Conceding One to the Critics

October 12th, 2011 at 1:42 pm David Frum | 64 Comments |

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As readers of this site have no doubt noticed, I’m not one who is greatly troubled by hostile criticism.

On the other hand, sometimes the critics make a valid point. When they do, I’m not too obstinate to concede.

For years, I’ve shared the Marketplace airwaves with former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich. We recorded commentaries, point counter-point, alternate weeks on business and economic issues. The intent was for Bob to represent the left, and for me to represent the right.

Over the past three years, this format has put me into some awkward positions.

So long as the topic is “green jobs” or NLRB regulations or immigration, my thinking aligns reasonably congruently with the current conservative consensus.

But on the issues that today most passionately divide Americans – healthcare reform, monetary policy, social spending to aid the unemployed, and – soon – the American response to the euro crisis, I have to recognize that my views are not very representative of the conservative mainstream.

When speaking wholly and declaredly for myself, I can shrug off (admittedly – with some regret) the distance I have drifted from old comrades. When I’m called on to do point-counterpoint, I can’t deny that there is something false about the situation. The many listeners to Marketplace who share the consensus conservative view are entitled to hear somebody articulate that view as well as it can be articulated. The listeners who do not share the consensus conservative view would benefit even more from a strong presentation of that alternative opinion.

If I can’t or won’t do that job, then I should make way for somebody who can and will.

Accordingly, I have resigned my role on the Marketplace program, nominating potential replacements from closer to the present GOP consensus. I may not agree with that consensus, but I cannot deny its existence and importance.

Marketplace very generously invited me today onto its airwaves for a farewell interview with host Kai Ryssdal. It will be broadcast later today. When a link becomes available, I’ll post it here.

I’ll miss the amazing Marketplace audience, so vast and so well-informed. And who knows? Perhaps future events will bring either the conservative movement to me or changes that would justify a return to the chair I just vacated. One can at least hope.


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64 Comments so far ↓

  • scienceFirstAlways

    I’m unconvinced the show will be better for it.

  • Frumplestiltskin

    wow, geniunely classy thing to do but why are you conceding the middle ground entirely? The problem in our society is in its relentless partisanship, why can’t marketplace have 3 individuals arguing the left, CENTER, and right. I am not necessarily suggesting you would represent the center in all things, as you state you are of the right in a host of areas but those areas where you do represent the center damn right that voice should be heard.
    It is like saying as to Health care the only arguments that will be presented are Single Payer or 100% market based libertarianism.

    Who will speak for the center?

    • scienceFirstAlways

      There should be someone in the Center. I think that would be fantastic. I’m sick of the media representing every issue as a (false) dichotomy.

      • kirk

        If it is not a dichotomy there is no center. There is an ensemble of dispositions without an arithmetic mean. We have two poorly managed confederacies of disjoint sets of positions. Why does a labor union connect to a position on abortion? Why does free trade connect to nativism? The solution is probably smaller cliques that aggregate around social media to grow new alliances. The Tea Party and the OWS are the beginning and they are off to a glorious, messy, contrived, deluded, maladjusted beginning. It only looks like anarchy to the aristocracy in the “two party nation”.

    • ottovbvs

      “Who will speak for the center?”

      As numerous people have pointed out the Democrats are effectively the center these days. Just read one of the regular pious columns by the “serious people” (Tom Friedman is a good example) bemoaning the absence of a “center party.” When you actually get to the list of policy prescriptions that they think this center party aught to pursue, it’s 90% a statement of where the Democrats are policywise. At bottom that’s the reality that underlies Frum’s dilemma at Marketplace.

      • animal

        Ottovbus – I always like your thoughtfulness and intelligent contributions, but sometimes I worry you spend too much time in front of your computer. Please go out apple picking or rose smelling. It does a body good.

  • dugfromthearth

    It would be nice if the media presented reality and intelligent arguments rather than simply providing a forum for the loudest yellers.

  • doubter4444

    David – why not suggest a “Left, Right and Center” kind of thing – I like the show and it would be nice to see the center pushing back both sides.

