Conservatives were rolling their eyes during the pundit segment of NBC's Meet the Press Sunday, watching "conservative" representative David Brooks of The New York Times argue with James Carville's assertion that Obama was failing to be active enough on the oil spill in the gulf, and mourning this turn in the "really heroic presidency" of Obama:
You know, if you think government is the center of national life, government can do everything, then you're disappointed. But for those of us who don't expect that of government, who know there are limits to government power, then we're--you know, we--people say, "Oh, he should do something. He should do something." James Carville says that. But what exactly should he do? He doesn't have a degree in underwater engineering. I don't expect government to do everything, and I don't expect they will be able to do everything. And so we're going to have to live with this, live with the awareness that there are limits to what government can do.
I do think this is a big moment, though, the failure of the top kill. I do think it's a big moment because we could be facing really weeks or months of that image. And that image of the oil spewing out will become the central image of the year. And for President Obama, who's had a really heroic presidency for the first year, now he's entering a period of a limited presidency--limits to his power, limits to money. It's a different type of presidency, and that image will be the core image of the year.
Did David Brooks have this same spin with Hurricane Katrina, that we cannot expect George W. Bush to be responsible, or expect competence from the federal government? No.
Check Meet the Press from September 25, 2005. Bush was a failure, not a hero, and there's no hint of "we're going to have to live with this" accomodation:
What 9/11 exposed was a desire to have authority, some authorities we could trust. Since 9/11, we've had a whole series of cascading authority failures: the WMD failures, the Iraq failures, the church failures, the accounting failures, now the Katrina failures, which wasn't just the failure of Bush. It was a failure up and down government.
There are agencies in Louisiana and New Orleans that were built to respond to a hurricane. This was the most anticipated natural disaster in American history and we failed on every single level. So what we've had is a whole series of institutional failures, starting with the president, but going up and down. So to me, I think there's a huge moment. I think things really--people are impatient and want to reject the president and get to something different, but I wouldn't say it's left-right. I'd say what they want is order and authority, and if I were thinking of a candidate in '08, those would be the words I'd want my candidate to project.
It should be said in that week, Brooks wrote a harsh column on the Democrats running on Bush hatred more than the issues, which the late Tim Russert noted, and he repeated: "But most Democrats seem to be acting as if the main problem with the country is that the country doesn't hate George Bush enough. And if we only shout louder, they'll hate him more like tourists in Paris who think they'll understand us if we scream a little louder. And to me, it's led to the brain death of the Democratic Party."
Nevertheless, Brooks thumped much harder on the idea that Bush was incompetent. He sounded more like today's Carville back then:
Because we're at a moment in this country where we had a debate for 20 years about: What's the cause of poverty? Is it joblessness, which the liberals were saying? Is it family breakdown, which is what a lot of conservatives were saying? Now, we're at a point where the experts really are seeing the interplay between these two forces. And I saw a hint of it with Bush when he talked in New Orleans the other week. And he understands it, too, and really wants to do something pro-active. And as I say that, you always got to go back to competence. And sometimes in my dark moments, I think he's "The Manchurian Candidate" designed to discredit all the ideas I believe in. And so he has to follow through on that. That's the crucial thing for the next two years for him.
Conservatives did not expect their side to be represented by a slavishly pro-Bush spokesman. But Brooks was harsher on Bush then than he is on Obama now. Why would NBC (or PBS or NPR, which both employ him as a right-leaning regular) plausibly suggest he plausibly or effectively represents the conservative side?