The conservatives’ war with David Frum is once again in the news (or at least the blogosphere). The latest skirmish involves John Hawkins, who has taken to his blog at Right Wing News to explain why he excluded Frum’s website, FrumForum, from Blogads Conservative Hive. Hawkins insists that neither Frum nor his website is conservative.
In fact, says Hawkins, David is the anti-conservative: he owes his professional and financial success to his ongoing efforts to “cripple conservatives publicly.” This, of course, plays well with the “mainstream media.” And so, Hawkins says, Frum is rewarded with plum media gigs – at CNN.Com, The Week, the National Post of Canada, and American Public Media, among other estimable places.
The American Spectator’s longtime editor-in-chief, R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr., agrees. Indeed, Tyrrell calls Frum an “odious conservative” and a “hustler” who has made his “way to prominence in the mainstream media” by disparaging other conservatives.
I like and respect Tyrrell and Hawkins; however, they are wrong about Frum. And the health and vitality of the conservative movement requires that they and conservatives like them reconsider their perspective. Conservative political success hinges on whether we make room for heterodox thinkers like David Frum.
For starters, Frum is a conservative, albeit an unconventional one. Thus, he does not rigidly adhere to ideological orthodoxy. But neither do many of the libertarians and anti-war conservatives whom Hawkins welcomes into the conservative fold. Why the double standard?
Because Frum is a sharp-minded critic who takes conservatives to task when he thinks they have erred or done wrong. His criticisms are not those of someone who wishes to destroy the conservative movement. To the contrary: his criticisms are those of someone who wishes to reenergize and rejuvenate the conservative cause.
You may think that Frum’s criticisms are wrong or mistaken, or that they miss the mark. Certainly, I myself sometimes think so. However, it simply defies the bounds of credulity to assert that David is no conservative.
Of course he is! Frum supports the war against radical Islam, seeks an American victory in Iraq and Afghanistan, believes in military modernization, advocates for conservative judges, opposes overweening regulation, and believes that the Republican Party should remain, essentially, a pro-life party (albeit one that also welcomes pro-choice moderates).
It is true that on some social and cultural issues – including gay marriage and openly gay military service – Frum seems to be liberal. Or at the very least, he has given voice at FrumForum to people who advocate liberal positions on these issues.
Because I am a strong cultural conservative, I disagree with these FrumForum contributors. But if conservatives were honest with themselves, they’d have to admit that Frum is probably ahead of his time. Conservatives, after all, are increasingly throwing up the white flag of surrender in the culture wars.
In fact, much to my dismay, as I’ve argued at Tyrrell’s own American Spectator and elsewhere, conservatives have done little or nothing to oppose open homosexuality within the military. And some conservatives and libertarians – throughout the blogosphere and not just at FrumForum – openly champion gay marriage.
Why, the American Spectator’s own Philip Klein argues for openly gay military service! Yet, I don’t hear anyone – including myself – saying that we should drum Klein out of the movement. No one wants to exclude Klein because we all recognize that, despite whatever disagreements we may have with him, he is, nonetheless, a sharp and able conservative. The same is true of Frum, only more so.
Moreover, Frum gives voice to heterodox conservatives because he is trying to build bridges – political, electoral and policy bridges – to moderates. He envisions a grand center-right coalition that can win politically. You can dispute whether Frum is successfully pursuing this vision, but you cannot deny that his efforts are legitimately conservative and hardly liberal.
As for Frum’s journalistic success, well, the truth is this: he has very few, if any, journalistic peers. His work is consistently first-rate, highly original, well reported and beautifully written. Indeed, Frum doesn’t simply rehash tired old conservative clichés; he pushes the intellectual boundaries with new insights and thought-provoking ideas.
This may not make David the most popular conservative journalist or blogger. It does, however, make him one of the most important and influential. For that reason, I am proud to call him a friend and contribute to his blog.
Conservatives need to develop a thicker skin and a tougher hide. They need to realize that unconventional thinking and dissent can be a strength, not a weakness. They need to realize that heterodox thinkers like Frum are important because we need new ideas to break through our current and long-term political and policy logjam. Running the Right’s greatest hits from the 1980’s, after all, won’t work in the current political environment.
And so, for these reasons conservatives should give FrumForum a second look. And they should stop beating up on their mindless caricature of David Frum. Frum is one of us.
John Guardiano blogs and opines at NewsReal Blog, the American Spectator and FrumForum. You can follow him on Twitter: @JohnRGuardiano