By John Aloysius Farrell, Thomas Jefferson Street blog
I have eaten many a breakfast bagel at the American Enterprise Institute while listening to its experts expound. And though the Washington think tank promotes some truly partisan conservatives, like Dick Cheney and Newt Gingrich and Richard Perle, and has a foreign policy team that marches in lockstep to neocon dogma, I have always believed that “scholars” there deserve the appellation.
The international relations fellows may be frozen in a Cold War perspective, like flies stuck in Baltic amber, but no one knows Congress better (or analyzes American politics with greater wit) than the liberal-leaning Norm Ornstein. And Karlyn Bowman is my go-to gal when I want a read on polls and public opinion that is free of partisan cant. Down all the days, AEI fellows like Michael Barone (a former U.S. Newser), Ben Wattenberg, and Bill Schneider have demonstrated that they know their stuff.
AEI has generally been different from the other conservative think tanks in town. It conducts joint projects with the liberal Brookings Institution. Liberal scholars may be outnumbered on AEI panels, but there is often a token Lefty who gets his or her say. And it was AEI that, in a series of conferences on the changing demographics of the American people, predicted the formation of the multifaceted coalition of voters that elected Barack Obama as the nation’s first African-American president.
So, not knowing all the circumstances behind David Frum’s sudden departure from AEI yesterday, I am baffled this morning. The timing is certainly suggestive: It looks like an ideological purge. A few days after warning his fellow Republicans that their party was indeed becoming the Party of No and an instrument of Rupert Murdoch’s avidity--and had met a “Waterloo” with the passage of the healthcare bill--Frum went to lunch with his boss and was told that his services were no longer needed, or at least no longer worth a paycheck. He could stay on as a volunteer if he wanted. Now, I do some volunteer work. It fulfills the soul, but does not feed the children. And so Frum left.
If AEI was not punishing Frum for his apostasy, then its timing was at the very least awful, and the episode handled with a clumsiness that Larry, Moe, and Curly would admire. Machiavelli would tell us: If you are going to be labeled as intolerant anyway, you might as well be feared. No one in Washington will respect an institution that failed to foresee how this would play out.
Democrats I know are hoping the firing was deliberate, and that the Conservative Establishment is now intent to send a message to Republicans, warning its more thoughtful scholars and commentators that they must adhere to the party line. (Feeling a little cramped, as you sit down to write this morning, Ross and David and Kathleen?)
This, of course, would indicate that Frum is correct, and that the Republican Party is indeed now dancing to the strings of “the conservative entertainment industry”--Rush Limbaugh and Fox News and the rest. And as Frum capably noted in his “Waterloo” column, what Beck and Hannity and Rush and Ann and Roger and Rupert really care about is ratings, and book sales, and cash.
And so, in honor of the late great David Frum, here is the warning that may have cost him his job:
When Rush Limbaugh said that he wanted President Obama to fail, he was intelligently explaining his own interests. What he omitted to say--but what is equally true--is that he also wants Republicans to fail. If Republicans succeed--if they govern successfully in office and negotiate attractive compromises out of office--Rush’s listeners get less angry. And if they are less angry, they listen to the radio less, and hear fewer ads for Sleepnumber beds.
So today’s defeat for free-market economics and Republican values is a huge win for the conservative entertainment industry. Their listeners and viewers will now be even more enraged, even more frustrated, even more disappointed in everybody except the responsibility-free talkers on television and radio.
For them, it’s mission accomplished. For the cause they purport to represent, it’s Waterloo all right: ours.
I am with Frum. America needs two viable, principled political parties--Democrats vs. Republicans. Not Democrats vs. the Stoopid Puppet Dittoheads.