(Updated)Former Bush Speechwriter: Conservatives & Republicans “suffered their greatest legislative defeat since the 1960s”

With all the articles, news broadcasts, and interviews that will no doubt be released or occur in the wake of last night’s vote to pass healthcare reform, one that should not be overlooked, particularly by conservatives and Republicans was authored by David Frum, former speech writer for George W. Bush and avowed conservative.  On his blog FrumForum.com Frum laments the “crushing legislative defeat” dealt to Republicans and conservatives by the passage of healthcare but despite his opposition to many aspects of the healthcare bill he does not attack the bill or Democrats, instead he lays the defeat at the feet of those most responsible—the Republican Party and the conservative entertainment industry which forced the Republicans into a zero-sum game.

In his own words:

“It’s hard to exaggerate the magnitude of the disaster. Conservatives may cheer themselves that they’ll compensate for today’s expected vote with a big win in the November 2010 elections. But:

(1) It’s a good bet that conservatives are over-optimistic about November – by then the economy will have improved and the immediate goodies in the healthcare bill will be reaching key voting blocs.

(2) So what? Legislative majorities come and go. This healthcare bill is forever. A win in November is very poor compensation for this debacle now.

So far, I think a lot of conservatives will agree with me. Now comes the hard lesson:

A huge part of the blame for today’s disaster attaches to conservatives and Republicans ourselves.”

Frum aptly points out that the Republicans refusal to cooperate despite the Democrats overwhelming majority positioned them in a battle where a win would be big but a loss even bigger.  As the effects of the bill sink in the public will see that it was not the apocalyptic legislation that Republicans and the Tea Party have claimed it would be and instead of being able to take any credit for the good that it does e.g. ending rescissions, ending pre-existing conditions, helping small businesses pay healthcare premiums, reducing the deficit, etc. they will only be remembered as the party that made the political calculation to say no.

And yes, there are things that they could have found common ground on.  As Frum points out, the plan “the gap between this plan and traditional Republican ideas is not very big. The Obama plan has a broad family resemblance to Mitt Romney’s Massachusetts plan. It builds on ideas developed at the Heritage Foundation in the early 1990s that formed the basis for Republican counter-proposals to Clintoncare in 1993-1994.”  But once they set out on the decision to make this Obama Waterloo’s the Republicans were trapped not only by their own political calculation but also by “conservative talkers on Fox and talk radio [who] had whipped the Republican voting base into such a frenzy that deal-making was rendered impossible. How do you negotiate with somebody who wants to murder your grandmother? Or – more exactly – with somebody whom your voters have been persuaded to believe wants to murder their grandmother?”

The Republicans no doubt hoped that their 100% opposition to the bill would allow them to frame it as radical piece of legislation, why else will no Republicans vote for it they said?  The strategy of vilifying a piece of moderate legislation that actually incorporated conservative ideas was quite a clever strategy but it failed and when the effects of this bill does not kill grandma or bring the rapture they will look all the more foolish.

Now they are stuck with a bill that will not be repealed despite the histrionic shouts of some Republican leaders.  As Frum points out, “Even if Republicans scored a 1994 style landslide in November, how many votes could we muster to re-open the “doughnut hole” and charge seniors more for prescription drugs? How many votes to re-allow insurers to rescind policies when they discover a pre-existing condition? How many votes to banish 25 year olds from their parents’ insurance coverage? And even if the votes were there – would President Obama sign such a repeal?
There were leaders who knew better, who would have liked to deal.”

It is quite fair to assume that Americans will become as comfortable and supportive of healthcare that cannot be denied per the whim of the insurance companies as most of the Western world and supporters of Medicare in this country (We all heard even the opponents of healthcare reform at a Tea Parties and town hall meetings chanting “don’t touch my Medicare”).  As such, it is unlikely that Republicans can make repeal a successful part of their future campaigns.  How would they convince people this was a good idea? “We promise to remove the laws and restrictions that prevent insurance companies from rescinding your coverage, putting lifetime limits on insurance payout and removing restrictions preventing the insurance companies from denying you or your children coverage for a pre-existing condition.”  Best campaign promise to ensure you will not get elected.

The only issue I have with Frum’s article is his attacks on the likes of Limbaugh, Beck, and Fox News—not because I disagree with him—but because I think it is a bit hypocritical.  As a former Bush speechwriter, he knows as well as anyone how much he and the Republican party benefited from the conservative talk radio and Fox News. It was fine while Republicans were already in power and the conservative media elite merely acted as cheerleaders for the Republican lead agenda but when a leadership vacuum opened up like a black hole in the Republican party and these same talking heads managed to fill the void with their carcinogenic supply-supply side voodoo economic hyperbolic vitriol he suddenly realizes what bedfellows they had made.  But he doesn’t just stop at saying that Limbaugh and his ilk pushed the agenda too far with their “hysterical accusations and pseudo-information, overheated talk” he also says that “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.”

