29 Mar 2010

The Faux Fretting for Frum’s Firing

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Oh boy, here it comes… Here’s  Jeet Heer (via Brad DeLong):

AEI has embarrassed itself. Although allegedly a “think tank” with “scholars” AEI in fact a haven for highly partisan political actors, many of who have been disgraced by their time in government. Current “scholars” at the think tank include Lynne Cheney (who has written some cheesy novels), Newt Gingrich (another writer of schlock fiction), John R. Bolton, Charles Murray, Richard Perle (also a terrible novelist), Michael Rubin, Paul Wolfowitz and John (“torture memos” ) Yoo.

OK, so Heer dismisses AEI fellows for their absurd books, and for being “highly partisan political actors.” He also doesn’t seem to like people who gave absurd rationalizations for the crimes of the Bush years.

So naturally he detests David Frum, someone who wrote a book entitled An End to Evil: How to End the War on Terror, with noted careful scholar Richard Perle. And let’s not forget David Frum denouncing conservatives who deviated from the Bush position as “appeasing” enemies and “hating their country” (actual quote, HT2 Bob Roddis).

So Heer must detest Frum with a passion, right? And his take on the AEI firing must be smug bemusement at an organization of hatchet men having to purge one of their one, right?

Of course not. Here’s how Heer plays it:

A Conservative Worth Reading. At his best Frum is the type of figure that John Stuart Mill was always on the look out for, a conservative who is intellectually challenging enough to make liberalism stronger. Following Millsian principals, I myself always want to read smart conservatives, who in recent years have been few and far between. Aside from Frum, only a handful of names come to mind: Christopher Caldwell, Andrew Coyne, Scott McConnell, Gertrude Himmelfarb, John Lukacs, Andrew Bacevich, and Joseph Epstein. Frum was an ornament to the AEI and his firing disgraces them. [bold added–RPM]

The Limits of Pity. Having said all that, my heart is not so large that I can weep any tears for Frum. To paraphrase Paul Krugman, when there are 20 million Americans unemployed it doesn’t make much sense to worry about David Frum, who was born to great wealth and will die in luxury. To sharpen the point: those 20 million unemployed (and the millions of under-employed) are suffering in an unconscionable way because the United States has a particularly stingy social safety net. The American welfare state has been kept Scrooge-ly small in part because of the policies advocated by Frum and the AEI.

A Frum Dichotomy. Frum is worth reading on domestic policy but not on foreign policy. His worst book is the foreign policy manifesto he co-wrote with Richard Perle, An End to Evil. He actually brings a completely different intellectual outlook to the two realms. On domestic issues Frum always applies a cost-benefit analysis: policy X will bring these benefits but what are the costs, both in the manifest price and in terms of lost opportunity. When writing about foreign policy, Frum never asks what the costs of policies are (in terms of blood, treasure, and America’s reputation) but rather views everything as a morality play, where the children of light (America, Israel, “the West”) do battle against the children of darkness (tyranny, radical Islam, “the East”). In light of recent comments by General Petraeus, Frum might want to ask himself what are the costs of Israel continuing to build settlements, and whether it is appropriate for American and Canadian soldiers, and soldiers from the other Nato countries, to bear these costs.

So yes, Heer at least mentions the minor issue of Frum’s foreign policy scholarship, but that’s fine. At least Frum was reasonable on domestic issues!

This irritates me because I think it’s phony. I’m sorry but I don’t think Heer (or DeLong for that matter) actually think David Frum is a big thinker.

You know how politicians from both sides pretend to be outraged over stuff, and then go on self-righteous crusades against their opponents because it “sounds good” in the public debate? That’s what I think is going on here.

DeLong and Heer hate AEI and what it represents. (I’m not a fan myself, though for different reasons.) AEI probably wanted to can Frum a while ago, once he started attacking Rush Limbaugh (and I think Sarah Palin?) by name, and without respect. But they didn’t want to be obvious about muzzling somebody for criticizing right-wing stars, so they didn’t.

But then with Frum’s latest “Waterloo” absurdity, AEI had no choice.

Smelling blood in the water, DeLong and Heer pounce. Rather than say, “AEI just canned a monstrous warmonger who stooped at nothing to trash even his allies when they opposed Bush’s excesses,” they instead pose as defenders of intellectual openness. The very idea of Brad DeLong being outraged at an organization ceasing to pay someone because they disagree so strongly with the guy’s position.

Last point, this is not partisan on my part. Regular readers will recall that I rolled my eyes at the absurdity of Rush Limbaugh and Mark Levine being shocked, shocked that Harry Reid would call a black man “negro.”

So in conclusion, I think DeLong and Heer respect David Frum as a “smart conservative” as much as I think Limbaugh and Levine are horrified by racist jokes behind closed doors.

8 Responses to “The Faux Fretting for Frum’s Firing”

  1. Louis B. says:

    AEI has embarrassed itself. Although allegedly a “think tank” with “scholars” AEI in fact a haven for highly partisan political actors, many of who have been disgraced by their time in government. Current “scholars” at the think tank include Lynne Cheney (who has written some cheesy novels), Newt Gingrich (another writer of schlock fiction), John R. Bolton, Charles Murray, Richard Perle (also a terrible novelist), Michael Rubin, Paul Wolfowitz and John (“torture memos” ) Yoo.

