David Brooks is awed by Obama’s ability to see through sham writing–actually, David Brooks’ sham writing.
And the other thing that does separate Obama from just a pure intellectual: he has tremendous powers of social perception. And this is why he's a politician, not an academic. A couple of years ago, I was writing columns attacking the Republican congress for spending too much money. And I throw in a few sentences attacking the Democrats to make myself feel better. And one morning I get an email from Obama saying, 'David, if you wanna attack us, fine, but you're only throwing in those sentences to make yourself feel better.' And it was a perfect description of what was going through my mind. And everybody who knows Obama all have these stories to tell about his capacity for social perception.
Imagine any serious thinker not feeling ashamed of being caught writing, not on the basis of facts and values, but in order to “feel better”. Brooks flimflams himself and admires Obama for catching that.
It’s pretty clear that Brooks’ has difficulty praising Republicans and criticizing Democrats. In a recent rant Brooks starts by praising Gov. Palin:
You know very few people risk their careers in their lives. She [Palin] has a . . . quitting this regulatory board in Alaska and taking on the establishment of the Republican party. She did that, and I give her tremendous credit.
Then goes on to say she is not ready to be vice president and is a “fatal cancer” to the Republican party because Brooks thinks she scorns ideas.
But there has been a counter, more populist tradition which is not only to scorn liberal ideas but to scorn ideas entirely. And I’m . . . I’m afraid that Sarah Palin has those prejudices. I think President Bush has those prejudices.
Though Brooks has never talked to Palin, he is “afraid” she scorns ideas.
And though Sen. Obama surrounds himself with sleazy, fruitcake people (ACORN, Tony Rezko, Bill Ayers, Jeremiah Wright), he wows Brooks because he can talk about Reinhold Niebuhr’s thought.
Obama has the great intellect. I was interviewing Obama a couple years ago, and I'm getting nowhere with the interview, it's late in the night, he's on the phone, walking off the Senate floor, he's cranky. Out of the blue I say, 'Ever read a guy named Reinhold Niebuhr?' And he says, 'Yeah.' So i say, 'What did Niebuhr mean to you?' For the next 20 minutes, he gave me a perfect description of Reinhold Niebuhr's thought, which is a very subtle thought process based on the idea that you have to use power while it corrupts you. And I was dazzled, I felt the tingle up my knee as Chris Matthews would say.
Brooks’ self-confessed credulity is astonishing. What matters to him is not what a person believes and does (like actually fighting for ethical reform), but that he can talk about ideas (without any clear commitment to them).
Tingles up the knee are not the stuff of either good government or good thinking. Real scorn for ideas comes in Brooks’ assumption that those who talk about ideas fluently are somehow superior to those who actually put ideas into action.
One can only hope that the socially perceptive Sen. Obama will someday write Brooks an e-mail pointing this out and give Brooks another eureka moment.