Being Irrelevant

December 14th, 2011 at 9:22 am David Frum | 49 Comments |

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The Washington Post covers the O’Reilly-Goldberg Factor segment on my irrelevance.

Recent Posts by David Frum

49 Comments so far ↓

  • medinnus

    It is sad commentary when the worst insult they can throw is that DF is an “intellectual”.

    You see, I know who is actually irrelevant; I am. You will never see anyone on Faux News who recognizes my name, let alone waste airtime trying to convince themselves that I am actually irrelevant.

    By dismissing Frum as irrelevant, it spares them having to actually deal with his arguments and objections, which is a good thing as they have to pocket intellectual of their own with which to muster answers or counter-arguments.

    • Frumplestiltskin

      good points about Frum, but I disagree about your own supposed irrelevance. On a quantum level we all have equal relevance. Beyond this on a day to day level I have known many then completely anonymous people who have had enormous relevance. (the soldiers at the Normandy beaches for example) Most importantly, you are relevant in how your are far more representative of many Americans than relevant people are. The Republican party is in deep because the rank and file does not support the candidate the relevant Republicans support.

  • Holmes

    Frum is glib and writes well, but he’s not an intellectual. Frum’s a political pundit (with lots of baggage from his heedless tenure with Shrub). To draw a contrast, Gary Becker, the conservative economist, is an intellectual who writes on many of the same topics that fascinate Frum, but there is a world of difference in the originality, depth, and sophistication of the commentary. I seldom agree with Becker, but I often pick up something of value from his work. Can’t say that about Frum.

    • Emma

      You’re setting the bar fairly high with Becker, but not unreasonably so. I would add that Frum is searching for celebrity status while Becker seems content with serious analysis.

    • indy

      For all things legal and economic from some very thoughtful conservatives, there is not a better one-two punch than Posner and Becker:

    • dante

      I’d maintain that Frum oscillates between “intellectual” and “pundit”, which is unfortunate. It’s almost as if he’s in a transitional period, coming up with ideas and thoughts that contrast with current Conservative thought (ie, economic theory and stimulus, etc), but he can’t shake the habit of throwing in right-wing talking points like “Obama and the Democrats believe in a permanent expanse of government and spending”… I’d say that he’s realized that right-wing talking points about themselves need to be questioned, but right-wing talking points about the Democrats are still valid.

      Frustrating to say the least, but I’d say that at the end of the day Frum will (hopefully) start re-thinking his talking points about Democrats, just like he’s rethought his GOP talking points?

      • Ray_Harwick

        I’d maintain that Frum is an intellectual in the same way anyone who must write a daily column is and have their work immediately criticized by a massive audience. If you are producing not ONE but several opinion pieces on a daily basis, they aren’t going to be as thoughtful as, say, hiding in your man cave for several months pondering a well-reasoned book. Every commentator understands this. They’re making a living and they have to stick their necks out every day when they know their opinions are *provisional*. Bill O’Reilly has a staff of, what – 20? 30? Did we *ever* hear a well-reasoned view from O’Reilly? I remember some agenda-laced views of his that were mildly appealing, but the thing that separates Frum and O’Reilly is the ability to articulate clear-eyed views of both sides of the political equation. For me, Frum’s greatest appeal is how he *teaches* readers to deconstruct complex issues so they became accessible to earnest, interested dummies like me who need a trustworthy person to hold their hand and show them how the dots are connected. As Mr. Frum has done this very thing for me, it has improved my ability to criticize him. I’m not in David Frum’s league. I’m not in Andrew Sullivan’s league. But I think I’m just smart enough to know who does and does not bull sh*t me. I feel honored to be on this forum and read the remarkably talented voices of David Frum and commenters from all over this continent split hairs on so many things that are important to me. I really feel like a part of America for being allowed to join in, as limited as my understanding so often is. I’m drawn to this site also because, unlike so many other publications of this genre, Frum Forum has not yet succumbed to the impulse to slap up a video of a topic they want to emphasize and allow the video to do their talking. It matters a great deal to me that FF keeps that practice to a minimum because I’m deaf and 99% of those videos are not captioned. It really sucks when you are presented with a video that has a headline like, “Essential Viewing” without *any* commentary as to what the video is about, then have to try and make sense of it by reading how commenters respond to it. Even reading comments doesn’t help because what is typical of those videos is comments that also reveal nothing of the video’s content: “Yeah, I agree with that.” is a typical comment that comes to mind. Andrew Sullivan posts his “Ask Andrew Anything” videos without captions. I get to read the questions but in the approximately 25-30 videos he’s produced, I have *no* idea what his answer was. That’s true with just about all videos on the internet. I hate that. It’s one of the important reasons I hang out at FF.

