David Brooks Lulled Back to Doze
Apparently worried that their leg-tingling “conservative” in the New York Times was shedding his cataracts of hope and change (one on each eye, presumably), the Obama team approached David Brooks with a targeted spin campaign, and in his view, they’re almost comfortably moderate again. Boy, that was easy:
I didn’t finish these conversations feeling chastened exactly. The fact is, after years of economic growth, the White House still projects perpetual deficits of more than $500 billion a year. That’s way too much, especially with the boomers’ retirements looming. Moreover, Congress will likely pass the spending parts of the budget and kill the revenue parts, like the cap-and-trade energy tax and the limits on itemized deductions, thus producing much, much bigger deficits.
Plus, I’m still convinced the administration is trying to do too much too fast and that the hasty planning and execution of these complex policies will lead to untold problems down the road.
Nonetheless, the White House made a case that was sophisticated and fact-based. These people know how to lead a discussion and set a tone of friendly cooperation. I’m more optimistic that if Senate moderates can get their act together and come up with their own proactive plan, they can help shape a budget that allays their anxieties while meeting the president’s goals.
I happen to know a tradesman whose employer habitually coerces extra work from his employees and subcontractors through a blend of deception, direct economic threats, and implicit physical aggression. Deadlines are said to be shorter than they actually are; the budget is being busted by the workers’ incompetence; mistakes ultimately derive from the same, not managerial errors; and the upshot is always that more money ultimately flows to the guy in charge, as he belittles his crew and makes a living nightmare of their professional lives.
In different circumstances, however, when the boss needs a particular person, the attitude is all camaraderie and promises of opportunity. With no more time than it takes to turn his head, the guy will go from irate abuser saying whatever’s necessary to get his way to ingenuous businessman just trying to get along, hoping that everybody can be happy in their careers. The tradesman has seen an obscenity-flinging raver transform into an affable pal with the click of a cell-phone disconnect button.
You know, it takes a while for folks to catch on that Dr. Jekyll is really the same person as Mr. Hyde, that one doesn’t graduate to consistently better treatment by working hard and giving that extra little bit, and those raised with proper instincts for responsibility are most vulnerable to repeated victimization. They want to believe in the vision of opportunity and its acquisition that they’ve learned ought to be possible, and he exploits that psychologically and economically positive quality.
The parallel isn’t exact, but that’s the dynamic that comes to mind with the Obama team’s talent for persuasion. During the campaign, Mr. Obama was everything to everybody. Absolution and vindication all at once. Now as he has begun rolling out policies, and as warning alarms have begun to sound among his admirers, anonymous minions (perhaps the man himself) are going on background to charm the prominent among them.
We’ll see, I guess, whether proper instincts prove to be a detriment or a source of strength in the future.