Just Above Sunset
August 8, 2004 - Realism from the Right?

Home | Question Time | Something Is Up | Connecting Dots | Stay Away | Overload | Our Man in Paris | WLJ Weekly | Book Wrangler | Cobras | The Edge of the Pacific | The Surreal Beach | On Location | Botanicals | Quotes

Last weekend in Just Above Sunset I mentioned that the New York Times columnist David Brooks was being pretty clear about how we got this War on Terror idea a bit backwards. See What to Make of the 9/11 Commission's Report for that.  He suggests that we need to start emphasizing ideology instead of terror – because that is what we a fighting. Military actions have their limitations.

Brooks was also discussed here - June 20, 2004 – David Brooks: "Isn't it pretty to think so?" - reviewing his writing.  He is the author of the best seller Bobos in Paradise and its new follow-up On Paradise Drive.  Brooks has been the younger of the two token conservative columnists at the Times (the other is the senior William Safire) since September 2003 – after being the moderate, reasonable guy at the neoconservative pro-war Weekly Standard.

His column in this weekend’s Times caught my eye. It seemed awfully reasonable – or at least ground in the here and now.

Selling the Sizzle
The New York Times, Saturday, August 07, 2004

He basically suggests the presidential campaign is all empty gesture on both sides -


We've got 43 million people without health insurance. We're relying on energy sources that are politically dangerous and economically unsustainable. Wage growth is not what it should be, and yesterday's jobs numbers suggest that strong economic growth may not be producing strong job growth. Would it be illegal in these circumstances for at least one presidential candidate to propose policies remotely in proportion to the problems that confront us?

Apparently so. John Kerry and the Democrats spent their convention talking about broad values like unity and military service and almost no time talking about specific proposals. And if you peek in at a Bush campaign event, it's like a traveling road show of proper emotions. Bush will remind the crowd of the feelings we all experienced on Sept. 11. Then there will be several paragraphs on the importance of loving thy neighbor, and several minutes spent reciting the accomplishments of Term 1.

No offense, but where's the beef?

Kerry at least has a reputation for caution. It's not surprising that his policies are orthodox Democratic ideas. Bush's hallmark is boldness, but when it comes to laying out an agenda for the second term, he has been remarkably timid.

He's dropped hints over the past eight months that he is about to unveil a second-term agenda (for those of us waiting, this has been the longest striptease act in human history). But even the ideas that are bandied about are mostly small.

Yes, community colleges should get a little more help. Yes, flextime is a good idea. Yes, high schools should be held accountable. But this is not exactly the New Deal or the New Frontier. It's more like the New Minor Modifications of Existing Programs.


Couldn’t have said it better myself.  But the rest is about an essay Michael Porter and Elizabeth Olmsted Teisberg wrote in the June Harvard Business Review on healthcare.  Read it whole thing if that interests you.

Rick, The News Guy in Atlanta, takes issue –


Once again, I find myself on the other side from David Brooks.

I was beginning to get annoyed with all that Republican sniping in Boston that Kerry was not giving us much by way of specific policy proposals. Yes, it's nice to hear some examples here and there, mostly because it gives us an idea of the big picture of what the guy wants to do. But that's really about it. Otherwise, we just get a long list of campaign promises that later we can accuse the candidate of breaking once he gets into office. I personally would rather give him more leeway to deal with real situations when he gets to the White House.

After all, I'm not voting for a policy, I'm voting for a person who will put together a team to do the sorts of things that I would like to see get done.


Fair enough.  Specifics can cripple you.  We do vote for the general approach of one guy or the other.

But I reminded Rick of Brooks’ parting shot.  "People used to complain that selling a president was like selling a bar of soap. But when you buy soap, at least you get the soap. In this campaign you just get two guys telling you that they really value cleanliness."

Rick’s response?  "Now that sentiment is something I can almost endorse."

Ah yes, but as cleanliness is next to godliness, as they say, I’m afraid this campaign will be fought along those lines, with Bush, the man of God exercising His wishes, scolding the not-Catholic-enough Kerry.  Each will need to claim both cleanliness and godliness.  A soft-soap campaign?  Something like that.


Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
The inclusion of any text from others is quotation
for the purpose of illustration and commentary,
as permitted by the fair use doctrine of U.S. copyright law. 
See the Details page for the relevant citation.

This issue updated and published on...

Paris readers add nine hours....