While I obviously love any conservative with enough balls to stand up to Limbaugh, it is perhaps a little too late, besides when Frum stated that healthcare passing was a “defeat for free-market economics and Republican values is a huge win for the conservative entertainment industry” he seemed to not realize that means that the free market did indeed win in the sense that the conservative entertainment industry offered a product and, while the majority of Americans may have rejected it, the Republicans bought it but good—unfortunately they bought with adjustable rate equity loan on a White House they lost in 2008.


Within days after writing his coloumn criticizing the Republicans for over politicizing the health care debate and allowing their message to be controlled by the conservative entertainment industry, David Frum was asked to quitely leave his position as a scholar at the American Enteriprise Institute (AEI), a conservative think tank, where he has worked since 20003. According to the New York Times, the head of AEI, Arthur Brooks, met Frum for lunch this week and said that while they “valued a diversity of opinion” they would like him to consider “being associated with the intsitute on a nonsaliried basis” i.e. you can still produce work for us as we request it but we no longer want you to be permanently associated with us.

Frum declined and wrote a formal notice of resignation.

And last night he wrote a coloumn to let his readers know “what happened”:

“1) Was the firing political?”

Per Frum he can’t know exactly what was on Brooks’ mind but the timeline makes it pretty evident that the offer to become nonsalaried came about because of his Waterloo article. Frum wrote, “Waterloo piece is posted Sunday March 22. Wall Street Journal editorial denouncing me appears March 23. Summons to lunch arrives mid-morning of March 23. At lunch I am told that AEI wishes to terminate my salary, office, benefits, and research assistance.”

“2) Was the firing in response to donor pressure?”

AEI, like the Heritage Foundation, the Brookings Institute, The Center for American Progress, etc. depend significantly on large contributions from political partisans. And as Frum noted, “Arthur Brooks explained that AEI was facing a new kind of donor environment, in which donors were becoming much more specific about where they wanted their money to go.” In other words, your article did not coincide with the type of material our donors want thier money to help produce. Glad to know that AEI only produces work what is bought and paid for by their donors. One can always suspect this of all the think tanks but AEI has been kind enough to nearly come straightout and admit it.

“3) Did AEI muzzle healthcare scholars?”

According to Frum, he only wondered in private conversations, not in public, about whether “AEI scholars were constrained by fear of saying something that might get them into trouble” regarding the health care debate or policy. Well if they weren’t constrained before they probably will be now that Frum has been softly pushed out due to his critique of the Republican Party.

“4) Was I terminated for under-productivity?”

As Frum stated, he has been as prolific as ever between books, newspaper/magazine article, his web coloumn, TV appearances, lectures, etc. so such a charge would be unsubstantied.

Now of course the narrative of AEI and its supporters does not match the one presented by Frum. Charles Murray attacks Frum’s framing of his leaving, going so far as to blame it on him not spending sufficient time on the actual premise of AEI’s headquarters. To which Frum replies, “Charles acknowledges that he himself spends almost zero on the AEI premises. If that’s a firing offense, I’ll see him at the soup kitchen.”

As a writer who skirts the line between policy and politics and sometimes goes straight into opinion, I feel for Frum but I also understand where AEI comes from to an extent. They are, after all, an avowed conservative think tank so I would no more think they would keep on writers who started to sound like Ralph Nader or Michael Moore, than I would think Care2 would necessarily keep me on if I started to sound like Glenn Beck. But with that being said, I hardly think Frum’s article is a direct affront to the conservatism which AEI’s policies are based, in fact, I would say it was a defense of those conservative values and ideas. If his views are now considered either too liberal or to critical for AEI to allow him to stay on as a salaried scholar than perhaps it is not just the Republican Party that has been hijacked by the conservative entertainment industry.

Scott P


Akin Adelakun
Akin Adelakun6 years ago

Great article. Thank you for this.

pam w.
pam w7 years ago

Paul, if she wins, it means many of us are "dead bodies" because that's the ONLY way she'll do it...that or someone has (once again) stolen an election. Bush did it...I'm sure she'd give it a try. We already know she's abused tax-payer monies and soaked the Republican party for clothes she never paid for.

Honesty isn't necessarily in her vocabulary.

