The Triumph of Dogma, and a Sad Goodbye to David Frum

david frumEvery other Wednesday evening for the past few years I’ve been offering commentary on a spritely show on public radio called “Marketplace.” On alternative Wednesdays David Frum, a former speechwriter for George W. Bush, has been airing his views. 

This past Wednesday, Frum called it quits. He explained to the show’s host, Kai Risdal, that he could no longer represent Republican views.

I think that there’s a kind of expectation that when you do it that you represent the broad point of view of your half of the political spectrum. And although I consider myself a conservative and a Republican, and I think that the right-hand side of the spectrum has the better answers for the long-term growth of economy — low taxes, restrained government, less regulation — it’s pretty clear that facing the immediate crisis — very intense crisis — I’m just not representing the view of most people who call themselves Republicans and conservatives these days…. And it’s a service to the radio audience if they want to hear people explaining effectively why one of the two great parties takes the view that it does — it needs to have somebody who agrees with that great party.

I respect David’s decision but I disagree with his understanding of his job on “Marketplace.” And I find his decision to leave a sad commentary (no pun intended) on what’s happening to public discourse in America. 

Why exactly was it necessary for David Frum to “represent” the views of conservative Republicans?

I don’t feel any obligation to represent liberal Democrats. Over the years I’ve argued, for example, in favor of getting rid of the corporate income tax, creating school vouchers inversely related to family incomes, and extending free-trade agreements — positions not exactly favored by liberal Democrats.

The American public doesn’t want or need to hear “representatives” from the so-called right or left. It wants insight into what’s best for America.

Yet over and over again — on the radio, on TV, in print, in the blogosphere, and all over Washington — political ideology is substituting for thought.

Politicians take oaths and sign pledges. Special-interest groups abide by litmus tests and ideological labels. The media is either assertively liberal or conservative. Pundits are either on the left or the right.

robert reichMeanwhile, the Republican Party has become so extreme that it’s more and more difficult for anyone to rationally “represent” its views. As Frum put in in a post on his website, FrumForum, “Under the pressure of the current crisis — intoxicated by anti-Obama feelings and incited by talk radio and Fox — Republicans have staked out an extreme position on the role of government.”

What if conservative Republicans believe the sun revolves around the earth? Would someone in David Frum’s position who disagrees feel compelled to stop offering “conservative” commentaries about the celestial bodies? And would a major media outlet then be obliged to find a replacement who agrees with conservative dogma?  (This isn’t such a far-fetched example when you consider what leading Republicans say about evolution or climate change.)

David’s particular break with Republicans has come over what to do about the continuing awful economy. Here’s what he told Kai Risdal:

This is not a moment for government to be cutting back. … Right now we’re watching state governments try to balance all of their budgets at the same time in the middle of this crisis. We’ve seen half a million public sector jobs disappear. Now, if these were good times, I would applaud that. We need to see a thinner public sector — especially at the state and local level. But we’re seeing what happens when you do that as an anti-recession measure and you make the recession worse. And even though we’re in a technical recovery, incomes and employment — all of that remains lagging for people — I think that we’ve rediscovered in this crisis something that I think we all knew. Which is, there’s a reason why the people of the 1930s built some kind of minimum guarantee — unemployment insurance, health care coverage and things like that. And it’s not because they wanted to be nice. It’s because in a crisis when people lose their jobs, if there is no social safety net they loose 100 percent of their purchasing power.

It so happens the vast majority of economists and economic policy experts agree with David on this — even though you wouldn’t know it if you watched or listened to broadcast debates between a so-called “liberal” and “conservative” economists.

robert reichNo wonder Americans are so confused.

David Frum’s voice will be sorely missed. Yet I understand his dilemma. At the start of his interview on “Marketplace” explaining his decision to leave the program, he was introduced this way

David Frum has been a regular commentator for this program for years, offering the voice of the political right against Robert Reich and the views of the political left. 

That introduction illustrates the problem.

Robert Reich
Robert Reich’s Blog 


  1. Dan McCrory says

    I don’t feel any obligation to represent liberal Democrats. Over the years I’ve argued, for example, in favor of getting rid of the corporate income tax, creating school vouchers inversely related to family incomes, and extending free-trade agreements — positions not exactly favored by liberal Democrats. – Reich

    I admit it: I used to worship Robert Reich. For many years I had thought that when Clinton went “rogue” and started espousing GOP values and passed NAFTA, that RR was the voice of reason in the room that was still overruled on these issues. Now I find out there really ISN’T a Santa Claus. School vouchers, no corporate income tax, sending MORE jobs overseas!!? Robert, what are you thinking?

    While Marketplace is rounding up another conservative who more accurately reflects the current party line, they should probably find a real liberal voice. Say, Dennis Kucinich.

  2. Jack says

    The funny thing is, most Americans are not far right or left in our thinking, most of us are in the middle. Which doesn’t mean we have muddy or confused opinions, it means we sometimes agree with one political side, and sometimes the other. Although not fully agreeing with a left or right wing agenda, we do often have strong opinions regarding the things we care about. Which is why many of us can’t be forced to toe the party line on a lot of today’s important issues.

