januvia Changji
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Barack Obama Politics Reflections The Opinionsphere

David Brooks Is Writing a Damn Good Column These Days

David Brooks has been writing these extraordinary columns recently – providing a remarkable sense of historical perspective in his commentary on contemporary events. First was his column on Obama’s Christian Realism, placing Obama firmly in the tradition of Cold War Liberalism, of Reinhold Niebhur, of George Kennan and George Marshall, of Scoop Jackson and Peter Beinart. Brooks explained a core difference that he saw between Obama and many other contemporary “secular” Democrats and liberals:

Obama’s speeches [at West Point and Stockholm] were thoroughly theological. He talked about the “core struggle of human nature” between love and evil.

These speeches are grounded in an approach – according to Brooks – that acknowledges our own human frailty:

[A]s you act to combat evil, you wouldn’t want to get carried away by your own righteousness or be seduced by the belief that you are innocent. Even fighting evil can be corrupting.

Then Brooks attempted to explain the long-term shift in America’s economy from manufacturing to “protocols.”

In the 19th and 20th centuries we made stuff: corn and steel and trucks. Now, we make protocols: sets of instructions. A software program is a protocol for organizing information. A new drug is a protocol for organizing chemicals. Wal-Mart produces protocols for moving and marketing consumer goods. Even when you are buying a car, you are mostly paying for the knowledge embedded in its design, not the metal and glass.

Brooks examines the implications of this shift moving forward. He doesn’t address the long-term consistency of America’s manufacturing output as a percentage of global output though – as we continue to produce large numbers of “things” while employing fewer workers to do so. He also doesn’t address the extent to which government policy, most specifically under Ronald Reagan, deliberately favored the financial sector over manufacturing. But, in only a few hundred words, he conveys quite a bit of this broad shift.

His next two columns were his annual Sidney Awards (Part I and Part II) for best long-form magazine reporting. Always interesting.

And then finally, in his latest he makes the same points I did regarding the infantile response of so many citizens and reporters to the latest attempted terrorist attack.

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Barack Obama Political Philosophy Politics The Opinionsphere

The Real Obama Enigma

[digg-reddit-me]A thought-provoking essay by Liam Julian in the Hoover Institution’s Policy Review explores the relationship between Obama and Reinhold Niebuhr. The essay unsurprisingly concludes that Obama failed to learn the essential lesson of Niebuhr (unsurprising because it appears in the far-right Policy Review) – namely that: 

[M]an must act forcefully but humbly and free from naïve expectations.

Julian explains the appeal of this Niebuhrianism as a kind of balancing act:

[Obama] is a liberal, as was Niebuhr, and idealism smolders within even the most sensible liberals. The point is not to suffocate the idealism but to control its flames…

The conservative Julian sees Obama flaming idealistically in his first few months in office because any liberalism is too much for him. But E. J. Dionne – like most liberals – sees Obama as constantly balancing opposites, attempting to control the risks associated with progress while not yielding to a reactionary politics:

That’s the Obama enigma: boldness wrapped in caution rooted in an ambivalent relationship to the status quo. This is why Obama will, by turns, challenge not only his entrenched adversaries but also his natural allies.

The Obama enigma is about balancing opposites. It is an idealistic pragmatism, a conservative liberalism. This constant balancing is inherent in every aspect of the Obama administration. As James Surowiecki observes in the New Yorker with regards to the banking crisis for example:

[T]he Administration is trying to do two things at once. In solving the current crisis, it’s partnering with Wall Street, using the existing system to try to stabilize the economy. But in thinking about the future it’s trying to use hostility to Wall Street to bring about serious changes in the system. This is quite a balancing act: let’s hope the Administration can pull it off.

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Barack Obama Politics The Opinionsphere

The Obama Doctrine

Richard Cohen in the Washington Post:

This is a tricky, auspicious moment for a young president. [Obama] is ending one century, beginning another. Concisely, he essentially laid out his approach to foreign policy in a blurb for a recently reissued book by the late theologian Reinhold Niebuhr. He wrote that he took away from Niebuhr’s works “the compelling idea that there’s serious evil in the world, and hardship and pain.” He added that “we should be humble and modest in our belief we can eliminate those things. But we shouldn’t use that as an excuse for cynicism and inaction.”

This, then, is the Obama Doctrine: wisely, to have none at all.