Saturday, March 27, 2010

Of One Mind, Or Else

The very conservative, if relatively erudite former Bush 43 speechwriter David Frum, has involuntarily resigned from the American Enterprise Institute. He had the temerity to suggest in his blog on March 21 that the lockstep opposition of the GOP to health care reform has damaged his party politically. He explained

No illusions please: This bill will not be repealed. Even if Republicans scored a 1994 style landslide in November, how many votes could we muster to re-open the “doughnut hole” and charge seniors more for prescription drugs? How many votes to re-allow insurers to rescind policies when they discover a pre-existing condition? How many votes to banish 25 year olds from their parents’ insurance coverage? And even if the votes were there – would President Obama sign such a repeal?

We followed the most radical voices in the party and the movement, and they led us to abject and irreversible defeat.

There were leaders who knew better, who would have liked to deal. But they were trapped. Conservative talkers on Fox and talk radio had whipped the Republican voting base into such a frenzy that deal-making was rendered impossible. How do you negotiate with somebody who wants to murder your grandmother? Or – more exactly – with somebody whom your voters have been persuaded to believe wants to murder their grandmother?

It did Frum's employment status little good when the voice of GOP corporatism, the Wall Street Journal editorial page, two days later complained

Mr. Frum now makes his living as the media's go-to basher of fellow Republicans, which is a stock Beltway role. But he's peddling bad revisionist history that would have been even worse politics.

Mike Allen of Politico reports

David Frum told us last night that he believes his axing from his $100,000-a-year “resident scholar” gig at the conservative American Enterprise Institute was related to DONOR PRESSURE following his viral blog post arguing Republicans had suffered a devastating, generational “Waterloo” in their loss to President Obama on health reform. “There's a lot about the story I don't really understand,” Frum said from his iPhone. “But the core of the story is the kind of economic pressure that intellectual conservatives are under. AEI represents the best of the conservative world. [AEI President] Arthur Brooks is a brilliant man, and his books are fantastic. But the elite isn’t leading anymore. It’s trapped. Partly because of the desperate economic situation in the country, what were once the leading institutions of conservatism are constrained.

In the wake of Frum's forced resignation, economist Bruce Bartlett, who worked for President Reagan, President Bush 41, and was himself fired from a right wing think tank when he criticized Bush 43, recalled that Frum a few months ago had asked if he

had noticed any comments by AEI "scholars" on the subject of health care reform. I said no and he said that was because they had been ordered not to speak to the media because they agreed with too much of what Obama was trying to do.

It saddened me to hear this. I have always hoped that my experience was unique. But now I see that I was just the first to suffer from a closing of the conservative mind. Rigid conformity is being enforced, no dissent is allowed, and the conservative brain will slowly shrivel into dementia if it hasn't already.

Justifiably frustrated- and enraged- by the ubiquitous charge that liberals are the politically correct, Hullabaloo's other blogger, tristero, observes

None of the bozos who require purity tests in liberal and leftwing circles are anywhere remotely as powerful or as influential as the fanatical psychopaths who both fund and staff the conservative think tanks. Nor are they likely to become influential anytime in the forseeable future. I can't think of even a moderately liberal group, let alone a genuinely leftwing group, that funnels staff that have been ideologically vetted into the government at anything close to the level at which the AEI and the Federalist Society pack presidential administrations with the politically correct. Nor does any liberal-leaning group - say, CEIP or CAP - require anything close to the purity of ideology the right does. It's very simple:

The politically correct are conservatives. The politically correct are rightwingers. The politically correct are the teabaggers. The politically correct are Republicans.

They are not "fanatical psychopaths" (o.k., maybe fanatical fits). These folks act on behalf of their own financial and/or ideological interests, however damning they may be to the middle class. But there is a strong, and much under-reported, element of political correctness in Republican circles.

In the wake of Majority Leader Harry Reid's controversial comment about candidate Barack Obama, in January The New Republic's Jonathan Chait made a similar point. He noted

Last weekend began with Michael Steele, chairman of the Republican National Committee, clinging to his job primarily via implicit racial blackmail. Steele’s tenure has consisted of a string of gaffes and managerial blunders, but Republicans had concluded that his color made him un-fireable. “You’re not going to dump the first African American chairman,” an influential party strategist told Politico, “That’s the only reason....”

.... the immediate Republican response to Obama has been to find their own black guy. In 2004, the Illinois GOP imported lunatic Alan Keyes from Maryland to run for Senate, on the apparent assumption that another African American could neutralize Obama’s strength. In 2009, they elevated the buffoonish Steele to party chairman, where he has proven a regular source of embarrassment. (Incidentally, why are such a high proportion of black Republicans in elected life crazy? Is it because the party’s demand for ideologically qualified African Americans so outstrips the supply? I’m open to alternative explanations.) The post-election Bobby Jindal wave and the current Marco Rubio wave--Mike Huckabee: “He is our Barack Obama but with substance”--represent ethnic variants of the we-need-our-own-black-guy strategy.

The campaign to whip up faux racial outrage at Reid likewise shows a party clumsily attempting to mimic what it considers a devastatingly effective tactic.

Conceding that Democratic racialism represents... an opposition to racism taken to excesses of hypersensitivity," Chait maintained "Republican racialism is an attempt to mimic Democratic racialism without first having any grasp of the original sentiment underlying it- a parodic replica of the original thing, like a person who decides to convert to Judaism by studying Madonna."

Though not identical, these two strains of GOP thought are a variant of the dreaded "political correctness." Republicans have a problem with race, and it's not primarily racism but rather an awkward attempt to convince minorities and independents that they, too, embrace ethnic heterogeneity. And if the present-day GOP sometimes appears to be short of ethnic diversity, we learned from the health care debate that it increasingly shuns intellectual diversity, a state of affairs which has now ensnared David Frum.

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