The Closing of the Conservative Mind?

by John Médaille on March 25, 2010 · 26 comments <span>Print this article</span> Print this article

in Politics & Power,Short

No fan of Frum am I, but this is disturbing. The AEI has fired him for deviations from the Party Line.

{ 26 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Art Deco March 25, 2010 at 11:28 pm

I do not think it is terribly prudent to take Mr. Bartlett’s account of his experience at face value, much less his interpretation of Mr. Frum’s troubles. But you knew that.

avatar Wessexman March 25, 2010 at 11:52 pm

I’ve long been astounded decent conservatives including Robert Nisbet have become associated with such a neoliberal and neocon institution as the American Enterprise Institute.

avatar Kevin J Jones March 26, 2010 at 1:55 am

I’d be more sympathetic if Frum hadn’t led a 2003 purge of “Unpatriotic Conservatives.”

avatar Kevin H March 26, 2010 at 7:47 am

John, I think you are letting your contempt for AEI’s politics shade your view of the likely events. The better and more likely story is that AEI, cutting back its budget like everyone else in this economy, asked Frum to take an unpaid position and he declined.

avatar Deane March 26, 2010 at 8:04 am

What does someone being fired from AEI have to do with “the closing of the conservative mind?”

If the AEI is to be equated to “conservative mind,” then how to explain this from Bruce Bartlett’s column:
“I said no and he said that was because they had been ordered not to speak to the media because they agreed with too much of what Obama was trying to do.”

avatar D.W. Sabin March 26, 2010 at 9:24 am

I know you qualified your concern John but losing any sleep over the pink slip handed out to Frum, preening author of the “Axis of Evil ” bon mot and generally reliable factotum for the Sunbeams of the Unitary Executive…well, worrying about this or the doings of the American Enterprise Institute is about as worthwhile as watching American Idol. The AEI, despite its conservative history is almost wholly within the Big Government Institutional Fait Accompli that Washington has become. I know, I know, they once in a while produce something of real Conservative interest but this is lost in a much larger atmosphere of Federal Excess. The Washington institutional Conservative is little more than a perfect illustration of the Stockholm Syndrome.

After all, Frum was doing his Great and Abiding Centrist Job of trying to pull the Republicans into the abandoned left flank ground of the Democrats which Deneen writes of .

A scribbler from the Bush Regime that deeply entrenched the current “Boy Who Cried Wolf” pathos of our lovely GOP should have the decency to shut the hell up for a while.

avatar Casey Khan March 26, 2010 at 9:58 am

Here’s the Frum purge:
http://old.nationalreview.com/frum/frum031903.asp

What goes around comes around.

avatar John Willson March 26, 2010 at 1:07 pm

Couldn’t happen to a nicer fellow. Beware the Jabberwock, my friend!

avatar Bruce Smith March 26, 2010 at 1:49 pm

I think you need not despair too much John. The cracks in the temple are beginning to appear and these sackings are the manifestation of it. The market fundamentalist junkie’s from hell who have over-dosed on Ayn Rand’s and the Chicago School of Economics and Law’s ideas are starting to panic. Here is an article from a reformed junkie, Federal Trade Commissioner and Republican, Thomas Rosch who credits his epiphany to reading an article by Phillip Blond in the Financial Times (Full marks to Phillip Blond!):-

http://www.ftc.gov/speeches/rosch/090601redemption.pdf

Ironically the over-dosing could have been prevented if the market fundamentalists had not been so lazy and read their American history. The build-up of the plutomony as you so aptly call it (although an opposite “demonomy” doesn’t sound so good) began at least 150 years ago with the antics of John D. Rockefeller attempting to use every crooked trick in the book to gain a monopoly in the oil business. (See Gary L. Reback’s 2009 book “Free The Market” for a history of the fight against plutomony.) This was why anti-trust legislation was put in place towards the end of the 19th century and early twentieth century with Rockefeller’s Standard Oil eventually being broken up. The main point here being that there was a lesson to learn namely that as well as harnessing an engine to offer competitive choice in goods and services capitalism also contains an engine that drives for monopoly for the sake of greed and competitive survival and society is well advised to remain ever-vigilant about this possibility and create provision for stopping it. So we are starting to get a situation where Republican’s like Thomas Rosch are recognizing there exists, and always has existed, a non-market fundamentalist conservatism that can loosely be called Decentralized, or Devolved, Conservatism and this is the future not the clapped-out Right Libertarianism of the last thirty years.

avatar Pete Peterson March 26, 2010 at 9:15 pm

And so FPR is the real “big tent” for conservatives….?

