Saturday, March 27, 2010

Go, And Sin No More

A minor kerfuffle is developing over the unpleasant divorce of writer David Frum and the American Enterprise Institute. We've mentioned Frum a few times at this site. He is not everybody's conservative choice for writer of the year, but did he deserve to be kicked out of the AEI. Or for that matter, was he kicked out? Technically, he resigned, but we all know that can mean many things.

Frum is probably best-known for his stint at the Wall Street Journal and his "Diary" which was a regular feature at National Review, and was widely syndicated. Canadian by birth, he was active in American politics for many years prior to becoming a naturalized citizen in 2007. He became a well-published writer and pundit through the 80's and 90's, and in 2001-2002 he was a speech writer for president George Bush on economic policy. He remained a regular writer at National Review until deciding to launch his own political blog,, in November of 2008. It was dedicated to drawing younger voters into the Republican Party. In late 2009, he re-named the blog

His resume is considerably larger than that, but it outlines him fairly well. The current flap is built around his tenure as a paid writer for the American Enterprise Institute, which lasted from 2003 to March 25, 2010. Frum had been a highly vocal critic of Republican strategy during the health care debate, and the final Democratic victory on the issue has caused some extremely contentious arguments among Republicans, particularly conservative Republicans. So in mid-March, AEI informed Frum that he would no longer be a paid contributor to their publications, but could stay on as an unpaid contributor. Frum declined the offer, and thus the argument over whether he was fired or resigned under pressure.

I suppose I could be considered a movement conservative, so I certainly have had my angry disagreements with many of Frum's writings. But I have also made it clear on this blog that I don't much care for lockstep conservatives who impose purity tests and discourage lively debate from within the conservative movement. AEI has long been a purveyor of divergent conservative viewpoints, and often hires academics who have been shunned by their leftist colleagues who require lockstep agreement of a different kind. This was no time to go weak in the knees on healthy differences of opinion, and I think it may very well serve the purposes of the left better than those of the right. Democrats are itching to exploit every seeming breakdown of the conservative movement, and they just got handed a propaganda tool.

The straw that broke the camel's back was Frum's position that Republicans were responsible for the passage of the leviathan health care bill by failing to negotiate with Democrats in good faith. From my viewpoint, that is nonsense on stilts, but is it really a sound reason for banishing a thoughtful conservative from AEI? Some powerful forces at AEI felt that Frum's position was tantamount to rubbing salt into an open wound. It doesn't help that Frum has also criticized certain conservative icons such as Rush Limbaugh and Mark Levin. He has also stated that he believes Glen Beck to be "a political disaster for the Right." I don't know about a "disaster," but Beck has received plenty of criticism from other conservative quarters, and Beck is often way too over-the-top for my tastes. I don't want Fox to fire Beck, and I'm not too thrilled about AEI de-hiring Frum.

Frum often seems to have a better recognition of the changing demographics and current needs of the broad conservative movement than some old-fashioned conservatives. He gets the issue, but he does often come up with overly accomodationist solutions. He really does have the mistaken belief that Democrats will negotiate in good faith, which is a view that requires believing that the Democratic leadership is the realistic and practical liberal leadership of old. He also has a more moderate/libertarian view of social issues than the rock-ribbed conservatives. I find much of that refreshing, and as long as those views are aimed at getting government out of our private lives, I'm with him. But he is certainly more willing to cave in on cultural issues than I am. So what?

As writer John R. Guardino said on NewsRealBlog, "[Frum's] larger-scale point it seems to me, is unassailable: We conservatives and Republicans need to be far more sophisticated and savvy if ever we are to win politically and govern effectively." It's a point of view that should be given considerable thought, not automatic rejection. Look at the young Turks in the Republican Party. Do they look or sound like the old-timers? Yet they have strongly advanced the conservative position on nearly every issue. Consider Paul Ryan of Wisconsin and Eric Cantor of Virginia during the health care debates. The old crocodiles of the Republican right had their sound parliamentary rules and their integrity, but these guys had that plus youth, energy, and the ability to rouse conservatives with their enthusiasm for freedom and their disdain for dishonest accounting. How excited do you get by Orin Hatch or Mitch McConnell? Sure, they were on the right side of the health care debate, but they were putting Americans to sleep. Enter Ryan and Cantor.