    Frum would seem a better target than most of these people in this respect:

    But I will tell what is common knowledge around AEI: David got a handsome salary but, for the last few years, has been invisible as a member of the institute.

    Deep down, I think most of these people realize how much of an intellectual lightweight Frum really is. But they’ll jump to his defense because they like his incessant stream of concern trolling.

  2. Bob Roddis says:

    Let’s consider the source. Here’s an example of the “brilliant” insight of Jeet Heer:

    Yet it’s fair to say that if we’re talking about mainstream American historians, whether conservatives or liberals, the verdict of history will be harsh: George W. Bush did more harm to his nation than any other president since at least Herbert Hoover (whose doctrinaire policies made the Great Depression much worse than it had to be).

  3. bobmurphy says:

    Louis B., that Murray post strikes me as absurd too. AEI management all of a sudden just decided that Frum wasn’t working enough? Even if that were true, wouldn’t they have said, “Hmm, maybe we shouldn’t can David right now, because people will think it has to do with his ‘Waterloo’ piece”?

  4. Teqzilla says:

    Yep, I think you’re bang on. I just did a little search for mentions of Frum on both their blogs confident I would find scant evidence of any esteem for him prior to him becoming a public critic of the republican party and conservatism generally. I was correct. Almost all prior mentions of Frum I looked at came replete with a fulsome assault on his intellect and character, the only ones not do so were occasions where Frum could be used to bash up on someone they thought even less of than Frum.

    A sampling from supposed Frum admirer Jeet Heer :

    “The late Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. was widely derided for writing partisan histories that celebrated Andrew Jackson, Franklin Roosevelt, and the Kennedy family while mocking their enemies. But in his worst day Schlesinger never approached the sheer one-sided hackery of Frum, Bartlett or Jonah “Liberal Fascism” Goldberg.”

    “Despite his frequent border crossings, Frum is quick to accuse his political enemies, including antiwar conservative Robert Novak and liberal internationalist Barack Obama, of being unpatriotic, deracinated and post-national. Being Jewish himself, Frum should perhaps be aware of the unsavoury anti-Semitic history of this sort of nationalist rhetoric”

    “Here are words that I rarely get to utter: David Frum is making a lot of sense.”

    As you might expect Delong’s admiration is even more starkly conditional. If Frum criticizes a prominent republican or a conservative idea Delong gives him the last honest conservative treatment. However, If Delong ever spots him doing or saying anything conservative the pretense of esteem disappears very quickly

  5. Bob Roddis says:

    Frum was on Larry King last night. King asked him directly if he was fired or if he quit AEI. Frum said he was told that he would no longer be paid by AEI. So he quit.

    Do you have a tissue?

  6. Bob Roddis says:

    Frum explains quitting AEI on Larry King:

    KING: You are surprised that the American Enterprise Institute dropped you?

    FRUM: I was surprised at the time. But, look, think-tanks have no obligation to employ everybody. I have no complaints.

    KING: Here’s what they said. We asked them for a comment. Their president, Arthur Brooks, issued this statement for us: “while AEI makes it a practice not to discuss personnel matters, I can say that David Frum is an original thinker and a friend of many at AEI. We’re pleased to have welcomed him as a colleague for seven years. And his decision to leave in no way diminishes our respect for him.” You quit?

    FRUM: Well, I quit after I was offered the option to continue to work at no salary. So I did quit. But, look, I feel about Arthur Brooks and AEI in the same way. I have great respect for them. They have no obligation to employ anybody. I have no complaints.

    I have great anxieties about the direction in which the larger Republican party is going. I don’t think we are behaving in very successful, practical thinking ways these days. And we need to be more effective.

  7. Jeet Heer says:

    Your a very gift man Mr. Murphy: you have the skill of mind-reading, which allows you to figure out what Brad De Long and I are really up to without supplying any evidence from what we wrote.

    I’ll simply note as a matter of fact that I wrote a highly favorable review of David Frum’s 1995 book Dead Right. My review ran in the Literary Review of Canada, circa 1995 or 1996 — back when DF was still a pillar of the conservative movement (his book was endorsed by William F. Buckley and Dinesh D’Souza, among others). So it’s completely wrong to say that I’ve only championed Frum because he’s broken with the right.

    Fun fact about Ludwig von Mises: he once wrote: “The merit that Fascism has thereby won for itself will live on eternally in history.” see here: http://sanseverything.wordpress.com/2007/12/15/mises-and-the-merit-of-fascism/

    • bobmurphy says:

      Mr. Heer,

      Hang on a second. I did supply evidence from what you wrote: I quoted you “blowing up” people at AEI by reference to their works of fiction and simply asserting that they are hack partisans (which may very well be true, I don’t know all of them). Do you agree that that’s a rather sloppy way of showing how awful a scholar someone is? Furthermore, isn’t it a bit weird when you then go on to call Frum an ornament (!!), when he wrote An End to Evil and was the epitome of a shameless partisan?

      If you’re still reading, can you clarify about your review of Dead Right? Did you like the parts where Frum was hardcore conservative, even though you disagreed with the conclusions?

      Or did you like him for being more “reasonable” than Newt Gingrich, Rush Limbaugh, etc. on those policy questions?