Gail Collins: David, here’s a confession. During the last election I diligently made long lists of all the qualities we needed in our next president. But deep down, I was totally ready to settle for somebody who would just make the tax structure a little fairer and refrain from invading any new countries.
Not something I admitted frequently. But I’ve been through a lot of disappointing presidents and just this once I wanted to be pleasantly surprised.
All this is my prelude to saying that I think Barack Obama has been doing great.
Can I tell you how long it’s been since I looked at the country and felt that things were moving in the right direction? Really, even a centimeter would count as such a relief.
It’s been a long time since I looked at the country and felt that things were moving in the right direction.
I know a lot of my fellow lefties are distraught over what’s going on with the international agenda formerly known as the war on terror. True, it looks like we’re going to be stuck in Afghanistan forever but Barack always said that was the place we were supposed to be making our fight. So you can’t say we weren’t warned. And he gets a gold star for trying to follow through on the Iraq withdrawal.
His plan for the military tribunals seems to me not totally unreasonable given the fact that the Bush administration saddled him with a crew of Guantanamo prisoners, some of them extremely dangerous, who have already had their rights violated to a point that they could never be convicted in regular courts. So I’m giving him points for trying to unwind this mess as best he can.
And when it comes to his don’t look-back stance on the torture issue, we’re getting the exact package we bought in 2008: a president who would never allow fights over something that happened in the past to get in the way of his plans for the future.
On the totally plus side, his appointees have been smart and not nearly as overbearing as everybody expected. With Congress, he’s picking the right places to push hard and the right places to throw up his hands and walk away. In the end, I don’t know how much of his agenda he’s going to pry out of the Senate, but a collection of half-loafs would be quite a lot. After all, we’ve been totally loaf-deprived for a long time.
I know you hate the deficit and some of our colleagues are preparing themselves for disappointment about health care. And I cannot tell you how irritated I am by his failure to engage on gun control, although he’s been irritating on that issue since before the Iowa caucus.
Still, taxes are getting a little fairer. No invasions. So I’ve got no cause to complain. And I really believe by next year we’ll have better health care, more aid for education, a slightly more sensible energy policy. And with any luck the economy will have started to nudge upward.
Plus whenever the president talks I can understand what he’s saying.
Basically. I am one happy voter.
David Brooks: Gail, I’m afraid I might be a little weak on sensible rejoinders today. Let me try to explain why. There are four living Americans who’ve had a huge influence on my life and who I’ve always wanted to meet: Woody Allen, Philip Roth, Bruce Springsteen and Calvin Trillin.
Monday night, I went to a Springsteen concert and thanks to the intercession of a well-connected friend, I got to meet Springsteen, his wife Patti, Jon Landau (his David Axelrod) and the family of his drummer, Max Weinberg.
Springsteen concerts are always uplifting and leave a powerful emotional aftershock.
All day Tuesday, I found myself doubly elated. I’m so moved, I’m almost ready to believe that the Obama budget numbers make sense. Well, I guess I’m not that elated. For that, Springsteen would have to rename “Kitty’s Back” as “Brooksie’s Back.”
But I am in a very good mood. And let me say right away that I do think Obama is doing a good job. The issue I care most about is education, and his education policy is the best of any president in American history. I think he and Tim Geithner handled the banking crisis well. Many people wanted them to nationalize, but the evidence so far suggests Geithner was right. I think the Afghan policy is correct (though risky — why is it that one is always more optimistic when in a country than when reading about it in the newspaper?). In general, he is conducting an evidence-based administration and making a lot of sensible positions.
If it weren’t for the runaway spending and the dangerous over-confidence, we’d be in business. But alas, those cannot be wished away, and they will undermine everything if not addressed. Take a look at this video about the national debt.
It does a good job of explaining how the spending is exploding. In a decade, according to the Congressional Budget Office, we’ll be spending more than $800 billion a year paying off interest on the debt alone. This is unbelievable. It’s true that Bush increased the deficit, but Obama is increasing it three times as fast, not even including the short-term recession spending. Now that the Democrats are likely to have 60 votes in the Senate, there is no way they will make the painful decisions required to bring this down. One-party governments simply don’t make tough choices. It’s political suicide.
Now, maybe over the next few years we will have big tax overhaul reform, which will solve our fiscal problems and complete your wish of having a sensible tax policy. But I wouldn’t bet on it. As happy as I am today, I know ruin is coming. Oh well. At least I met Springsteen.
I can die happy.
Gail Collins: David, it makes me happy that you’re so happy. I have faith in that big tax reform in the sky. Plus I have it on good authority that Bruce is planning to write a new song about it. I believe the title is “Revenue Rising.”