The Tone of David Frum
Jonah Goldberg offers astute praise of David Frum in this post, which is worth reading in full, but given my interests I think the criticism he levies is more interesting.
If I were convinced by his analysis — and I am not — I still wouldn’t argue my points the way he does. If you think Rush, Beck, Hannity, Palin, et al. are bad for conservatism, that’s fine. If you think that the Right is too committed to tax cuts or that its emphasis on social issues is hurting it with the young and the affluent, that’s totally reasonable (if not necessarily persuasive or dispositive). But time and again David seems to relish and glory in the GOP’s “failures.” And this makes no sense to me.
It seems like the day before yesterday Frum was putting steel in the spine of the GOP on immigration, gay marriage, etc. If he really believed those things then and he believes his new analysis about the GOP now, then he should at least be remorseful about the changing times and the need for the party and movement to moderate. He should be saying things like “I wish I was wrong, but we have to face reality.”
He should be celebrating when his thesis has been disproved (as it was, to one extent or another, in every off-year election of the last 12 months). He should be saying, “As much as I disagree with how Rush says X, I have to concede on the merits he’s right about X.” And he should both cheer and revisit his thesis when serious social conservatives win without compromising their beliefs (as happened in the McDonnell election).
I am not sure why Jonah Goldberg demands that conservatives who disagree with movement orthodoxy craft prose that is dripping with regret. Perhaps he can explain the value that emotional posturing adds. I do know that Mr. Frum’s writing often does nod to regret at conservative failures in just the way Mr. Goldberg seems to want, that his core project is expressed in prose that is hardly “giddy” at conservative failures, and that even in his infamous Rush Limbaugh take-down piece notes:
I’m a pretty conservative guy. On most issues, I doubt Limbaugh and I even disagree very much. But the issues on which we do disagree are maybe the most important to the future of the conservative movement and the Republican Party: Should conservatives be trying to provoke or persuade? To narrow our coalition or enlarge it? To enflame or govern? And finally (and above all): to profit—or to serve?
Huh. Frum acknowledges broad agreement with Limbaugh, and then notes areas where they disagree — it’s almost as if he did exactly what Jonah Goldberg accuses him of never doing.
As I’ve previously written in an open letter to Jonah Goldberg, I am a fan of his work — but one thing Mr. Goldberg and I disagree about is the posture that right of center writers should take. This was demonstrated most starkly when he noted a willingness to “do my part” in the spin wars. Demanding that dissident conservatives criticize the movement with palpable regret is a less egregious position, and perhaps Mr. Goldberg is merely trying to say that Mr. Frum would be more convincing to movement conservatives were his rhetoric less tone deaf to their feelings.
On the other hand, there are lots of folks who read the comments on Sarah Palin’s Facebook page, the less thoughtful cheer-leading posts at The Corner, and “friendly” commentary at sundry other venues in movement conservatism, and come away frustrated by the group think, sycophantic tone, the spin, and suspicious of whatever is written. I know a lot of independent minded folks who are friendly to the tenets of conservatism and libertarianism, but who can’t stand the movement — and for these folks, it is writers like Mr. Goldberg who are sometimes tone deaf, and “ruffle some feathers by putting things baldly” writers like Mr. Frum who are a breath of fresh air. Since Mr. Frum wants to ally dissident conservatives with new converts to the movement, I suspect that the tone he takes is strategically the right one.