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Saturday, March 28, 2009

David Frum on modern-day conservatism

The print edition of the National Post carries a piece by Canadian conservative author and commenter, David Frum. The piece is entitled, Frum on Frum—A veteranDavid Frum conservative ponders his alienation from the movement he joined 30 years ago, and deals with Mr. Frum’s sense of what conservatism means to him and how this differs from that of the present Republican Party.

Mr. Frum quotes Andrew Coyne as describing him thus:

“Things have come to a pretty pass in the Republican Party when David Frum is the mushy moderate of the piece.”

If this is an accurate measure of Mr. Frum’s conservatism, then I guess I’m a “mushy moderate” too for I find myself in agreement with everything he has to say in this essay.

I became a conservative in the 1970s because, like Mr. Frum, I believed that conservatives had the answers to runaway inflation, stalled economic growth and a social order that seemed to be breaking down. Moreover, the western democracies seemed to have lost their nerve and confidence and liberals seemed unable to restore it—or to show they even noticed much less cared.

For us who held free speech, self-reliance and individual choice dear, who believed in free markets and entrepreneurship and who championed free trade, conservatism was the way.

Conservatives wanted to “cut taxes, reduce government, repeal price controls, print less money, jail criminals, trust individuals, rebuild armed forces, strike back against terrorists and hostage-takers,” to use Mr. Frum’s words.

And the fact is that conservatives—under leaders like Thatcher, Regan and Mulroney—did do all those things. Yet the conservative dream was largely unfulfilled.

Mr. Frum writes that “Conservatives stopped taking governance seriously—and so Americans ceased to trust conservatives in government.” This is less true in Canada, but moderately so.

Those of us who hold to fundamental conservative principles find little to champion in much of our current federal government’s actions and policies. Our remaining consolation is that things would be worse under the Grits.

According to Mr. Frum:

“The Obama administration is careening toward a more expensive and interventionist government, toward reckless spending and destructive taxation.”

The really sad part about this is that the Republican Party so sullied the conservative brand that Americans wanted no further part of it. And their final insult to the American people was that they offered a tired old man and his neophyte political lightweight running mate as an alternative to a man who offered hope for a better America.

On a personal note, I’ll add that, as with prudent fiscal conservatism, social conservatism is also in retreat. At least social conservatism that is not so badly skewed to the right and bound up in religious dogma as to be almost unrecognizable as a reasonable path to good social order.

I’ll end by quoting Mr. Frum’s final paragraph:

“I don’t think of myself as having gone squishy. I think of myself as having grown sober. And my conservative critics? On them, I think the most apt verdict was delivered by Niccolo Machiavelli, 500 years ago: ‘This is the tragedy of man. Circumstances change, and he does not’.”

 

[Source material]

6 comments — This is a moderated blog and comments will appear when approved. Please don’t resubmit if your comment doesn’t appear immediately, and please do not post material that is obscene, harassing, defamatory, or otherwise objectionable.

  1. "At least social conservatism that is not so badly skewed to the right and bound up in religious dogma as to be almost unrecognizable as a reasonable path to good social order."

    I think you might have a bit of a challenge proving that...IMHO.

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  2. Paul Martin could balance a budget. Flaherty/ Harper can't figure out if the economy is good, in receession or in depression. Nevertheless they boast they have a fix.

    The problem with Conervatism is its inflexiblity. The macho adherence to principle makes one seem "squishy" if you don't battle full force for that principle. As a result, conservatives don't trust Republicans or the Conservative Party. Small c conservatives were disppointed in Harper for his non-existent defence of marriage. And yet the world did not end. Harper judged correctly that it didn't matter. Unfortunately he comes of as weak for it.

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  3. Anon, conservatives are no less flexible than most of the Liberal Party that has moved quite far to the left and are competing there with the NDP. Political dogma rules these people's every thought.

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  4. And, Anon, many bad things happen and the world does not end. Harper did not defend the traditional concept of marriage and now it looks like we may soon have polygamy…where will that then lead? Yes, live goes on, but at what cost to our social values?

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  5. I just hope you as a moderate conservative are happy with your pick for President, Obama and the path he said he would take and is presently taking. It's funny that so many so called conservatives backed Obama and now Democrats are calling his budget plans insane.

    anyway I hope you have no regrets about your may blogs supporting him.

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  6. No, Anon, no regrets at all, especially considering the alternative, which was a tired old man and his neophyte political lightweight running mate as an alternative to a man who offered hope for a better America.

    Time will reveal all.

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