On his HBO show, Bill Maher usually arranges for one of his three guests to be a conservative. In one sense, he wants to be fair to the conservative point of view; in another he wants to provide a foil for the two liberal guests (as well as himself) who also sit on the panel.
One of the conservative guests who has been a regular on the program is David Frum, a one-time aide and speech writer in the George W. Bush White House. He did not always take the company line in the White House. While he supported John Roberts as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, he was a force in opposition to Harriet Miers as an associate justice. He was a strong advocate for many conservative ideas in the White House, but also a gadfly who would oppose the “Rovian” conventional wisdom when he felt that empathy was being overlooked. He eventually left the Bush White House to work for presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani, the former mayor of New York City.
The Canadian-born Frum is the author of seven books. Most advocate conservative ideas, suggesting that the liberal philosophy leads to financial waste and unaccountable social policy. However, through it all, he has maintained a certain skepticism of the wisdom of his fellow conservatives.
Over time, David Frum did what very few political advocates do. He basically changed his political philosophy. He came to accept the Democratic principles of primary concern for the poor and disenfranchised. He saw hypocrisy within both parties, but particularly with the Republicans. He became comfortable with uninhibited criticism of the Republican Party, particularly its leaders.
In the July 30, 2012 issue of The Nation, David Oppenheimer wrote a definitive article, describing Frum’s metamorphosis. The same day that the article in The Nation came out, Frum, as a CNN contributor, wrote an article entitled “Mitt Romney’s painfully bad week.” Frum spared no punches on the Republican presidential candidate-to-be. He talked about Romney’s blatant criticism of the Affordable Health Care Act at a meeting of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People). Romney was predictably booed, but Frum raises the question of whether Romney was naïve and had no idea what the reaction would be, or if he intentionally stirred the embers and sought sympathy from America’s whites, who seem to hate President Obama.
Frum points out that Romney also floated the idea of Condoleezza Rice as a vice-presidential nominee.. Perhaps this was intended to be a lame effort to win a few African-American votes, but Romney seemed to forget that (a) Rice is strongly pro-choice, anathema to Republicans, and (b) she has repeatedly said that she has no interest in the vice-presidency.
And then who can talk about Mitt Romney without mentioning his inexplicable finances with Bain Capital, the financial services company that he once headed. As Gloria Bilchik has written in the Occasional Planet, this is like Retroactive Romney. He takes what he did in 2002 and pretends that it ended in 1999. The bending of the truth is a big enough concern in itself, but the real problem is that he tries to distance himself from a period of time when Bain was shipping thousands of jobs overseas. Frum, as a one-time loyal Republican, cannot take Romney’s slippery and sloppy rhetoric, and reams him, as many Democrats are currently doing.
Frum is a thinker; he enjoys analyzing data and putting disparate perspectives together into a coherent set of ideas. That took him on the path from aligning his views with those of Republicans to Democrats. We need more David Frums, even if they move on the other direction. We will not progress without critical thinking, and David Frum is a true model for such an approach.
Since 1969, Arthur Lieber has been teaching and working in non-profit educational organizations. His focus has been on promoting critical, creative, and enjoyable learning for students in informal settings. In the 2010 mid-term elections, he was the Democratic nominee for US Congress from Missouri’s 2nd Congressional District.