In a column on Thursday, Private Virtue, Public Vice, [behind the firewall] which he expanded on tonight on the PBS Newshour, NYT columnist David Brooks bemoans the fact politicians are really good people privately, but politics just gets in the way of their better angels:
Deep in the bowels of Washington, hidden from public scrutiny and prying cameras, there is an illicit underworld where people are subtle, reasonable and interesting. I have occasionally been admitted to this place, the land of RIP (Reasonable in Private).
I have been in the Senate dining room and heard senators, in whispers and with furtive glances, acknowledge the weaknesses in their own arguments and admit the justice of some of the other side's points. I have seen politicians fess up to their own evasions and acknowledge the trade-offs inevitable in tough decisions.
It makes Brooks feel so special when he is a confidant to the private misgivings of the powerful:
I have always felt honored when politicians admit me into the realm of RIP, because if it ever got out that these pols were sensible and independent, it would ruin their careers. If it ever got out that they could think for themselves or often had subversive and honest thoughts, they would be branded traitors to their party and uncertain champions for their cause.
Yes, David, it is such a burden these people bear:
In short, our democracy, at least as it has evolved, takes individuals who are reasonable in private and it churns them through a public process that is almost tailor-made to undermine their virtues. The process of perpetually kissing up to the voters destroys the leadership qualities the voters are looking for in the first place: tranquillity of spirit, independence of mind and a sensitivity to the contours and complexity of reality.
The best politicians try to build a fortress around their private lives to protect themselves from the ravages of the process all around them. They try to separate their real belief from their public spin. They stage little rebellions against members of their political base, who would otherwise be their slavemasters. They try not to let the bloated public persona smother the little voice within.
Here really what Brooks is driving at:
In a week when the private mood was grave, the public action was partisan and shortsighted. Instead of trying to educate public opinion by stressing the realities described in the National Intelligence Estimate, the political class, by and large, publicly ignored those findings. The Republicans maintained near lock-step solidarity even though privately, Republican opinions are all over the place. The Democrats ignored the intelligence community's warning about withdrawal after spending three years blasting the Bush administration for ignoring intelligence.
In private, we have a decent leadership class. In public, it's rotten.
Spot doesn't buy the last sentence in the first of the two paragraphs. As much as Spot is able to understand, the intelligence community thinks Bush and Mc Cain's escalation plan will come a cropper, just as everything else has in the war In Iraq.
What Spotty really finds offensive, boys and girls, is the implicit suggestion that we shouldn't really be so hard on Senate Republicans for their filibuster against the debate of the Iraq war resolutions. Give them a break, says Brooks!
Spot has some news for you David. Private virtue, which Republicans are so big on, is meaningless. If you say nice things in private, but act like an ogre in public, guess what? You're an ogre! Actually, a gutless ogre. And meaningless little gestures of "rebellion" as acts of contrition are only masturbation, not redemption.Update: This column was in the Strib on February 11th.