I finished reading my morning David Brooks in the hard-copy NYT at the breakfast table with the pleasurable annoyance that here was something to blog myself into a high dudgeon about. Having devoted himself to portraying Barack Obama as the consummate Niebuhrian cold war liberal in his Nobel Prize speech, Brooks ended with these paragraphs:
He talked about the need to balance the moral obligation to
champion freedom while not getting swept up in self-destructive fervor.
Obama has not always gotten this balance right. He misjudged the
emotional moment when Iranians were marching in Tehran. But his
doctrine is becoming clear. He aims to be like Truman, not Nixon or Carter or McGovern.
Aha! thought I. In his typical soft neocon way, Brooks sticks the shiv into the doves of the Democratic left and the realists of the Republican right as contrary to the Spirit of Reinhold, but what about the self-destructive fervor of George W. Bush? I’d be willing to bet the place in Maine that had Niebuhr been alive during the past decade, the principal object of his theological swift sword would have been the messianic Wilsonianism of Bush and his neocon consiglieri. And there goes Brooks again, protecting his buds by his silence.
But lo and behold, having made my way to the office and navigated to Brooks online, what do I find subbed in for the final sentence but this new one: “The Oslo speech was the most profound of his presidency, and maybe his life.” Well, I guess David had second thoughts about his kicker–as columnists are wont to do–and decided to withdraw the barbs and show the love after the column went to press. Maybe his omission of the anything-but-Niebuhrian previous administration gnawed at him.
Whatever, its worth bearing in mind–as the most knowledgeable student of Niebuhr in our time, Gary Dorrien, always makes clear–that Reinhold Niebuhr was nothing if not flexible in his application of his principles to the political circumstances at hand. While the political legatees of Brooks’ Niebuhrian hero Scoop Jackson are, today, beating the drums for American military maximalism around the world, it’s a fair bet that Niebuhr himself, who supported World War II but opposed the war in Vietnam, would have turned a skeptical eye on his presidential epigone’s current venture in Afghanistan–and because of it not given his Nobel speech quite so high a grade.