    • Rob_654

      I would make one modification: “Left, Right and Center” should be “Left, Right and Sane”

  • SpartacusIsNotDead

    For most issues that people really care about today, there is no longer any room on the Right for opinions that reflect any degree of intellectual honesty. There is now room in the Democratic party for just about all rational positions. In order for the Right to distinguish itself from Democrats, it has had to advocate craziness.

    To require that the Right and Left be represented on all of these issues is like showing up for a math class and have two instructors – one for the Left and one for the Right.

  • rbottoms

    Classy yes.

    But even more evidence that the GOP you long for will not ever return and that the party that is most likely to implement policy that isn’t insane, isn’t the GOP. It’s the Democrats.

    Eventually you’ll tire of the pretzel logic you have to manage to keep voting Republican.

    • ottovbvs

      “you’ll tire of the pretzel logic”

      Entirely accurate. That “Why I’m a Republican” piece was a masterpiece of whistling past the graveyard.

  • Ray_Harwick

    How do you articulate the conservative view when the goal posts keeping moving to the right?

  • Noah Kristula-Green

    If you self-identify as a centrist, then you are allowing your own positions to be determined in response to the positions adopted by two sides, as opposed to your position being adopted from first principles.

    • indy

      That’s a super simplistic way of framing it. Every policy issue offers a spectrum of alternatives and being in the ‘center’ is a cumulative summary of those positions and not necessarily just staking out the center ground between the two policy positions offered by the major parties as if you can’t make up your mind.

      • ottovbvs

        It’s also worth pointing out that the “center” position on a policy issue isn’t necessarily always the most desirable. I can think of any number of issues where going the middle way was almost as bad as going the wrong way. The definition of a camel as a horse designed by a committee springs to mind.

        • indy

          You are right, of course, that sometimes the center is the worst alternative on particular issues, just like the right or left can be. OTOH, I think Noah simply views the center as the de facto compromise position that can’t be rationally chosen unless you lack philosophical balls. I utterly reject that premise as ridiculous. However a political TV audience probably wouldn’t, particularly in this day and age.

        • ottovbvs

          Surprising given that on the face of it Noah strikes me as being more sophisticated than his predecessor Tim Mak. This was a very je-june view of how real life functions.

    • ottovbvs

      “as opposed to your position being adopted from first principles.”

      A nice theoretical philosophical construct Noah, but in reality to what extent is it possible to create a position entirely based on first principles? Modern societies and economies are so complex and riddled with contradictions that the only firm basis for any political position is pragmatism. Show me any first principle (moral hazard for example) and it almost invariably buckles in the face of a crisis of reality.

    • Primrose

      A nuanced point. Identify by core values then not party side.

  • nikhil_gupta

    This is bad. Many elements of the conservative consensus are so ridiculous that nobody would take them seriously if the conservative movement did not find them convenient. Now you have to resign so people can hear empty talking points from Amity Shlaes.

  • rubbernecker

    I admire Frum for doing the right thing, but what a sad state of affairs.

  • Saladdin

    David, I applaud your idea and as others have said, it is the classy thing to do. However, one point is that you are currently in the mainstream of thought. Most people tend to be center-right as you are currently. The Dems have moved towards the center and the GOP has lurched rightwards, so the center isn’t where it used to be, therefore your voice would be an important one in the current discussions.

  • Graychin

    I admire this – I believe that you are acting on true principle.

    Not to be Sour Grapes about it, but I find the various Marketplace offerings to be on an eighth-grade level. I can’t stand to listen to them. They must be relatively popular – all the NPR stations carry them. But Marketplace isn’t worth your time.

    Marketplace isn’t worth Robert Reich’s time either.

  • takvar

    You no longer represent the conservative mainstream on these topics because the current mainstream is not interested in governing. The mainstream, instead, is obsessed with ideological purity, and rejects even the most reasonable notions of conservative governance. Your not representing the mainstream is merely a sign of the times of a radical right wing. Resigning your position merely encourages the radicals that are destroying the GOP’s viability as a party of governance.

  • New Orleans

    Here’s a novel idea: Why not two commentators who simply offer their own honest perspectives?

