It’s a strange sight: two serious conservative thinkers living in two different worlds and seeing two different realities.
In the David Brooks world, President Obama just had an excellent week. Since Obama's Congressional allies have just repudiated his signature tax compromise, this gives new meaning to “excellent.“ Link here.
I suspect that it means that Brooks finally can see glimmers of the Obama he supported in 2008.
When Brooks says that Obama and the Democrats have had an excellent week he means that after nearly two years of looking like he seriously misjudged Obama he now feels slightly vindicated.
In the James Taranto world, Obama had a rather bad week. Link here.
After examining the new tax deal and Obama’s public pronouncements on it Taranto has concluded, as I would put it, that our president is showing us how not to lead.
When a week’s worth of events show that you are not up to your job, it is not a good week.
In Taranto's words: “The news that President Obama had struck a deal with congressional Republicans to avert a brutal tax increase came as a pleasant surprise. We didn't think Obama had it in him to compromise. It turns out we were right, even though he has compromised. Having decided to compromise, he has shown that he hasn't the foggiest idea how to go about doing it.”
Like Taranto I did not believe that Obama knew how to compromise. I too am pleasantly surprised that he was able to cut a deal, and I agree that Obama has no idea about how to do it.
Rather than see Brooks and Taranto as living in alternative universes, let’s say that Taranto is observing and analyzing the real world while Brooks is living in a rather self-serving possible world.
As it happened, while our great leader was forging a compromise-- nothing intrinsically wrong with compromising-- he was excluding his own party’s Congressional leadership from the negotiations-- lots wrong with that.
Obama managed to diminish and demean Nancy Pelosi and her minions. He should not have been surprised at their negative reaction. Reports have it that at yesterday’s caucus of Congressional Democrats the F-- word was used to refer to President Obama.
When you exclude important players from the negotiation they are not likely to feel that they have a stake in the outcome. And they will express their displeasure with the deal and its mastermind by refusing to follow his lead.
By definition, you cannot be an effective leader if no one is following you.
And then there is the problem with the angry left wing of the Democratic party. For them compromising with Republicans is akin to selling out to the Devil. Literally. Just don’t assume that that means that they believe in God.
As many have noted, the angry left is angry. Because they are in the business of being angry. They believe, as an article of faith, that the rich are corrupt and that they must be punished… regardless of the consequences.
Just don’t believe that because they have articles of faith they believe in God.
Anyway, the left wing of the Democratic party was not consulted either. Perhaps Obama has understood that his willingness to placate the left, inside and outside of the Democratic party, led to a major electoral thrashing.
You recall that when Republicans and the Tea Party was angry at being excluded from all Congressional negotiations during the first twenty-two months of the Obama administration, everyone was saying that they were all unhinged and that they had let their emotions get the better of them.
Now, when the cries of outraged anguish are coming from the left, where are those who believe that anger means mental derangement?
As for Obama himself, I have long suspected him of being a practitioner of dialectical thinking. I think that he sees the world in terms of conflicts between competing and irreconcilable interests. To his mind politics involves sharpening opposition, demonizing the opposition, and setting the two sides against each other.
He is not and never has been a politician who seeks the middle ground, the golden mean, by conciliating differences and making everyone feel that they have won something.
Negotiation is an extremely difficult process. It is extremely difficult to reconcile opposing points of view by finding a middle ground where everyone feels that they have been heard and respected and where everyone feels that they have gained from the deal.
When it comes to negotiation, as Taranto suggests, Barack Obama is clearly an amateur.
Besides, how can he conciliate differences when he sees the world in terms of a world historical conflict between rich and poor, business and labor, capitalists and workers.
Clearly, the radical left in this country shares Obama’s dialectical vision. They see his compromise as a sellout to capitalism, a surrender to the rich, a victory for those who exploit the working class and ravage the natural world.
On top of everything, when Obama first announced his deal, he insisted that he did not believe in it, that he had been forced to accept it against his will. He hates the deal and hates himself for having made it. What could this mean beyond the fact that he needs therapy?
As Taranto puts it: “When you're announcing and trying to sell an agreement, you act agreeably. You put your differences aside, at least for the time being.
“Perhaps Obama feared that if he did so, he would look weak. In fact, he looks much weaker for behaving in such a petulantly confrontational manner. He left no doubt that this agreement goes against every fiber of his being, that it was forced on him and he didn't have the strength to resist.”
We have the extraordinary spectacle of a leader divided against himself, a leader who detests himself for having done something that he feels is wrong?
When that happens, you can remain loyal either by supporting his deal or by rejecting it. Or else, you can see the leader‘s suffering, the pain that the split has caused him, and want to rescue him. When Obama stepped before the cameras to renounce his own deal and to vent about it, he seemed to think that he was therapy-patient in chief.
I do not want to impugn anyone’s mental health, so I will only note the point that Taranto made: “But a professional politician should have known better than to put his personal feelings on display in such a manner.”
The same applies to Obama’s intemperate reaction to the criticism coming at him from his left flank. In Taranto’s words: “It seems, rather, that he can't help himself. He is genuinely hurt by their criticism and lacks the self-restraint to conceal those feelings.”
You cannot lead by displaying your character flaws as though they were stigmata.