Sense and Nonsense, and David Frum

I’m going to post this with the same kind of pre-excuse that I don’t allow associates to use on the job:  typed up quickly to throw it on the table. I find Frum’s ongoing project to redefine conservatism and marginalize Republicans confused and flawed (and, frankly, annoying) in so many ways that it is hard to capture them. But it is an important topic, and I’m in a busy time at work, so this is the best I’ve got right now.


David Frum continues to make noise about the supposed Republican lurch into radicalism, speaking as what he claims is the lone (or nearly lone) voice of authentic conservatism, much to the delight of liberals, Democrats, and other sworn enemies of conservatism. His latest apologia, fittingly dispensed in the pages of the New York Times, claims that the Republican Party lost touch with reality and abandoned conservative positions across the board.

Poppycock. Frum, whatever he once was or believed, is speaking the gospel of Big Government, Progressive Republicanism, the sort that was justly described back in the days of authentic conservatism for which he longs as an acquiescence in the role of “tax collector for the welfare” state, and defeatist “go-along-get-along” politics. This is conservatism as Liberalism Lite. In Frum’s world, conservatives do not stand for a worthwhile, positive vision but serve only to throw themselves on the gears of the modern state in hopes of slowing its advance down the road to serfdom–just a little. They should not be combative or even assertive but should know their place as the perennial losers fighting an eternal rear-guard action. We should accept defeat nobly and with dignity. Surrender, in other words.

How do we know that it is Frum who either abandoned conservatism or never believed it in? It is as simple as reading his own words and what he identifies as badges of “conservative” governance. He complains that “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,” while today GOP thought leaders criticize a system under which nearly half of earners pay no income taxes. But George Bush was never a conservative. He never claimed to be. And an income tax system that excuses nearly half of income earners from taxes never was a conservative policy. It is more nearly the opposite of a conservative tax policy, particularly in the era of the modern welfare state.

Frum also inveighs: “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.” A few did. But does Frum really expect us to pretend that 911 did not happen, and that it was not the dominant event of the past decade?

“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.” Does Frum really expect anyone to believe that this massive new entitlement was a “conservative” innovation? Real conservatives opposed it at the time, as they always would have. Why and how did Frum come to define conservatism as the policy agenda of George Bush, rather than recognizing his old boss for what he was and is, a nonconservative? Was Medicare Part D part of the Contract with America? Or the Reagan platform? Or was George Bush a deviation from Republican governance since Reagan? And is this condemnation of Republican efforts to rein in Medicare costs really contained in the very same column in which he condemns them for profligate spending? Really, David? This is your best?

“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 TheWall 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.”

Let’s just overlook whether Phil Gramm spoke for all conservatives in 2000 or whether Rick Perry does today. Is Frum again unaware of any difference in economic conditions in 2000, before the tech bubble burst, let alone before 911, and the current economic situation?

“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.” We should be allowed to expect more integrity in argument than this from Frum. He’s factually wrong, to begin with; the Bush tax cuts cut taxes for virtually everyone who pays taxes, and took many completely off the rolls. But, that aside, which Republicans have said that tax cuts included in Obama’s stimulus package were socialism? We’ll go ahead and mark you down as a doctrinaire Keynesian who treats lower taxes purely as “stimulative” demand manipulation, David. But please don’t try to tell us that your position is the conservative one.

Frum massages history in strange ways. He says that Republicans are respsonsible for all our current problems because “Republicans held more power for longer than at any time since the twenties,” while completely excusing Democrats for any responsibility even for their current failures. Let’s see now, George Bush, a moderate liberal domestic President, had slight majorities in Congress for part of his eight year term. In the Senate, he scarcely ever had a majority, and Democrats decisively took over both houses in 2006. By contrast, Democrats had decisive control in 2009-10. Just as Bill Clinton did until he overreached. Just like Jimmie Carter had. And Johnson. But while Democrats have enjoyed much greater–indeed incomparable–control, they have no responsibility in Frum’s world. Only Republicans do.

And at the same time that he condemns Republicans for the results of their statecraft under George Bush, he holds up that period as the reflection of true conservatism that he claims to represent. Did I miss something here, David?

I’m not even sure what to make of statements like this one:

“The Bush years cannot be repudiated, but the memory of them can be discarded to make way for a new and more radical ideology, assembled from bits of the old GOP platform that were once sublimated by the party elites but now roam the land freely: ultralibertarianism, crank monetary theories, populist fury, and paranoid visions of a Democratic Party controlled by ACORN and the New Black Panthers.” [I don’t know how to block quote.]

Notice the ease with which he adopts the scornful rhetorical style of a partisan liberal, and equally how dismisses doubts about the Democratic Party of Obama. (Conservatives are crackpots for having raised alarms over Obama’s radical past? Does Frum understand that that past is real?)

The reality is that conservatives repudiated much of the “Bush years” while they were happening. That is true of real conservatives, at least, as opposed to people who were helping write speeches about “compassionate conservatism” and promote a huge new Medicare program. The government, the debt, the budget– all of it is much bigger now than at the beginning of the “conservative” Bush years. So you are darned right that conservatives have decided that we have reached a point where going along and getting along are no longer viable. Serious people like Paul Ryan have tried to start providing the conservative leadership we need to right our course and get through this time when our very survival sometimes seems at stake. But it is precisely this sober leadership that Frum seems to despise is radical kookery.

There is much else in Frum’s column with which to take issue. When he is at odds with 99% of conservatives, perhaps, just perhaps, it is he who is not what he claims to be. I’m happy for Frum that he has his blog with a little crowd of liberal “Republicans” to tell him how smart and honest he is. But he is not relevant to conservative Republicans except to continue to remind us of what has been most wrong with the party for many years:  lack of principle, self-doubt and even self-hatred, liberal elitism, resignment to surrender as the noble course.

69 Responses

  1. Frum knows where his bread is buttered. I'm sure many of his positions are sincere, but how he chooses to express them may be influenced by the venues he is publishing in, for which he is compensated. He's also clearly ticked off that a conservative think tank that was paying him to produce work that they claim he was not fired him. While not unsympathetic to some of Frum's complaints (and, in fairness, folks much more conservative than Frum have worried about the optics of some of the GOP front runners), Frum rarely seems to addres the obvious political success the Republicans have enjoyed by taking hard right stands and sticking to their guns. Also, a Republican may like a particular liberal policy (I've been known to), but it's simply not accurate to characterize any expansion of Medicare as "conservative". That's just silly. Also, Frum is really, really fond of saying stuff like this: The Bush years cannot be repudiated, but the memory of them can be discarded to make way for a new and more radical ideology, assembled from bits of the old GOP platform that were once sublimated by the party elites but now roam the land freely: ultralibertarianism, crank monetary theories, populist fury, and paranoid visions of a Democratic Party controlled by ACORN and the New Black Panthers.In which he excuses himself (when I was in the Bush administration, we were great, mostly because of me, but still) and goes on to make broad, sweeping statements with no substantiation and not even a compelling example. No doubt, sympathetic liberals will supply their own, but he does this a lot, to the point where I feel like asking: break it down for me. I want to see how X connects to Y connects to Z. You keep suggesting that the GOP not doing what you want them to is a disaster for both party and country, but it's a little early and incomplete to judge the country (there is a Democrat in the Whitehouse, after all, and the Dems controlled both houses up until 2010), and the Republicans keep winning elections at the national and local level. They lose some. And then win some more. There are are more Republicans in power across the country than there were 30 years ago. This is a profound political failure? But while Democrats have enjoyed much greater–indeed incomparable–control, they have no responsibility in Frum's world. Only Republicans do. It's also worth looking at what both Democrats and Republicans do with their majorities. The Republican majorities sought bigger government and statist solutions, with some deregulation, where lobbied for by big donors. The Democrats? Very similar. DC politicians have not done radically different things from each other, though they may talk very different games.

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  2. I read one or two of the links to Frum that were provided over at PL. I pretty much stopped after that.He seems to love what he does, and it's great he can earn a living and gain attention doing what he loves. We should all be so fortunate.That said, I find him easy to ignore.

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  3. He's like Michael Gerson. "the libertarians are coming, the libertarians and coming. hide your kids, hide your wife."

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  4. Surely Frum will have some defenders somewhere.His holding up George Bush as the conservative benchmark is simply bizarre. Bush was quoted several years ago as telling a speech writer to remove all references to a conservative movement, saying that there is no conservative movement, because he whupped Gary Bauer in 2000.I like Bush as a person and in some ways as a President. There were some mildly conservative aspects to him. But he was overall moderate-liberal at best. His overt hostility to conservatives should tell the Frums of the world something.

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  5. Are we still pretending that Excitable Andrew Sullivan is Conservative as well?

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  6. Bush was a supply-sider in regards to taxes and a FP hawk. However, he was also (after 9/11) a nation builder, which is not a conservative position, but generally gets a pass as being a conservative position. Anyhoo, many liberals consider Bush an arch conservative, but they judge him primarily by tax cuts and hawkishness. And being too overtly religious, and apparently being sincere about it. 😉 "Compassionate conservatism" told me all I needed to know about Bush. He accepted a left-leaning canard that there was broadly something somehow inherently more compassionate about liberalism than conservatism philosophically. Which is not a position that any conservative I know actually accepts. I liked a lot of things about Bush, especially his SS reform. Didn't sell it well, apparently, but I was and remain a big fan of the idea.

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  7. Compassionate conservatism was neither.

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  8. Troll: Are we still pretending that Excitable Andrew Sullivan is Conservative as well?I got into an argument about that a year or two ago, and ended up as a part of that diving into the stuff that Sullivan wrote when he was taking a position on political issues and not musing about the maternity of Sarah Palin's children. It was striking what a cogent defender and explicator of conservative positions Mr. Sullivan was–I read some stuff, most of it 6 or more years old at the time, that was just outstanding. Occasionally, when he defends a conservative position, in a moment of lucidity, he still sounds rational. There are very few conservative positions that I can find that he's renounced (he's always supported gay marriage)–he just doesn't talk about them anymore. Which perhaps means he's abandoned conservatism, but all I can say as that when he obsesses over Palin or other GOPpers or conservatives he doesn't like, he sounds like he should be a diarist of for the Daily Kos. Trying to find an example of rational Sullivan, now that I want it, is harder than I thought. Ah, well.

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  9. Andrew Sullivan is quite and educated and intelligent guy, who does, somewhere down in his benighted soul actually know a thing or two about conservatism and other political philosophies. But he lost his mind. Perhaps the idea of being a "conservative" proponent of gay marriage really is as untenable as we right-wingers tend to say it is.kw, I agree with most of your take on Bush. Shocker!

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  10. "Compassionate conservatism was neither."Wow, how profound.

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  11. I won't presume to defend Frum as conservative; instead I'll ask who is? In the long screed above I see passing mention of Rep Ryan, but nothing about what or who defines the conservative movement. When conservatism is about limiting gov't & balancing liberals, there is a lot to be said for it. But when it becomes orthodoxy that taxes can always be cut and all government is bad, its drifting into excessively reactionary territory.

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  12. "Perhaps the idea of being a "conservative" proponent of gay marriage really is as untenable as we right-wingers tend to say it is."From a libertarian perspective, what's the state's interest in banning same sex marriage? It seems very conservative, by some definitions, to argue the state has no business regulating personal behaviors.

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  13. From a libertarian perspective, what's the state's interest in banning same sex marriage?There's no question of "banning" it. It's a question of legally recognizing it. You can probably construct some sort of libertarian defense of state recognition of ssm. But not a conservative defense. It seems very conservative, by some definitions, to argue the state has no business regulating personal behaviors.Not changing the legal definition of marriage to encompass ssm (and this imo render it a meaningless oxymoron) isn't regulation of personal behavior.

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  14. Sullivan was pretty badly shaken by how badly we were lied to about the Iraq war. It was the moment when the scales fell off the eyes of a lot of conservatives about the motivation of the Republican party. I won't dare paraphrase him, but here are his words.

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  15. "Not changing the legal definition of marriage to encompass ssm (and this imo render it a meaningless oxymoron) isn't regulation of personal behavior."I'm not following. Are you saying it should be up to the states?

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  16. qb: There's no question of "banning" it. It's a question of legally recognizing it. DOMA and constitutional amendments recognizing marriage as only between a man and a woman is, in essence, banning. So there is some question of it, though it's semantic: how do you ban something that technically hasn't existed? bsimon: In the long screed above I see passing mention of Rep Ryan, but nothing about what or who defines the conservative movement. In your short screed about that long screed, I see the word screed used, where "diatribe" might have been more apropos. 🙂 But conservatism is not only about individual leaders, though we may love our Ronald Reagans. I'm not a huge fan of Paul Ryan, though some of the conservatives I respect the most are. My favorite conservatives right now are James Lileks, Peter Robinson, and Rob Long, all of whom can be heard on the Ricochet podcast. I'm sure other folks can point to other people making interesting and articulate points about conservatism, in and of itself and versus liberalism. I miss Reagan and Bill Buckley.

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  17. "sort of libertarian defense of state recognition of ssm"only as a 2nd best option. the first being that this is yet another example of what the state does best: discriminating against some for the benefit of others. the solution of course, it not to fight over how the state discriminates, but stop discriminating. so instead of all us seeking out the state's blessing for our particular individual relationships, the state should be silent on this issue and stop handing out marriage licenses altogether. but this clearly is not a conservative position.

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  18. It is irrelevant to this point whether the federal government or states decide. Either way, there isn't a policy change more radical (anti-conservative) than changing the definition of marriage to include ssm.

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  19. DOMA and constitutional amendments recognizing marriage as only between a man and a woman is, in essence, banning.That could be true of an amendment depending on how it was written, but isn't true of DOMA, which only defines marriage for purposes of federal law.

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  20. Either way, there isn't a policy change more radical (anti-conservative) than changing the definition of marriage to include ssm.A policy that allowed for marriage to dead people, or inanimate objects. 😉

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  21. So, who gets to define conservatism? QB seems to be taking the 'slow to change' position. But, once society stabilizes following a change, doesn't that kind of conservatism require keeping social security & medicare?

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  22. Oy; kW, can we go with polygamy before raising to the necro-beast examples?

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  23. Asking who gets to define conservatism is not a meaningful question imo. But "slow to change" is a terrible oversimplification by any standard, as is the idea that it must preserve whatever is.

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  24. …can we go with polygamy before raising to the necro-beast examples?Also known as The Santorum Example.

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  25. QB I ask because conservatives are not consistent. The libertarians claim to be conservative, but you reject their radicalism. Frum rejects the tea party radicalism and asks why they get to redefine the Republican party to exclude the Frums as RINOs. As a moderate who values the old Republican party & conservatives like Buckley for effectively reining in liberal excesses, I have to side with Frum – the current GOP is off the rails in crazy land.

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  26. bsimon: "Oy; kW, can we go with polygamy before raising to the necro-beast examples?"It doesn't work. I wanted an example of a more anti-conservative policy. Polygamy, while not politically conservative in the modern era, would be more conservative than ssm, not less. There's a much longer and more established tradition, even in America, of polygamy than ssm. Marrying the dead (like in that classic 1974 film with Roddy McDowell, Arnold) or fetish marriages (such as marrying a wall, or a pair of shoes) would seem clearly more radical than same-sex marriage.

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  27. "So, who gets to define conservatism?"I always found Barry Goldwater, aka Mr. Conservative a useful benchmark.Always a good present for those conservatives on your shopping list who don't already have it:The Conscience of a Conservative

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  28. " the current GOP is off the rails in crazy land."Loud and proud, my friend, loud and fucking proud! I wish it were true. Describe the "crazy land" things the current GOP has done?Slowing down the rate of growth is not particularly conservative, as far as I understand the principle, but I don't think even that has been put forward.

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  29. bsimon:The libertarians claim to be conservative…They do? I think libertarianism tends to overlap a lot more with conservatism than liberalism, which is why libertarians often find themelves allied with conservatives over political issues. But I don't think libertarians would generally claim to be conservative.

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  30. bsimon: Frum rejects the tea party radicalism and asks why they get to redefine the Republican party to exclude the Frums as RINOs. The reason they get to do that is simple: elections matter. Electoral success matters a lot, and to the victors go the spoils. Frum was arguing that the tea party was going to be bad for the Republicans electorally, and it simply wasn't the case, especially in local and district elections. The Tea Party may not win the presidency (or the nomination), but Frum seems to routinely confuse his personal distaste for the Tea Party with some kind of universal truth. And the elections of 2010 suggested to me, and many other people, that at the bare minimum the Tea Party whackadoodles had more going for them than David Frum. I'm not a fan of many elected Republicans, for a variety of reasons. However, I don't find them especially off the rails crazy as compared to, say, Nancy Pelosi or Cynthia McKinney or, heck, Barney Frank. But DC politics is not going to be populated with conciliatory moderates.

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  31. Scott: But I don't think libertarians would generally claim to be conservative.On a wide variety of issues, depending on the person. I'm with the libertarians on The War on Drugs. Though I'm probably not with the libertarians (some of them) as regards isolationism, or barebones government, or abolition of public schools, etc. McWing: Describe the "crazy land" things the current GOP has done?Done is in "debate performance" or "stump speech", or actually accomplished in terms of policy? There's a fair amount of the former, precious little of the latter. Although I'm all for calling Medicare Part D off the rails crazy, that was a long time ago. Waited until the last minute to raise the debt ceiling? That's about the craziest unified thing I've seen the congressional GOP manage recently.

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  32. Should have put "scare quotes" around "craziest". I think various members of the elected GOP and our current crop of presidential contestants have said some eccentric things, or turned in bizarre performances, but as far as what they've accomplished–like preserving the Bush tax cuts–"off the rails crazy" is an off-the-rails crazy description. I may agree or disagree, but preserving what has been established policy for a long time is not off-the-rails-crazy, especially facing an economic downturn that is (a) bad, but not exactly the great depression and (b) confined to areas not easily ameliorated by greater government spending, nor magically transformed by higher taxes on rich people. That being said, if I ever run for president, I'm going to pledge to immediately cut three government agencies. Just shut them down. When asked which three agencies I plan to shut down, I'm going to say: "Three of 'em. Big ones. Otherwise, it doesn't really matter which, we've got too many damned agencies, anyway. First ones I see as I walk in the door. Gone."I'll show 'em off the rails crazy!

