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Comeback: Conservatism That Can Win Again Paperback – January 20, 2009
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From Publishers Weekly
In his new book, Frum (The Right Man), former speechwriter to President Bush, offers a conservative blueprint for accommodating challenges central to the next half-century of American life. Drawing on his expert knowledge of domestic politics and foreign policy, Frum shows how Republicans must evolve in accordance with the challenges and fluidity of contemporary America to win hearts, minds and elections. After staking out viably conservative positions on the salient political battles in America-healthcare, education, the economy, foreign policy, embryonic stem cell research, taxation and the like-Frum shines when dealing with the grand strategy of taxation, particularly his pro-growth model for accommodating domestic spending obligations such as social security. His analysis is particularly striking in its advocacy for consumption taxation in lieu of taxes that stifle investment and free enterprise. Taxes aimed at upper-class consumers rather than savings and investment is a provocative idea worthy of consideration. And although Frum's ideas are good, if not brilliant, the final chapter, in which he describes the errant behavior of the Bush administration, seems like a tardy rebuke to a president he once called The Right Man.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.
“In his treatment of what ails conservatism today, Frum is penetrating and wise . . . and dead right.” —National Review
“Serious reappriasial and fresh, challenging ideas.” —New York Times Book Review
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Most of his ideas are good in principle. Yes we need to reform healthcare. Yes we need to do something about global warming. Yes the middle class hasn't been doing well for the past 30 years and Conservatives need to admit it and try to do something about it. Etc. But the irony is, post-Comeback, a lot of the issues Frum addresses are things Democrats would be more than happy to do (or have done).
Healthcare: Well, the healthcare reform that just passed Congress looks a lot like Romney's program in Massachusetts (a program Frum addresses positively, though briefly, in his book). It's for the most part market oriented. I know Frum doesn't like the healthcare reform, but it's not clear after reading the book why one should be against such a reform.
Global warming: Clearly a Democratic issue. Frum wants a tax on carbon. Liberal Democrats want that too! But Congress's political middle and right don't. I know Democrats were pushing Cap-and-Trade, but that was supposed to be the compromise. And the reason why the compromise didn't make it was because moderate Republicans walked away.
Helping the middle class: Well, the Democrat's healthcare reform goes a long way. It looks like the GOP will only go along with extending the lower and middle class tax cuts if the rich get their taxes extended too. What's more, Paul Rayan's plan actually increases taxes on the poor and middle class, and lowers them for the rich. And Paul Rayan is very much a respected member of the GOP. Which party is Frum supporting again?
I know this isn't so much a direct criticism of Frum's book. But what I'm doing is pointing out that these issues are being addressed, and to a very real extent Conservatism has defined itself by its opposition to these sorts of issues. So I can interpret Frum's book as tacitly advocating the dismantling of Conservatism, and replacing it with another Democratic party. Obviously this interpretation makes Frum's book look silly.
Another problem I have with the book is that it's not just about advice for the GOP. A lot of it is simply old fashion anti-Democrat statements. Frum gives a few examples of things Democrats do which, he feels, help the rich and unionized labor at the expense of the middle. I didn't find his points very convincing, which is reasonable because he just interjects them and then moves on. So there's not much hope that his comments will convince anyone, unless you already agree that Democrats are awful. It kind of seemed like the point of the comments was just to tell Conservatives "hey really--I'm one of you guys."
Outside of the Democrat hating and policy recommendations, there's not very much else in Comeback. The book is only 180 pages long. I think he would have done his readers a great service if he would have went into more detail regarding why his policy proposals will make America better. Generally, he goes into the Bush-era history of the policies he recommends, gives some examples, and addresses the politics. If he wants to convince anyone that disagrees, he needs to dig deeper and explain the mechanics of his recommendations. In this case, if you wanted those details, you'd have to go to other books, which is a huge disservice to Frum's target audience because most of those books are written by Liberals.
(If you read this David Frum, know that I love you and I really wanted to like the book, but alas I can't do that.)
This is a political book in the context of American politics, and as a member of that electorate myself, I am again grateful that our constitution allows us to argue out our disagreements. In many parts of the world, persons who disagree as David Frum and I do would either shut up or take up arms.
Mr. Frum uses the terms "liberal" and "democrat" as interchangeable synonyms, which I've always thought as a constraint on the thought of those who call themselves "conservatives", and a constraint they willingly impose upon themselves.
To disclose my own bias, I consider myself neither a liberal nor a conservative. I used to consider each candidate without regard to their political parties. When the republicans went over to blatant unabashed hypocrisy during the Gingrich years, they crossed the line, and I swore I never would vote for a republican again. I think republicans have allied themselves with a party that has no redeeming social benefit, and I want to remove that party from power, even if some individual republicans have some merit. But I'm not really a democrat. I have just abandoned republicans.
Mr. Frum seems aware that republicans can't maintain uncompromising opposition to abortion without losing elections, so he grudgingly accepts it. Otherwise, he continues the republican agenda of the last couple of decades.
Mr. Frum opposes gay marriage. He cites some unverifiable statistics that only 1 or 2 percent of gays have gotten married in jurisdictions where it has been legal for the last 5 or 10 years. He says only a relatively very small number of people exercise gays' right to marry where they have that right. Because so few exercise the right when they have it, Frum says the right has no significance and gays and sympathizers should abandon the effort to establish the right. But by the same logic, if it's such a small thing, then republicans should abandon opposition to gay marriage. Frum doesn't cite any statistics at all regarding what percent of adult heterosexuals marry in any 10-year period. When you consider that many heterosexuals don't marry at all, and they live for maybe 60 years average of adult life, and few of them marry more than once, then what percentage of homosexuals marry during a 10-year period? 1 percent? 2 percent?
And while we are discussing tiny numbers of people, we should consider Mr. Frum's belief that the government should tax lightly the incomes of the tiny minority which is wealthy. Frum doesn't quite say it that plainly. He acknowledges that income inequities have grown. The relative differences in incomes between the most wealthy and everybody else have become more pronounced. He doesn't advocate doing anything about it. He then says that taxes on capital gains, on dividend income, on interest income and on corporate income should be, quite specifically, "zero". There is only a small percentage of the population for which any of these makes a significant contribution to their income. These are the principal forms of income of the wealthiest people. If Frum has his way, only the middle class and the poor will pay significant portions of their income as income taxes. This is consistent with the notion that if the rich are unimpaired, then their wealth will trickle down to the rest of the society. After 30 years of this republican policy, all that's trickled down is a mere trickle.
Mr. Frum's conservatism continues the homophobic social policies and the trickle-down economic policies the republicans have espoused for several decades. And those policies are as disproven as Stalinism.
This brand conservatism won't be coming back. It's dead.
Let's state that upfront so we all understand the kind of person we're dealing with here.
Rather than offering a serious look at the causes of conservative decline, Frum trots-out the same banal list of liberal strawmen and Fox News half-truths to explain why Republicans have lost their electoral firepower. I approached "Comeback" with high hopes that the author would speak hard truths to a party which has so clearly lost its way. Instead, Frum is merely your garden variety political opportunist: content to support the disastrous presidency of George W. Bush at the time, then don the mantle of a disillusioned supporter when it later proves convenient to do so.
Nothing in "Comeback" offers a serious diagnosis for Republicans today. We must wait for more-capable writers to lead the party out of the political wilderness.