Friday, June 20, 2008

David Brooks Sucks

I do have a hard time getting it up for David Brooks. As a writer whose output covers the whole range from blandly unintelligent, all the way over to simply bland, I'm sure that, were he to return to whatever Ivy League school he surely graduated from (he's simply too uninspiring to be worth a quick trip to wikipedia), most of his columns would probably not be rejected outright from the school newspaper. But for a decidedly non-shitty outfit like the New York Times to give him a regular forum is pretty annoying.

Especially when he turns in moronic bullshit like this. Jesus Christ, David, how lazy can you fucking be? "Fast Eddie" Obama? God in heaven, that's terrible.

Not to mention that, on the substance, you got pretty much everything wrong. I can't believe I'm about to do this, because you really don't deserve my lunch break, but your column recycles a lot of arguments currently making the anti-Obama rotation, so I guess I might as well.

I guess we can start by noting that, even as Brooks calls Obama "the most split-personality politician in the country today," John McCain is giving opposite speeches on immigration depending on the crowd; demonstrating his commitment to the environment by calling for offshore drilling and a gas tax holiday; seeking to make permanent the Bush tax cuts that he earlier "[could not] in good conscience support"; seeking (and defending) the endorsements of people he called "agents of intolerance" just a few short years ago; and flip-flopping on the windfall profits tax for oil companies, the legality of warrantless wiretaps, social security privatization, the estate tax, judicial litmus tests, habeas corpus and torture for terrorists...and on and on and on. So it's pretty comical to call Obama "the most split-personality politician in the country today;" he's not even the most schizophrenic politician about to be a major party's nominee for President!

You have to go five paragraphs into Brooks' piece before he even makes an argument, and when you do, it's telling in its stupidity. He goes after Obama for the 130 "present" abortion votes in the IL State Senate. Boy, thanks for breaking that story, David! It's not like this wasn't discussed and dismissed ad nauseam in the primary, and it's sure not as if those present votes were actually common legislative strategy, at times cooked up by the Illinois pro-choice movement itself!

Moving on, Brooks cites the Jeremiah Wright defense-and-then-sacrifice. Fair enough, I guess, though most observers were surprised Obama held out in defense of his former pastor for as long as he did. But ok, I guess he did say one thing and then, when the circumstances changed, said something different. Gee whiz!

Brooks makes a few other points so ineffectual even he realizes it, and moves on to the main event: the campaign finance debate! It's here where his effervescent moronicity, so ferocious and unabated it could wash the dirt off of a million dentures, really takes center stage.

Now yes, it is true that Obama has defended the public financing system in the past (although to call it "the primary cause of his life," as Brooks does, is beyond hyperbole.) Unfortunately for Brooks, no other argument that he goes on to make is true or relevant, so this is pretty much his only leg to stand on. And it's not an especially compelling one; so what if he's defended the system in the past? Why does that obligate him to enter into it now?

Brooks mostly hammers Obama for going back on a pledge he made to accept public funding if his Republican opponent did the same. However, what Obama always pledged, as a Washington Post Fact Checker post makes clear, was to "pursue an agreement...to pursue a publicly financed general election". Maybe two or three election cycles ago, that would have been a pretty straightforward pledge: you accept public funding, and so will I. However, that's not what Obama's "pledge" actually says, and for good reason: today's presidential campaigns see substantial financial activity from outside groups, so any agreement that ignores those activities isn't really doing the public financing system any favors.

And of course, McCain, who will benefit substantially from the activities of outside groups (i.e., 527s) had no intention of suppressing them. After all, if they stopped producing blatantly offensive commercials and distributing them virally, the McCain campaign itself would have to do that, and that would be...awkward.

Brooks tries, and fails, to address this concern, writing "Obama blamed the (so far marginal) Republican 527s." That's it - his only acknowledgement of the core concern the Obama folks had with a public financing agreement.

First of all, even if the 527s had so far been a marginal factor, that's no reason not to be concerned about their future activity - the primaries just ended! OF COURSE the REPUBLICAN 527s haven't yet become a major force!

Second, this sentence ignores the incredible impact 527s of both parties had in 2004 - that election season was filled with articles like this one, decrying their anti-reformist and shady influence on the election, being able to raise large amounts of money with few controls and spend it directly on the election. One of the most famous groups was the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, whose devastating and long-unanswered (and, of course, factually incoherent) attacks most observers concede tipped the election in favor of Bush. So in other words, we're only talking about the tiny little issue of the type of activity that DETERMINED THE COURSE OF THE ELECTION.

Third, by staying out of the public system, Obama gains the leverage over his donors, and the financial freedom, to discourage them from giving to the 527s - in effect, shutting them down, as MoveOn.org is now doing. Meanwhile, because he's opting in, McCain has no ability (or frankly, desire) to control the 527s on his side. In other words, by staying out Obama's doing more to support the cause of public finance than McCain is by staying in.

Finally, it's pretty hard to call Obama's fundraising "private" in any historical sense of the word. With 1.5 million donors making 3 million contributions, and an average contribution (by April) of $96, Obama's not raising historic amounts of money because he's hosting elaborate fundraisers for rich people, a la McCain. He's doing it because ordinary people are giving what they can.

It's probably also worth pointing out that the only reason McCain hasn't been found to be in violation of the campaign finance laws he helped to write is that the Federal Elections Commission hasn't been able to field a quorum of commissioners to decide the matter. But it's pretty obvious that McCain's doing a lot more damage than Obama is to the cause of campaign finance reform.

Guess we can add that to the long, and growing, list of politically expedient reversals McCain's engaged in. And Obama's the two-faced one?