        [added] Finally, over the years I’ve been participating in online discussion, I’ve come to greatly appreciate people who have to sign their name to their work. It inspired me to use my real name so I would have own my words. Suffice to say, I don’t read any blogs in which the author hides behind a phony name they never have to own. I know what temptation lies therein. It’s ugly.

    • armstp

      I agree Frum is not an Intellectual in the commonly thought definition of the term. He is intelligent and smart, but he is really just an opinionated commentator on topics that he often knows really very little about, given he has not done indepth study or analysis of the topics. How much does Frum really know about monetary policy and economics? How much does he really know about the impact of regulations on the economy? Has he really studied these issues? Has he done some real empirical analystical work on the topics he comments on? What he knows best is politics, so he may be more of a political intellect, if there is such a thing.

      • nuser

        Frum wants celebrity status and total acceptance of whatever Israel does. And if you do not agree with that you are anti-semitic. For the record what was the camera shot of Frum taking down a camera man? It looked so staged and childish.

  • VBKim

    I’ve certainly got my disagreements with Mr. Frum, but why do you have to be so nasty on his blog? I’m not sure how that furthers the conversation.

    • Holmes

      You are right. Frum is a lovely fellow and what’s past is past. No good ever comes from comparisons, reflections, what might have beens, the consequences for our nation of years of poisonous rhetoric, or the mindless militarism of the previous administration, or the hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths (which includes thousands of Iraqi children), or any of that messy unpleasantness. Besides, Frum didn’t have a role in any of that — at least not much of a role.

      • Emma

        Holmes, enough already. Yes, Frum was complicit. Now let’s move on.

      • CautiousProgressive

        Holmes, Frum has admitted that a significant part of the reason he stays in the U.S. (instead of returning to Canada) is guilt from being part of the Bush administration. He’s doing his part to repair that damage.

  • LFC

    I’d toss my vote for Bruce Bartlett. His analyses of economic data and proper policy are better than the vast majority of right-wing junk out there that knows the answer first and looks for justification second.

  • jdd_stl1

    It seems to me if we take a look at these three, Becker, Bartlett and Frum
    we get coverage across a range of conservative thought with some overlap.
    Becker: Economic theory and impact on society
    Bartlett: Economic policy and governing
    Frum: Party and politics

    In my opinion, part of the problem is that the Republican party doesn’t care
    right now about economic theory, policy or good governance.
    All they care about is Party, Politics and Power. And Frum is trying in his
    own way to challenge them on their approach.

  • kuri3460

    I think Bernie Goldberg is right, there aren’t two people watching who care about David Frum, but that’s more of an indictment of the audience than it is of Frum’s popularity of political viewpoints.

    Most of Fox News’ programming is designed to preach to the choir by reaffirming their preexisting beliefs.

    • balconesfault

      I think Bernie Goldberg is right, there aren’t two people watching who care about David Frum, but that’s more of an indictment of the audience than it is of Frum’s popularity of political viewpoints.


      The GOP is all about epistemic closure, and Frum isn’t playing by the rules.

      The fact that O’Reilly is taking shots at Frum this way is a real sign that they’re actually worried about Frum’s relevance. When Roger Ailes sweats … he sweats in a very heavy handed way …

  • Graychin

    “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” – Ghandi

    Hey – it’s working for the Occupy movement that you guys said wouldn’t last through the weekend. It’ll work for Mr. Frum too.

    Except that when he wins back his beloved political party, there won’t be anything left of it.

  • Oldskool

    Someone once said something to the effect that two people of one branch of one religion are more unpleasant about their disagreements than they are toward people who have totally different beliefs. Something like that applies here.

    • balconesfault

      Extremists in any belief structure are harder on moderates on their side, than on extremists on the other side. The moderates are much more a true threat to their power.

