Spin Cycle

09.30.12

David Brooks, Riling Up the Right

When the Romney critic takes on Obama, the president calls
Video screenshot

For a conservative commentator, David Brooks gets plenty of flak from the right. And he doesn’t much care.

“If it’s from a loon, I don’t mind it,” the New York Times columnist tells me in a video interview. “I get a kick out of it. If it’s from Michelle Malkin attacking, I don’t mind it.” But if it’s “people who are thoughtful,” including some former colleagues at the Weekly Standard, “then it bothers you.”

Even worse, says Brooks: “I don’t mind liberals praising me, but when it’s the really partisan liberals, you get an avalanche of love, it’s like uhhh, I gotta rethink this.”

Brooks may be getting more heat than usual these days after turning on Mitt Romney. He wrote a blistering column after the candidate’s “47 percent” fundraising video surfaced, and here’s the explanation: Brooks found out about it at 5 p.m., his deadline was at 7, and he was “so pissed off” that he just banged out the piece. And he hasn’t let up since.

“It’s the most insincere campaign I think I’ve ever seen,” Brooks tells me. “You’ve got to be who you are, and he’s not. He’s trying to be much more conservative than he really is. He’s also trying to be much more ideological than he really is.”

Brooks is still fuming over Romney’s comments that nearly half of Americans are freeloaders addicted to federal benefits. “Linking the idea that taking some government support. or not paying taxes, to dependency is just an absurdity,” he says. In fact, it’s “morally offensive.”

As for those who challenge his credentials, Brooks offers this: “If you define conservative by support for the Republican candidate or the belief that tax cuts are the correct answer to all problems, I guess I don’t fit that agenda. But I do think I’m part of a longstanding conservative tradition that has to do with Edmund Burke…and Alexander Hamilton.”

President Obama has personally courted Brooks, and I asked whether that has an impact on his writing, at least at the margins.

“When you have access, it helps you understand the debates they’re having,” he says of the White House. “But it’s never worth sacrificing your opinion, your writing an honest column, in order to preserve that access.”

But he also marvels at the counterintuitive way that White House officials deal with him.

“They have set up this incredibly perverse incentive structure,” Brooks explains. “When I write a really critical column, he’ll call, they’ll invite me in, they’ll want to talk to me. If I write a positive column, nothing.”

He’ll call? The president of the United States picks up the phone and calls David Brooks?

“It’s happened.”