David Frum learns about blowback the hard way

Since we’re into anniversaries, the 10th anniversary of the National Review’s “Unapatritotic Conservatives” articled from David Frum has provked some discussion among our writers and editors and those at The American Conservative. Here’s my take on it:

“There was a need for paleo criticisms of the Iraq War, and Rothbardian anarcho-capitalist criticisms. But there was also a need for institutional vehicle for criticisms that came from other quadrants of the right, a vehicle that didn’t have such a restrictive identity.”

Which I agree with in principal but lets be honest about how this situation came about. There any number of writers of various paleo persuasions working either for Chronicles/TRI or Lew Rockwell.com/Von Mieses at that time who used to work such “mainstream” conservative or libertarian publications like the National Review or in the Beltway for such outlets like the Washington Times or who worked for CATO and wrote for Reason who at some point either left or were forced out or fired because they had either written or said things that crossed the “limits of permissible dissent”. And because of this, they no longer had access to those part of the media, either pundits on TV or print/online columnists working for mainstream publications which would have given them greater and broader influence. Thus TAC was born and has survived because it does fill a niche of conservative writing which isn’t done to advance one’s career in the “movement” but in which can be read by more influential audience, like it or not.

But this is not to downplay the work that goes on at Chronicles or elsewhere that goes by unnoticed. As I was once said to Scott Richert “You may not have made any money nor were you on TV but you guys always told the truth, which hopefully will be worth its weight in gold someday and in some fashion.”

What’s amazing about “Unpatriotic Conservatives” is that was even written to begin with. Professor Gottfried has long pointed out part of the job working for National Review is being a gatekeeper for the “movement” so that those they feel are too controversial or are an embarrassment are prevented from any kind of prominence with the world of “movement” publications or publishing houses or other media venues. Why then would Frum brings persons like Dr. Fleming or Lew Rockwell notoriety when it wasn’t necessary? Likewise, to make the reader believe Pat Buchanan and Bob Novak were not just wrong about Iraq but also traitors and menaces to their country is so-over-the-top it makes one question the wisdom and veracity of not just the writer but the publication which puts it into print.

Much of this, of course, goes back to Frum’s own motivations and personality tics. There’s no question he loves to engage in factional fighting. Whether it’s a conscience channeling of the 1930s and Alcove 6 is an open question but the zest is the same. And as Dr. Fleming once told me, if you can just get under his skin he’ll come after you in a bezerker-like mentality and there was no doubt that’s exactly true in this case. Maybe he believed there were many conservatives unenthusiastic for the war but were silent in expressing their beliefs. Perhaps by writing such an article showing what would happen to dissenters would either keep them quiet or show greater patriotism than he perceived they were.

A wiser editor for NR would have explained to Mr. Frum that there was no need for such an article for NR was in not in the business of giving free publicity to messers. Rockwell, Raimondo, Fleming, Gottfried et.al and attacking Buchanan and Novak would only increase divisions among average conservatives at the start of the war who would wonder why NR was calling as unpatriotic fellows who had agreed with them and fought for them all these many years. Unfortunately by then NR was out of the wisdom business and more in the “Let’s top the Weekly Standard and the Wall Street Journal editorial page with this piece. That’ll get everyone talking!”

Frum is regretful about a lot of things lately, but this piece is not one of them. Nor will he ever regret it. He despises every single person he smeared is this article and the feeling is mutual. Yet, if he could let go of his anger and hatred and see the true aftermath of “Unpatriotic Conservatives” he’ll find plenty to be regretful about. Antiwar conservatism and libertarianism did not go away, it only intensified as the war turned out as badly as those who opposed it said it would. While Buchananism didn’t make a comeback electorally, the much broader and more youthful Ron Paul movement took its place. While Paul the father didn’t win the GOP nomination his campaigns placed Paul the son in a strong position to do so. The war’s failures and the economic dislocations caused by them not only led to the Republicans ouster from Presidential power, but a more radicalized conservatism than even Frum could-ever dream of whose first victim of purging was Frum himself. These certainly weren’t his intentions when writing “Unpatriotic Conservatives” (score-settling was) but needless to say when it came to blowback, Frum probably should have heeded Ron Paul.

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2 thoughts on “David Frum learns about blowback the hard way

  1. C Bowen

    Good post, Sean–it is worth marking the 10 years. Those years after Frum’s article and the word that Ron Paul was going to run for President, was our time in the desert–a time of great creativity, meeting, virtually, and occasionally for me in real life, the entire spectrum of dissidents, and dealing with the reality that “it” was never going to happen; that the world was very dark, but that was “okay.”

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