Because I live in Washington, DC the idea of engaging in a little Nexis-fu to find a David Brooks column that utterly contradicts the one he published yesterday actually came up at a party. Looks like Henry Farrell’s already done the work, noting Brooks’ 2005 column on how Team Bush “have learned from centuries of conservative teaching – from Burke to Oakeshott to Hayek – to be skeptical of Sachsian grand plans.” Henry remarks:
As Brooks-2007 tells us quite straightforwardly, the notion that George W. Bush and his administration are exemplars of Burkean prudence is an utter nonsense. I don’t think that there is any other reasonable explanation of Brooks’ reticence in 2005 (and indeed before and after) than a willingness to shut up for the cause. While it’s all very nice that he’s coming out and saying these things now, it would obviously have been rather more helpful if he had said it, say, back in 2004, when it might conceivably have helped make a difference.
Mostly true, but I think there’s a problem here with portraying Brooks as some kind of evil puppetmaster manipulating the public by hiding Bush’s un-Burkean side from view in 2005 (or 2004!) only to reveal it later in 2007. We know from polling data, after all, that there are millions of Americans who thought Bush was a good president in 2004 and 2005, but stopped thinking this over the course of 2005-2006. Brooks, it seems to me, probably just is one of those people. Now one can say to this, fairly, “why didn’t he see it earlier?” and I think it’s a good question and, indeed, probably a good topic for a column.
I don’t see any particular reason to think that your average political commentator is especially discerning about this kind of thing (we’re all professional writers, after all, not soothsayers) and, indeed, my general sense is that pundits are probably a lagging indicator of public opinion rather than a leading one. Tom Friedman, for example, only “officially” threw in the towel over Iraq long after the center of public opinion passed this point.