David Frum

03.26.13

The New Republic's Pathetic Attempt to Attack Yuval Levin

In the New Republic, Marc Tracy profiles conservatism's ideas-man Yuval Levin - and assigns to the task a writer with so little interest in Levin's ideas as ideas, that he cannot muster the energy to refute them.

Here is Tracy on Levin's healthcare concept:

Take his beloved policy, a Medicare reform plan called “Premium Support.” That sounds benign enough. But Levin (and Ryan) want to replace Medicare with (essentially) vouchers—giving seniors a fixed sum of money to buy health insurance in a lightly regulated market. When Levin contrasts this program to Obamacare, he argues, “One of them wants fifteen people to make decisions about what things cost, and another wants forty million people to make decisions about what they want.” Grover Norquist couldn’t have said it any better.

Leave aside the careless embedded error in the description of the plan: the size of the premium is not "fixed" but is adjusted over time. Why is this plan bad? If Grover Norquist's support alone is enough to invalidate an idea at the New Republic, that magazine will have to rethink its stance on immigration and same-sex marriage too. Snark is an attitude, not an argument.

Most obnoxious of all, however, are the repeated sly insinuations that the knowledgeable and serious Yuval is nothing more than a partisan hack.

Levin, however, doesn’t propose challenging GOP orthodoxy; he simply tries to make it sound less radical. That’s not the most high-minded project. But that’s the job of the state-of-the-art conservative intellectual, more operative than philosopher. … Indeed, it’s hard not to notice that Levin follows the Republican Party line on just about every issue of note—from taxes to education to abortion.

What about the possibility that the Republican line is following Yuval? On Medicare, at least, that happens to be the case - for better or worse. The author of this lazy hit seems hardly well positioned to determine who qualifies as a "philosopher" and who as a vulgar "operative." Bring back Timothy Noah! He at least could have offered readers some actual reasons to support his dislike of the Ryan plan.