Though not affecting my paycheck, I’ve had an essay turned down here for “[deviating] from the Party Line” on the deleterious impact of anti-sprawl policies on middle class house costs…

At least AEI can claim cost-cutting…

avatar Jonathan March 26, 2010 at 9:34 pm

And of course, there’s this….

http://www.firstthings.com/blogs/firstthoughts/2010/03/26/what-david-frum-has-in-common-with-tiger-woods-and-why-it-matters/

From Charles Murray, referenced in the link:

“I do not have any certain information to convey about David’s departure, except what Arthur Brooks has already said publicly: David resigned. He could have stayed. But I will tell what is common knowledge around AEI: David got a handsome salary but, for the last few years, has been invisible as a member of the institute.”

avatar John Médaille March 26, 2010 at 9:57 pm

Well, Pete, “conservatives” can claim “cost-cutting” for the last thirty years, and it hasn’t cost us but $12 Trillion. Likely that’s a bargain, considering the entertainment value alone.

But the readers are right; one shouldn’t read too much into these family quarrels, especially when quarreling with such a wayward son as Frum. Still, it’s interesting. Kinda. Sorta. Besides, after wasting his fortune in the fleshpots of Liberalism, he may return. It would serve AEI right if he did.

avatar Pete Peterson March 27, 2010 at 12:13 am

Thanks for missing my point, John, which was all thinktanks and blogs have “Party Lines” – some allowing more room for deviation than others…you’re being selectively “[disturbed]“.

A fuller story appears in the National Post: http://www.nationalpost.com/news/story.html?id=2727727

Apparently, as Frum himself states: “They invited me to remain associated with AEI on a non-salaried basis.” He obviously, turned it down.

No such thing as “free” speech, you know.

avatar John March 27, 2010 at 1:34 am

What? There is a conservative mind that can be closed, let alone opened? I kid, but Frum’s fate is what happens as soon as you get involved in politics. Local or national–it doesn’t matter. To be sure, someone must care for the public weal, but let’s not fool ourselves. It quickly becomes petty. Folks whom you thought had virtue or at least responsibility find themselves cornered on all sides. They make choices and find themselves compromised. Friends are made and lost. This is neither a conservative nor a liberal thing. It is life and politics.

Frum’s ousting from AEI is not disturbing. It’s typical. Yes, i wish politics (especially of the reasonable sort that is found here at FPR–not in the Rawlsian Political Liberalism sense excluding any and all “comprehensive doctrines”) followed more closely to argument that is sensible and worthy of following through to the end. Alas, this is not where we live nor have we ever been there and we’re not gonna get there.

Frum will find his spot. I suppose he will be the next David Brooks as the conservative liberals love to love. if Frum were in some backwater that no one gives two sh*ts about then I guess we should worry, but then we would have never heard about him. Who cares about Frum. he wrote a mildly interesting book on the 70s. So what? I could have written it in my sleep–minus the statistics which I can pull out of my a** like anyone else. It’s all stoopid.

avatar John March 27, 2010 at 1:47 am

BTW, Frum is the author of axis of evil. One of the dumbest lines to ever get traction in American politics. After he empties his office at AEI he should hook up with Dr Dre and make a hip hop album.

avatar Art Deco March 27, 2010 at 8:17 am

Still, it’s interesting. Kinda. Sorta. Besides, after wasting his fortune in the fleshpots of Liberalism, he may return. It would serve AEI right if he did.

I am not sure why you want to injure AEI.

