The entire Internet seems to be discussing the American Enterprise Institute’s firing of patriotic Canadian-American conservative David Frum. Perhaps the best examination is that by Gabriel Winant in Salon, who suggests that Frum helped bring on himself his expulsion from one of the pillars of modern American conservatism/Republicanism. Many observers have pointed out the irony of the author of “Unpatriotic Conservatives,” the National Review piece in which Frum summarily expelled right-wingers against the ill-advised Iraq War from the movement, now himself being purged. But Winant’s analysis is more specific. This is how Frum ended his piece:
They began by hating the neoconservatives. They came to hate their party and this president. They have finished by hating their country.
War is a great clarifier. It forces people to take sides. The paleoconservatives have chosen — and the rest of us must choose too. In a time of danger, they have turned their backs on their country. Now we turn our backs on them.
You won’t find much of a defense of Buchanan or the paleoconservatives here, but that kind of bombast — “war is a great clarifier” — sure doesn’t look great in retrospect. Frum and his allies weren’t just trying to drum some unsavory types out of the movement. They were also working at making it impossible for a Republican to oppose the party line on the crucial issue of the day — an issue on which they turned out to be disastrously wrong themselves. …
[I]t seems that the fundamental problem is more in the idea that conservatism has to be a monolith at all times. For a movement that has become obsessed with warding off the evils of socialism, the right wing does dearly love a purge.
Winant’s line between those two paragraphs is: “Now that Frum is the right wing’s victim, rather than its enforcer, he’s easy to sympathize with.” But some might say he’s making it rather hard to do so. Matthew Yglesias succinctly Tweeted, “When @davidfrum was the purger rather than the purgee,” and linked to that infamous National Review piece. Frum’s response? “Piece stands up pretty well, I’m pleased to see.” And he linked to it himself, for good measure. No mea culpa here. No recognition of the irony. Not even a playfully self-deprecating hint that karma might be involved. (And Frum can be a witty guy, as evidenced in this recent post in which he takes to task the Sarah Palin-Glenn Beck style of conservatism in passing—might TAC readers find “common cause,” a phrase he used disparagingly in “Unpatriotic Conservatives,” with David Frum? The piece turned out to be prescient: “And here in the capital – where the media elite spend their leisure hours worrying over the next round of lay-offs and buy-outs – what are the opportunities that beckon most lucratively? Is Tunku so unworldly that he imagines that the big lobbying firms pay 6-figure salaries to people who DISSENT from their party leadership?”)
But perhaps Frum is more self-aware than I give him credit for being. “They aspire to reinvent conservative ideology,” he indignantly wrote of the unpatriotic conservatives. Many accuse the author of Comeback: Conservatism That Can Win Again—a book in which he advised the GOP to call for a carbon tax and wondered, “Why shouldn’t Republicans adopt the obesity issue as our own?”—of doing just that.
His wife certainly seems to understand what’s going on. Mrs. Frum speaks! In a post on her husband’s FrumForum site in his defense, Danielle Crittenden writes:
We have both been part of the conservative movement for, as mentioned, the better part of half of our lives. And I can categorically state I’ve never seen such a hostile environment towards free thought and debate–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.
That last line might be the truest spoken about this whole méli-mélo.
Bonus link: David Frum debates TAC contributing editor Andrew J. Bacevich on Bloggingheads.tv here.