A landslide Republican win in November followed by economic stagnation and a financial crisis were among the predictions made by pundit David Brooks at a Short Hills appearance Oct. 7.
The New York Times columnist also offered little hope for peace in the Middle East, particularly for Israel, but suggested that a win was not out of reach for Barack Obama in the next presidential elections.
“I would not bet against him in 2012,” said Brooks, a conservative voice on the Times’ oped page since 2003. “He still has a 45 percent approval rating and he’s a good politician.”
About 700 people came to hear Brooks deliver the annual Cooperman Family Distinguished Speakers Series talk at Congregation B’nai Jeshurun. Brooks offered a look at the current political landscape and laid out his Jewish communal bona fides before diving into his thoughts on Israel and the Middle East.
“If polling is really accurate, the Republicans will pick up 80-100 seats” in the House this November, he said. “That would be the biggest electoral tide since the 1890s.”
He offered two reasons for such an outcome: national unease over the health care overhaul and the rise of the Tea Party. He said the health care legislation drove independents away from the Democrats and toward the Republican Party.
Brooks offered a profile of Tea Party supporters to explain their appeal but was critical of their tactics.
“What they want is very traditional: Mayberrys with Blackberrys,” he quipped. He was sympathetic to followers who felt they had played by the rules only to find themselves paying for other’s reckless financial behavior. But he said their tactics and political arguments are “detached from reality,” adding, “They are using Abbie Hoffman means to achieve Norman Rockwell ends.”
Not ready for peace
Brooks was pessimistic about the economy, in part blaming a culture of extreme partisanship.
“Our political system has become completely dysfunctional,” he said. “There will be two years of incredible gridlock, and sometime in the next 10 years we’ll have a fiscal crisis. There is no culture of compromise, and no one will deal with it.”
A member of Adas Israel in Washington, DC, Brooks said he keeps a kosher home and that his children attend Jewish day school. Brooks visits Israel at least once a year — although he acknowledged that as a younger man he had little interest in or affiliation with Jewish life. His non-Jewish wife ended up converting, contemplated becoming a rabbi, and helped her husband return to the fold.
His predictions for Israel were bleak. He sees no peace in sight, despite efforts of presidents and prime ministers, because he thinks the Arab populace is not ready.
“They have to decide who they want to be,” he said, suggesting Palestinians had to choose democratic leaders or terrorist leaders such as Hamas.
Brooks also tossed cold water on Israel’s economic prosperity and its vaunted high-tech prowess, particularly in Tel Aviv.
“Iran doesn’t have to bomb Israel. It just has to scare the high-tech companies into leaving and taking planes to Silicon Valley,” he warned.
While he does not think Obama is “as innately pro-Israel” as some of his predecessors were, he pointed out that the president has surrounded himself with Middle East experts like Dennis Ross and, until recently, Rahm Emanuel, whose father is Israeli and who has close ties to the country.
Brooks said the current administration has put too much focus on the settlements, viewing the issue of halting settlement construction as a precondition and not as part of the negotiation process.
But his bigger concern is the increasing influence of military advisers who don’t accept Israel’s role as a strategic asset.
“Now that we have so many troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, the military is more of a force, and they are saying we can’t upset the Arab nations because that will endanger [the American] people,” Brooks said. “They are lobbying to shift American concerns.”
Brooks praised Obama for being “perceptive,” “nice,” and “calm” and for creating “a good culture of debate in the White House.”
But he also pointed out that the president has tried to “do everything at once while woefully understaffed,” And, Brooks said, Obama “has spent too much — in 2019 our debt will be 90 percent of the GDP. Our interest payments alone will be $800 billion. That’s completely unaffordable.”
Brooks also suggested that Obama has significantly misread the American public, along with his own ability to steer the country.
“There was tremendous anxiety about the financial crisis, and he exacerbated that by changing things all at once,” Brooks said. “He had to be aware it was a time of intense public distrust, and he concentrated power in Washington.”