Monday, March 29, 2010


Frum Here To Hypocrisy

So, a fair amount of blogosphere mileage was produced last week by AEI's firing of David Frum -- either for not doing enough to promote AEI activities or because of his denunciation of Republican health care strategy.  Adopting the latter view, his wife, Danielle Crittenden rallies to his side at The Huffington Post

A mini-war has broken out at The  Daily Beast, with Tunku Varadarajan blasting Frum as a pseudo-conservative who just wants to be loved by the liberal establishment. Meanwhile, Christopher Buckley defends Frum as "just what the [conservative] movement needs now more than  ever --- a contrarian." 

Far be it from me to disagree with the son of the man who basically built 20th century conservatism, but Buckley is only half-right (no pun intended). The movement may be in dire need of a contrarian.  But Frum's problem was that he was the worst person to fill that role. 
It feels awful to kick someone when they are down. I've only met Frum a few times -- once or twice at those cocktail parties that Varadarajan rails against (admittedly, they were thrown by conservatives, if memory serves). A few years back, I worked with Danielle for a few months as panelists on a CNN show.  She's a nice, smart woman.  And, goodness knows, I'm the last person to criticize someone for apostasy from the conservative party line. Ahem, been there, done that.  

However, it should be said that Frum's situation is a classic case of chickens coming home to roost.  Making him a "contrarian" for the movement requires some heavy lifting. After barely a year of writing speeches in the Bush White House (where, via Danielle, it was leaked that he coined the phrase "axis of evil,"), the man left to quickly deliver (cash in?) a book championing Bush as "The Right Man" to deliver victory in the War on Terror . 

Chris Buckley himself rightly uses the word "slander" to describe Frum's subsequent horrific "Unpatriotic Conservatives" cover story in National Review.   The primary targets of Frum's venom were Patrick Buchanan and the late Robert Novak for taking, respectively, hostile and skeptical positions toward the Iraq War.  Frum followed that up with a book with Richard Perle, The End of Evil, where he insinuated that opposition to neoconservative foreign policy was ultimately rooted in anti-Semitism. Given that Buchanan has -- and Novak had -- complicated (to say the least, in Buchanan's case) issues with U.S. policy towards Israel, it's not much of a stretch to think that Frum's earlier NR article could be seen as shorthand for equating anti-Semitism and anti-Americanism.  (Regardless, William F. Buckley earnestly rejected both the Buchanan view that the Iraq War was launched to help Israel AND the Frum-Perle assertion that criticism of neocon involvement in the war was anti-Semitic.)  

But, back to the matter at hand, it becomes very easy to see why David Frum is tough to take as a born-again champion for free-thinking within the conservative movement.  His preferred candidate in 2008 wasn't John McCain, who was both a conservative contrarian and a war hawk -- but Rudy Giuliani.  The former mayor of New York was, on social issues, the farthest left among those running. So, what did he have to recommend him to a Frum GOP? Perhaps an authoritarian streak a mile wide.  Yes, he turned around New York -- and many should applaud him for that -- but apart from being the most warlike candidate in the race, that was all he had to offer a party that has historically balanced its conservatism on stool with three conservative legs -- social, economic and foreign policy. 

So, given Frum's post-9/11 writing, it's easy to see that he appears to want an open-ended ephemeral "conservatism" where every issue is negotiable -- except for the War on Terror. On that one issue, there is no room for contrarianism. It must be engaged in only the way Frum sees it -- such as committing America to an open-ended campaign that will produce "an end to evil."  Funny, one would think that something that's been around since the beginning of time ("evil") might be slightly above the pay grade of even the most adept president of the United States.  

In her Huffington Post piece, Frum's wife concludes, "I can categorically state I've never seen such a hostile environment towards free thought and debate -- once the hallmarks of Reaganism, the politics with which we grew up -- prevail in our movement as it does today. The thuggish demagoguery of the Limbaughs and Becks is a trait we once derided in the old socialist Left. Well boys, take a look in the mirror. It is us now."

Well, Danielle, that lashing out against free thought didn't just pop up overnight -- and it didn't necessarily start with Limbaugh and Beck. 

Perhaps there would be more sympathy for Frum as an unfairly treated conservative "contrarian," had he not spent so much energy during the last decade unleashing  the whip hand and trying to silence those who dared express "free thought and debate" on what was the most critical issue of the moment. 

The conservative movement may well need a contrarian during its moment in the wilderness. Sorry, but one could hardly call David Frum "the right man" for that job. 

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