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  33. Describe the "crazy land" things the current GOP has done?Does blatant pandering count as crazy? Because the whole recent debate over 'In God We Trust' was a completely bogus and useless non-issue.

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  34. "I always found Barry Goldwater, aka Mr. Conservative a useful benchmark."A more fiscal/libertarian conservative than social conservative, correct? I.e. on the same-sex marriage front, my understanding is that Goldwater is in the 'not the government's domain' school of thought.

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  35. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  36. yellojkt: Does blatant pandering count as crazy? Because the whole recent debate over 'In God We Trust' was a completely bogus and useless non-issue.Crazy like a fox!Silly and a waste of time perhaps. Off-the-rails crazy should end with something on fire.

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  37. QB I ask because conservatives are not consistent. The libertarians claim to be conservative, but you reject their radicalism.I don't know who or what you are talking about. The complex alliance that is American conservatism has included strands of traditionalist or organic conservatism and libertarianism (not the nihilistic libertarianism of the left). The relationship between the two is interesting, and more often than not people find they have a foot in both camps. But libertarians typically identify that way in part to differentiate themselves from traditional, or organic, or social conservatives.As a moderate who values the old Republican party & conservatives like Buckley for effectively reining in liberal excesses, I have to side with Frum – the current GOP is off the rails in crazy land.I'm quite certain you considered Buckley off the rails, too, just an educated and urbane version. After all, many of the people who stand against Frum (and Brooks) were his own hand-picked disciples. You probably put Rich Lowry in the crazy camp (well, you would have to), but Rich was WFB's hand-picked successor.Liberals today love to claim that WFB would be appalled at TP types or insurgents who challenge RINO office holders and candidates. Perhaps they aren't aware that WFB was one of the first, and maybe the first, of the RINO hunters. He organized the effort to take out Lowell Weicker. Better a moderate Democrat than a liberal Republican! Indeed, moving the party right and wresting it from the hands of moderates and liberals was one of the main objectives of the conservative movement and networks that WFB and associates launched in the 50s and 60s. That's where Ronald Reagan came from. The conservative movement launched by WFB culminated in defeating the Nelson Rockefeller wing and nominating the radical insurgent Ronald Reagan.It's like Scott or Troll says, conservatives only become acceptable to many liberals when they are dead or gone, and, I would add, when it is convenient. Conservatism isn't Liberalism Lite or here just to delay "progress" by a few days, and never has been.

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  38. qb: Liberals today love to claim that WFB would be appalled at TP types or insurgents who challenge RINO office holders and candidates. Perhaps they aren't aware that WFB was one of the first, and maybe the first, of the RINO hunters. He organized the effort to take out Lowell Weicker. Indeed, moving the party right and wrest it from the hands of moderates and liberals was one of the main objectives of the conservative movement and networks that WFB and associates launched in the 50s and 60s. That's where Ronald Reagan came from. The conservative movement launched by WFB culminated in defeating the Nelson Rockefeller wing and nominating the radical insurgent Ronald Reagan.Indeed! WFB was also a libertarian on drug laws (perpetually) and opposed the Iraq war–a principled conservative to the end. He'd find much to be affectionate towards amongst the Tea Partiers, I think. He was less enamored of the neocons. I do miss the urbanity. The erudition. I'm sure Rick Perry and Herman Cain are fine people and very smart in certain sphere's, but The WFBs . . . sigh. His immense vocabulary alone was an intellectual challenge to the lay reader. It's like Scott or Troll says, conservatives only become acceptable to many liberals when they are dead or gone, and, I would add, when it is convenient.True indeed. But, more pleasant than the folks keeping a special bottle of champagne in the fridge so they can pop the cork with this or the other conservative has finally assumed room temperature.

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  39. "Perhaps they aren't aware that WFB was one of the first, and maybe the first, of the RINO hunters. "True but first he dealt with the John Birch society.

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  40. jnc4p: True but first he dealt with the John Birch society.Who would he be dealing with today, do you imagine? Glenn Beck? Rush Limbaugh told a story on his show around the time of the Perot phenomenon, explaining how he had been courted by the Birchers, and ultimately ended up rejecting them. I believe WFB influenced his thinking on that, but it has been a while since I heard that particular story.

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  41. "Who would he be dealing with today, do you imagine? Glenn Beck?"Yes.

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  42. Also reminds me of a quote I heard attributed to Ronald Reagan along the lines of Reagan saying that just because a group supported him does not mean that he support the group.

