Friday, December 04, 2009


David Brooks today talked about campaigning vs. governing, specifically in reference to the Obama administration. Brooks thinks Obama supporters are disappointed these days because we liked the poetry of the campaign and wish Obama wasn't governing in (deeply compromised) prose.

I won't bother to argue that point; instead, I'm struck by Brooks's idea of what campaigning is (and governing isn't), because it reminds me of something that wasn't a campaign at all (or wasn't supposed to be). See if you agree:

Many Democrats are nostalgic for Barack Obama's 2008 presidential campaign -- for the passion, the clarity, the bliss-to-be-alive fervor. They argue that these things are missing in a cautious and emotionless White House.

But, of course, the Obama campaign, like all presidential campaigns, was built on a series of fictions. The first fiction was that government is a contest between truth and error. In reality, government is usually a contest between competing, unequal truths.

The second fiction was that to support a policy is to make it happen. In fact, in government power is exercised through other people. It is only by coaxing, prodding and compromise that presidents actually get anything done.

The third fiction was that we can begin the world anew. In fact, all problems and policies have already been worked by a thousand hands and the clay is mostly dry. Presidents are compelled to work with the material they have before them.

The fourth fiction was that leaders know the path ahead. In fact, they have general goals, but the way ahead is pathless and everything is shrouded by uncertainty.

Governing isn't like that? It seems to me that governing in the Bush years was precisely like that.

Government is a contest between truth and error? That's what we were told repeatedly, by Bush, Cheney, Rove, Rumsfeld, and the whole gang.

To support a policy is to make it happen? With Bush, that was the case all the time, even after he lost his congressional majorities, except on immigration, Harriet Miers, Dubai Ports World, and -- the only time he was actually thwarted by the opposition -- Social Security privatization. On everything else, he got his way, over and over again.

We can begin the world anew? That was practically the mantra of the Bush administration.

Leaders knows the path ahead? Bush always did -- just ask him. We were always exactly where we were supposed to be, according to Bush.

OK, that last one didn't really pan out. But as for the rest, there rarely seemed to be any difference between what Bush wanted to do and what he did.

You think maybe we're disappointed because of that? Because some of us thought -- naively -- that governing does work that way, and would work that way for our guy?

No comments: