David Frum has weighed in on the election aftermath from his current perch at Canada’s National Post. Frum’s prescription is basically for the GOP to jettison Sarah Palin and her backwoods ilk, and glom on to David Brooks’ “bobo” philosophy in hopes of connecting with the electorate via a “less polarizing” message. This, Frum pontificates, is the “only hope for a Republican recovery.”
Frum has quite a history of being the GOP’s self-appointed Chicken Little. Most famously, his tome Dead Right proclaimed the intellectual and electoral barrenness of conservatism in general and the GOP in particular, and offered Frum’s own prescriptions for the renewals of both. The blurb on the original edition’s cover read, “The great conservative revival of the 1980’s is over. Government is bigger, taxes are higher, family values are weaker, and the Democrats are in power. What will the Right do next?”
Hilariously, Frum’s question was answered just over two months after the August 1994 publication of Dead Right, when a back-bencher from Georgia led a Republican takeover of Congress that lasted for nearly a decade and a half. Along the way they stopped Bill Clinton’s wave of tax increases, killed socialized medicine, ended Welfare as a permanent dole, balanced the budget for a couple of years, and later cut taxes under an eight-year Republican administration. They also did plenty of other, less salubrious things, of course, but one can imagine how far Frum’s jaw must have dropped when his soothsayings of doom were proven wrong before Dead Right–well reviewed by no less than Frank Rich–had even been remaindered.
Frum’s next book, somewhat apologetically titled What’s Right, included a foreshadowing of Frum’s recent dismissal of Sarah Palin and the flyover country folks with whom she connected with so quickly. In an essay on the not-then-completed 1996 primary campaign, Frum concluded,
Maybe we should be worrying less about the existence of elites and more about their quality, less about their excess of money and more about their deficiencies of public spirit. Maybe we should worry that American society’s primordial hostility to elites, its determination to force those elites to disguise themselves and deny their inevitable influence, nourishes their irresponsibility and stunts their sense of public obligation. Maybe we should accept as inevitable that those who care the most about politics can most effectively sway the political system, and should worry instead that this political elite itself is so easily swayed by charm and a home-state accent.
What’s funny about this and Frum’s later calls to respect the authori-tay of the NYDC political class is how he again manages to ignore the actual facts on the ground while grinding his axe against the rubes down in Mayberry. Eight weeks ago, despite all the buffoonery of the spendthrift latter-day GOP congresses, the unpopularity of the sitting president, and a gale-force media wind at the back of his opponent, John McCain was not only leading in the polls, the wildly-popular Palin nomination had even erased the Democratic margin in the generic congressional ballot.
That all fell apart, of course, but not because the GOP went hard-over in pandering to the Bubbas, but rather thanks to two specific factors, one preventable, one not. First, McCain’s aides put Palin in a box and suicidally refused to let her out for anything other than what any idiot out here in the sticks could have told them were traps: two hostile, edited interviews with old media bigwigs anxious to discredit this dangerous (to the Democratic Party) new player at all costs. Then things got immeasurably worse in mid-September, when the combination of a financial crisis (with deliberate, but of course unreported Democratic malfeasance at its heart) and McCain’s own Senate-bred response killed any hope (no pun intended) of defeating The Messiah.
None of the above, you’ll note, would have been addressed by Frum’s call to repudiate the GOP base and move on to… well, something, perhaps a nice dinner party with some of Brooks’ “bobos,” where no one ever mentions all those grubby folks out there who don’t subscribe to the New Yorker. While there’s no excusing the incompetence of the McCain’s apparatus or the limitations of the candidate himself, it’s hard to imagine how McCain could have done much better than he did, given the economic crisis that stuck a knife in his electoral chances at the worst possible moment. No amount of pandering to the elites or “new class” hipsters would have prevented that.
One might even say that Frum is… dead wrong.