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  43. kevin:Who would he be dealing with today, do you imagine? Glenn Beck?When was the last time Beck was in the news for anything? Maybe I am out of touch, but once he left FOX his influence on the national debate seems to have dwindled into nothing.

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  44. When was the last time Beck was in the news for anything? Maybe I am out of touch, but once he left FOX his influence on the national debate seems to have dwindled into nothing.He's doing all right on the radio, and with his Beck TV thing, as far as I know. Were the John Bircher's really a national force at the time? Although they are still around, they may have worked their way into some important positions that required purging from WFB, but I don't get the impression (this having been before my time) the Birchers were huge.

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  45. "I'm quite certain you considered Buckley off the rails, too"How can you be so certain; did we know each other then? In any case, I didn't say I agreed with him; I said I valued him. Libertarians have some good ideas too, but if they got everything they want we'd have anarchy.

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  46. "Were the John Bircher's really a national force at the time?"In the 1950's and 1960's I'd say so. More to the point, with claims about Eisenhower being a communist agent and the evils of fluoridation of the water supply, they were being used to tar the entire conservative movement. Check out the linked article from Commentary magazine by WFB.I would love for WFB to somehow come back from the dead and be given the sole power to moderate the Republican debates.

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  47. An interesting thread. W was a near polar opposite to me politically. Liberal in ways I didn't like (Medicare Part D, NCLB) and conservative in ways I didn't like (SS "reform", a fair number of social issues, that unnecessary war thing).In any event, it's a well written explication of movement conservatism. The funny thing is that I don't think Romney, Gingrich or Huntsman would sit easily there. [Romney at the moment would, but let's be honest, if there was an Olympic event for flip flopping, he'd score a 10.] I would like to see a candidate who met with full approval of strong conservatives be the Republican nominee. Elections are a great way of contrasting positions. I'll give you your 30 and take the rest.BB

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  48. "Who would he be dealing with today, do you imagine? Glenn Beck?"Yes.I doubt that, a lot. Beck seems like a bit of a screw ball, but he's not the JBS.I always see liberals say the same thing about Rush–WFB would be appalled. Well, WFB was actually a friend and fan of Rush's. Rush idolized him, like many conservatives did, and WFB reached out to him and invited him into his circle. How can you be so certain; did we know each other then?Because I've seen this same pattern of argument over and over and over, in which liberals claim that today's GOP is radical and crazy compared to the good old days of Buckley and Reagan, and I read virtually every word WFB wrote for decades up to his death. Liberals said all the same things at every point for the past 30+ years–the same things you are saying now. Conservative Republicans are always crazy. The chasm you claim lies between the current GOP and the GOP of Reagan and Buckley is imaginary. That's how I am certain they would be just as crazy to you.

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  49. I'll give you your 30 and take the rest.That's dreaming. Conservatives substantially outnumber liberals.

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  50. I don't think I'm particularly liberal. I also think conservatives misremember Reagan's borrow-and-spend ways.

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  51. Yes, QB, but conservatives who can't abide folks such as Frum don't outnumber everybody else. There is a portion of the electorate who will vote for Obama. It's probably about 45% to 47%. There's a portion of the electorate who could not. I'd put it a bit lower, probably in the low 40s. Think about it for a bit. Those who would meet your standard are probably a much lower fraction of the electorate. The last five nominees of the Republican party have been McCain, Bush (W), Dole, and Bush (HW). How many of those individuals would you consider ideologically acceptable? Given that track record, I'm comfortable with my 70/30 assessment.You're an ideologue. That's not a criticism. I don't think I am, but I am a partisan. In another forum, I've had frequent contact with those who strike me as analogous to you, but who are on the left. In a different context, I've failed the liberal test. S'okay. I know where I am and I stand on that ground.One last point. Your insistence that you know how others feel says much more about you than them. Even when you don't have evidence, you pigeonholed Simon. Instead of telling him how you think he'd vote, how about asking him?BB

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  52. FB,Your electoral analysis loses me. I don't know how you are getting from A to B. Polls rather consistently show that there are more self-identifying conservatives than liberals, and the electorate is overall more conservative than liberal. To suppose that a conservative would receive only 30% against a liberal is next to absurd. I would have thought that would be obvious given that you postulate 40+% who would never vote for Obama.I don't insist that I know how others feel. But I do evaluate what people say, and I'm quite confident that people who say that WFB or Reagan were reasonable but current GOp conservatives are crazy, etc., are engaged in revisionist personal and political history. All the same things were always said about WFB, Reagan, and every other vigorous conservative.I didn't say anything about how bsimon would vote, but when someone says the GOP is off the rails crazy and reactionary, it would be a fairly safe to assume it wouldn't be for the GOP or any conservative.You're welcome to conclude whatever you want about me from my comments. It makes no difference to me.

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  53. "To suppose that a conservative would receive only 30% against a liberal is next to absurd."At general election time, do you expect Romney, or the eventual nominee, to move to the center, or keep pandering to the base?

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  54. It presumably will depend on the instructions he receives with his monthly checks from the Koch Barons.

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  55. Lots of aspersions to cast, but not many positions to take, I see.

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  56. David Frum would show up in those polls as a self-identifying conservative. I read your post as how he, Brooks and any of those who don't vote down the line don't qualify as conservatives. So, I think your definition probably picks up 25% – 30% of the electorate.I do think you misread the electorate. How people self identify is irrelevant. That mostly conservative electorate voted for Obama. Clinton too. Prior to McCain's self immolation in Fall 2008, the race was fairly even with a slight edge to Obama. That simply does not comport with your notion of the American electorate. It also precedes the financial melt down, so that wasn't a factor. There's also the 2006 election to factor in.Here's the cold, hard truth. The American electorate shifts and the parties shift with it. The Democratic party of 2012 is more conservative than the Democratic party of 1972. Any notion of permanent majorities is deeply naive. The parties will shift to survive. Above all, that's what they do. BB

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  57. I know who is a libertarian. I know who is a social libertarian, a political libertarian, and an economic libertarian.I know that Goldwater defined conservatism in my generation of first time voters in 1964 and that he was a libertarian hawk. I know that Goldwater and his disciple, RWR, both had pragmatic streaks. I did not think much of RWR's first term but his second term was marked by FP success that I roundly applauded. I came to think of George Schulz as a great SecState while he was SecState and I had to rapidly revise my opinion of RWR upward, accordingly.I never thought RWR was a low quality pol, even in 1980, when I voted for Anderson. I do think that Bachmann is a low quality pol, to be clear.Among current pols who does QB think is "conservative", "moderate" and "liberal"? Who does Tao think is "conservative", "liberal", and "moderate"? Same question to each of us. So I will answer for myself. Ryan, TX Land Commish Patterson, Huntsman, Jindal, Christie, McCain, and George Will are conservatives. Frank, Boxer, Pelosi, Durbin, and Krugman are liberals.The Maine Senators, Lugar, the Clintons, Bloomberg, BHO, Robert Gates, Bush 41,and Nelson [FL], and David Brooks are moderates.Congresswomen Bachman and Waters are cartoon characters.FWIW – Gary Johnson is my fave libertarian.

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  58. FB:That mostly conservative electorate voted for Obama. Clinton too.Clinton never won a majority of votes.Prior to McCain's self immolation in Fall 2008, the race was fairly even with a slight edge to Obama. …It also precedes the financial melt down, so that wasn't a factor.On September 9, one week before the financial crisis began with the collapse of Lehman Brothers, McCain led in 3 of 4 polls, and was tied in the fourth.The Democratic party of 2012 is more conservative than the Democratic party of 1972. By what measure?

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  59. I like Buddy Romer.

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  60. qb,I was re-reading the post and you mentioned that you don't know how to block-quote. When you are composing the post, there is a toolbar at the top with a lot of very handy formatting buttons and one of them is the little quote marks. Just highlight all the text you want in the quote and then click the button. You can even go back into the published post and polish it up. That is how I find and fix all the typos on my own blog.The link button has also been vastly improved over older versions of Blogger. If you prefer to bold rather than use block quotes, the toolbar also has text formatting buttons for bold and italics.

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  61. Lots of aspersions to cast, but not many positions to take, I see. So, when you say the GOP is off the rails crazy, it is casting aspersions to say you probably don't vote GOP? Or when you ask a question that amounts to when will Romney stop beating his wife, and I respond with an equally serious question?The analysis isn't that complicated here imo. People who claim that the GOP is crazy, radical, extremist today would, if they were honest, have to have said the same thing 10 or 20 or 30 years ago. And in fact liberals did say it. Ted Kennedy said it. The NYT and its stable of liberal establishment columnists said it. TV anchors said it. There is no yawning gap between conservative Republicans now and conservative Republicans then. If so, please tell us on what core principles or issues that have radically moved. Lower taxes, shrinking government? Strong defense? Abortion? Democrats, on the other hand, have moved left. No more era of big government over. Instead, we need more and more government. Schumer just said that again. Democrats have been radicalized on abortion and same-sex marriage. And Barack Obama, for all his posturing toward the center, is far out to the left. (No one with a brain, for example, believed he was against same-sex marriage. He just lied for political gain about that.)So when people old enough to remember say conservatives today are crazy but weren't 10 or 20 years ago, they are at best fooling themselves. Reagan was a lunatic, Cowboy, hater of the poor, etc. So were all conservatives, always. We've never stopped hearing this same stuff for 30 years. Reagan wanted people homeless, and would surely blow up the world. Bork wanted segregation. The GOP Congress was utterly destroying the institution itself, Jim Wright and his media friends cried! These people are barbarians at the gate! The 1994 election was a temper tantrum by angry white people, Peter Jennings told us. Newt was crazy then, just like he is now. Then, your side pilloried Gary Bauer, Pat Robertson, or Phyllis Schlafly. Those Religious Right, Moral Majority kooks would everyone in stocks!Nothing at all has changed, and I simply don't believe anyone who says the right-wingers of today are extremists but those of 5 or 10 or 20 years ago were different.

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  62. David Frum would show up in those polls as a self-identifying conservative. I read your post as how he, Brooks and any of those who don't vote down the line don't qualify as conservatives.Yes, he would. He also says he voted for McCain and against Obama, whom he considered radically on the left. My point about Frum (and Brooks, to the extent he is similar) is that he is not speaking for conservatism. He talks a good rhetorical game in the abstract. He's for less government and lower taxes, in theory. But on concrete issues and real people, he now consistently falls the other way. I can't fathom how someone as smart as he is would hold up Medicare D as a benchmark of conservative policy. He is functionally moderate at best, liberal at worst, however he chooses to regard himself philosophically, but he still voted for McCain, so he contradicts rather than supports your contention that a conservative candidate could get only 30%.Prior to McCain's self immolation in Fall 2008, the race was fairly even with a slight edge to Obama. That simply does not comport with your notion of the American electorate. I really can't follow you. My notion is that a conservative would get more than the 30% you claim is the ceiling, because surveys show that the electorate is in fact more conservative than liberal. One election with a horrendous candidate and exceptional circumstances doesn't in any way contradict that notion. Indeed, if you were right, Obama should have gotten closer to 70%, and that is a far-fetched notion. Here's the cold, hard truth. The American electorate shifts and the parties shift with it.

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  63. Yello,Thanks for that advice, but yesterday you essentially called me a racist, so you'll understand if I'm still not going to pretend to be on civil terms with you.Sorry, kevin, and anyone else who might find this upsetting, but as I said yesterday, I'm not indulging in pretenses here, and certainly not after being smeared as a racist by this guy.

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  64. I see that I cut off the rest of my reply to FB:Here's the cold, hard truth. The American electorate shifts and the parties shift with it.I don't disagree with that. There is a fuzzy middle who doesn't know what it believes.The Democratic party of 2012 is more conservative than the Democratic party of 1972.First, I think this is dramatically incorrect. Second, since you are arguing that the parties shift with political necessity, it seems inexplicable that the Democratic Party would have moved right with the political winds if, as you also claim, conservatism is a small minority philosophy.

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  65. Mark,Santorum is a conservative.Pelosi is a liberal (so is Obama).Lieberman is a moderate (but not a very useful category imo).Paul is a libertarian (and a nut, especially on foreign policy).I think it's too exhausting and takes more time than I can devote at the moment to categorize a lot more people. But I do not consider Republicans who always tend to favor or go along with expansions of government and spending to be conservatives, just because they want to go slower than liberals.Nor do I consider anyone who favors same-sex marriage as remotely conservative, particularly as ssm has been imposed in the states where it has been imposed. For reasons I can hopefully discuss later, I think that is about as good a litmus test for true conservatism as there could be.

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  66. Got it. Mitt (or the eventual nominee) is not pandering to the GOP base & will not move to the center in the general. I suspect that analysis is wrong. this country is not as 'right' as we self-identify. That's why social security is still a third rail. And Medicare. And unemployment insurance. What we still are is a something-for-nothing country. The party that sells that bill of goods better wins. "Tax cuts pay for themselves!"

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  67. Government spending pays for itself! Tax increases make people wealthier!When I start seeing you trashing Democrats for pandering and extremism, then maybe I'll think you are some sort of moderate, but I don't see that. It's just my opinion. It really shouldn't matter to you.

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  68. I don't claim that conservatism is a small minority philosophy. Rather, I think you've conflated a couple of different things. The number of people who self-identify as conservatives (which would include Frum, Brooks, Gerson et al.) and your opinions as to what constitutes a conservative.I also think you're profoundly mistaken that the "fuzzy middle" doesn't know what it believes. But that's another topic for another night.BB

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  69. I think you are playing something of a shell game. You orginally asserted that a conservative candidate would lose 70/30.No matter how you try, there's no way to rationalize that or square it with political reality.

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