public face of the opposition. And that Bob Dole was a pretty sucky-ass candidate.
But what would have happened to Clinton if, for whatever reason, the unemployment rate hadn't come down? Do you think he would have won reelection with relative ease? Or do you think he'd be remembered as the pathetic loser who was so desperate to hang onto power that he thought pushing school uniforms would save him in the face of 8 percent unemployment? Is this even a question?
After the shellacking in the 2010 midterms, President Obama tried to cut deals and win back independent voters. But Republicans weren’t willing to meet him halfway — or even 10 percent of the way. Liberals scalded Obama for being spineless, while the sour stagnation locked everything in place. Obama’s latest job approval rating among independents is only 36 percent, according to Gallup.
OK, so this is a valid point: Obama stupidly thought he could win over independent voters by looking like the Most Reasonable-est Guy in the Entire Godless World, thus pleasing people like David Brooks and, uh, the three people in America who take David Brooks seriously. In reality, independent voters don't give a rodent's buttocks what David Brooks thinks and mostly vote based on how the economy is doing (and, sometimes, based on things like high crime rates or bungled wars). When they head to the polls they don't spend hours pouring over Hobbes and Burke before deciding which candidate best conforms to the views of their favorite centuries-old philosopher. Instead they say to themselves, "This economy sucks!" and vote against whatever bum happens to be in power.
But once again, Brooks misses this absurdly obvious point and thinks Obama's best course of action would be to pull a page from the Omega House pledges' "Thank you sir, may I have another!" playbook:
So Obama faced a choice. Double down on conciliator mode or become a fighter. Think of the latter as the Bibi Netanyahu strategy: since I have no negotiating partner I’m going to come out swinging in a way that pleases my base. [...]
Obama, who sounded so fresh in 2008, now sometimes sounds a bit like Al Gore and Nancy Pelosi. Obama, who inspired the country, now threatens to run a campaign that is viciously negative. Obama, who is still widely admired because he is reasonable and calm, is in danger of squandering his best asset by pretending to be someone he is not. Obama, a natural unifier and conciliator, seems on the verge of running as a divisive populist while accusing Mitt Romney, his possible opponent, of being inauthentic.
I will admit, it would be nice to see a "Morning in America" type of campaign. But since Obama won't take my build-a-time-machine-and-fire-Geithner-before-it's-too-late advice, this sort of "Hopey-Changey: The Sequel" campaign is simply implausible. So the only option left is to remind Americans that if they vote for Mitt Romney, they'll be giving the Republicans full control of the federal government again. Furthermore: Remind Americans that while they may feel good throwing Obama out of the White House, they won't feel quite so good when Paul Ryan and his cadre of Randroid megadweebs are pilfering their Social Security and handing it over to the Wizards of Wall Street to be transformed into a magical new synthetic CDO cubed. If Obama were smart, he'd stay out of the limelight all together and just come out of the Oval Office the day before the general election, play a bunch of video clips of Republicans talking and say to America, "C'mon. Are you f***ing serious?"
OK, let's turn it back over to Brooks for the grand finale:
Obama would be wiser to champion a Grand Bargain strategy. Use the Congressional deficit supercommittee to embrace the sort of new social contract we’ve been circling around for the past few years: simpler taxes, reformed entitlements, more money for human capital, growth and innovation.
Don’t just whisper Grand Bargain in back rooms with John Boehner. Make it explicit. Take it to the country. Lower the ideological atmosphere and get everybody thinking concretely about the real choices facing the nation.
Yeah, why isn't Obama chomping at the bit to be known as the candidate who both wants to raise taxes AND cut Social Security and Medicare? It is a total bloody mystery to me.
Here's the deal: Obama may have crapped the bed too much in his first term to win reelection. But at least his current strategy ensures that he'll at least get, say, 45 percent of the vote. The David Brooks strategy, on the other hand, would result in Obama getting David Brooks' vote and the votes of the three people who take David Brooks seriously. I'm not too good at math, but I can figure out that getting four votes in a nation of 350 million people probably won't win you reelection.