On Friday night's National Public Radio show All Things Considered, the Week in Politics segment could have been titled "Another Horrible Week for Republicans." Helping out enthusiastically was New York Times columnist David Brooks, who is billed as the conservative half of the political analyst team with ultraliberal Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne. But the two end up agreeing so much you can't tell which one is the liberal.
When anchor Robert Siegel asked if this week marked the "beginning of the end of the Cain phenomenon," Brooks sneered that Cain was a "TV show that lasted a little while," and Dionne naturally agreed. Then Brooks turned to Romney and insisted he drops the emotional temperature of the room to chilling lows - and of course, Dionne agreed.
The segment began with both pundits agreeing that the economy is in bad shape, and will remain that way for quite some time. But there was no suggestion that it makes Barack Obama's re-election difficult. Because apparently, the Republicans are such a bad joke. Here's the Cain portion:
ROBERT SIEGEL, anchor: Herman Cain, who's been asked about sexual harassment complaints from the '90s and the cash payments that the National Restaurant Association made to two women who complained. David, you first. Is this the beginning of the end of the Cain phenomenon?
BROOKS: There was no beginning. He was a TV show that lasted for a little while. Listen, let me stand up for elitist insiders. This is a job for professionals. Running for office is a job for professionals. Governing is a job for professionals. What Herman Cain did this week - let's leave aside the harassment - his handling of this was completely unprofessional. Every amateur candidate knows how to do a better job than this. You find out the information. You lay it out clearly. And he couldn't do the ABCs of running for office, so as far as I can tell, he is what he has been, an entertaining, very likable TV show who will - when it actually comes time to cast votes, people are going to go with the only one candidate who seems plausible and that's...
SIEGEL: For the time being, they're neck and neck in the polls.
BROOKS: That's because we're in the silly season. Why not in the early part of the season go for the guy who makes you feel good? It's free and it's easy.
SIEGEL: E.J. Dionne?
DIONNE: I think he may end up as an entertaining television show when this is all over.
A listener might expect at least a polite tennis match with two guys on opposing sides of the court. But when you hire David Brooks, it looks more like playing doubles with no one on the other side of the net.
One might think that since Mitt Romney has been presented as the experienced Squish in this GOP campaign, that Brooks would be enthusiastic for him - at least a fraction as enthusiastic as his embarrassing fawning over Barack Obama four years ago. But no, Brooks thinks Romney is a cold fish, perhaps a frozen fish stick:
SIEGEL: David Brooks, does this all show there's a great weakness in Mitt Romney, that there's somebody in that number two spot giving him a good race all the time?
BROOKS: There's nobody in the number two spot, there are certainly weakness. I'm struck by the fact that a lot of people just don't like him. I remember when he ran for office last time and four years ago, all the other Republican candidates really got along well with each other. But when Mitt Romney would walk in one of those pre-debate green rooms, the emotional temperature would just drop. (LAUGHTER)
And so, there's something about him. Maybe he's too perfect, too good looking, whatever it is. And then the fact that he's from Massachusetts, a lot of people think he's too moderate. There is some resistance to him in the party. But at the end of the day, my own view is - and this week exemplifies it - no alternative.
SIEGEL: His nomination, you figure is just about inevitable.
BROOKS: Well, I hate to do that because I got this...
SIEGEL: I know. I just wanted to push you a little bit. (LAUGHTER)
BROOKS: ...wrong before, but it looks that way right now.
DIONNE: I agree with David on the emotional temperature and the fact the party can't embrace him. That's why I still can't see it as inevitable yet.
This is just the kind of "debate" that NPR listeners deeply adore. Everyone agrees with the liberal sensibility. It makes you laugh at the idea that NPR sells itself during pledge drives as thought-provoking and mind-enriching when liberal minds aren't challenged at all by any discouraging words about how liberalism works - or fails.