As we contemplate a Clinton, Sanders, Trump, or Cruz presidency, we may well continue the pattern that each president's main accomplishment is to burnish nostalgia for his (so far) predecessor. Brooks is feeling that.
And he's right. Say what you will about policy, the Obama Administration has, as Brooks points out, been staffed by people of basic personal integrity and remarkably scandal-free. (In the conventional sense of "scandal." I'm sure some commenters will contend that the bailouts, Lois Lerner, the EPA, and Dodd-Frank and Obamacare are "scandals," but that's not what we're talking about here.) On economic issues, his main advisers have been thoughtful, credentialed, mainstream Democrats. Obama's speeches on many topics have, as David says, been full of "basic humanity," even if one disagrees with his solutions.
No, Obama has not been temperamentally perfect. Too often he’s been disdainful, aloof, resentful and insular.Brooks leaves out many faults, including a tendency to hector and demonize opponents and a desire for quick spin successes. Demonizing opponents is simply ineffective in getting them to see things your way, and has made polarization much worse. Too much short term spin control causes long term damage -- think of the Syrian line in the sand, or the Benghazi cover story.
But recognize what David is doing: Bending over backwards to be nice. Trying to build a bridge. Finding common ground. Listening. Appreciating an opponent's good intentions and motivations, which lets us move on to craft solutions. Overlooking faults. We'll need a lot of that, and it requires letting festering wounds heal. Because
...there is a tone of ugliness creeping across the world, as democracies retreat, as tribalism mounts, as suspiciousness and authoritarianism take center stage.Krugman's column is an interesting contrast. It offers a great display of just how our politics got so bad. It starts well:
How did we get into this mess?
At one level the answer is the ever-widening partisan divide. Polarization has measurably increased in every aspect of American politics, from congressional voting to public opinion, with an especially dramatic rise in “negative partisanship” — distrust of and disdain for the other side.That would be a terrible thing, wouldn't it. It would be terrible if, for example, people said "distrustful and disdainful" things like
only one of our two major political parties has gone off the deep end.Polarization and triablism mount when one passes on conspiracy theories and plain untruths. Such as
Democrats don’t routinely deny the legitimacy of presidents from the other party; Republicans did it to both Bill Clinton and Mr. Obama."Democrats" have never gone unhinged about who "stole an election," repeating endlessly that President Bush was not legitimate? It's such a whopper, I don't understand how Krugman thinks his readers (and editors) wouldn't notice it. Especially given how much coverage Bush v. Gore is getting in the wake of Justice Scalia's death. I can only hope it's a delicious tongue-in-cheek self-parody.
Or the column's premise:
Republicans have more or less unanimously declared that President Obama has no right even to nominate a replacement for Mr. ScaliaThat is also simply factually incorrect. "Republicans" -- not notice tarring half the population with the subject of the sentence, rather than the potentially correct "some Republican senators" -- are more or less unanimously enamored of one thing, the Constitution. Every statement of every Republican Senator I have read recognizes that the President has every right to nominate a replacement. And they have the right to vote on it. Or not. And all of this is so clearly pre-negotiation posturing it's silly to take seriously anyway.
Krugman's column strikes me therefore as a great example of the polarization process. Right now, the obvious thing for both sides to do is to reach out to find a consensus peacemaker nominee, someone who will preserve the most important parts of what each side wants. Perhaps they could agree to someone who will keep the social advances like gay marriage, abortion rights, and immigration rights, but have a sharper eye to economic freedom and limited government. Such a nominee would be a great capstone for President Obama's term, rather than a bitter fight with a blocked senate. And all sides might be a bit afraid of President Trump/Cruz or Sanders/Clinton making the next nomination at the beginning of a term.
But no, Krugman prefers to assume the fight will be lost and to fulminate in ex-ante demonization:
The G.O.P.’s new Supreme Court blockade is, fundamentally, in a direct line of descent from the days when Republicans used to call Mr. Clinton “your president.”And the Bork nomination, and the Clarence Thomas hearings... well, those never happened.
So Krugman's is a great column in the end. Read it closely and it shows very effectively just what is wrong with our political system: Demonization -- there is good and there is evil, and everything that's wrong comes from the evil side; Mendacity (a good Krugman word) -- passing on known falsehoods; Tribalization -- everything bad comes from "Republicans," a uniform army of orcs.
Obama radiates an ethos of integrity, humanity, good manners and elegance that I’m beginning to miss, and that I suspect we will all miss a bit, regardless of who replaces him.Well, at least who replaces him of the current front-runners. Let us hope the electorate wakes up soon to value these characteristics, together with basic competence, in their candidates and in their opinion writers.