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David Brooks and Mrs. O’Leary’s Cow

Bobo, like Mrs. O’Leary’s cow, thinks all good things start in Chicago.

All smart analyses of the Obama administration begin with Chicago. That’s where the top members of the administration were tested and formed. The Chicago mentality is the one they take with them wherever they go.

Bobo is an old boy from the University of Chicago and, like all good pundits, he’s describing only his own "smart" work. He makes you laugh so hard, you could kick over a lantern in the barn. His point is that he’s smart, he feels like he’s from Chicago, and he’s discovered that politicians are not what they appear to be, that they sometimes have conflicting objectives. For this we need Bobo?

David Brooks is a neocon and supporter of AIPAC. The topic is Obama’s speech in Egypt on Middle East peace. Obama is not as unthinkingly pro-Israel as George Bush and the dozens of ideologues he allowed Cheney to hire throughout his foreign policy establishment. Bobo is unhappy with what for the US is a sea change in perspective. Not surprisingly, he claims to have discovered the failings in Obama’s new approach, though mostly he describes his own.

This speech builds an idealistic facade on a realist structure…. The president wants to be an inspiring leader who rallies the masses. He also wants be a top-down realist who cuts deals in the palaces. There is a tension between these two impulses that even a sharp Chicago pol is having trouble managing.

The emptiness of Bobo’s argument can be summed up in a single comparison:

The Bush administration tried to promote democracy, even at the expense of stability. That proved unworkable.

How many sins he hides with that passive voice, starting with his claim that Bush was promoting "democracy" rather than using it as a fig leaf for imperial expansion and the torture and repression that go along with it. Obama, on the other hand, in his Egypt speech,

didn’t really champion democratic institutions. He said that governments “should reflect the will of the people” and that citizens should “have a say” in how they are governed.

Obama didn’t describe how a democratic Iraq could influence the region. He seems to have largely given up on democracy promotion in Egypt.

A neutral observer might consider the first part an essential aspect of democracy that Bush ignored, deeming the people’s vote once every four years more than he needed to listen to. The second part sounds surprisingly like realism. We have less power than the neocons imagined, and under their influence, less and less democracy at home, which makes it harder and harder to sell it abroad.

Like too many foreign aid and policy pundits before him, Bobo isn’t selling what fuzzy foreigners need. He’s selling what makes his patrons wealthy and powerful – whether it’s big ag’s GM seeds or General Dynamics missiles and aircraft. If realism is what we need, and I think it is, it won’t come from David Brooks.

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