David Brooks: Don’t expect a highly ideology-based philosophical presidential campaign

Jeff Poor Media Reporter
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Voters shouldn’t expect President Barack Obama to add any more depth or nuance to his attacks on rival Mitt Romney, even though the upcoming election raises fundamental questions about the role of government and the direction of the economy, according to New York Times columnist David Brooks.

On Friday night’s “NewsHour” on PBS, Brooks said the two presidential candidates will probably stick to the basics to avoid confusing voters.

“There is the makings of a serious discussion of what sort of role of government, what sort of society, what sort of capitalism we want to have,” Brooks said. “And I do think there is — that’s implied in a lot of these arguments. Barack Obama’s really attacking Romney on all the things people don`t like about capitalism, the high creative destruction involved, especially in private equity. Will we actually have that discussion? I’m extremely doubtful, in part because what they’re targeting are people who don’t pay attention to politics. Everybody who pays attention has already decided. And so they want a very simple message.”

Brooks cited Obama’s criticism of Romney for allegedly helping send jobs overseas as an example of a classic political attack that plays to voters’ instincts, even though the economic effects of outsourcing are complicated and often misunderstood.

“He’s got a very simple-minded ad attacking Romney for being a guy who ships shops overseas,” Brooks said. “But to actually have a debate about capitalism and about the role of government would require more nuance than I think we’re going to [get] from either side, precisely because they are paying attention to people who don’t pay attention.”

Brooks’ co-panelist E.J. Dionne, a liberal columnist with The Washington Post, said he believed Obama could make a case that outsourcing hurts the economy.

“I agree with David that there is a real debate underlying this,” Dionne said. “I don’t agree with him that the outsourcing issue is as clear-cut as he says. There was a presentation this week by an economist who talked about the costs in increased unemployment, lower labor force, participation in parts of the country from Chinese imports, and that outsourcing really does have a cost to a significant share of the American population. Obama is talking about how tax benefits go to companies that ship jobs overseas over companies that create jobs here. He’s talking about the need to restore American manufacturing.”

“I think the debate Obama wants and that Romney should want to engage in from his side is whether this new kind of capitalism, where so much money is made in the financial sector, is the kind of capitalism that builds up our country and that we have much more emphasis on finance, much less on manufacturing, and, lord knows, much less on labor,” Dionne continued. “And I think that that is the fight that underlies this. And I think we’re going to get there eventually.”

Ultimately, according to Brooks, Romney has to make a case for his brand of capitalism, a suggestion others have picked up on as well.

“One thing I do agree with E.J. on, if Romney is going to be a personification of capitalism, he does have to say what kind of capitalism he’s for,” Brooks said. “He does have to say too much resources have been going to finance. He does have to say some of these things these bankers are doing makes me sick. He has got to distinguish that from the part that he has been part of, which is the creative destruction part, which is — does involve sometimes involves job losses, but it involves making companies more efficient so they thrive in the long run. So he has to give a speech saying, this is the capitalism I believe in, or else he is going to get tarred with the LIBOR scandal.”

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