The Duck of Minerva

The Duck Quacks at Twilight

David Brooks, dont’cha think?

July 27, 2008

David Brooks has an Alanis Morisette moment (except this one really is ironic):

But he has grown accustomed to putting on this sort of saccharine show for the rock concert masses, and in Berlin his act jumped the shark. His words drift far from reality, and not only when talking about the Senate Banking Committee. His Berlin Victory Column treacle would have made Niebuhr sick to his stomach.

Obama has benefited from a week of good images. But substantively, optimism without reality isn’t eloquence. It’s just Disney.

But when it comes down to it, Brooks is just being lazy with this column (maybe he had to substitute for Krugam on short notice).

Much of the rest of the speech fed the illusion that we could solve our problems if only people mystically come together. We should help Israelis and Palestinians unite. We should unite to prevent genocide in Darfur. We should unite so the Iranians won’t develop nukes. Or as Obama put it: “The walls between races and tribes, natives and immigrants, Christian and Muslim and Jew cannot stand. These now are the walls we must tear down.”

The pronoun “we” in these sentences, of course, refers to the United States, Germany, and (sometimes) Europe. In other words, The “we” is the transatlantic alliance. Obama’s speech is about the need to repair the rift between the United States and Europe in order to confront grave international problems, a great many of which involve global public goods. Of course he’s going to focus on shared concerns. What does Brooks expect, that he’s going to play “Old Europe” against “New Europe”? That he’s going to tell the European’s to “put up or shut up”? Kennedy gave his speech during the Cold War, when American troops and nuclear weapons defended Europe from the Soviet bloc.

I find it particularly ironic that, on a trip where Obama stressed the threat of Iranian proliferation, and called upon that country to accept the European proposal for ending uranium enrichment, Brooks wants to claim the terrain of “realistic” foreign policy. Indeed, Obama’s call to enhance Cooperative Threat Reduction might be “unobjectionable,” but Brooks might want to let the Bush administration know that. It’s alternated between neglecting the program and trying to cut it.

It is doubly ironic that, while Obama’s trip to Europe focused on rebuilding the greatest democratic alliance in history, Brooks thinks nattering on about whether or not the great dialectic of history has ended is somehow a breath of cold, hard political reality:

Since then, autocracies have arisen, the competition for resources has grown fiercer, Russia has clamped down, Iran is on the march. It will take politics and power to address these challenges, the two factors that dare not speak their name in Obama’s lofty peroration.

Post-trotskyites of the world unite: you have nothing to lose but your primary contradictions.

Of course, I doubt that Brooks really cares whether or not his column makes any sense. The right’s decided that one of their major lines of attack against Obama is that he’s a naive hippie (note the “acid” reference; how droll).

The fact that the tactics is old enough to belong on K-Tel’s “Greatest Hits of the Republican Party: Forty Years of Campaigning” album doesn’t really matter. As far as Brooks and his colleagues are concerned, it’s tried and true. So he does what any loyal conservative OP-ED writer does: shout it from the rooftops, and hope it sticks.

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Daniel H. Nexon is a Professor at Georgetown University, with a joint appointment in the Department of Government and the School of Foreign Service. His academic work focuses on international-relations theory, power politics, empires and hegemony, and international order. He has also written on the relationship between popular culture and world politics.