In the first few moments after Barack Obama's speech to Congress on Wednesday night, PBS anchor Jim Lehrer turned to his allegedly liberal vs. conservative duo of pundits, Mark Shields and David Brooks. Shields said the speech was terrific, the best speech of his presidency. Brooks said....the speech was terrific, the best speech of his presidency. Without a Bob Dole flourish about deficits, a viewer would scarcely know there was any difference in opinion.
Shields hailed how Obama had put down the "the slanders and libels" about ObamaCare, and the first words out of the mouth of Brooks? "I agree with Mark." He may not have agreed with the "libels" line, but he never objected to it. He found Obama's exploitation of Ted Kennedy "moving" and then said the center was Obama's "natural milieu." It's too bad conservatives don't seem to have a spokesman on the tax-funded network:
LEHRER: Now we have some reaction to what the president said from Mark Shields and David Brooks. Mark? First, your overview.
SHIELDS: I think it worked. I think it was Barack Obama’s strongest speech that I’ve heard since the campaign, maybe since the Reverend Wright speech. He made the case on every possible ground. He reassured the groups that had to be reassured, those in Medicare in particular, those who have insurance. I thought he laid down the moral challenge, and made the practical argument.
In a strange way, Jim, what may have helped him the most was when he made the Republicans, of the slanders and libels that have been raised against the proposals, and he talked about there would be no bureaucrats, panels to kill off senior citizens, and the Republicans sat on their hands. [They were supposed to applaud being called slanderers?]
He had to energize Democrats tonight, and I think he energized Democrats. And I think he did make the effort to reach out to Republicans.
LEHRER: What do you think, David?
BROOKS: I agree with Mark. I thought it was his best speech as president. I thought, maybe since the campaign. It was very effective in laying out, explaining the idea at the end. I thought the Teddy Kennedy part was very – moving, very strong. I thought the little peroration on his governing philosophy was very strong. It was sort of down the middle – ‘The right believes this, the left believes that, I’m just a pragmatist here in the center.’ I think that’s his natural milieu, natural mode. I think he expressed it well. There were a few lines that leapt out at me. Promising not to sign anything that will increase the deficit, now or in the future. There’s not a bill out there within hundreds of billions of dollars of that, but it’s a strong promise. He made it very clearly. But overall, I thought, quite outstanding speech.
He talked nonsense, but he talked it clearly and brilliantly?
The Lehrer show once had a terrific and yet mild-mannered conservative in Paul Gigot of the Wall Street Journal editorial page. Before that, they had the oleaginous David Gergen in the "conservative" spot. Brooks is much more Gergenesque. In the absence of Brooks, Lehrer's producers have used National Review's Rich Lowry and Ramesh Ponnuru. Either would be much better than the current Mark Shields echo chamber.
As long as we're recalling Obama's brilliance during the presidential campaign, it's easy to remember Brooks comparing Obama after one fall debate to both a redwood forest and a mountain.
Feel free to offer your thoughts to PBS ombudsman Michael Getler (with courtesy, please).