Radical optimism, David Brooks tells us in today's Times, is American's contribution to the world. But he's not happy with Obama's current version of American optimism which, the Republican argues, is "saccharine" and lacking almost any attention at all to concrete policy. Brooks' critique was based on Obama's speech in Berlin yesterday:
Much of the rest of the speech fed the illusion that we could solve our problems if only people mystically come together. We should help Israelis and Palestinians unite. We should unite to prevent genocide in Darfur. We should unite so the Iranians won’t develop nukes. Or as Obama put it: “The walls between races and tribes, natives and immigrants, Christian and Muslim and Jew cannot stand. These now are the walls we must tear down.”
The great illusion of the 1990s was that we were entering an era of global convergence in which politics and power didn’t matter. What Obama offered in Berlin flowed right out of this mind-set. This was the end of history on acid.
Brooks is, of course, right to argue that the next American President was guilty yesterday of "playing innocent abroad". While Obama used the word "wall" 16 times in yesterday's Berlin speech, the one word he conveniently forgot to use was Wall-E -- the romantic robot hero of Pixar/Disney's feel-good, left-wing hit about environmental catastrophe in a mindlessly consumer society of the future. And, yes, Brooks is right -- it was a saccarine Berlin Wall-E speech, Disney comes to Europe, all yes we can good and no evil, "the end of history on acid". But what really annoys Brooks is not so much the content of Obama's Berlin Wall-E speech, but it's success. He understands that Wall-E's optimism-for-idiots sells, both here and abroad:
Obama has benefited from a week of good images. But substantively, optimism without reality isn’t eloquence. It’s just Disney.
Exactly. And -- as Brooks knows all-too-well -- Disney wins elections.
The trouble with the Republicans is that they want it both ways. While David Brooks was kvetching in today's Times about the Disney values of Obama's Berlin Wall-E speech, another pissed-off conservative, the mystery writer Andrew Klavan,was complaining in today's Journal about Hollywood's unwillingness to unambiguously represent conservative values in its movies. Klavan is irritated that the only summer Hollywood movie to rival Wall-E, Warner Bros Batman remake The Dark Knight, is actually a not-too-hidden metaphor for the struggle between good George W. Bush and evil Al-Qaeda. What upset Klavan is that conservative movies aren't allowed to explicitely reveal their ideology. So, as he argues in "What Bush and Batman Have in Common":
Why is it then that left-wingers feel free to make their films direct and realistic, whereas Hollywood conservatives have to put on a mask in order to speak what they know to be the truth? Why is it, indeed, that the conservative values that power our defense -- values like morality, faith, self-sacrifice and the nobility of fighting for the right -- only appear in fantasy or comic-inspired films like "300," "Lord of the Rings," "Narnia," "Spiderman 3" and now "The Dark Knight"?
What Klavan and Brooks have in common is a dark pessismism about the future. They both know conservatism is so radically out of fashion that they are in danger of becoming irrelevant in America today. Thus their critique of Hollywood and Disney. It's a Wall-E world now. Obama is America's newly crowned Dark Knight. He's so radically optimistic that even Berliners love him.