Hoping Against Hope for Presidential Wisdom

Curious about how conservative Obama fans are getting along, I checked in with the man whose leg the messiah made tingle with knowledge, David Brooks. Here is a guy who reallly, really wants to believe:

If ever this kind of domestic revolution were possible, this is the time and these are the people to do it. The crisis demands a large response. The people around Obama are smart and sober. Their plans are bold but seem supple and chastened by a realistic sensibility.
Yet they set off my Burkean alarm bells. I fear that in trying to do everything at once, they will do nothing well. I fear that we have a group of people who haven’t even learned to use their new phone system trying to redesign half the U.S. economy. I fear they are going to try to undertake the biggest administrative challenge in American history while refusing to hire the people who can help the most: agency veterans who are registered lobbyists. …
It’ll be interesting to see who’s right. But I can’t even root for my own vindication. The costs are too high. I have to go to the keyboard each morning hoping Barack Obama is going to prove me wrong.

What’ll be interesting is how Brooks and others gauge Obama’s success. “If Obama is mostly successful,” he writes, “then the epistemological skepticism natural to conservatives will have been discredited.” Such judgments have a way of being obscured by the turmoil of government and society.
After the budget speech, for example, Brooks sought to blame political innocence, not a fundamental intellectual misconception, for Obama’s willingness to embrace a destructive half-plan for America’s future:

The bigger problem is health care. This is an issue where everybody wants benefits they don’t pay for, where perverse incentives have created an expensive system that doesn’t deliver results. This is an area where aggressive presidential leadership is mandatory.
Yet in no other area does the administration cede so much authority. The administration has over-learned the lessons of the Clinton-care fiasco. They’re not going to send up a detailed 1,400-page program. Fine. But they’re not pushing a plan at all.
Instead, replicating the model that did such harm to the stimulus package, they are merely outlining eight general principles and then sending the matter up to Capitol Hill. They vow to have a series of “conversations” and then presumably at some point some group of committee chairmen will write a bill or a bunch of bills. …
Even though the budget is not all one would have hoped, I’d trust the folks in the Obama administration to craft a decent health care plan before I’d trust the Congressional Old Bulls. Obama blew a mighty trumpet Tuesday night, but after you blow the trumpet, you actually have to charge.

Perhaps that trust is rooted in a swindle, and the Obama team is ceding authority because it is more concerned with appearances than actions. That is the great flaw of big government philosophy: It moves forward on the assumption that a plan could be created… by somebody… and then fumbles for anything that would maintain the illusion, because no concrete proposal will actually work. The upshot is that the powerful manipulate the new well of money and influence while the general public suffers.

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14 years ago

The beginning of the Brooks excerpt you posted…

The people around Obama are smart and sober. Their plans are bold but seem supple and chastened by a realistic sensibility.

…shows how in some strange way, conservatives-for-Obama are moving back beyond the bounds of American conservatism and towards an earlier version, where they believe what is most important, and all we can really hope for, is that the king and his lords are good men. Or, in a more modern context: charismatically-managed socialism can work just as well as any other form of government, so long as the leader has the proper “temperament” to manage it.

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