    Had you resigned because the format promotes conflict over substance, that would have shown character. But your decision cheapens legitimate debate by favoring partisanship over facts. Nothing noble or mature about that.

    • PracticalGirl

      “Had you resigned because the format promotes conflict over substance, that would have shown character. But your decision cheapens legitimate debate by favoring partisanship over facts”

      Harsh, and not particularly based in reality. Do remember that this is a show created and produced to the specifics of somebody other than Frum. He has no editorial control over either the direction of the show or its content. A point/counterpoint format is specifically designed to showcase conflict with substance. Sides must be taken for the success of the show. That Frum has declined to continue to work within the parameters of a show and “fake it when he can’t make it” isn’t a character flaw. Its simply a professional who knows he can only control his own brand and is directing his career accordingly.

      • Primrose

        I suspect that Mr. Frum doesn’t want to feel obligated to defend positions he doesn’t agree with.

        • overshoot

          Going a step farther, I advocate a policy of never attempting to EXPLAIN a position that one does not agree with. Too much temptation in the direction of straw men, that.

  • PracticalGirl

    Interesting decision, and I admire the thought process that led you to it. So many would keep their place in line for the opportunity to present a case when you have one- and faked the rest. That you’ve declined to do so once again shows me that you’re not willing to be anybody’s “token” anything. I’ll continue to disagree with many of your conclusions, but I won’t easily forget the place from where they come.

  • phearlez

    I don’t see why you felt like you needed to. It’s not like Reich is speaking the Democratic party line; he’s been consistently speaking out for more stimulus and postponing deficit reduction till later – not something you hear any mainstream Dem defending at this point.

    Leaving makes sense if you were supposed to be the Republican voice. If you’re supposed to be the conservative voice then it’s not you who’s the problem.

    • ottovbvs

      “he’s been consistently speaking out for more stimulus and postponing deficit reduction till later – not something you hear any mainstream Dem defending at this point.”

      What are you talking about? This is exactly what the president is proposing. What is his jobs bill if not more stimulus now?

  • goplifer

    It’s clearly the right thing to do, but its depressing none the less. Noah’s point is correct, you don’t want to voluntarily concede the ‘conservative’ label just because more and more people are heading off into bizarre extremes. The reality is not that the people on the party’s fringe are more conservative than David Frum. The reality is that the whole left-center-right axis is becoming irrelevant.

    Someone who thinks the Fed is a conspiracy, paper money is tyranny, Obama is a Muslim, and Communism and Fascism are the same thing is not ‘conservative.’ They’ve stepped off the spectrum entirely.

    Don’t worry. I hear Jesus is coming back any day to sort it all out.

    • ottovbvs

      “The reality is that the whole left-center-right axis is becoming irrelevant.”

      Not at all. It’s just that the mainstream Democrats are occupying what is the centerground of American politics today. Viz.

      “As numerous people have pointed out the Democrats are effectively the center these days. Just read one of the regular pious columns by the “serious people” (Tom Friedman is a good example) bemoaning the absence of a “center party.” When you actually get to the list of policy prescriptions that they think this center party aught to pursue, it’s 90% a statement of where the Democrats are policywise. At bottom that’s the reality that underlies Frum’s dilemma at Marketplace.”

      What’s irrelevant is the model of the American political spectrum of 30 years ago which Frum concedes no longer exists but forecasts will return. Although there’s no evidence of that happening anytime soon.

  • Oldskool

    Somewhat puzzling if you ax me. As was mentioned already, Reich doesn’t speak for every faction of the Dem party. Has Romney been bad-mouthing NPR or somethin?

    This is one that appears to have more to it.

