Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Goodbye, Mr. Brooks.

By William Fisher

David Brooks of The New York Times has always been my favorite conservative commentator.

Our worldviews are often different and the same sets of facts often lead us to quite different conclusions. But his thinking has consistently challenged my own. He has forced me rethink some of my own orthodoxies. His arguments are literate, reasoned, and thoughtful. They display an awareness of history that has become rare in these days of soundbites and talking points. And his writing is devoid of the toxic hyperbole that has become the meat-and-potatoes of most of his demagogic conservative colleagues, like Anne Coulter.

That’s why I found his recent encomium for John McCain so outrageously disappointing. Here’s what he wrote in The Times:

“He is not a sophisticated conceptual thinker, but he is a good judge of character.”

OK, not a sophisticated conceptual thinker – I can accept that; it would be a refreshing change to have a thoughtful and – dare I say it? – curious man occupying the Oval Office. But it’s not an absolute prerequisite for the presidency.

But “a good judge of character”? That stretches credulity.

How would a good judge of character choose to hire a campaign manager who owns a company hired to lobby for the very perks John McCain now rails against? How would a good judge of character select as his principal spokesperson a recipient of one of the more golden parachutes of business failure while pledging to put an end to corporate greed? How would a good judge of character choose a principal economic advisor famously known as the father of deregulation while promising real reform and an end to the cowboy culture of Wall Street? And how would a good judge of character choose a running mate who, by even the most charitable measure, is arguably less qualified to be vice president than any other candidate for that office in the history of the country? Much less one who would be a single beat away from a 72-year-old heart?

I can only conclude that David Brooks must have been in some state of total denial when he commended John McCain as a good judge of character. But of all McCain’s character-judgment deficits, none is more revealing than his choice of Sarah Palin.

What does her selection say about the character judgment of a guy who would throw the country under the bus to energize the Republican base?

Even conservatives like Kathleen Parker and George Will are rightfully embarrassed by this wildly cynical judgment by Sen. McCain. And so is the rest of the world, which finds his choice not just laughable, but downright dangerous.

Sarah Palin announced that, after her election, she would be in charge of reform, energy policy and looking out for mothers with special needs children. Big portfolio, that.

But which of us would trust it to a person capable of participating in this exchange with Katie Couric of CBS?

COURIC: Why isn't it better, Governor Palin, to spend $700 billion helping middle-class families struggling with health care, housing, gas and groceries? ... Instead of helping these big financial institutions that played a role in creating this mess?

PALIN: Ultimately, what the bailout does is help those who are concerned about the health care reform that is needed to help shore up the economy -- Oh, it's got to be about job creation too. So health care reform and reducing taxes and reining in spending has got to accompany tax reductions.

During the next four years, our country will face some of its most serious challenges since the Civil War. That John McCain would choose Sarah Palin to help confront these challenges speaks volumes about his judgment of character.

(And, oh, by the way, her acceptance tells us a lot about Governor Palin’s character. A person of real character would have declined the nomination on grounds of her own unpreparedness. Instead, what we got from Sarah was, “A good mother knows how to be good President! that's the bottom line!”)

Well, I find it hard to believe that David Brooks thinks it’s the bottom line. And I find it even harder to believe that David Brooks seriously considered any of this before painting John McCain as such a sterling judge of character. Had he done so, “country first” would have led us down a more responsible road – and have become something more an empty partisan mantra.