Part of the political fallout resulting from the recently passed health-care legislation has been the alienation of David Frum from the conservative movement. Frum is a 49-year-old native of Toronto who, in the twenty-odd years since settling in New York after attending Yale and Harvard Law, has developed a reputation as an able writer and provocative, and sometimes contrarian thinker.
After publishing a book about 1970s America, How We Got Here (notable for many pages analyzing the impact of Richard Nixon’s presidency on the culture of the era), Frum became a speechwriter for George W. Bush, and, in that President’s first term, gained fame for coining the phrase “axis of evil.” (Although his original wording was “axis of hatred,” with the last word changed by Bush.)
In 2005, Frum left the Bush Administration to become a fellow at the America Enterprise Institute and a regular contributor to National Review. But in 2008, differences started to become apparent between Frum’s views and those of many conservatives when he published one blogpost and column after another criticizing Gov. Sarah Palin’s selection as the Republican vice-presidential nominee.
Although Frum declared his support for Sen. John McCain that fall, with the inauguration of President Obama (preceded by the journalist’s departure from National Review) it became evident that Frum’s thinking was closer to the accomodationism exemplified by Sam Tanenhaus’s The Death Of Conservatism that to that of the Republican establishment.
The debate over the health-care bill made it clear just how far Frum had moved from the GOP consensus. The bill’s passage by a handful of votes was taken by most Republicans as an encouraging sign. Frum wrote that he viewed the result as a Waterloo for the minority party. Soon thereafter, he parted ways with AEI.
However, he does have his defenders – notably in the land of his birth. In the Canadian magazine The Tyee, Crawford Kilian, an American who’s lived in British Columbia for almost a half-century, argues:
Rather than viewing the victory of Obama as the inevitable arrival of the Antichrist, Frum has respected Obama’s political skills and tried to draw lessons from his success — just as Nixon drew lessons from Jack Kennedy’s use of television. ([Rick] Perlstein [in Nixonland] tells us Nixon got his first training in this field from a young TV producer named Roger Ailes, now the head of Fox News.)
In effect, Frum was treating Obama intellectually, not morally. Hence his “Waterloo” rant, and the resulting uproar.
His onetime allies, however, are aggressively anti-intellectual, and enjoy moralizing about their enemies. Their world is clearly divided into good and evil, and only they are good. Apostates and heretics are doubly evil, deserving nothing but very loud contempt.
This may be as much fun as screaming at Emmanuel Goldstein during the Two-Minute Hate, as Winston Smith does in Nineteen Eighty-Four. But it is no way to build and maintain a coherent framework for a revived conservatism.