David Frum and many observers think that he was excommunicated from the Cheney-dominated halls at the American Enterprise Institute because of a hard-hitting, honest appraisal of Republican self-delusion and hyperventilation over the health care battle.
If you missed Frum’s humdinger of an essay titled “Waterloo“, read it here. And here is the GOP empire’s response.
This is powerful stuff. But honestly, Frum was far more over the top about Sarah Palin whom he saw as utterly unqualified on any level to serve as President of the United States. Frum basically split then with the neocons and pugnacious nationalists who dominate Republican party politics and committed himself to reviving a healthier, smarter, less nasty, more competitive and visionary Republican Party.
So, his criticism of Republican health care goose-stepping was nothing new.
In fact, Frum was hoping to make AEI the base of his efforts to bring a new set of compelling ideas about America’s domestic and international policy portfolios to the GOP’s leadership either in 2012, or more likely as a base for a successful presidential run in 2016.
Frum’s firing had nothing to do with his article or the WSJ piece, with all due respect to Howard Kurtz.
The truth is hard to, well. . .I feel I have to reveal that the real reason for David Frum being fired is, well, “me“.
It all started with dinner and a great dog named “Benson.”
Before this mind-stretching dinner hosted by journalist and AT Kearney/Global Business Policy Council chief Martin Walker and Julia Watson, proprietor of the blog EatWashington, all was normal in the universe as Frum and I were on complete opposite ends of practically everything.
He once wrote of me as “lunkheaded” in an erudite Mark Twain-referencing critique [thankfully no longer on the internet] of something I had written about him involving the words “incipient” and “imminent.” Long story that’s not worth retelling. He wrote a piece once on the “dangers of creeping Scowcroftianism” when I was one of those in Washington responsible for perpetuating a revival of Scowcroftian writing and ideas. When we were on NPR radio shows together, he would be embracing neoconservative messianism to re-engineer the internal guts of other countries while ‘d be saying that this was like the Borg in Star Trek. I’d say that the neocons either wanted to assimilate another culture — and if that didn’t work, annihilate it.
Frum’s job was safe at AEI when we were on opposite sides.
And then Benson was there, at a great dinner — and Frum and I are both complete suckers for dogs. Like major suckers.
Before I knew it, David Frum and I were both on the floor together with Benson between us, licking us lavishly together. I sort of felt like a once-divorced spouse of David who had been brought back together by the child. That’s the power of dogs.
I did disclose our dog-bond on The Washington Note and feared that Frum would get fired then. In fact, I wrote:
I’m sharing this because I can’t keep secret any longer the fact that I had a great time with David Frum, Danielle, and the rest — and am going to be doing so again tonight.
I regret that David may get roughed up more by Bill Kristol and some of his friends at AEI for this disclosure than I will by my readers. . .or so I hope.
Silliness aside [actually it’s all true], David, Danielle Crittenden, Julia Watson, Martin Walker, Moises Naim, and others had such a great evening of debate and discussion about the political scene that Frum and I began tentatively reaching out for more discussion.
I invited him to a few New America Foundation gatherings. He invited me to his holiday party — and it was there that journalists like Jamie Kirchick and Eli Lake began to see that either David was trying to bring me their direction, or I was working to make Frum a Nixonian Realist-hugger. But for the most part, the journalists there kept mum.
We did a couple of shows together for Reason Magazine with Nick Gillespie — and then we began to enjoy some high octane policy discussions over the Frum dinner table, in one of the most beautiful rooms I’ve been to in Washington. And Frum has two amazing yellow labs and a funky spaniel. Dogs!
But then just a few weeks ago, I met Frum in public for coffee at the Starbucks on Dupont Circle. I wanted to get a sense from him of how the neoconservative world was organized — and how he was going to play a role in that world in the future. My belief is that David Frum and Francis Fukuyama, separately to some degree, are the first serious rebels in the neoconservative church that reject the unprincipled power grabs by their neocon siblings and cousins.
My hunch is that some new neoconservative churches that hearken back to the original thinking, and to some degree policy modesty, of Irving Kristol will emerge and Frum and Fukuyama are potential leaders.
While we were sitting in that crowded, noisy Starbucks, I thought I saw Bill Kristol walk by. There was someone with him who definitely looked right into my eye. Then, I saw his eyes widen to the limit when he saw who my coffee mate was.
They kept walking. But then, Frum tells me “now we need to keep this quiet — you know us meeting and stuff.” I didn’t tell him that we were already “out.”
And then just a couple of weeks ago — the two guys who used to be the opposite of each other on virtually everything did a “blogging heads” episode together focused on US-Iran policy options titled “Warm and Fuzzy Edition.”
I thought Frum would be fired the next day. A short clip of the session titled “Iran Regime Change?” appeared on the New York Times online oped page, after which a friend of mine at the Wall Street Journal chuckled and said he might frazzle Paul Gigot and even the great Rupert Murdoch with an anonymous email to them of the bloggingheads link.
So, bottom line is that in the world of ideas there are occasions when policy gladiators on opposite sides learn to respect each other, engage, perhaps even modify their views — and become friends
I remember when Rahm Emmanuel made the following comment to the New Yorker‘s Ryan Lizza:
The public wants bipartisanship. We just have to try. We don’t have to succeed.
In a political/policy context, I think responsible think tank wonks also have a responsibility to reach across the aisle, or attempt to do so — as well as to ‘think’ and not rest lazily on ideological laurels.
But in contrast to Rahm’s outcome on bipartisanship, Frum and I have been succeeding — and so too have been other people in his circle and mine.
This is what the future could and should be made of.
It truly is a shame that the American Enterprise Institute didn’t realize that it could reinvent its own place and relevance in Washington with the kind of creative bridge-building and policy innovation that Frum was pushing.
I apologize to David for being the real cause of his firing — but I’m sure he’ll be fine.
And the silver lining is that we’ll probably have more time for dog dates. Benson!
— Steve Clemons