    I’ve been to Tea Party gatherings, and I attended Occupy Wall Street in New York. Aside from a few extremes, members of both groups clearly have shared values. We want a stable country with a path to recovery and opportunities for ourselves and our children. We want to believe in our country and do what’s right both here and around the globe. So why can’t we use those shared values to create the kind of political clout our country desperately needs right now to save it from collapse?

    The reason why is because we’re too busy fighting to see what we have in common. The left wing depicts the tea partiers as racist, uneducated bigots, but most of them are business owners and workers who are fed up with not just government, but the left wing’s theft or our resources with easily abused social programs. The right wing considers liberals to be naïve, sappy fools who can’t see that our welfare programs are creating a whole class of people who are choosing to suck off the public rather than take responsibility for their lives and their communities. How long are we going to support intergenerational welfare before we realize that handing people free money, free housing, free food, free healthcare, free utilities, etc, simply makes them and others refuse to work for themselves. Wouldn’t it be better to give free college educations and enormous community support for those who are willing to work, rather than handholding and baby sitting adults who continue to choose to spend their money on drugs, alcohol and cigarettes while the public pays for their homes and kids? We’re a rich nation, and no one should be starving here, but that doesn’t mean we should be taking money from those who are willing to work and giving it to those who are deliberately impoverished. How can we help those who truly need our support when so many utilizing social services are big cheaters who are happy to suck of the public? And that’s where Democrats lose votes, when we refuse to consider that there might be better ways to help people than handing them money.

    The far right is as bad, or worse, than naïve liberals. This country is not a theocracy, and Cafeteria Christians should not be allowed to oppress others based on their slanted interpretation of the Bible. I don’t care if they think God hates gays, the separation of church and state needs to be reinforced to protect minorities. More to the point, if the left wing and moderates don’t get off their butts and demand equal rights for gay citizens, the GOP will continue to use that issue to motivate their base in spite of their right wing corporate welfare programs that steal from the very people who vote for them. Clearly, both sides of the electorate are being taken for fools.

    The left wing voted for Obama thinking he’d be a hero of the common people and he’s turned out to be the biggest stealth Republican ever! He snuck through an extension to the Bush tax cuts for the rich, and he bailed out Wall Street instead of Main Street, making us fund the banks’ obscene attacks on America’s homeowners. He campaigned on transparency and against the abuses of the Bush Administration, then quietly cemented in place those policies that allow him to continue the same practices. He totally played us with Universal Healthcare, giving us Universal Health Insurance instead. Worse, he claimed he wouldn’t accept UNC without a public option, even though he probably dealt that card away months prior in secret meetings with the insurance and hospital industries, then nixed it last minute before the bill was passed. Many on the left still haven’t figured out that Obama cheated us, and are falling in lock step now that Obama is back in campaign mode, pretending he’s on our side. While both the left and the right are played by savvy politicians, the super rich are amassing enough wealth to take over not just this country, but the entire world.

    Meanwhile, there are a whole lot of Americans in the middle who see through the nonsense of both the left and the right, and just want a government that provides for OUR needs for a change. Because, in reality, we’re all being played against each other so the rich can continue to steal our resources. We’re a great nation precisely because we’ve fostered the rise of the middle class, we’ve demanded workplace protections, environmental protections, minimum pay, child labor laws, social security programs, etc. But our efforts being sucked away by welfare on both sides of the economic spectrum: corporate greed with Obama’s bailouts of the super rich, and the deliberately impoverished (or the dishonest cheaters) who are stealing resources away from those who truly need our help.

    One thing is for sure, though: If we can create a set of plans and policies that support the middle class over both the rich and the poor, and prioritize citizens over non-citizens, we can take back control of our government gone awry. Will liberals be able to stomach letting go of their pet policies that don’t work as they were intended? Will the right wing be able to shake off the lunatic fringed that thinks, no probably WANTS us all to go up in a flash of light in 2012? Can moderates and conservatives let go of their desperate last ditch efforts to oppress gay citizens?

    As soon as the Tea Party folks realize that they have common goals with the Occupy Wall Street movement to take back our government from its corporate masters, many of them will join us. The question is, will we be smart enough to include them in our efforts. Because they do have valid concerns, the most important of which is the liberal welfare mentality. On our side, we need to reassess our social programs and reign in their rampant abuse. Giving welfare (Section 8, HEAP payments, food stamps and cash) to those who would choose to make their lives better if we didn’t make it so easy for them to suck off society is EXACTLY what caused hard working Americans to vote for Reagan, Nixon and the Bushes. And today, that kind of foolish welfare mentality is what drives independents and working Americans into the hands of the GOP. The few people who really need our help are outweighed by the millions who scam the system. How long do we think we can keep supporting intergenerational welfare? It’s simply unsustainable, and it destroys our political clout when we’re so naïve we don’t realize we’re being suckered.

    Is the left wing willing to reassess our give-away, freebie, no accountability welfare mentality? If so, then we’ll be able to create a strong movement that truly supports the middle class over the super rich by pulling in millions of mainstream Americans that agree with our goals, minus the naïve social programs we’ve created. If we can’t give up our easily abused welfare programs, and if we’re not willing to admit that we’re being scammed by many, if not most, people utilizing our social welfare programs, then this country is sunk. Because we can’t fight the billionaires who own our government unless we consolidate the real 99% of us who span the political spectrum from left to right, most of whom are somewhere in the middle.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *