A liberal could learn to love ostensibly conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks. In the face of the craziness that is the current Republican primary season, I have found his columns much less skip-worthy than previously. Today’s, for example, is titled “I Miss Barack Obama.” Whoa!
Admitting there are many of the president’s policy decisions with which he disagrees and aspects of the presidency that have disappointed him, Brooks nevertheless gives Obama and his administration considerable credit for their class act.
“Over the course of this campaign,” he writes, “it feels as if there’s been a decline in behavioral standards across the board. Many of the traits of character and leadership Obama possesses, and that maybe we have taken too much for granted, have suddenly gone missing or are in short supply.”
The first and most important, he says, is “basic integrity. The administration has been “remarkably scandal-free” unlike previous administrations on both sides in which scandals have occupied time and effort that could have been more productively spent on governing. “(Obama) and his wife,” Brooks notes, “have not only displayed superior integrity themselves, they have mostly attracted and hired people with high personal standards.”
A second trait Brooks admires in the president is his “sense of basic humanity,” pointing to Obama’s visit to a mosque where he “looked into people’s eyes and gave a wonderful speech reasserting (Muslim Americans’) place as Americans. He’s exuded this basic care and respect for others time and time again,” he writes.
The third Obama trait Brooks cites is “a soundness in his decision-making process.” Having spoken over the years to many members of the administration who may have been disappointed when the president didn’t take their advice, he said, “But those disappointed staffers almost always felt that their views had been considered in depth.”
The fourth trait is “grace under pressure.” Even though he feels that “overconfidence is one of Obama’s great flaws,” Brooks says, “a president has to maintain equipoise under enormous pressure. Obama has done that, especially amid the financial crisis.”
And finally, Brooks adds, is “a resilient sense of optimism. To hear Sanders or Trump, Cruz and Ben Carson campaign is to wallow in the pornography of pessimism, to conclude that this country is on the verge of collapse. That’s simply not true. We have problems, but they are less serious than those faced by just about any other nation on earth.
“People are motivated to make wise choices more by hope and opportunity than by fear, cynicism, hatred and despair. Unlike any current candidates, Obama has not appealed to those passions.”
The columnist concludes, “Obama radiates an ethos of integrity, humanity, good manners and elegance that I’m beginning to miss, and that I suspect we will all miss a bit, regardless of who replaces him.”