Tuesday, November 16, 2010

David Frum: Good Conservative?

As a former Bush speechwriter, I never expected to like David Frum. I guess we all have our prejudices, and one of mine is George W. Bush. However, this article by Frum in the the NYT Magazine yesterday really struck me as some very good advice. He caught me with the opening truth of his first paragraph: the Democrats won in 2008 because of the economy, and the Republicans won in 2010 because of the economy. It's really that simple. Beyond that, he recognizes the value of the welfare state (picking a fine G.K. Chesterton saying along the way to makes his point); he talks about the need for Republicans (and Democrats) to take off their ideological blinders, and most importantly, he shared this insight about populism that I think really captures a great deal about our current (and much of our past) politics. About the populist divide, he writes:
American populism has almost always concentrated its anger against the educated rather than the wealthy. So much so that you might describe contemporary American politics as a class struggle between those with more education than money against those with more money than education: Jon Stewart’s America versus Bill O’Reilly’s, Barack Obama versus Sarah Palin.

Digging back in memory, this fits with theories of Richard Hofstadter and perhaps Robert Wiebe, whose works I read as an undergraduate, or shortly after. The Tea Party phenomena has been the most interesting and scary item to watch of late. Intellectually, it's incoherent, as Frum recognizes, but it captures feelings, and feelings are much, much stronger than ideas. In thinking about our recent Iowa Supreme Court election vote, I was struck by the attitude of resentment expressed more than the anti-gay aspect. VanderPlats didn't do any overt gay-bashing, he couched his argument in terms of "elites" and "activist judges" "re-writing the Constitution". This is the real problem. The problem of crowds, the uneducated, the demos, the mob, and so on. When do we move from a democracy to a tyranny of the many? The Greeks, like Aristotle and Plato, understood the downside of democracy, and as I learn more, I gain a greater appreciation of their concerns (although I still don't buy any alternative).

Getting back to Frum, it's a really thoughtful piece. Here! Here! to more conservatives like him.

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