Ethics & Public Policy Center

David Frum’s Wrong Direction

Published in National Review Online on December 9, 2010



David Frum has replied to my recent criticisms of his soon-to-be founded No Labels project. But my root-and-branch critique of his No Labels initiative goes unanswered, and in the process Frum introduces new distortions of my book on Obama.

Indeed, Frum's reply continues to reflect the faulty analysis of American politics he advanced in 2008, which has left him isolated and estranged from the conservative movement. Frum failed to anticipate the revitalizing and unifying effect Obama's radicalism would have on the Republican party. Obama's leftism has undone Frum's political plans, and Frum's refusal to acknowledge that fact and climb down from the liberalizing limb upon which he has stranded himself has driven him to ever more self-defeating measures.

Frum fails to plainly state the core findings of my research: that Obama was an orthodox Marxist-Leninist in his early college years; that he certainly attended two socialist conferences, which converted him to community organizing; that these conferences sketched a vision of socialist-friendly political coalitions led by African-Americans who would emerge from the ranks of community organizers; that the groups, strategies, and theologies Obama spent a lifetime cultivating were presented at these conferences as the program of a modernized socialism; that Obama worked for his entire career with the very stealth-socialist community organizers in Chicago who had authored the political strategy presented at those early socialist conferences; that these stealth-socialist community organizers sponsored Obama's political rise; that Obama supported these socialists by channeling foundation money their way for years; that Obama worked closely with this stealth-socialist community-organizing network throughout his time as an Illinois state senator; that Obama has hidden, and particularly in the case of ACORN, bluntly lied about these radical connections; that the tactics, policies, and strategies crafted by Obama's stealth-socialist organizing mentors have guided his entire political career, including his presidency; and that the same stealth-socialist community organizers who inspired and sponsored Obama's political career advised his 2008 presidential campaign and continue to work with him at shaping and marshaling support for his presidential agenda.

All of this is obscured or rendered invisible by Frum's thin and mangled description of my book. Frum gets pretty much everything wrong, from details like how many socialist conferences Obama was certainly at (actually two, with a third also possible) to the much more significant issue of my discussion of Obama's writings, legislative record, and presidency. I analyze all of these from the perspective of Obama's socialism. Frum is free to disagree with my conclusions, but not to pretend that I make no case for the socialist content of Obama's presidential policies and strategies. As noted in my earlier piece, John Stuart Mill thought you could tell who was winning a debate by how fairly participants represented their opponent's point of view. By that standard, Frum is doing pretty poorly. He can't rebut my take on Obama's presidential socialism if he can't successfully restate my argument and analysis.

Did Obama take his socialist endorsements and run? Not at all. Obama “endorsed” his socialist mentors for years through the immense efforts he devoted to increasing their foundation funding, not to mention his attempts to glamorize what he knew to be a stealth-socialist profession during the 2008 campaign. Here is another error based on Frum's mangled presentation of my views.

Furthermore, I see nothing in Frum's reply about my detailed critique of the premises of his No Labels project. I objected to Frum's root assumptions and posed hard questions about how No Labels would actually operate. No reply.

Frum tries hard to separate me from the folks he most wants to delegitimate, but it won't work. If I've got a point, they do too. And it's simply false to say that Limbaugh, Beck, and the rest don't care about evidence in general, or the evidence in my book in particular. Limbaugh recently read the book and is a fan. He's got an extended interview with me out in the latest edition of the Limbaugh Letter. Beck has already drawn on the book, and I've been interviewed for a Beck show to air later this month. Beck regularly provides far more documentation of his assertions than Frum and “Eugene Debs” had on offer in their evidence-free attacks on my unpublished book.

The root of the problem, I think, is that Frum's analysis of conservatism's dilemma in 2008 has served him poorly. Frum's ostensible purpose is to “build a conservatism that can win again.” But we already won, and did so by taking a very different route than that recommended by Frum. A look at Frum's 2008 book Comeback helps to measure the distance we've traveled in two years. In Comeback, Frum warns against reviving a “more principled” Reagan-style conservatism — as the Tea Party has just done, with great success. “Most Americans [want] the federal government to spend more rather than tax less,” said Frum in 2008. On issues like health care and the environment, Frum declared, “conservatives find themselves on the less popular side of the great issues of the day.”

Obama's radicalism changed all this, reviving conservatism and uniting all wings of the party. Comeback was about changing with the times. Well, the times now demand a very different approach than Frum recommended in 2008. Two years ago, Frum founded a website dedicated to pulling Republicans toward the center. Since then, he's been unwilling to acknowledge Obama's radicalism, because that's what has rendered his 2008 critique of conservatism moot and counterproductive. By rashly attacking his party's base, Frum has unnecessarily isolated himself from his fellow conservatives. The result is No Labels, an ill-conceived attempt to suppress the very truth about Obama that has upended Frum's plans.

No one can gainsay Frum's intelligence, or his contributions to conservatism. To take but one example, Frum was a leader of the movement to sink the Harriet Miers nomination. Frum's book on the Seventies will stand the test of time. But Obama changed everything. Obama is now the issue, and rightly so. What we need is an honest and informed debate about Obama's political beliefs, not the speech police.

Stanley Kurtz is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center and author of Radical-in-Chief: Barack Obama and the Untold Story of American Socialism.

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