Tuesday, November 22, 2011

David Frum Asks Conservatives To Look In The Mirror-- If They Dare


Two discredited ConservaDems, Patrick Caddell and Doug Schoen-- professionally best described as "Fox News Democrats"-- were back over the weekend, on the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal, selling their nonsense about Obama stepping aside for an even more Establishment-oriented Democrat to run. They asked President Obama to take the "moral high ground." These two clowns have no following outside the Beltway, other than on Fox, not exactly a hotbed of Democratic Party politics.

A more intellectually honest argument was being made at the same time by a Republican stalwart unhappy with his party, When Did The GOP Lose Touch With Reality?. But David Frum is no circus act like Caddell and Schoen, and his feature in the new New York, unlike their op-ed, is likely to be taken more seriously-- even if not by the right-wing elites he wishes he could actually reach. He acknowledges that in those circles, his former habitat, he's become something of a pariah. He sounds like McCain may have been the last Republican he'll be voting for-- and like he's ready for some mea culpas to boot. "I am haunted by the Bush experience," he admits, and later points out, "Conservatives have been driven to these fevered anxieties as much by their own trauma as by external events. In the aughts, Republicans held more power for longer than at any time since the twenties, yet the result was the weakest and least broadly shared economic expansion since World War II, followed by an economic crash and prolonged slump."
America desperately needs a responsible and compassionate alternative to the Obama administration’s path of bigger government at higher cost. And yet: This past summer, the GOP nearly forced America to the verge of default just to score a point in a budget debate. In the throes of the worst economic crisis since the Depression, Republican politicians demand massive budget cuts and shrug off the concerns of the unemployed. In the face of evidence of dwindling upward mobility and long-stagnating middle-class wages, my party’s economic ideas sometimes seem to have shrunk to just one: more tax cuts for the very highest earners. When I entered Republican politics, during an earlier period of malaise, in the late seventies and early eighties, the movement got most of the big questions-- crime, inflation, the Cold War-- right. This time, the party is getting the big questions disastrously wrong.

It was not so long ago that Texas governor Bush denounced attempts to cut the earned-income tax credit as “balancing the budget on the backs of the poor.” By 2011, Republican commentators were noisily complaining that the poorer half of society are “lucky duckies” because the EITC offsets their federal tax obligations-- or because the recession had left them with such meager incomes that they had no tax to pay in the first place. In 2000, candidate Bush routinely invoked “churches, synagogues, and mosques.” By 2010, prominent Republicans were denouncing the construction of a mosque in lower Manhattan as an outrageous insult. In 2003, President Bush and a Republican majority in Congress enacted a new prescription-drug program in Medicare. By 2011, all but four Republicans in the House and five in the Senate were voting to withdraw the Medicare guarantee from everybody under age 55. Today, the Fed’s pushing down interest rates in hopes of igniting economic growth is close to treason, according to Governor Rick Perry, coyly seconded by the Wall Street Journal. In 2000, the same policy qualified Alan Greenspan as the “greatest central banker in the history of the world,” according to Perry’s mentor, Senator Phil Gramm. Today, health reform that combines regulation of private insurance, individual mandates, and subsidies for those who need them is considered unconstitutional and an open invitation to “death panels.” A dozen years ago, a very similar reform was the Senate Republican alternative to Hillarycare. Today, stimulative fiscal policy that includes tax cuts for almost every American is “socialism.” In 2001, stimulative fiscal policy that included tax cuts for rather fewer Americans was an economic-recovery program.

Frum should probably ground his intellectual arguments against the Republican Party's descent into treason and horror in Corey Robin's The Reactionary Mind. He may not have evolved that far yet, but he does acknowledge that part of what's wrong with the GOP is that somewhere in the past decade it was driven "to dust off the economics of Ayn Rand" along with bizarre notions like "ultralibertarianism, crank monetary theories, populist fury, and paranoid visions of a Democratic Party controlled by ACORN and the New Black Panthers" which now define the Republican Party. The Tea Party influence? Palin, Trump, Bachmann, Perry, Cain, Gingrich expose "a political movement that never took governing seriously was exploited by a succession of political entrepreneurs uninterested in governing-- but all too interested in merchandising. Much as viewers tune in to American Idol to laugh at the inept, borderline dysfunctional early auditions, these tea-party champions provide a ghoulish type of news entertainment each time they reveal that they know nothing about public affairs and have never attempted to learn. But Cain’s gaffe on Libya or Perry’s brain freeze on the Department of Energy are not only indicators of bad leadership. They are indicators of a crisis of followership. The tea party never demanded knowledge or concern for governance, and so of course it never got them."

Frum's got a long list of well-thought-out specifics that make today's GOP anathema to anyone who cherishes reason: "fiscal austerity and economic stagnation," "ethnic competition" (the polite way of admitting his compatriots are a bunch of racists), and "Fox News and [Hate] Talk Radio." He sounds like a normal person when he writes that "We used to say 'You’re entitled to your own opinion, but not to your own facts.' Now we are all entitled to our own facts, and conservative media use this right to immerse their audience in a total environment of pseudo-facts and pretend information."
It’s true that cynicism is never entirely absent from politics: I won’t soon forget the lupine smile that played about the lips of the leader of one prominent conservative institution as he told me, “Our donors truly think the apocalypse has arrived.” Yet conscious cynicism is much rarer than you might suppose. Few of us have the self-knowledge and emotional discipline to say one thing while meaning another. If we say something often enough, we come to believe it. We don’t usually delude others until after we have first deluded ourselves. Some of the smartest and most sophisticated people I know-- canny investors, erudite authors-- sincerely and passionately believe that President Barack Obama has gone far beyond conventional American liberalism and is willfully and relentlessly driving the United States down the road to socialism. No counterevidence will dissuade them from this belief: not record-high corporate profits, not almost 500,000 job losses in the public sector, not the lowest tax rates since the Truman administration. It is not easy to fit this belief alongside the equally strongly held belief that the president is a pitiful, bumbling amateur, dazed and overwhelmed by a job too big for him-- and yet that is done too.

...Some call this the closing of the conservative mind. Alas, the conservative mind has proved itself only too open, these past years, to all manner of intellectual pollen. Call it instead the drying up of conservative creativity.

New York's companion piece is an essay by Jonathan Chait, like all his writing a complete waste of time, worthless rubbish even when he manages to stumble onto something correct from time to time. The magazine could have saved itself the time and trouble and just linked to the tiny Caddell-Schoen circle jerk in the Wall Street Journal.

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At 7:39 AM, Anonymous Bil said...

I'm glad that Frum is "haunted by the Bush experience". He will just have to learn to sleep hanging upside down from the rafters like Sandra Day O'Connor.


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