Answering Your Questions
Earlier this week, I invited readers of the blog to send me questions via Facebook on any topic they wanted me to write about. Here are some of my answers:
Robo Weis: What ramifications would a Romney loss in 2012 have for the Republican party? Would the campaign loss of a "RINO" candidate drive the Republican party further to the right? What candidate field can we expect in 2016 in case the moderate wing of the GOP looses out to Obama in 2012?
David Frum: The Romney campaign presents modern-minded Republicans with an agonizing dilemma. We are Republicans and want to see Barack Obama replaced in 2012. Of the candidates who entered the field, only Jon Huntsman, Tim Pawlenty, and Mitt Romney had any hope of either winning or governing effectively. Now we're down to Romney. The other "choices" aren't choices at all.
But there's no getting around the fact that Romney is a weak challenger, running at a time when the economic tide has begun to flow in the incumbent's favor. Romney has lived a life too disconnected from the struggles of ordinary Americans, and he shows no sign of the imaginative empathy that allowed other candidates from privileged backgrounds—Teddy Roosevelt for example—to overcome the separation of privilege.
Making the problem worse, the activist base of the Republican party has demanded—and Romney has often acceded to—a very off-putting platform. The activist base has spent the past three years branding the Republican party as extreme, angry, and exclusive. They've picked fights over birth control. They've elevated frauds, buffoons, bigots, and maniacs to equal footing with the governors and senators who ought to represent the party in the public mind.
Yet if Romney loses, that same activist base will blame—not themselves, for imposing their platform; not themselves for three years of peevish, obnoxious, frightening carryings-on—but Romney, for not being radical enough.
In other words, the most conservative Republicans have done everything possible to lose this election. Then, if it is lost, they will cast all the blame on those who unsuccessfully struggled to prevent them from losing it.
So what's to be done? There's no choice but to hit the ball from where it lies—and to hope (in the event of a defeat) for a wiser mood to settle on the party after the first outburst of recrimination.
As to your question about the 2016 field: I always resist such questions. I think it's a big mistake to imagine the Republican question is a question about "who?" It's a question about "what?" What should a modern conservative party stand for, under the circumstances of our time?
Jeremy M. Posner: Do you think that the next few years will see a split between the social conservatives and the fiscal conservatives? If a split does happen, do you think the fiscal conservatives would be able to attract those voters who want more fiscally conservative policies, but can't bring themselves to endorse some of the more interventionist policies of the social conservatives?
David Frum: There's a lot to learn from social conservatives, if we listen to them carefully. They speak for the anxieties of many people in the non-professional middle classes. It's true, as a matter of fact, that family stability is the best hope for sustaining and bequeathing middle-class status to one's children—and yet family stability has become for many a threatened aspiration.
I wonder if there's some way to get past the issues of abortion and homosexuality, to find a politics that can offer real hope to middle-class Americans that the security they remember from the past can again be attained in the future.
Daniel Schwartz: I read your attack pieces on Pat Buchanan from the late 90's in "What's Right" at a time of low unemployment when illegal immigration and loss of blue collar factory jobs (male jobs) were not as big as they are today. The things he warned about-seemingly alone-back in 1992-increased division on ethnic lines as immigration floods the southwest, the loss of jobs for working class males-have mostly come to pass. Do you feel you were too hard on him then? Would you have written those articles on him differently? Or are you glad he's off MSNBC and agree with Mr. Foxman that he's a wicked man.
David Frum: An immigrant to the U.S. myself, I've written in favor of a more restrictive approach to immigration since the late 1980s. Pat Buchanan insisted on yoking the immigration issue, which ought to be part of a broad agenda to support wages for middle-income earners, to an exclusionary white-nationalist agenda. He contaminated the cause he championed. No, I don't regret any of what I wrote about him in the 1990s. And that was before Pat Buchanan's later venture into explicit apologetics for Hitler in his World War II books.
Chris Rhetts: I'd love to hear your thoughts on state voter ID laws. Briefly, it seems obvious to me the evidence does not support the need for this kind of legislation. To me, casting a vote is one of the most (if not the most) important responsibilities of citizenship, and we should be looking for ways to increase voter turn out, rather than diminish it. Thanks - I've always enjoyed your articles and posts, regardless of whether or not I agree with your opinions.
David Frum: I'm going to get myself into all kinds of trouble here, but ... I'm in favor of a national ID card. This is the card Americans should present to vote, to get on a plane, and to prove their eligibility to work. I've written in the past about how such a card can actually be privacy-enhancing. (Example: it does not need to show age on the face—it could instead be coded to answer "yes over 21" or "no not over 21" when passed through a digital reader at a bar or casino.) The arguments against voter ID are largely premised on the difficulty many poorer Americans face obtaining ID. Well, let's fix THAT problem—which really is not a difficult one, virtually every other advanced democracy does it—rather than use it to justify America's ridiculously tamper-prone voting system.
Randi Skurka: and what books ARE you reading?
David Frum: Right now, I'm (re)listening to David Copperfield as my audiobook when I exercise or drive; I'm reading Husain Haqqani's book on Pakistan, Between Mosque and Military, on my Kindle; and I'm reading in paper a book I've often heard cited, but never read, Benedict Anderson's Imagined Communities. I typically have 2 or 3 books going at a time.
I have a backlog of books to write up for David's Bookclub, including a superb book about the economic crisis, Don Peck's Pinched. Those will be posting over the next days.
Randi Skurka: most importantly, do you miss Toronto?
I don't miss Toronto because I am there so often—including next weekend for the Passover Seder. For now however I am in Park City, Utah, to spend spring break skiing with a motley crew of children, nephews, and children's friends ... Have a good weekend everybody!