Like Joe Klein in a much more genteel key - and like yours truly, Kilgore points out that Obama's activism is a restoration after decades in which the government failed to fulfill essential functions such as maintaining infrastructure, protecting the populace from catastrophic health care costs, reducing fossil fuel consumption or regulating the financial industry:
Its main thrust is to agree with conservative arguments that the Obama administration's budget proposal is a radical big-government, class-warfare, tax-and-spend package that would remake the country in a horrifying fashion. Indeed, "moderates" are explicitly called upon by their would-be chieftain to join the Right in opposing the whole thing. But what makes the argument both distinctive and incoherent is Brooks' concession that the key components of the proposal all make sense:We [moderates] sympathize with a lot of the things that President Obama is trying to do. We like his investments in education and energy innovation. We support health care reform that expands coverage while reducing costs.
So what's the huge beef? It's just all too much:[T]he Obama budget is more than just the sum of its parts. There is, entailed in it, a promiscuous unwillingness to set priorities and accept trade-offs. There is evidence of a party swept up in its own revolutionary fervor — caught up in the self-flattering belief that history has called upon it to solve all problems at once....
We end up with an agenda that is unexceptional in its parts but that, when taken as a whole, represents a social-engineering experiment that is entirely new.
[Brooks] knows that progressives aren't simply "using" the economic crisis to "focus on every other problem under the sun." They believe, as Brooks sometimes appears to believe, that you cannot separate "the economic crisis" from health care costs, an inefficient and unsustainable energy system, an underperforming education system, or indeed, from a tax code that undermines middle-class work and rewards upper-class wealth.For a year and more, Brooks has been running a one-man good cop/bad cop routine on Obama: praising his alleged personal qualities in one column, ridiculing his political strategy and policy decisions in the next. As Kilgore suggests, Brooks is essentially establishing his good faith credentials so that when he sticks the shiv in, it will seem to some to strike home more in sorrow than in anger.