Friday, June 28, 2013

Tip of the Hat

This month's Tip is a rather poignant one for me. One of the feature's frequent contributors - David Frum - is taking a sabbatical to tend to family matters. I will miss him, but more to the point, the conservative movement will miss him. His contributions were invaluable and proved, not only to me, but to other like-minded individuals that it was possible to have an adult conversation over the differences between conservatism and liberalism that didn't turn nasty and mean spirited.

Frum was not afraid to tackle the tough issues that plagued his party and often took intense heat for bucking the headwinds of a movement that had long ago started to come off the rails as it were. His attack on Rush Limbaugh back in '09 is a must read, as are his repeated calls for the GOP to negotiate with Obama early in his presidency. Calls, I might add, that went ignored.

It's ironic that one of George Bush's primary speech writers - the man who penned the term axis of evil, should become a voice of reason in his later days. Like Bruce Bartlett, Frum got religion just in time.

Here's hoping his departure is a temporary one.

All Good Things...

So it's been a rough month for my family and me. It's been a rough month for the blog too. I'm well aware that people come here to read about public affairs, not personal losses.

Unfortunately, family and personal matters must claim my attention for some time to come. I won't be able to write as much or as well as required to produce a blog worth reading. I've long been a proponent of term limits for pundits and columnists. At least for the time being, my term has expired.

I don't intend to shut up entirely. I'll continue to write once a week for, and I'll be glad to talk on TV if asked and if I feel I have something worthwhile to say. I'll continue to post occasional thoughts on Twitter at @davidfrum. But the daily - hourly! - production of commentary here at the Daily Beast will cease at least for the summer, and possibly for some time longer.

This summer seems an especially propitious time for a hiatus. As Ross Douthat has perceptively observed, the cause of conservative reform has gained increasing coherence and force since the 2012 election. More and more good work is being done by more and more people.

True, there remains that small awkward matter of translating writers' and thinkers' ideas into party policy. Still, compared to the mental ice age that descended upon the GOP after the defeat in 2008, every day in 2013 we seem to see a new green shoot emerging from once-frozen soil. I look forward to an even richer intellectual flowering in the months ahead. I feel pride that I and the contributors to the various Frum blogs have helped to seed this budding spring. I hope to join the next wave of discussion, as modern conservatism recommits itself to the challenges of governing a great and diverse nation.

Yet as I dim the lights here at the FrumBlog, I note that the intellectual project of conservative reform remains still at very early days. Here are five essential tasks to commence before conservative reform truly rolls forward.

1) There remain too many taboos and shibboleths even among the conservative reformers. If the only policy tool you allow yourself to use is tax credits, your reform agenda will sputter into ineffectuality. Conservative reformers need to do a better job of starting with the problem and working forward, not starting with the answer and working backward.

2) Conservative reformers are understandably allergic to arguments about income inequality. The conservative project at its best has worked to raise the floor beneath the American middle class, not to lower the ceiling upon the middle class. But one of the lessons I think conservatives should take from the 2012 Romney defeat is that the increasing concentration of wealth in America has dangerous political and intellectual consequences. I'm not so worried that the oligarchs will pay for apologetics on their behalf. That's politics as usual. I'm more concerned that so many people will identify themselves with the interests of oligarchy without being paid, without even being conscious that this is what they are doing. The whole immigration debate, for example, is premised on the assumption that the only interests that matter are the interests of the employers of labor.

3) Conservative reformers must not absent themselves from the environmental debate. Humanity's impact on the climate - and how to address that impact - is our world's largest long-term challenge. If conservatives refuse to acknowledge that challenge, they only guarantee that the challenge will be addressed in ways that ignore conservative insights and values.

4) Conservative reformers should make their peace with universal health coverage. It's the law, and it won't be repealed. Other countries have managed to control costs while covering everyone, and the US can too. A message of "protect Medicare, scrap Obamacare" reinforces the image of conservatism as nothing more than the class interest of the elderly.

5) I appreciate that conservative reformers must pay lip-service to shibboleths about Barack Obama being the worst president of all time, who won't rest until he has snuffed out the remains of constitutional liberty, etc. etc. Dissent too much from party orthodoxy, and you find yourself outside the party altogether. Still … conservative reformers should admit, if only to themselves, the harm that has been done by the politics of total war over the past five years. Now Republicans are working themselves into a frenzy that will paralyze Congress for the next 18 months at least, and could well lead to an impeachment crisis. As it becomes clear that the IRS story is an agency scandal, not a White House scandal, conservative reformers need to be ready to do their part to apply the brakes and turn the steering wheel. There will be a Republican president again someday, and that president will need American political institutions to work. Republicans also lose as those institutions degenerate.

That's enough sermon. I'm sure I'll resume the soapbox soon enough. In the meanwhile, my thanks to the many readers who have sent kind messages and generous comments about the deaths of my father and father-in-law. My wife Danielle and I are deeply moved and deeply grateful.

My thanks to Tina Brown and the Daily Beast team - and especially our brilliant new political director, John Avlon - for the marvelous home they have provided me this past year and a half.

And let me end with a big salute to this blog's energetic editor, Justin Green, who now proceeds to a much deserved promotion at the Washington Examiner. You can follow his hilarious Twitter feed at @JGreenDC.

Why stop there? Let me salute all the amazing alumni of the Frum blog: Meg Mali (now of the Hill), Tim Mak (now of Politico), Noah Kristula-Green (now of the Winston Group), Joseph Golinkin (now a federal appellate clerk), Rachel Ryan (now at Powell Tate), and of course my wife Danielle, who actually got all the hard work done, and so many others. It's been a good fight in a grand cause - and it's not over yet.

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