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Thursday, March 25, 2010  

Why This Particular Liberal Likes David Frum

Man, the long knives sure seem to be out for former Bush speechwriter and End to Evil prophet David Frum. He's even made an "abrupt and unexpected" departure from AEI. The whole beef seems to be that Frum, in the aftermath of the final House vote on health care, found fault with the strategy pursued by the GOP leadership.

I sometimes enjoy reading David Frum not because I think he's a stealth liberal or a sensible centrist (the one group of people whose writing is almost uniformly worthless), or because I feel like he switches teams sometimes out of personal pique or because he's seeking my cocktail-drenched regard. Insofar as this liberal likes David Frum it's because he writes like a normal person might write. Sometimes criticizing your own team is part of that.

According to Yglesias, the Frum anathema is "a great example of how much less self-critical the right is in the United States than the left. We hit the tiniest snag in the road and everyone wants to start penning the “this is what everyone is doing wrong” piece. They lose the most important legislative fight in decades and just whine about Democrats being mean." This is true. If anything, it understates the pathology of liberal self-hatred. We just won the biggest policy battle of my lifetime and there are plenty of liberal voices accusing our leaders of incompetence, cowardice, and treachery. My own HCR retrospective bears witness to this tendency, which we usually take to depressing extremes.

Even if you're not especially interested in policy details and you care only about the rather crude heuristic of which side won the zero-sum political struggle, the fact is that Republicans should still be hopping mad at their leaders. They believe themselves to have had the public behind them, staring down a bill so bad it knocked insects and small birds dead to the ground if they got near it, and they still managed to lose. The only possible explanation for this turn of events, apart from something like what Frum has been saying, is...the storied party discipline and nervy procedural panache of the Democrat Party! Since health care reform, while ambitious and far-reaching, did not actually rip a hole in the fabric of the universe, I think Republicans should consider a few more possibilities.

Most everyone--me not least--enjoys a little "go team" boosterism in politics. But come on. Our leaders make mistakes, misjudge circumstances, say stupid or dishonest things, act out of mixed motives. Even people whose general disposition we consider sound will err in particular cases. The point isn't to validate some kind of consistent niche-riding--being the guy who always attacks your own party from the left, the right, or from some standpoint of transcendent ethics or procedural probity--but to acknowledge, however imperfectly, the give-and-take involved in being on a team. Watching a smart person of whatever beliefs do that in real time is one of the pleasures of the new media environment. Please don't kick this guy out, Republicans. We don't need him on our team.

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posted by Benjamin Dueholm | 3:17 PM
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