THE PITFALLS OF MAKING DAVID BROOKS YOUR GUY.

090427_brooks_axelrod-1.jpgI've remarked before that the columnist with the best access to the Obama administration is, far and away, David Brooks. That's an odd state of affairs. He is, after all, likely to prove a relentless, if thoughtful, opponent of virtually every major initiative touted by the administration. Brooks might have a soft spot for their approach to politics, but he legitimately disagrees with them on policy.

The traditional response to this is that it's more important for the administration to cultivate David Brooks than EJ Dionne. EJ will praise them regardless of any outreach. He, after all, fundamentally supports with their agenda. Not so Brooks. But the counterargument to this is nicely articulated by Matt:

The appeal of a pundit outreach strategy focused primarily on the “reasonable right” is not lost on me—absent the outreach, it’s overwhelmingly likely that Brooks’ columns would be much harsher, whereas progressives who like most of Obama’s administration on the merits are likely to be nice anyway. But I do think it’s a bit shortsighted. I first thought about this when during the campaign Obama tried to assuage Jewish voters’ fears by courting Jeffrey Goldberg rather than by using one of the many, many, many progressive Jews in the punditry game. On the one hand, it’s arguably more effective to have the kind of guy who writes bogus stories about Iraq/al-Qaeda links in your corner than it would be to have a progressive Jew.

But the danger here is that while this sort of thing may work in the short-run, in the long-run one impact of this sort of courtship is to entrench Goldberg as the arbiter of what kinds of political opinions are kosher. And at the end of the day, a progressive politician is going to be better-off having progressive Jews in the position to define that.

Similarly with Brooks. The coverage Brooks has given Obama thus far has, I think, been on net helpful to the administration. But at the moment Obama’s riding high. His approval rating is in the sixties, his opponents are acting like idiots, and he’s no wracked by any kind of scandals. That sort of situation isn’t going to hold up forever. Any administration features some dark days sooner or later. And when those days come, the people in the media who’ll still stick with you are the people who really care about the substantive agenda. So for the long run, it’s useful to raise the stature of the kind of media figures who are going to be helpful for the long run. Brooks is a good conservative columnist, well-worth reading. But he really is a conservative columnist. And so elevating him as the columnist is ultimately going to be self-defeating.

Which is all to say there's a tradeoff. When the president's chief political adviser spends a night extolling the virtues of a conservative columnist, that makes the conservative columnist both friendlier to the administration but also more important as a media figure. David Brooks is made more influential by the fact that everyone has to go read David Brooks when the administration releases a new policy initiative because he's the the columnist who can best convey the administration's thinking. Eventually, that friendliness may lapse. But the expanded influence won't. And Brooks will be a more credible critic for having been a cherished ally.

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