David Brooks fails the “Big Test”

David Brooks’s insight and intellectual integrity have never impressed me much, but his column in today’s NY Times is a low mark even for him. After reminding us that he read Edmund Burke in college and used to be a liberal, he announces that the fate of Obama’s programs will be "the big test" between ...

Walt-Steve-foreign-policy-columnist20
Stephen M. Walt
By , a columnist at Foreign Policy and the Robert and Renée Belfer professor of international relations at Harvard University.

David Brooks's insight and intellectual integrity have never impressed me much, but his column in today's NY Times is a low mark even for him. After reminding us that he read Edmund Burke in college and used to be a liberal, he announces that the fate of Obama’s programs will be "the big test" between liberal and conservative views of the world. Liberals supposedly believe in human reason and the capacity of government to conduct transformative solutions; conservatives are "epistemologically modest" and skeptical of "top-down" initiatives. Here's the money quote:
We're on the cusp of the biggest political experiment of our lifetimes. If Obama is mostly successful, then the epistemological skepticism natural to conservatives will have been discredited...If they mostly fail, then liberalism will suffer a grievous blow, and conservatives will be called upon to restore order and sanity."

Such shamelessly partisan pseudo-intellectualism is Brooks's stock-in-trade, but where he's been the past eight years? George W. Bush and the GOP conservatives inherited a strong economy and a budget surplus, and a country whose international image was mostly favorable. And then they squandered them all with a thoroughness that almost seems deliberate. There was no "epistemological modesty" involved when Bush placed loyalty above competence and let lobbyists and other special interests loose in Washington, or when he launched a foolish and ill-planned war in an attempt to transform the entire Middle East. And let us not forget that Brooks himself was an enthusiastic supporter of these policies; I guess he forgot his Burke back when his party was in power.

The result of these "conservative" policies, as we all know to our sorrow, is the most serious combination of domestic and foreign policy challenges to face America in decades. But if Obama fails to clean up the mess left by his predecessor, it is "liberalism" that will have failed. Huh?

David Brooks’s insight and intellectual integrity have never impressed me much, but his column in today’s NY Times is a low mark even for him. After reminding us that he read Edmund Burke in college and used to be a liberal, he announces that the fate of Obama’s programs will be "the big test" between liberal and conservative views of the world. Liberals supposedly believe in human reason and the capacity of government to conduct transformative solutions; conservatives are "epistemologically modest" and skeptical of "top-down" initiatives. Here’s the money quote:

We’re on the cusp of the biggest political experiment of our lifetimes. If Obama is mostly successful, then the epistemological skepticism natural to conservatives will have been discredited…If they mostly fail, then liberalism will suffer a grievous blow, and conservatives will be called upon to restore order and sanity."

Such shamelessly partisan pseudo-intellectualism is Brooks’s stock-in-trade, but where he’s been the past eight years? George W. Bush and the GOP conservatives inherited a strong economy and a budget surplus, and a country whose international image was mostly favorable. And then they squandered them all with a thoroughness that almost seems deliberate. There was no "epistemological modesty" involved when Bush placed loyalty above competence and let lobbyists and other special interests loose in Washington, or when he launched a foolish and ill-planned war in an attempt to transform the entire Middle East. And let us not forget that Brooks himself was an enthusiastic supporter of these policies; I guess he forgot his Burke back when his party was in power.

The result of these "conservative" policies, as we all know to our sorrow, is the most serious combination of domestic and foreign policy challenges to face America in decades. But if Obama fails to clean up the mess left by his predecessor, it is "liberalism" that will have failed. Huh?

Stephen M. Walt is a columnist at Foreign Policy and the Robert and Renée Belfer professor of international relations at Harvard University.

More from Foreign Policy

Soldiers of the P18 Gotland Regiment of the Swedish Army camouflage an armoured vehicle during a field exercise near Visby on the Swedish island of Gotland on May 17.
Soldiers of the P18 Gotland Regiment of the Swedish Army camouflage an armoured vehicle during a field exercise near Visby on the Swedish island of Gotland on May 17.

What Are Sweden and Finland Thinking?

European leaders have reassessed Russia’s intentions and are balancing against the threat that Putin poses to the territorial status quo. 

Ukrainian infantry take part in a training exercise with tanks near Dnipropetrovsk oblast, Ukraine, less than 50 miles from the front lines, on May 9.
Ukrainian infantry take part in a training exercise with tanks near Dnipropetrovsk oblast, Ukraine, less than 50 miles from the front lines, on May 9.

The Window To Expel Russia From Ukraine Is Now

Russia is digging in across the southeast.

U.S. President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken participate in a virtual summit with the leaders of Quadrilateral Security Dialogue countries at the White House in Washington on March 12.
U.S. President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken participate in a virtual summit with the leaders of Quadrilateral Security Dialogue countries at the White House in Washington on March 12.

Why China Is Paranoid About the Quad

Beijing has long lived with U.S. alliances in Asia, but a realigned India would change the game.

Members of the National Defence Training Association of Finland attend a training.
Members of the National Defence Training Association of Finland attend a training.

Finns Show Up for Conscription. Russians Dodge It.

Two seemingly similar systems produce very different militaries.