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David Brooks in Yakima: 'I'm in favor of death panels'

The conservative columnist declines to chide a conservative audience.

For a guy who wants President Obama to confront the nation with tough choices, writer David Brooks avoided them Wednesday — offering his juiciest, most controversial bits in a pre-speech news conference rather than in his entertaining, predictably conservative talk to hundreds of people at Yakima’s Capitol Theatre.

Brooks, the genially conservative New York Times columnist and National Public Radio commentator, didn’t repeat for the mostly gray-hair audience his pre-speech assertion, for example, that he favors “death panels” — a health reform feature blasted by right-wingers that is nonexistent in any of the Democratic bills.

That came up when he was asked in the news conference about his Sept. 4 NPR jab at Obama’s far-right critics: “I hope we can make a distinction between what I think of as the death-panel right and the sensible right,” he said in that broadcast. “The death-panel right is upset about things that are totally unrealistic and insane.” Informed that Yakima is a hotbed of the death-panel right, Brooks said he might raise this issue during his speech. Unexpectedly, he added, “I’m pro-death panel. ... We spend too much on end-of-life care, and we have to do something about that.”

Alas, Brooks didn’t mention that to the folks attending his speech, which was part of Yakima’s Town Hall speaker series. Instead, he mostly needled the Obama administration and flattered the crowd by talking about how hard-working and virtuous Americans are.

Nor did Brooks tell the audience about a contradiction in his own writing, although he discussed it with reporters before the speech. After writing Aug. 28 in favor of a limited approach to health reform, he urged Obama a week later to push for a major overhaul of how doctors and hospitals practice and get paid. “This is not the time to get incremental. This is the time to get fundamental,” he wrote.

Wednesday morning, when I asked him about the shift, Brooks sheepishly said, “I wish you hadn’t read my health-care columns so carefully.” He acknowledged he had a “little internal debate” with himself and decided a major health-care overhaul is necessary after all. Then he lamented that the Obama administration feels there is no way to get Congress to pass such major changes.

Unfortunately, he didn’t share any of this with the Yakima audience. Instead, he blasted Obama for proposing too many major initiatives, accusing him of “overconfidence” and a “vast overstretch.” Obama, he said, “is a wonderful guy who happens to have a spending problem.”

Harris Meyer is a journalist based in Yakima, Wash., and winner of the Gerald Loeb Award. You can reach him in care of editor@crosscut.com.


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