A Brooksian disconnect

A BROOKSIAN DISCONNECT…. I found reading David Brooks’ column today to be a uniquely frustrating experience.

Obama was inaugurated in the midst of an economic crisis, and the activist policy proposals took precedence. If, a year ago, you had been asked to describe the administration’s goals in one sentence it would have been this: Barack Obama will usher in the third great wave of Democratic reform. Franklin Roosevelt had the New Deal. Lyndon Johnson had the Great Society. Obama would take the third step, transforming health care, energy, education, financial regulation and many other sectors of American life. […]

It was not to be. Voters are in no mood for a wave of domestic transformation.

Sure they are. Americans loathe the health care status quo and endorsed Obama’s solution, right up until a massive misinformation campaign. (When asked for their opinions on specific health reform provisions, the public still endorses Democratic ideas.) Americans still endorse cap-and-trade, DADT repeal, letting tax cuts for the wealth expire, the president’s education proposals, and the Wall Street reform initiative.

Brooks sees a political landscape in which the country has no appetite for a progressive agenda. But that’s a misread — the public desire for effective, constructive change hasn’t subsided at all. The dour public mood is shaped in large part by a struggling economy, which Obama inherited, and which would be improved had Republican “moderates” not watered down the stimulus; and the sense that the government isn’t solving problems, which it’s not, because the GOP refuses to let the majority govern.

The “third Democratic wave,” Brooks added, “is dead.” Perhaps. But it was killed by obstructionism unlike anything ever seen in American history and conservative hysterics about routine governance (czars! bowing!), not an electorate that shifted sharply to the right a year after electing progressive policymakers.

The columnist urges the president to “show that this nation is governable once again.” And how, pray tell, should Obama do that, when Republican holds and filibusters make governing all but impossible?

Brooks has a variety of suggestions, ranging from the vague (consider constitutional amendments “of one sort or another”) to the already-tried:

[The president] could take several of the Republican health care reform ideas — like malpractice reform and lifting the regulatory barriers on state-based experimentation — and proactively embrace them as part of a genuine compromise offer.

In our reality, the White House and Democratic policymakers have already incorporated GOP ideas into the heath care reform plan, including “lifting the regulatory barriers on state-based experimentation.” What’s more, Obama told GOP leaders directly that he’d be happy to incorporate malpractice reform into the health bill, if they’d be willing to compromise on other areas. They refused.

In other words, what Brooks suggests Obama do to improve the political climate and make the policymaking process better has already been tried and rejected by Republicans.