Showing posts with label David Frum. Show all posts
Showing posts with label David Frum. Show all posts

Thursday, January 22, 2009

David Frum's NewMajority.com

This week brings the launch of David Frum's new website NewMajority.com. If you haven't read Frum's 2008 book Comeback, the new venture's statement of purpose will leave you in doubt about just what these people are up to. The key words are these which sum up the basic attitude expressed in Comeback:
Our party has now taken two bad beatings in two consecutive cycles. It looks very likely we are heading for a third. It's not a sign of lack of commitment to our party or our movement to acknowledge these hard facts.

Our goal here at NewMajority.com is to renew and reform our Republican party and the conservative philosophy so that we can again earn the confidence of the American people and govern responsibly and effectively. We don't claim to have all the answers. We are sure that we are asking the right questions.

Comeback ruffled some feathers in the conservative aviary. There are three components to the worldview expressed in Comeback; at least two if not three of them challenge the default position, or at least the default for-public-consumption position, of the conservative establishment. First is an assessment of the future prospects of the Republican Party as they appear at the moment. Frum's is bleak. Significant portions of the electorate, portions that are growing, seem to becoming increasingly hostile to the party. Aversion to Republicans by Hispanics, women, suburbanites, the college-educated -- these things are not going to magically melt away. Many of the GOP's signature issues have exhausted their appeal. For example, income tax cuts? Further significant middle class tax cuts are unsustainable economically; almost 40% of Americans pay no income tax at all and have no need of reductions; 80% of American workers now pay more in payroll taxes than they do in income taxes.

The second issue is what to about all this. Here's where the participants take off their coats and the brawling begins. Much of the movement believes that all that is needed is to return to true conservative principles, to march as in days of yore behind banners of bold colours not pale pastels, to be the party of Ronald Reagan again. Frum isn't buying it, and neither am I. Ronald Reagan didn't prevail by urging his party to ask "What would Barry Goldwater have said? What would Robert Taft have done?" The retrenchment purists are people whose plan if they could redo the Charge of the Light Brigade would be to try to think of a way to make the horses run faster. Frum urges a full, ruthless, corner to corner and ceiling to floor review of the policies the GOP has been running on. This is where Frum is right, and Rush Limbaugh and Laura Ingraham and the official voices of the conservative movement are wrong. Why do we laugh at the way Democrats acted during the Reagan years? Because they refused to look at and think about their now vote-losing positions and kept on losing as a result, always unwilling to believe that their ideas had been rejected again because the public didn't agree with them. There's a chasm here between those who want to be or at least look thoroughly orthodox and those who want to win elections.

The third component of the approach is a grab bag of new policies and strategic revision of old ones to recapture the public imagination. This isn't the place to go through them. I'll just say that Frum certainly used his imagination. I would never have thought of prison reform as a big vote-winning issue, and a government led "war against obesity" seems likely to be effective only in giving Letterman, Leno and every other comedian in the land a free joke every day of the week. I probably disagree with two-thirds of Frum's policy prescriptions, but that's not the point. I think that he's got the right attitude, the willingness to strip down the whole machine and reevaluate the design of every part, and that's what matters. Since the book Frum has gotten into issues that conservatives never touch such as income equality and the failure of the middle class to gain anything from the income growth of the Bush years, even before the meltdown.

About the future of Frum's new website and movement I have no prediction. I confess to know nothing about Frum's stable of opinioners and journalists or whence they have been rounded up. Frum has closed it up at NR and it looks like he's going to be prolific here so the site will always be worth looking at for that alone. Skimming the titles and summaries of the hefty pile of opinion pieces in the first week there might be some danger that the website become something of a nest of social liberals, malcontents and defeatists. In the worst case scenario Frum could be written off as someone who's "gone over to the liberals", and marginalized and ignored.

But I'm wishing the New Majority good health. A lot of the next 4 years is going to be a defensive trench war. It's nice to have someone thinking about new weapons for when we can go on the offensive again.