On President’s Day, New York Times columnist David Brooks shared his experiences interacting with the United States president as a political commentator during the last two presidencies.
The Yale College Democrats and Yale College Republicans co-hosted a talk Monday evening with Brooks, a Jackson Institute senior fellow, to discuss the role of the president in the 21st century. This semester, Brooks is teaching a seminar entitled “Humility” and co-teaching “Studies in Grand Strategy.” During the speech, Brooks used a discussion about the persona of the president as a starting point to analyze broader issues of leadership and politics.
“You hear the exact same comments in the same offices, but from different people in different parties,” Brooks said. “They all think everyone is opportunistic except themselves. … They all think it’s unique to them.”
Brooks said meeting with a president for the first time is “like a TV screen running into you.” But after spending 15 minutes with the president, he said, he felt comfortable with him as a human and felt “reasonably free to criticize and joke” — although the president’s staffers continue to treat the commander-in-chief as an idol.
The role of the Cabinet has decreased, Brooks said, as he has noticed the president’s circle of trusted advisers shrink with each successive administration. He added that he thinks Obama trusts only four or five people in the White House.
Brooks said he found differences between the presidents’ public personas and their styles of meeting in person. Bush was “60 IQ points higher in private than he was in public,” and he read many more books than Obama does — according to White House records, Bush read 113 books per year, Brooks said. He added that he finds Obama to be “the most self-confident person I’ve ever met in my life” and that Obama’s self-confidence impacts his executive operations because he feels that “he doesn’t need a team of equals.”
Twitter and other social platforms’ growing influence has caused presidents and campaign leaders to be “obsessive about leaks,” decreasing journalists’ access to campaigns and making politicians trust those around them less, Brooks said. He recalled a visit to a casino to shoot craps with Sen. John McCain during the 2008 presidential campaign, adding that such a casual interaction between a presidential candidate and a journalist would now be “impossible.”
He said he hopes to see a more “Hamiltonian” Republican party that advocates for a “limited but energetic government to enhance social mobility” with greater appeal to Asian and Latino populations and those living in the Northeast and on the West Coast. Brooks added that he thinks Sen. Marco Rubio is currently the most viable presidential candidate for 2016.
Though Hillary Clinton has not announced whether she will run for president in 2016, Brooks said he is confident that she will join the presidential race.
“I suspect she’d run, but I think she’ll be pretty formidable,” he said. “People who have the presidential bug have it until the day they die.”
Students interviewed said they enjoyed hearing Brooks’ anecdotes about the human aspects of the chief executive.
“I liked that he gave a very nuanced and insider’s look at the whole political process,” Aaron Lewis ’16 said. “Normally you don’t get that.”
Brooks has written three books — “Bobos in Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There,” “On Paradise Drive: How We Live Now (And Always Have) in the Future Tense” and “The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement.”