      • Saladdin

        Relevant quote from RFK: “What’s dangerous about extremists isn’t that they are extreme, but rather that they are intolerant. The evil lies not in arguments for their own cause, but what they say about their opponents.”

        • balconesfault

          Which btw demonstrates that Obama- who constantly provides rhetorical validatio.n to conservative ideology – is hardly a radical extremist.

  • Nanotek

    O’Reilly on the one hand and Frum on the other?

    not even a close call … I read what Frum writes and listen to him on television.

    considering O’Reilly’s opinions seem a waste of life-time

    It must feel awful, though, to see one’s political party hijacked by neo-Robespierres

  • japhi

    I’m not sure how relevant Frum is, but for different reasons than O’Reilly. I read here every day and nothing he posts makes me go wow; I rarely learn anything from his commentary. Like others I come here to read the comments, and follow links posted.

    Frums seems to advocate the exact policies that the Obama WH favours, but is too partisan to aknowledge such. I have a hard time respecting blatant partisans on either side, and I don’t consider anyone to be an intellectual that can’t reconcile policy positions vs party affiliation.

    Frum is a guy that, other than Israel, is lock step with Obama but will vote in the general for Gingrich. I’d say he is pretty irrelevant in the overall political picture.

  • PracticalGirl

    If being irrelevant garners ink like this, who needs relevance?

  • ktward

    Navel gazing at its very finest. From Fox to WaPo to here at FF, right down to the RINO-esque “Frum’s not really an intellectual” argument. Crikey.

  • Saladdin

    Why is Jonah Goldberg even there? If he completely agrees with everything O’Reilly says, then he’s simply a useless sycophant.

    • armstp

      He is there to collect a pay check like all of them on FOX. I am sure many of them really do not believe their own BS. The large FOX pay check buys a lot of liberal bashing and “conservatism”.

    • Saladdin

      Should have read Bernard Goldberg, not Jonah

  • Solo4114

    First, I love that the Bernard Goldberg quote is now up on the righthand side of the screen. Brilliant jiu-jitsu, that.

    Second, irrelevancy is when nobody talks about you. But I suppose that’s a concept reserved for intellectuals…

    Lastly, what’s telling — and deeply disturbing and disappointing — is that “conservative thought” has now gotten to a point where “intellectual” is a term of derision. “Bah. He’s just some intellectual.” What a sad state of affairs it is when being an intellectual is treated as a bad thing in conservative circles.

    But then, as has been stated, these guys aren’t really conservatives anyway.

  • Secessionist

    I’d say intellectuals fall into different tiers.

    This is my somewhat arbitrary classification.

    The highest tier consists of trained academics who do rigorous, formalized research and scholarship full time. (Gary Becker, Richard Posner, Charles Murray, Noam Chomsky).

    The next tier is what I would call public intellectuals. The people in this group have usually made significant contributions to a field in the past, or they have held one or more important posts in the past; however, their primary focus today tends to be on influencing discourse through their writing. Their writing is usually geared to an above average but still lay audience rather than on original scholarship written for other specialists (Bartlett, Krugman, James Burnham when he was alive).

    The next tier are the writers who lack formal training as academic researchers but who nevertheless write books, publish frequently and have enough visibility in the mainstream to influence the national conversation. I would put David Frum here along with a slew of others (William Kristol, John Podhoretz, William F Buckley when he was alive).

    In general, I don’t think the size of a person’s audience matters at all. Although Richard Posner has a tiny audience, he is reaching people that matter. Although Rush Limbaugh has a huge audience, he isn’t reaching anyone that matters.

    • balconesfault

      Interesting summary. It’s a good way of looking at things, I think.

      A couple quibbles, of course. You’re only looking at the tip of the iceberg wrt Krugman – the guy didn’t win a Nobel for his political punditry. He is still doing serious research. He has a great piece on how he straddles the academic/punditry divide that is worth reading:

      Most economic theorists keep their hands off current policy issues — or if they do get involved in policy debates, do so only after the midpoint of their career, as something that follows creative theorizing rather than coexists with it. There seems to be a consensus that the clarity and singleness of purpose required to do good theory are incompatible with the tolerance for messy issues required to be active in policy discussion. For me, however, it has never worked that way. I have interspersed my academic career with a number of consulting ventures for various governments and public agencies, as well as a full year in the US government. I have also written a book, The Age of Diminished Expectations, aimed at a non-technical audience. And I have written a pretty steady stream of papers that are motivated not by the inner logic of my research but by the attempt to make sense of some currently topical policy debate — e.g., Third World debt relief, target zones for exchange rates, the rise of regional trading blocs. All of this hasn’t seemed to hurt my research, and indeed some of my favorite papers have grown out of this policy-oriented work.

