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The Disheartening David Brooks

August 3, 2004
By Glenn M. Edwards

It can be very disheartening sometimes to read David Brooks.

In his opinion column for the New York Times on Saturday, July 31, his haste to mirror the Republican Party’s spin points on John Kerry as indecisive and unscrupulous leads Brooks into faults much worse than those he falsely attributes to Kerry.

The gist of the column is that Brooks, giddy on Thursday night with the thought that the Democrats could once more be the Republican Lite party, awoke in the cold light of a Friday dawn to actually read Kerry’s speech and found it "an incoherent disaster." The mother of all Republican spin points this time around is that Kerry is a waffler who comes down on every side of the question, and Brooks dutifully makes the claim. But what is his evidence?

He writes:

The Iraq section is shamefully evasive. He can't even bring himself to use the word "democratic" or to contemplate any future for Iraq, democratic or otherwise. He can't bring himself to say whether the war was a mistake or to lay out even the most meager plan for moving forward. For every gesture in the direction of greater defense spending, there are opposing hints about reducing our commitments and bringing the troops home.

What did Kerry say?

I know what we have to do in Iraq. We need a president who has the credibility to bring our allies to our side and share the burden, reduce the cost to American taxpayers, and reduce the risk to American soldiers. That's the right way to get the job done and bring our troops home.

Here is the reality: that won't happen until we have a president who restores America's respect and leadership - so we don't have to go it alone in the world.

And we need to rebuild our alliances, so we can get the terrorists before they get us.

I defended this country as a young man and I will defend it as President. Let there be no mistake: I will never hesitate to use force when it is required. Any attack will be met with a swift and certain response. I will never give any nation or international institution a veto over our national security. And I will build a stronger American military.

Where is the waffling? Brooks takes a puerile little shot at Kerry, conceding that the Senator knows how to pronounce "alliances." (This is a tactical mistake, by the way, since any rhetorician can tell you this immediately raises in the mind of the reader the possibility that George W. Bush cannot.)

Admittedly, Kerry did not spell out in detail how he would form these alliances, but an acceptance speech before the Democratic Party convention may not be the best venue to begin complicated negotiations with foreign powers.

Brooks is unhappy that Kerry did not call for a democratic Iraq or otherwise fall into lockstep with the Republicans, but Brooks loses sight of the fact that the situation in Iraq is unbelievably fluid. No one knows what the situation will be late next January, and no one can be expected to set out a detailed plan to accomplish something that may be impossible by the time Kerry assumes from Bush the responsibility for cleaning up the mess.

Brooks again:

It's not true that Kerry is a flaming lefty (he's a genuine budget hawk and he voted for welfare reform), but he was wrong about just about every major foreign policy judgment of the last two decades. He voted against the first gulf war, against many major weapons systems. He fought to reduce the defense budget. He opposed the deployment of intermediate-range nuclear missiles in Europe in the early 1980's. He supported the nuclear freeze. His decision to authorize war in Iraq but vote against financing the occupation is the least intellectually coherent position of all possible alternatives.

Leaving aside the fact that Dick Cheney opposed many of the same weapons systems Kerry did, the fact is that there were good arguments for all of Kerry’s positions (Does Brooks understand, for example, that the deployment of intermediate-range missiles in Europe could have severely damaged our Cold War alliance with Germany? Did he ever hear the slogan so popular among our allies "the shorter the range, the deader the German?")

But the most unscrupulous and least intellectually defensible position taken by Brooks concerns Kerry's vote on financing the occupation of Iraq. It is a truth universally acknowledged outside the Republican spin machine that Senator Kerry voted for a resolution that would have paid for the occupation by rolling back part of the Bush tax cuts for those making over $200,000 a year. This is the bill that Bush threatened to veto, by the way. Only when the first bill was voted down, did Kerry vote against the Republican bill, which financed the occupation by mortgaging the future of the country. Brooks must know this, and if he doesn’t there is no excuse for his ignorance.

It’s bad enough that Brooks continues to poison the well of our public discourse in so many venues, from PBS to the valuable op-ed real estate of the New York Times. Barbara Ehrenreich has taken over Thomas Friedman's space while he writes a book; perhaps when Friedman comes back, Ehrenreich can take over permanently from Brooks, and he can go back to his pals at the Weekly Standard, Fox News, or the New York Post.

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