Two things are known publicly:

1. David Frum is a lapsed lawyer who has been employed as a journeyman writer for 20 years.

2. The formal name of the institute is the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research.

Dr. Brooks assumed office as the President of AEI less than a year ago and was presented with the following situation: his predecessor had granted a generous retainer to a newspaper columnist who gives no evidence of having made use of a piece of statistical software in his life. Do you think someone on the board might have asked, “what are we paying this man to do?”

As for Bruce Bartlett, he is an autodidact who had a patronage position in the Treasury Department 25 years ago. He was an atypical figure at the institute which employed him, whose fellows tend to have doctorates in economics and commonly have academic posts. His supervisor at the National Center for Policy Analysis complained that Mr. Bartlett had been given a dispensation from his routine work to produce a book which the supervisor later discovered was a polemical attack on a particular politician, not the stock in trade of the National Center for Policy Analysis.

avatar Wessexman March 27, 2010 at 8:29 am

Is the AEI not known for its neocon and neoliberal positions? Perhaps injure is the wrong word, oppose may be better.

avatar M.Z. March 27, 2010 at 11:45 am

Frum is fundamentally correct that doubling down is the wrong strategy for the GOP. Given the rights and GOP’s inability to agree on basic facts in the recent health care debate – the oft repeated claim that this bill directs funds abortions or the establishment of death panels – it is little wonder that their inability to handle civil debate has found itself inside the bubble as well.

In his oft criticized piece, I’m not convinced that he was wrong to advocate dumping the anti-war right rather than attempting to pacify them. The anti-war right was a tiny movement to begin the game. They weren’t on board with the libertarian project that was dominating the GOP and still does. The movement was quite old, still hadn’t moved on from the struggles of the Civil Rights era, and wasn’t regenerating itself with youth. The flagship periodical Chronicles has largely composed itself of variations of the lament that they’ve been left behind. Some have used the later unpopularity of the Iraq War as a vindication from Frum’s critique, but even the paleos mostly recognize that this hasn’t been an ideological conversion but a technocratic one. This is confirmed by the eagerness of Americans to jump off the cliff once again in fighting Iran.

avatar Daniel March 28, 2010 at 2:37 am

Why disturbing?

AEI is a private organization and can choose with whom it does and does not want to associate. A voluntary association is a two way street. If AEI doesn’t want him around any more, what’s it to you?

Reading Mr. Bartlett’s post, its central argument is an unsubstantiated assertion that AEI muzzled its employees during the Obama’s run to shove the national health insurance camel’s shoulders through the tent flaps. Bartlett’s argument is shown to be so much nonsense by Conor Friedersdorf, who is certainly no fan of AEI.

I’m certain it won’t gain me points among the Porchers, who seem very quick dismiss certain conservatives with the free and pejorative use of “neo-con,” but Jonah Goldberg was recently hired by AEI and he’s been writing quite regularly against the Obama push for national health care.

So again I ask, why disturbing?

avatar Wessexman March 28, 2010 at 6:04 am

Well what it is to him is that he thinks it shows a closing of the conservative mind. Private institutions are not beyond judgment.

Your point is loaded when you claim those who Porchers call “neocons” are conservatives. So what if Porchers like to attack certain strains which inhabit the conservative movement. There is uniformity among many of these, whatever one calls them.

The only thing I find disturbing is respectable and actual conservatives like Robert Nisbet would associate with the AEI.

avatar Bruce Smith March 28, 2010 at 7:16 am

Very good points Wessexman. The fight for control of the conservative mind has been going on for a very long time between the Libertarians and those conservatives who would prefer to balance individual rights with collective rights.

avatar Art Deco March 28, 2010 at 9:47 am

Wessexman, it only ‘shows the closing of the conservative mind’ if you take Bruce Bartlett’s and David Frum’s account of their respective employment histories absolutely at face value. You would only do that if you were being willful. Their supervisors have alternative (plausible) explanations and what is known publicly about Frum’s skill set suggests that the salient question is not why he was dismissed but why he was hired in the first place. If Jonah Goldberg has returned to the staff of AEI, that question ought to be asked about him as well.