  • RalphEHanson

    We have enough people reliably parroting right/left, red/blue positions. We need people who can break free of these Dreaded Talking Points. Why I’m sorry to see David go from Marketplace:

  • vrob125

    I am sorry to hear that you are leaving, but I think I could see it coming. You just cannot support unsupportable (is that the word?) opinions, mishmash, and junk. You must be true to yourself. And what you have done is classy.
    The problem is – they will have a problem finding a credible replacement. Some of these positions (we are talking about the mixing of the Tea Party and Republican beliefs together because we know they are the same party) are not viable. Social Security a ponzi scheme? At the same time they and their cohorts are cashing the monthly check? Racism against immigrants (let’s cut the crap – legal or not), people of color, Muslims, and anyone not white? No compromises in governing and vows to increase no taxes because they owe an allegiance to an unelected citizen? The gold standard? Ridiculous! So a replacement will need to relinquish all credibility, education, and judgement. Which you have wisely refused to do.
    That, my friend, will be hard to find.

  • Kingofthenet

    David, you are thinking about this wrong. The purpose of a debate show is not to take the most extremist positions on either side of an issue and battle it out, instead you should come at issues from your ideological POV, say Global Warming for example. EVEN IF your debate partner is 100% behind man-made global warming, cap and trade, and everything else doesn’t mean you have to look insane and deny it all(or not be a good Conservative) You can INSTEAD point to China and the rest of the developing world NOT having to adhere to the reductions, thereby making them moot, and causing us to be at a competitive disadvantage and other such tact’s. I think you should reconsider…

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  • Rob_654

    … which is why I am no longer a member of the Republican Party …

    If a “Party” that you belong to has moved so far away from your values, positions, beliefs that you feel you cannot adequately represent their viewpoints, are they really a Party that you are part?

  • balconesfault

    Robert Reich is certainly on the left … as evidenced by this quote:

    “The problem was not that Americans spent beyond their means but that their means had not kept up with what the larger economy could and should have been able to provide them. the American economy had been growing briskly, and America’s middle class naturally expected to share in that growth. But it didn’t. A larger and larger portion of the economy’s winnings had gone to people at the top.”

    “Liberals are concerned about the concentration of wealth because it almost inevitably leads to a concentration of power that undermines democracy.”

    but is he really radical left?

    “The liberal ideal is that everyone should have fair access and fair opportunity. This is not equality of result. It’s equality of opportunity. There’s a fundamental difference. ”

    “There will always be a business cycle, and white-collar workers will get hit in the next recession like they always do in recessions.”

    “True patriotism isn’t cheap. It’s about taking on a fair share of the burden of keeping America going. ”

    “Globalization and free trade do spur economic growth, and they lead to lower prices on many goods. ”

    I have a fear that whoever replaces Frum will be a poor intellectual match for Reich.

    • jorae

      I hate the word ‘fair’…it has no meaning in economics…

      But if you like Capitalism, then you have to give the people money to spend. It’s logical to pay a living wage.

      • NRA Liberal

        It has plenty of meaning in behavioral economics; which describes how people behave in the actual world.

        • jorae

          Oh yea…the ‘human’ side is real big in our Supply Side economics…that’s a key factor, I’m sure that is why the movers and shakers of America move jobs to China… Think agai, FAIR means NOTHING!

    • Anonne

      If they espouse most of the typical conservative talking points, of course they are intellectually inferior. It shows a gross departure from reality, and one of three bad situations: either a fundamental misunderstanding of circumstances, a refusal to consider evidence, or willful misinterpretation of the evidence to produce the desired political outcome.

  • Frumplestiltskin

    I am a bit disappointed in Noah thinking that centrists have no first principles, certainly we do and one of these principles is listening to and paying attention to many facts from many perspectives with regards to any issue and then weighing it before making a decision, but you certainly can be firm when you make that decision, only re-evaluating your decision based on facts on the ground.
    And to show some of the benefits of thoughtful consideration, look at the recent war in Libya, Republicans would have wanted to occupy the country and try to turn it into Texas, Leftists wanted to stay completely out of it. The Centrist establishment weighed all the scenarios and chose one most likely to work, which it did. (and when you have Obama, Sarkozy, and Cameron lined up together, you better damn well call it the establishment)
    The extremes on both sides put ideology over reality, hell the Bush administration thought it could create its own reality based on faith in themselves alone. Why the hell would anyone want that?