Frum has been attacked for his "cocktail party conservatism." Well, he fought tooth and nail for the confirmation of Chief Justice Roberts. But using the criticism now being launched at him, he was a very important player in convincing president Bush to withdraw the nomination of crony Harriet Miers, whom Frum described as "far too fond of the Washington cocktail party." Frum has been accused of being too friendly with the moderate-liberal wing of the Republican Party. Sometimes, maybe. But Frum put his reputation on the line by taking on conservative icon Jack Kemp from the right on Kemp's big-government advancement of "enterprise zones." That hardly comprised a cave-in to the liberals, and certainly earned Frum some enmity from the Old Guard. Frum was a major player in pushing the Bush tax-cuts, but left when Bush seemed to have forgotten the other half of the Laffer curve--cutting expenditures.

Frum's greatest flaw, following his naive belief in Democratic good faith, is his inability to disagree with a Rush Limbaugh without sounding like an anti-Rushbo zealot. Frum forgets that he is in the political business, and Rush is in the political entertainment business. They complement each other, and shouldn't be enemies. As for AEI, why pick Frum to exile? The board of AEI still has two fellows who helped to write McCain-Feingold. They're still paid employees of AEI, so why get rid of Frum?

This may be something as simple as Frum picking the wrong fight at the wrong time in the wrong place. Many of his criticisms of the Republican handling of the health care fiasco have validity. Some don't. But he certainly didn't say anything revolutionary or outside mainstream conservative principles. The anger-level among conservative opponents of the health care bill is very high indeed, and somebody within the fold was likely to become a target of misplaced revenge. In this case, it appears to have been David Frum. I disagree with much of what Frum has to say, but I'll defend to the death his right to say it. AEI apparently won't.


patti said...

best line that i wish every single voter could GET: "...following his naive belief in Democratic good faith..."

haven't even finished my first cup of coffee and THAT woke me up. nail meet hammer.

now i have to go check out that site...

Joel Farnham said...


If David Frum isn't naive, then he is disingenuous. This, to me, is far more harmful. We don't need another Chamberlain. The naive belief in the face of overwhelming evidence in Democrats operate in good faith, gives our opposition too much cover. We don't need it.

I think the 80% rule should be applied to Frum. I see him at 30%.

Unknown said...

Patti: Frum's a very interesting writer. He has some serious flaws in his thinking, but he has a lot of good things to offer as well. And most importantly, his basic beliefs are conservative. It's going to be a recurring thing for me over the next few months that Republicans should not be eating their own, at least not publicy. Numbers count.

Unknown said...

Joel: He's a lot better than 30%. AEI is not an elected representative body. It's a conservative think tank. Think tanks are where you kick ideas around, many novel, some unpopular. Neither AEI nor any of its members have the power to do anything except debate, suggest and persuade.

If William F. Buckley hadn't founded National Review and hired some pretty controversial writers, we'd still be espousing 1920s economics and 1890s politics. Some principles are eternal, but if we don't look at promoting those principles in ways that appeal to the upcoming generations, we'll be conservatives frozen in time. Dinosaurs are very interesting, but they don't get elected to office. I want to hear the views of any conservative, even if I ultimately reject the methods he suggests (as I often do with Frum).

This was a position with a private think tank, not the Prime Minister of England. Think tanks kick ideas around and then decide on a course of action that will influence the politicians--they are not the politicians themselves. If the thinkers all think the same way, and nobody comes up with any suggestions for a possible new approach to bringing voters into the conservative fold, what purpose does the think tank serve? Just put it on a disc, and repeat the same old thing over, and over, and over. How can you hear a new idea if you don't allow your colleague to say it?