Paul O.
Paul O'Dowd7 years ago

From here, it's like watching a train wreck in slow motion. You know it's not right to stare with your jaw agape but you just can't avert your eyes as the Palin Loco-Motive careens along the tracks towards the bridge that they forgot they burned a few years ago. But wait! What's that? Millions of clueless bunnies scrambling noisily to prop up the trestles before the train goes plummeting into the abyss! Who are they? Where are they from? The mindless millions who thought Dick Chaney...um...I mean George Bush, did a good job, are still out there and they've shown us many times that they're not above disregarding the rules to get what they want.
If Palin wins the contest it will say SO much about your country, and it won't be flattering.

pam w.
pam w7 years ago

Sure, Paul---which brings us around to Sarah Palin, scampering about, mouthing platitudes and trying to gather all the publicity she can WHILE she can, before people begin to see advantages.

Paul O.
Paul O'Dowd7 years ago

"(1) It’s a good bet that conservatives are over-optimistic about November – by then the economy will have improved and the immediate goodies in the healthcare bill will be reaching key voting blocs."

Fascinating insight into what must have been an important catalyst of the Right Wing response.
The previously impossible access to life saving, and life quality enhancing treatments that the good spin doctor Frum so casually reduces to "immediate goodies" would scare the living daylights out of the black-hearted sociopaths that we lovingly call the GOP. Imagine! Actual PEOPLE, seeing direct benefits from a new government policy. Hell, it might even be enough to make them vote Democrat in November!
Those "Key voting blocks", in case it escapes anyone's attention, are the tens of millions of your countrymen and women who until now were doomed to a third world existence in the richest country on the globe.
Can you people not see how this will only make your nation stronger?

Alfred Supe
Alfred Supe7 years ago

Blake W said:

"Also, he obviously meant that, by adding additional controls to the insurance industry, the industry is more regulated and therefore less free."

I damn well hope so. My health insurance premiums took a 37% jump this year over last year. These health insurance companies are engaging in highway robbery. They simply deny, deny, deny coverage - and why? So their CEOs and higher management can get 5 million dollar bonuses instead of 4 million. If anyone thinks for a microsecond that they give a damn whether you live or die, they are sadly mistaken.

Same for Wall Street, where they try to get you to buy a certain stock, all while they are selling their shares behind your back.
Sorry for the off-topic comment, but if the shoe fits, buy two pairs!


Mark M.
Mark M7 years ago

One reason that the so-called 40% of Americans who 'don't want' health insurance reform is that they were -- and continue to be -- cynically misinformed by those they relied on for analysis of it -- Grassley, Boehner, Kyl, Coburn, Beck, Limbaugh, Hannity, et al manipulated and/or declined to refute the buzzwords that led so many to believe this was one of the worst deals of all time: death panels, government take-over, anti-free market, etc. An objective view would have undercut the arguments the Republican'ts were posing to sink the bill. They could not admit that many ideas in the bill were adopted from THEIR OWN PREVIOUS PROPOSALS FOR HEALTH CARE LEGISLATION. Thus, they can't credibly cast the stone that the Administration slapped bipartisanship in the face. Was there a rash of back-room deals to move this bill? YES! Is it certain to be as effective as the Administration claims? NO! But will it do millions of Americans -- even those decrying it today -- a world of good far beyond anything the insurance industry was willing to offer? HELL YES! And won't the companies get millions of new customers? Apparently, the only real losers are the Republican'ts themselves, who have been revealed as the arrogant crybabies they are, who would rather continue to let our medical security be harmed then stifle their tantrums and offer viable centrist solutions. It would be fitting if they all got sick and their insurance was cancelled.

Krystyna A.
Krystyna A7 years ago

All these tactics which are being used by republicans and their fellow reactionary is so reminding of Soviet Union propaganda machine, media censorship and general miss- information, with , of course ,outright lies and deceit , under which is thinly veiled real threat , followed by real harm done to opposition members , or anyone perceived as non- compliant.After they got good look at KGB files, republicans really learned a lot.

Tery G.
Tery G7 years ago

If the republican leadership doesn't wake up before next November the landslide they are looking at is going to be to the unemployment office. Who is going to vote for a party that has demonstrated no urge whatsoever to do their job? Go ahead and announce at a work meeting that you have no intention of working with your peers and see how long it takes you to get fired.

Blake W.
Blake W7 years ago

When you say that 'free market' won, you cannot really think that this is correct. 'The American people' may have bought the health care bill, but 40% of them don't want it. That's not 'free market.' Free market would mean that no one is forced to accept something or prevented from getting it. Legislation never works that way.
Also, he obviously meant that, by adding additional controls to the insurance industry, the industry is more regulated and therefore less free.