    • Traveler

      Did you ever catch some of the reader comments on NYT? The Libruhls were totally up in arms over the “war” and spouting off all sorts of crap about being in it to take over the country for the oil. Just like we did in Iraq (oops!). Meanwhile the pundits were pronouncing stalemate up to a week before Tripoli fell. The whole record of reporting and commentary is an indictment of both MSM and most of its readers. The left is certainly not where I identify myself in this regard. Every bit as reactionary as twitchers like SDspringy. It was interesting to see how Frum never really weighed in with his own opinions. It was mostly you and me for the intervention, while TRS ranted away at us.

      Be very interesting to see what sort of government emerges. But most signs from the AJE blogs suggest a budding democracy with moderate Muslim underpinnings, instead of sharia dominance.

  • bcrago77

    You’ve been a non-conservative for at least 6 or 7 years. Your the fav or NPR/MSNBC/CNN whenever they want a self-professed conservative to attack actual conservatives. So your outbreak of honesty here is pretty late, and is not even complete. If you wanted to conduct yourself ethically, call yourself what you are: a fairly conventional lib. No shame in being a lib: You would, for example, be a wonderful head of the Coffee Party.

    • ottovbvs

      “You’ve been a non-conservative for at least 6 or 7 years.”

      What rubbish. Frum may not have been your particular brand of extreme rightwing conservative but that doesn’t mean he isn’t a conservative. All political parties are coalitions and they forget this at their peril. The Democrats, admittedly a somewhat broader church than the Republicans, include in their tent Ben Nelson and Barbara Boxer. The far right are bent on turning the Republican party into an exclusionist rather than an an inclusionist body and if they succeed, as they are doing at the moment, then there certainly isn’t going to be room for the Frums of this world. Personally I think he should take the hint and move over to the right wing of the Democratic party.

      • Cyberax

        Dude, there are no liberals in the USA. You basically have Conservative Party and Batshit Insane Conservative Party.

        Even a Centrist European-style party would be seen as socialocommunistofeminonazis in the USA.

  • hbj

    What a coward is David Frum, to back away with his tail between his legs.

    What he should do is grow a pair, and use the Marketplace venue show to the world that being conservative doesn’t mean being insane.

    He could do America no greater a service.

    But, a coward, he slinks away.

    And so we’ll be left with a lunatic on marketplace. What good with THAT do anyone?

  • Primrose

    Perhaps, instead of calling oneself a centrist, which defines itself by others as Noah points out, one could call oneself a pragmatist. This would encompass people of quite differing sides who make evidence, and actual workability the primary way they decide on a solution.

  • MntlWard

    If you refuse to spout the conservative consensus because you believe it to be wrong, how can you think that the correct decision is to leave your speaking gig on Marketplace and suggest a replacement who will spout the conservative consensus that you believe to be wrong?

    • Oldskool

      Oh snap.

    • hbj


    • Giggles

      There are a couple of (soon to be) former GOP nominees who are looking for a gig.

      Plus Romney said he was one of the unemployed and would welcome the opportunity to present the conservative case for those who have been ‘between jobs’ for the last couple of years.

  • jjack

    Your willingness to put party and perceived “balance” before truth is an inspiration to mainstream journalists everywhere, no doubt.

  • Hunter01

    Conjecture: Frum did not resign, he was pressured to leave. Why? For the reasons he states — i.e., failure to espouse the current conservative orthodoxy. What is the evidence that he was pressured? Inferential — i.e., the conservative money and power goons have limited tolerance for a high-profile conservative moderate on economic issues. In what form did the pressure come? Probably from a “friend,” another Bushie who hinted of potential problems down the road. Why wouldn’t Frum say that he was getting pressure from conservatives to step aside? Frum doesn’t like to burn bridges, especially those that might lead to another payday. Fingerprints? Nyet.

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  • apetra

    This is an admission of what was long known to all.

    It is overdue, and btw, a reversal on Frum’s own part (long defending his status as ‘house conservative’ in a way that gave the Left cover).

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  • Banty

    “When speaking wholly and declaredly for myself, I can shrug off (admittedly – with some regret) the distance I have drifted from old comrades.”

    Did you drift? Or did they? (They did. Actually, they lurched.)

    I’ll miss your commentary on Marketplace.

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