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David Frum Blows it

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David FrumDavid Frum, today on the Daily Beast website, wrote a counter argument to Andrew Sullivan’s Newsweek article on president Obama.

Frum starts out his argument with this lead paragraph:

Andrew Sullivan had good sport last week shooting fish in a barrel, rebutting the most unfair, the most intemperate, and the most flat-out crazy of the criticisms of President Obama.

As someone who has read Frum Forum for well over a year, I’ve learned to respect much of Frum’s editorial posts even though I may not have agreed with every policy prescription he held. I appreciated his telling Republicans that they blew a their chance to modify the health care bill (aka ACA), which initially was a product of the Heritage Foundation in response to Clinton’s health care bill, that cost him his job at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI).

I initially went to Frum Forum out of curiosity to read what he had to say, and became a fan not just of his posts but of the many regular commenters who posted to his site. They are remarkable people, from a variety of backgrounds with an amazing wealth of data and information on virtually every sphere of business endeavor available in this country. Having followed Frum to The Daily Beast, I now find myself in the position of arguing against him even more frequently because of his obvious cheerleading for Romney.

Here is my response.

Mr. Frum, this article is one of the worst you’ve ever written.

It lacks your usual depth of thought and insight into the American economy. I understand that you want Romney to win not only the primaries but also the election. He is your idea of the best hope for the GOP. Nevertheless, we both know that this article was not just fluff but totally ignores the near historic nature of the financial crisis and resulting decline in employment along with the massive debt overhang (the amount of debt held by the public – i.e., families, businesses, and state budgets) caused by Bush era cheap credit and federal policies that encouraged credit spending. Remember Bush saying after 9/11, go shopping, America? Or how about his advocacy of increased home buying: everyone should own their home. Or that outsourcing was good not just for the economy but for American workers. Or Greenspan arguing to keep rates down so people would keep buying homes and borrowing while advocating to keep financial regulations light.

I won’t put all the blame on Bush 2 for the economic mess that occurred on the day Lehman’s fell in Sept of 2008. But I won’t let him off the hook either. He could have done his job better, and he could have told Cheney to shut up and stop advocating for tax reductions that benefited mainly the wealthy as their right; and instead of allowing Cheney to develop an energy policy behind closed doors with only CEOs of big oil companies, he could have told Cheney to open the doors for a public hearing and to develop a plan with the next 50 years in mind; and he could have chosen to tell Congress that Medicare Part D had to be paid for; and he could have said the wars had to be paid for instead of using an accounting gimmick to put those enormous costs “off budget,” as if they didn’t exist.

Remember Obama’s first state of the union speech where he said the cost of the wars would be put back on the books so we’d all know what the total deficit was, and what the total cost of the wars were? I remember because I hated Bush’s accounting gimmick; it fostered better than a two trillion dollar lie to the American public.

But because Obama did the right thing in showing how deeply in debt the country was, he now gets blamed for all the debt that “magically” appeared shortly after he took office.

But let’s step away from Bush’s mess, and focus on what Obama has done. Let’s start with his drive to secure income security for the multi-millions thrown out of their jobs. It wasn’t bad enough that structural unemployment had been growing in this country since Reagan’s Admin. – which Reagan acknowledged and attempted to solve (GHW Bush cancelled Reagan’s search for a solution), but the financial crisis exacerbated the unemployment crisis.

As with every recession for the last 30 years or so, businesses found ways to do more with fewer employees via technological advances. So even while GDP has returned to pre-recession levels, employment has not kept pace which is why polls show the economy is still in such a funk. Unless the country figures out how to create more new businesses which do require employees, unemployment will not return, on a long term basis, to the low levels the public expects. Moreover, the employees of those new businesses will need higher technology skills than in previous eras. Thus, the need for increased spending on education and retraining, a la Germany which demands workers to be constantly retrained through a public-private partnership.

As for your disparagement of the Stimulus package, I beg you to remember that Obama and the Dems sought Republican support for the bill and, thus, incorporated the Republican advanced tax cuts as a way to encourage GOP support. Of course, after the tax cuts became part of the bill, the GOP as one declined to support it. In the initial plan, as I recall, Obama wanted 1/3 for states to cover state shortfalls, 1/3 for infrastructure rebuilds and expansion, and 1/3 for research and development. It was not Obama’s original decision – or choice – to include the tax cuts. It was a GOP demand as the price to get their support. Then, they welched on the deal on the final vote.

Since then Obama has tried to get Congress to approve infrastructure investments – which the country badly needs to meet 21st Century business needs – but the Republicans in Congress have blocked every one of his initiatives.

Speaking of blocking, you mentioned Obama’s inability to fully staff the Fed. Well, mayhap you remember how long the three nominees to the Fed had to wait to be confirmed, only to have one of them denied completely for some irrationally conceived reason? All three candidates would have been excellent choices, especially for the economic era in which we now live, but just one GOP senator blocked not only a vote but refused to allow discussion. So, let’s not fall into misguided, superfluous talking points about how Obama has not worked hard enough with Republicans on confirmations or otherwise. The public record is far too clear: the GOP blocked everything and everyone to make Obama appear a failure to the voting public.

Great heavens, the far left is fit to be tied because they see Obama as having bent over backwards to accommodate Republicans at every turn. Obama is a consensus builder by nature and experience: he wants both sides to sit down and hammer out an agreement such as we do in business and in our families.

I suspect he never thought the GOP would be so defiant, seeking so much for his absolute failure, to attempt to block everything he tried to do, including nearly all of his nominations as well as any policies which might help the economy to recover. But that is exactly what happened.

As details leak out about GOP thoughts and plans shortly after Obama’s election, it becomes more and more clear that GOP leaders in Congress thought they could easily defeat Obama because of his post-partisan ideology. In other words, he believed both sides could work together for the sake of the nation, to create a consensus of what needed to be done to pull our economy back from the brink, but GOP leaders saw that aspect of his beliefs as their opening to defeat him. That, in my opinion, is a pretty sleazy way for the GOP to behave, given how desperate the country was and still is.

It’s obvious to anyone who is not caught up in ideology or media dialogue that Obama is not a socialist or commie or right wing tool or any of the other degrading characterizations implied to him. The left has always been disappointed by Dem presidents, including FDR. The right, however, has gone further than anyone could ever imagine, particularly given the nature of this economic crisis…and with the advent of talk radio, Fox News, etc. have gone well beyond the realm of reason and rationality, as you once stated.

I initially came to Frum Forum as yours was a voice of reason and rationality in what I saw was the intellectual wilderness of the GOP. I appreciated your honesty, even though I sometimes disagreed with you. I also admired your thinking about the future, ten or twenty years down the line. But when you put out lines like why doesn’t Obama immediately raise gas prices by increasing taxes on gas, I have to wonder about your thinking.

Obviously, increasing gas taxes will help regarding global climate change, but do you really think the current GOP in Congress will accede to such a notion? No. They will use that idea as one more talking point to say how out of touch Obama is and how he hates business, even though anyone who seriously looks at his record and what he’s said knows he’s very pro-business and understands the necessity of rebuilding our domestic business environment while at the same time protecting consumers and other businesses from egregious business practices on the part of some outliers.

So, please, Mr. Frum, do me and all of the other educated, less ideological readers of this site a favor by becoming less a PR flak for Romney and returning to your original goal, after leaving AEI, of restoring reason, intelligence, and rationality to the GOP. We know you can be better.


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