Excommunication for disagreeing on how the collection plate should be passed around seems a bit excessive to me. And if AEI's skirts are so clean, why the board members who helped draft McCain-Feingold?

AndrewPrice said...

Lawhawk, While I agree in principle, I also think that AEI has the right to can whoever they want to and if they think Frum isn't providing their audience a valuable service, then they have the right to fire him.

The problem I have with Frum, is that he's not loyal. I don't think his analysis is very good and he seeks to find fame by attacking Republicans. If he wasn't making enough money doing it the way he's doing it already, then I have little doubt he would suddenly discover that he could no longer be on the right and would very publicly announce that he's switching sides. Like that other guy in the 1990s, whose name I can't remember.

It's one thing to have a different conservative voice, even a very moderate conservative voice, it's quite another to have a defeatist who skews all facts and logic against us.

P.S. I've also checked out Frumforum, it's a joke. I have a great many problems with the way his site handles "content" (apart from ideology, and it's simply not usable. . . or used.

Unknown said...

Andrew: I don't entirely disagree, but I do point out that just because they have the right to do something it doesn't automatically follow that it was a good idea to do it. You and I have both criticized Frum in the past, and he's definitely not among our top ten list of favorite conservatives. I just think the timing was bad, and the reasoning weak. I keep hanging up on the McCain-Feingold folks who are still on their board.

AndrewPrice said...

Lawhawk, I get your point. Their timing could have been better, or they might have found a better excuse. But in all honesty, I think people will forget this by the end of week, if they even hear about it. I think the key is to not get into a pissing match with him, that lets him turn this into a huge public relations bonanza.

Unknown said...

Andrew: You're right, it's the kind of thing people will forget by next week. I was mainly pointing it out as the kind of thing we should probably be avoiding right now until we're back up to full strength.

And since you disagreed with me on a point, you will no longer be paid. But feel free to continue to contribute.

Never mind--I forgot we're not getting paid for all this fun.

StanH said...

I think it was Frum that wrote phrase Axis of Evil, in W’s speech right after 9-11. He can be annoying and is a true Rockefeller Republican or RINO. He and David Brooks are two examples of big government Republicans who write to appease the left. We must change that mindset and move to utterly defeat democrats, after all this is the way they think. Whether or not he is conservative enough for AEI, that’s debatable. As a perceived leader of the conservative resurgence is damaging. Think back to an early Reagan speech, and many of the policies that he enacted we he became President, Frum, like his earlier colleagues, would fight him, and editorialize Reagan’s to conservative for America, other than two landslide elections they’d have a point.

Did you see Craig Becker was appointed by Recess Appointment…not good.

Unknown said...

StanH: I'm not surprised about Becker. Appalled, but not surprised. The only thing that makes it tolerable at all is that there are so many open decisions and open seats on the Board that it will take them some time just to get started. And there's still that pending lawsuit over how many votes are required for a quorum when the Board is down to only three members.

I haven't seen the final appointment list, so I'm curious if Obama kept his informal agreement to appoint Republican Brian Pearce in exchange for the Republicans accepting Becker. Or did Lucy van Obama pull the football out from under Charlie Brown as usual?

Joel Farnham said...


Bear with me. David Frum started a website that was designed from the get-go to peal away people from conservative thought. He did not succeed. He changed the name. I am not interested. Once he said that the Republicans operate in bad faith and believes the Democrats are operating in good faith? Well, that really does say it all.

Democrats good, Republicans bad. This is the latest I have gotten from Frum. Does that help us? It undercuts all conservatives, not just AEI. I would rather this happen before we go into an election cycle.

The way it happened? AEI did say they would listen to him, but wouldn't automatically accept him.

He lost his job because he undermined all efforts to stop the Republicans.

He sounds more like McCain than anyone else. Do we really need another McCain?

Joel Farnham said...


I thought I read it true. It should read, he undermined all Republicans efforts.

Unknown said...

Joel: Well, he's gone, and nobody's suing anyone, so I guess we'll move on to the next round.

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