      Why doesn’t policy-relevant work seem to conflict with my “real” research? I think that it’s because I have been able to approach policy issues using almost exactly the same method that I use in my more basic work.

      On the other hand, you give Kristol far too much credit for a man who has absolutely no interest whatsoever in whether what he says has basis in fact or not.

    • indy

      Although Richard Posner has a tiny audience, he is reaching people that matter.

      Posner, along with the other ivory tower types in economics and finance at the University of Chicago, has had a tremendous effect on national financial and economic policy for the last 30 years. Far larger, I would argue, than any group anywhere. While thoughtful, undoubtedly highly intelligent, and well-meaning in general, they are largely the architects of the current disaster.

      At least Posner, along with a couple of others, have seen the error of their ways and have basically admitted as much (A Failure of Capitalism: The Crisis of ’08 and the Descent into Depression is a pretty good book though he seems blind to his own philosophical influences on the problems), for which I give them credit. The damage is done, however, and ‘oops I messed up’ doesn’t really cut it. But they are academics and not policy makers, so the blame rests less on them than others.

  • nhthinker

    Kurtz actually comes off as repeatedly slamming Frum for his lack of evidence and reason… I’m surprised Frum wants to keep bringing up the story. Maybe he assumes that no one will watch the video.

    Frum: “We know, for example, that people who watch a lot of Fox come away knowing a lot less about important world events.”

    Frum actually knows there is no objective data to support this. And even if you were to withhold reality and assume the survey in question was above board-(which clearly it was not) – that same survey indicated that talk radio listeners and O’Reilly Factor watchers were two of the best informed groups- much higher than average.

    Clearly Fox’s morning show makes you dumber- but I don’t have an objective survey to prove it. Chris Wallace actually is visibly embarrassed by the Morning show hosts’ lack of knowledge and thinking- (The show had been passable when E.D. Hill was on it many years ago). On the other hand, Shepard Smith, Megan Kelly and O’Reilly actually have mostly accurate content.

    • Saladdin

      On the other hand, Shepard Smith, Megan Kelly and O’Reilly actually have mostly accurate content.

      Shep Smith and O’Reilly I can understand, but Megan Kelly? Really?

      • nhthinker

        I said “mostly”… I give most hosts any any network a pass on not knowing the toxicity of different grades of pepper spray. The active ingredient is typically edible portions of peppers.

        Her view was the OWS types were complainers. If the OWS types had good photos or good video of the swelling or blistering that occurred from the university attack, that never made much air time (because I never saw them)- And I watch all the cable channels. General compliants about burning sensation and not being able to sleep for a day or two did not evoke much sympathy.

        Obviously the college police seemed like masochistic stupid rent-a-cop in their approach.
        Obviously, they could have started at anywhere along the linked arms and pulled one out a time if they had numbers to protect themselves without dousing everyone.

        A simple individual “unlink your arm or we will unlink it for you, with the minimum force necessary to get you to comply, including use of pepper spray and pressure points and leverage”. Just like they would do when arresting any individual that is resisting arrest or resisting being hand cuffed during an arrest.

        Police policies have changed to expect a 90-lb police woman to force compliance to cuff a 300-lb muscle-bound man that does not want to comply. Use of gang tackling, pepper spray and tasers is seemingly way up, when verbal commands do not get compliance. Seemingly, use of the billy-club is down.

        • Saladdin

          Actually, Megyn’s an opinion journalist. Which is fine, but she ain’t no Shepard Smith (since departed).