There is another concern here to which you do not refer: who is currently engaged in ‘opening the conservative mind’, and at what cost do you co-operate with others? There are all sorts of individuals and institutions that dissent from the official idea, and there are some who pose at dissenting. The von Mises Institute is addled by a series of dubious enthusiasms: ‘Austrian’ economics, neo-confederate interpretations of the Civil War, conspirazoid thinking on contemporary history, &c.; the Reason Foundation and the Liberarian Party are most highly motivated by opposition to the drug laws, and addled by the idea that we should all behave as sexually liberated social monads; the Ayn Rand Institute is addled by their own highly eccentric moral theory; the Rockford Institute produces no working papers and husbands the work of no one capable of generating policy; the claque surrounding Patrick J. Buchanan have adopted support for the Democratic Party as their default position and are motivated by ephemeral questions on foreign policy almost to the exclusion of all other questions; Rod Dreher’s writing is ultimately about…Rod Dreher; the burden of much of David Frum’s recent advocacy is that the Republican Party should concede on matters about which David Frum cares nothing; and Conor Friedersdorf’s utterances are consumed with trivia and appear for all the world to be a succession of guises and poses. This crew ain’t going to ‘open the conservative mind’ for you.

avatar John Médaille March 28, 2010 at 12:35 pm

Art D., you give us a good taxonomy of dysfunction. The various Misean, Randian, Libertarian, etc. groups really belong within the liberal tradition, to which the other groups you mention given an inadequate response. Indeed, the Rockford Institute’s “conservatism” seems intent mainly on conserving the work of Thomas Fleming, who would never sully his hands with anything as plebian as policy. Which would be okay, if he didn’t express such contempt for anybody who does. It is interesting that in a recent column (http://www.chroniclesmagazine.org/index.php/2010/03/25/religio-philologi-social-justice-i/) he took Glen Beck’s position on social justice. He banishes “charity” (a term he seems to take in its corrupt modern meaning, rather than as caritas, love) to the private realm–as if such a pure realm actually existed. As such, this anti-Enlightenment polemicist shows that he has drunk of the Enlightenment Kool-aid. But then, I was never really sure if Fleming was an actual conservative, or merely an antiquarian; the two are not the same.

Where does that leave us? As something of an incoherent coalition, one that does not actually coalesce around anything. IN this light, something like Blond’s Civic State assumes a greater importance.

avatar Wessexman March 28, 2010 at 7:16 pm

Art Deco I’m a traditionalist through and through. Like John I have little time for Mises, Rothbard, Hayek, Rand et al particularly when it comes to the larger questions(Hayek has some interesting insights into dispersed knowledge but that is a very narrow scope.). To be honest while I’d like more open mindedness towards traditionalist conservatism in the wider conservative movement I’d also like a more cohesive traditional conservative movement that had less time for those who aren’t properly within its scope and concentrated on expressing its core ideals. That is one of my criticisms of the Porcher movement, it contains a few too many strands, it could probably do with distancing itself as a whole movement, rather than some writers within it, a little more from liberal/libertarian ideas.

avatar Art Deco March 29, 2010 at 12:28 pm

I think most traditionalist discourse properly takes place in fora and through organs and at centers which are not explicitly concerned with public policy, e.g. The Chesterton Review or the issuances of ISI Press. An outfit like the Hoover Institution may incorporate scholars of a traditionalist disposition, but their public discussion will be a modest fragment of what traditionalist thought should be.

It is difficult for me to see AEI or the Manhattan Institute as antagonists of a traditionalist project, as opposed to fora where people have different emphases and concerns, and I cannot see that a traditionalist should have qualms about being employed by either or reading their publications. The trouble I see with these loci is that they have been very unselective about who they hire at times, and this has diminished their seriousness as institutions. Journalists and journeyman writers should only be on the staff of these institutions if

A. They show up for work; and
B. Have a serious specialty in which they are self-taught by their reseach.

There are not many whom I think would qualify. Elizabeth McCaughey (whose writings are very much outside her academic training), Monica Crowley, or Maggie Gallagher would be appropriately employed at these places. David Frum would not.

avatar Rob G March 30, 2010 at 5:40 pm

I was a bit surprised to see that Scruton’s a resident scholar at the AEI now, but so far he’s written almost exclusively on cultural issues, on which he has been very good, as usual.

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