Monday, March 16, 2009

The Angry Right

David Frum -- who has been burnishing his conservative credentials for two decades now -- has recently found himself the target of attacks from the political party he supports. Frum has written several books; he has written for William F. Buckley's National Review; he has written speeches for the second President Bush (it was Frum who coined the phrase "axis of evil"); and he has been a resident scholar at The American Enterprise Institute.

But, as he revealed in a cover article for Newsweek, his credentials are being questioned by some who consider themselves true believers. On March 3rd, radio talk show host Mark Levin was apoplectic. "There are some people who have claimed the conservative mantle . . ." he fumed. "They're so irrelevant . . . It's time to name names . . .! The Canadian David Frum: Where did this a-hole come from? . . . Hey Frum: you're a putz."

Frum, like many Canadians, has dual citizenship. His father is Canadian; his mother, who worked for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, was an American. But Frum has had the audacity to question the wisdom of some of his party's loudest voices -- particularly Rush Limbaugh. Limbaugh, wrote Frum, is "a man who is aggressive and bombastic, cutting and sarcastic, who dismisses the concerned citizens in network news focus groups as "losers." With his private plane and cigars, his history of drug dependency and his personal bulk, not to mention his tangled marital history, Rush is a walking stereotype of self indulgence." The problem for conservatives, Frum contended, is that Limbaugh appeals to the shrinking Republican base. "From a political point of view, Limbaugh is kyrptonite, weakening the GOP nationally."

Frum has been joined in his criticism by New York Times columnist David Brooks. "Let's face it," wrote Brooks in the Times last week, "the current Republican response [to the economic crisis] is totally misguided. The House minority leader, John Boehner, has called for a Federal spending freeze for the rest of the year. In other words, after a decade of profligacy, the Republicans have decided to demand a rigid fiscal straitjacket at the one moment in the past 70 years when it is completely inappropriate."

If the angry white men who have become the party's spokesmen take the time to peruse Brooks' birth certificate, they will discover that he, like Frum, was born in Toronto. No doubt, some will question whether both pundits are "real" Americans. These are the same folks who wondered if Barack Obama was truly an American because he was born in Hawaii; or, if John McCain was truly an American because he was born in the Panama Canal Zone. (American law stipulates that, to be president, you have to have been born in the United States.)

What all the noise indicates is that, like the financial system which modern conservatism did so much to engineer, the movement itself is now intellectually bankrupt. Frum and Brooks are questioning the only thing the movement has left, which is dogma. They are asking the movers and shakers in their party to rethink their view of the world. Unfortunately, the old adage is still true: empty barrels make the most noise.

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