    • Secessionist

      I don’t fault Roger Ailes and Ruport Murdoch. The only reason Fox News stays on the air is because Fox is able to draw a huge audience. But the only reason Fox is able to draw a huge audience is because the rest of the media is so monolithically biased against perspectives that go against liberal conventional wisdom people have no choice but to look elsewhere. Even Mark Penn, a top Hillary Clinton adviser in 2008, complained of media bias in Obama’s favor. The anti-Hillary bias in the media was present because in media’s scale of values, the hierarchy works as follows: Black > Woman. Aggressive left-wing bias in the American media establishment has a long history that predates the emergence of Fox News by decades. In the 1930s, Walter Duranty wrote biased and misleading articles for the NY Times downplaying the crimes of the Soviet Communists.

      • Saladdin

        Mark Penn is really not the best, non-biased example you can give… Other than that, yes there has been liberal bias in the media, but then again, that’s been relatively balanced out by right wing journalists (does the name Hearst ring a bell?). There have always been varying news sources for varying points of view and Murdoch is simply filling a void, but to call FOX a news channel is mis-characterizing the network. Mostly what they tend to do is radio talk show on TV.

        Duranty is a valid example, but the term yellow journalism was not originated due to Left wing liberal bias, but mainly to the egregious “reporting” of Hearst’s newspapers.

        • balconesfault

          We do not have any mainstream media that aggressively promotes a left-of-center viewpoint that is nearly as extreme as Fox’s right-of center viewpoint. Particularly on economic issues, where the corporate ownership of the media has a strong vested interest in making sure that no credible sources that veer far to the left are regularly heard.

          How many times, for example, have you seen Bernie Sanders on the Sunday morning talk shows? I am sure it’s not because he regularly refuses invitations.

        • WaStateUrbanGOPer

          Apparently you’ve never tuned into MSNBC. (I can’t believe that it was really necessary to say this!)

          I’m not a lefty, but I watch MSNBC regularly. It offers far more quality programming than FOX or CNN, and were I a liberal I would be totally pleased with its line-up. I cannot for a moment fathom your complaint.

        • balconesfault

          MSNBC does both – Rachel Maddow and Joe Scarboro.

          But yes, I should have noted that MSNBC did actually decide to carry some liberal pundits. Personally, I’m not particularly fond of Ed Schultz. I do love Maddow, however, and consider her show to be far more accountable to the facts than most pundits on the media.

        • nhthinker

          Actually, MSNBC is far more blatant than Fox in the culture war they are trying to wage.
          The continuous ads they run for “Lean Forward” are pure propaganda for the left and never include Scarborough.
          Not to mention yesterday’s attempt to tie Romney to the KKK yesterday or who can forget the slut and pimp comments about powerful women they don’t like.

          Maddow is excellent at being factual. I can disagree with her about what facts are important. She can sometimes mispresent obviously biased polls as factual but that is normal on all “news” shows.
          Schultz and Matthews and Sharpton and Rattigan are generally unwatchable because they are such blowhards. I typically can’t watch a whole O’Reilly show, either.

        • balconesfault

          The continuous ads they run for “Lean Forward” are pure propaganda for the left and never include Scarborough.

          I confess that I don’t watch enough cable to have ever seen any of those ads, until I went and found them online. That said, they’re clearly populist in nature.

          On the other hand, watching MSNBC from time to time, there are hosts who are consistently left-leaning – but they’re not portrayed as newscasters, nor as impartial voices. That’s my primary problem with Fox News – which has a hard right slant to everything they choose to cover on their news segments, and with their whole “fair and balanced” pitch while treating the word “liberal” as an invective, and the word “conservative” as a trump card for every argument.

          Meanwhile, on the regular news – NBC, CBS, ABC, CNN – we are currently treated to a purely corporatist slant to everything.

        • nhthinker

          “That said, they’re clearly populist in nature.”

          Some are populist… some are “large government does good things”…

          All of them are right out of the Democratic Party platform.

  • more5600

    Reminds me of Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s response after being informed by one of his staffers that his opponents, trying to paint him as an ivory tower elitist, had started referring to him as “the Professor”.

    Moynihan’s reply, “So the mudslinging has begun”

  • think4yourself

    I gotta hand it to Frum, I wouldn’t host a site where 98% of the people who comment about me do so negatively – he’s got a pretty thick skin. He’s also one of the few people willing to speak out against the current GOP craziness and he continues to develop an audience with his columns and appearances.

    Keep it up David.