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The Right and David Frum: The Real Issues to Confront

But I think we all agree with David’s call that “the result is we have a bill that is neither shaped by Republicans, [that] doesn't reflect Republican and conservative values.” So the question becomes where do we go from here, and how do we act to reach the goals we all want? And on this issue, I think David hit the nail on the head when he said that the “center of gravity of American politics [is] strong on national defense, fiscally conservative, socially modern.” And that means forging a Republican program that changes with the times, and does not rely on platitudes of arguing we must return to the Reagan agenda of a past time.

And it also means that on other issues, such as that of Sarah Palin as a potential Republican candidate, the Republicans have to understand that, despite her great appeal to the conservative base, her ascension to the candidacy would be a disaster in the waiting. Writing in The Wall Street Journal the other day, Norman Podhoretz advanced a lot of reasons as to why he thinks intellectual conservatives mistakenly disdain her, “and the criteria by which she is being judged by her conservative critics— never mind the deranged hatred she inspires on the left—tell us next to nothing about the kind of president she would make.”

I beg to differ with Podhoretz. He compares the distaste for Palin among some conservatives to that they held against Ronald Reagan after he already had been Governor of California. Reagan, as he points out, came to be heralded as a great leader and as a man of intelligence who had a clear view of America’s positive role in the world, and he quickly undercut the negative views that some conservatives had of him at the start.

But the comparison is inept. For one thing, Reagan was not only a successful Governor who stayed in office, but he had first cut his teeth in politics decades earlier as an anti-Communist liberal who supported the Humphrey wing of the Democratic Party in its fight against the left-wing of the Democratic Party. I recall listening to a broadcast of  his introduction to Humphrey at a campaign rally, for example. Before that, as John Meroney will soon show in his long-awaited book on Reagan in Hollywood, he led the fight against the Hollywood and pro-Communist left in the 40s and early 50s, again as an anti-Communist liberal and trade union leader. In other words, those who showed disdain for Reagan overlooked or ignored his years of experience and leadership -- something Sarah Palin does not have.

When Podhoretz argues that the conservative intellectuals -- I count myself in this camp, as well as Frum -- do not like Palin because they mock her poor “oratorical gifts” compared to Obama’s smooth delivery and persona, and hate the Tea Party movement because they think it composed of “base enthusiasms and simian grunts” that lead to what one observer he quotes calls the “loathsome Tea Party rabble,” he is setting up a straw man to knock down and evading the big issue of whether or not Palin could ever be a viable candidate who could appeal to the necessary center.

On these basic essential issues, David Frum is continuing to make the strongest case possible for a Republican alternative that can reach the wide public at large. If we are ever going to be able to change America and move it away from a growing movement to Europeanize the country and create an American style social democracy, we need the biggest tent possible. That means listening to people like David Frum, and stopping the storm of attacks seeking to isolate his voice from being heard in conservative circles.