Saturday, April 30, 2016

David Frum's From Outer Space

And I also know that—despite the American faith in happy endings—the rewards of politics don’t usually go to those who do the right thing. They’re more often scooped up by those who arrive on the scene just after the right thing is done. Throughout the 2015-2016 season, I’ve often had the déjà experience of being presented with ideas—and even phrases—that I published half a dozen years ago, as if they were brave and new. As Tom Wolfe wisely said, “It’s no good being even ten minutes ahead of the times.”

--  David Frum, professional unreliable narrator and current senior editor at The Atlantic, with emphasis added to underscore the bits that cracked me up.

Mr. Frum goes on to elaborate on the Great Pain of Being Right.  It cost him a job and some friends but damn it Jim, it was the right thing to do!
I sympathize. I found myself in a similar place a half-dozen years ago. In my case, it was the Tea Party of 2009-2010 that I couldn’t accept. People I had known, trusted, and admired for years lurched toward a dangerous and self-defeating radicalism. When I could not follow the lurch, I would lose a job and friends and find myself consigned to a strange unmentionable unpersonhood by people with whom I’d worked for two decades. I know well the price of the policy I’m recommending.
Great Lord Kinbote, it's practically the Dreyfus Affair!

But no, it's actually not. Because while Mr. Frum's shaggy blog stories about his Heroic Stand Against Barbarism get shaggier and more heroic every year, those of us who have actually paid attention to the arc of Mr. Frum's career remember things a little differently. From Mark Oppenheimer's article, "The Prodigal Frum":
Raised a cosseted Canadian prince, Frum became, in his early 20s, a wide-eyed convert to American exceptionalism. “I’m a Hamiltonian, and I always have been,” Frum says. “I believe in an American-led world order. I believe in the strength and power of America. It rests on economic and industrial power. And the evidence is strong that free markets generate more economic and industrial power than other systems.”
In Mr. Oppenheimer's vivid description of of Mr. Frum's career since shaking hands with the devil -- 
David Frum has been cuddled as lovingly in the ample bosom of the great Republican establishment—and derived as much nourishment from its plump teats—as any other man in the last thirty years. The Canadian immigrant, who turned 52 in June, has been a Wall Street Journal editorial writer, an editor at Forbes, a fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a speechwriter for George W. Bush—Frum helped write the “axis of evil” line—and a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. The last of those jobs, the AEI fellowship, paid him $100,000 a year, and it did not actually require any work.
Also, David, There. Is. No. Tea. Party.  There never was,  It was just another Republican responsibility-dodging scam. It was only ever the same wingnut base which you were only too happy to supply with slabs of raw, red, partisan meat for most of your professional career.

Yes, Mr. Frum had a brief and scary moment of underemployment and professional unpersonhood, which was quickly remedied by Mr. Frum's many, many Beltway friends and fellow travelers. They not only put out bowls of water and food for him on their porches and took him to the vet for a worming twice a year, but they also found him paying jobs at places like The Daily Beast, got him regular teevee gigs at CNN and MSNBC, snagged him the chairmanship of an outfit called The Policy Exchange and secured for him the perch from which he now expounds -- a Senior Editor at The Atlantic.

So while Mr. Frum says a number of true things in his article, including this take-down of the Myth of Centrism which has been Beltway's golden goose for a very, very long time now (a myth Mr. Frum was only too happy to parlay into a paycheck when he worked at The Daily Beast) --
To date, talk of third-party candidates has been the sport of TV green rooms and conferences in pleasant locations. The old-line parties are too extreme, the complaint goes, and what’s needed is an Independent candidate to bust the corrupt duopoly, disrupt outdated ideologies, and at last represent the great American center. The people who advance this notion imagine the great American as looking very much like themselves: socially liberal, at ease with globalization, committed to sensible moderate problem-solving ideas like reducing entitlements, liberalizing immigration, keeping guns out of the wrong hands, and campaign-finance reforms. These are the people who talk about a Michael Bloomberg candidacy, as before that they talked about a Colin Powell candidacy.

The trouble is: 2016 was the year that the great American center actually did rise up against the extremism of the corrupt two-party duopoly and actually did disrupt outdated ideologies. A secular businessman who backed both parties, who denounced big money in politics, who promised to do deals and bring back jobs—isn’t that what you had in mind? No? And if, like J. Alfred Prufrock, you murmur, “That is not it at all, That is not what I meant, at all” then it’s time to reckon with the fact that the great American center wasn’t what you imagined it was at all either.
-- I just cannot get past the cartoonist narcissism of casting himself the fearless True Conservative martyr who was too far ahead of the mob, without pointing out that at no point has Mr. Frum ever written this simple and true sentence:  "The Liberals were right about the Right all along."

Over the last 30 years, as the Republican party has sunk ever deeper into a swamp of Hate Radio/Fox News bigotry, incoherent rage and madness, Mr. Frum had a thousand chances to walk away from Conservative Omelas and joint America's real, unemployable political outcasts out here in the Liberal wilderness.  But he didn't, because the benefits of working for Team Evil were just too damn good. As I wrote about Mr. Frum's running buddy and sometimes-benefactor, Andrew Sullivan, many years ago:
...So it turns out that virtually all of Mr. Sullivan's hard-won epiphanies amount to little more than the well-thumbed history and plainsong lore of our Fucked Up Modern Age as it has been long understood and passed down among those awful Liberals...

Likewise, even though Mr. Sullivan now, belatedly comes to believe much of what Liberals believe and finally deigns to notice a horde of grotesque truths about his Conservative Movement about which Liberals have been sounding the alarm for 30 years, Andrew Sullivan nonetheless looks us all straight in that eye and argues that he could not possibly be some mere Liberal.

Because in Mr. Sullivan's world, "Liberal" does not refer to a political ideology, but to an impoverishing political ghetto from which no amount of "being right about everything" will permit you to achieve escape velocity. In Mr. Sullivan's world, "Liberal" is a terrible disease that afflicts losers who do not get invited to spout their views on teevee.

Mr. Sullivan regularly receives such largess, therefore he must not be a Liberal.

He instead must be the lone member be of some rare and singular new species; some miraculous form of haploid political minotaur.

Because if he is not something spontaneously-generated and utterly sui generis, then he is just another Lefty-Come-Very-Lately, showing up at our door at 3:00 A.M., 20 years late and trailing toxic baggage behind him like a Halley Comet.

And who in the world would pay him to do his little dance then?


bowtiejack said...

David Frum, Andrew Sullivan [and so many many many more] are the pilot fish of the conservative predators - singing their praises and feeding on their offal and scraps and only too belatedly asking "What's in this stuff anyway?"

banker puppy said...

The cartoon-like narcissism syndrome is spreading throughout the right as pundit after pundit deals with Trump heading the ticket. A prime example is David Brooks.

" I was surprised by Trump's success because I've slipped into a bad pattern, spending large chunks of my life in the bourgeois strata — in professional circles with people with similar status and demographics to my own. It takes an act of will to rip yourself out of that and go where you feel least comfortable. But this column is going to try to do that over the next months and years. We all have some responsibility to do one activity that leaps across the chasms of segmentation that afflict this country."

It's called the bubble, David. And you're still in it.

dinthebeast said...

Like my old hero Joe Walsh said 30 years ago:

Floating on a bubble while the world goes down the drain.
Somebody pulled the plug, the dirty dishes still remain.
And when the bubble bursts that’s the worst for those who play dirty games.
While the world goes down the drain, down the drain.

-Doug in Oakland