One shouldn't take any satisfaction in the American Enterprise Institute's firing of David Frum, for shortly after Frum got the boot, AEI hired another former Dubya speech writer -- "enhanced interrogation" enthusiast Marc Thiessen. Jonah Goldberg is also now an AEI fixture... (I can't say that I'm well acquainted with Thiessen's work, but there seems to be a lot of evidence that it's shoddy, if not mendacious.)
And one shouldn't conclude that AEI's firing of Frum proved that the institute is serious about opposing socialized medicine. Though I found Frum's argument in his now-famous "Waterloo" piece rather puzzling, he did hit the mark with this comment about think-tank hypocrisy on healthcare:
[W]e do know that 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.
Indeed. On the fundamental issue of mandating health insurance, the differences between Obamacare and Romneycare are slight. (My friend Jack Hunter has a good video blog on this.)
Bruce Bartlett has also sounded off on the idea that many "conservative intellectuals" actually liked Obamacare, but decided to bite their tongues
Since, he is no longer affiliated with AEI, I feel free to say publicly something he told me in private a few months ago. He asked if I had noticed any comments by AEI "scholars" on the subject of health care reform. I said no and he said that was because they had been ordered not to speak to the media because they agreed with too much of what Obama was trying to do.
Bartlett argues that the censoring of these scholars marks "the closing of the conservative mind"... which is a pretty Frummy thing to say. If this story is true, it also reveals the degree to which AEI, which was founded by Big Industry in the early '40s to push back against the New Deal, is now honeycombed with welfare-statists and has a rather limp commitment to free enterprise.
But opposing Obamacare politically was important to the GOP and its movement operatives. For here (and perhaps only here) they were presented with an issue around which all aspects of the GOP-conservative movement could rally: the GOP leadership, the Religious Right, the libertarians, the Tea Partiers, even the neocons and country club types -- they all came together on this one.
In turn, if John Boehner had decided to make a deal with Obama -- much like he supported Bush's Medicare extension in 2003 -- all hell might have broken loose, including mass defection from the party. (Which, of course, would have been great!) AEI felt it needed to put the kibosh on anyone who put the coalition at risk.
This is all reminiscent of what David Frum was writing about immigration in 2005, some two years before the grassroots rebellion against George W. Bush and amnesty:
No issue, not one, threatens to do more damage to the Republican coalition than immigration...There's no issue where the beliefs and interests of the party rank-and-file diverge more radically from the beliefs and interests of the party's leaders.. Immigration for Republicans in 2005 is what crime was for Democrats in 1965 or abortion in 1975: a vulnerable point at which a strong-minded opponent could drive a wedge that would shatter the GOP.
As Sam Francis wrote at the time, Frum was deathly afraid of the damage the immigration issue could inflict on the Republican Party, less so of the damage mass immigration might inflict on Americans.
Whatever the case, Frum got it then, and it's been quite surprising to me that he hasn't gotten it this time around, too -- that he was willing to forfeit the base that supported all his favorite candidates and Middle East wars in hopes of making nice with liberals and being called a "contrarian" by Christopher Buckley.
Whether the GOP will one day actually do something about socialism and mass immigration -- and not just talk about it in hopes of keeping the electoral coalition together -- remains to be seen.
UPDATE: In a WSJ op-ed, Norman Podhoretz proclaims that he'd "rather be ruled by the Tea Party than by the Democratic Party" and "rather have Sarah Palin sitting in the Oval Office than Barack Obama." This is clearly a man who understands how much he benefits by holding the current GOP coalition together. In Podhoretz's mind, Palin "seems to know very little about international affairs, but expertise in this area is no guarantee of wise leadership." "Wise leadership" can be roughly translated as "good on Israel."
UPDATE 2: Bartlett recants, sort of.