Tuesday, July 21, 2009


David Brooks today:

Machiavelli said a leader should be feared as well as loved. Obama is loved by the Democratic chairmen, but he is not feared. On health care, Obama has emphasized cost control. The chairmen flouted his priorities because they don't fear him. On cap and trade, Obama campaigned against giving away pollution offsets. The chairmen wrote their bill to do precisely that because they don’t fear him. On taxes, Obama promised that top tax rates would not go above Clinton-era levels. The chairmen flouted that promise because they don’t fear him.

I don't want to get into the specifics of this analysis, but really -- who was the last Democrat anywhere in America who was feared by anyone? I think it was Lyndon Johnson -- and it may have been Senator Lyndon Johnson. (That's an exaggeration. LBJ was feared early in his presidency, though certainly not by the end.)

Republicans do fear. They scare the public with talk of marauding hordes and they carry that siege mentality into their dealings with one another. (And they scare the crap out of Democrats, even now, although that's not a particularly difficult task.)

Democrats don't do fear -- certainly not among themselves -- and the principal result of this is that the ideas that are tough sells never emerge with the sheer authority that comes from unity. When a Ronald Reagan or Bush and Cheney ride into town, whatever cockamamie notion emerges from the White House instantly becomes the New Paradigm, the New Normal, not just in the GOP but in the media and the public, all because most Republicans are afraid to break ranks. Invade Iraq? Build a huge sci-fi shield against Russian missiles? Give huge tax breaks to rich people? Sounds ... er, reasonable, I guess. There certainly seemed to be a consensus that these ideas were normal.

The possibility exists that the public would still think invading Iraq was reasonable if the management of the war hadn't been so abysmal. The public certainly still thinks that the radical reordering of the economic order begun under Reagan was reasonable. That's what fear wins you -- a sense that your ideas must make sense because so few people are willing to say they don't.

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