When I graduated from college and came back to Pittsburgh, I registered as a Republican. At the time, I thought I might try to do something in politics, and I had two reasons for choosing the Republicans. First is the small pond thing (I thought I might become a big fish, if I wasn’t one to start with) and then there is the popular stereotype that Republicans know a lot about economics. Now, I had read an academic article in college which said that politicians and staffers of both parties knew the words used by economists, but didn’t understand the concepts. But here I was, with majors in political science and economics, so I could change all that. Except I quickly realized the Republicans are largely a joke in Pittsburgh (particularly in the mid 80’s), and I never looked too hard for meetings or events.
Now I am registered Democrat but I feel they are closer (although not the same as) to my social views. But one reason I read David Brooks in the NYTimes is that he seems to want to embody the stereotype of Republicans/conservatives as smart on economics (the “party of ideas”). So I was interested in his take on Obama’s health care speech. And it did not disappoint.
Before I go on, I think that while Brooks writes as if he is thoughtful and concerned with facts and ideas, he is a conservative. I don’t know exactly what his agenda is, but on healthcare I see him as part of the problem, in a subtle way. I think around mid summer he picked up the theme that a majority of Americans oppose the leading House bill (which Brooks likes to link to the President). I think the truth is much more complicated than that, and not helped by the shallow coverage of those in the media, including Brooks.
So I was interested to see Brooks say that Wednesday’s speech was “the finest speech of his presidency”. However, Brooks quickly made it clear that he thought Obama’s speech was so good because Brooks thought Obama had moved to the center, and, dare I say it, is not following Brooks’ advice. So Brooks praised Obama saying he would not sign a bill that raises the deficit by even one dime. In Brooks mind, that means the House bill is dead, and whatever Max Baucas (sp?) lobs at us is what is likely to be signed. Brooks thought Obama dropped the Public Option (not what I took away at all), and praised Obama arguing for tort reform (which I agree Obama did).
I have to say on the public option I have seen at least a couple of people say that they thought Obama indicated he was willing to drop it. I personally got the sense that Obama was willing to drop it only if the droppers proposed something that would achieve a minimum result equivalent to what the public option would achieve. In other words, Obama doesn’t care so much how it is done, but he wants that credible competition to private insurers. And I believe he indicated he won’t sign a bill without it.
But I dare say that I think Brooks, while wrong in my opinion in several parts of his column, was quite right in calling Obama’s speech the finest of his Presidency. Overtly it had some things for almost every one, between the strong call for reform but also identifying part of that as tort reform, he was like a piñata of treats for both parties. But on a more subtle level, I think Obama succeeded in convincing his audience that no matter who they are, Obama respects their opinion. It certainly seemed to work on David Brooks. Brooks may be in for a nasty shock in a few weeks, but for now he is a big, if unlikely, Obama supporter.