In this special edition of Frontpage Symposium, we approach the subject of the role of bold talk radio hosts in the Conservative Movement's quest to defend America. In a current debate, for instance, noted conservative intellectuals David Horowitz and David Frum disagree about whether Fox News’ Glenn Beck is an asset or a liability. From Frum's New Majority blog and Horowitz's NewsReal blog, the two have confronted each other directly on this issue. Today they bring their dialogue to Frontpage Magazine.
FP: David Frum and David Horowitz, welcome to Frontpage Symposium.
David Frum, let’s begin with you.
For the sake of our readers who might not be updated, tell us what the disagreement is exactly between you and David Horowitz and where the debate stands now.
Frum: The story begins with an obscure sounding but incredibly important department within the federal government: the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs within the Office of Management and Budget.
Created in 1980, OIRA has the duty of subjecting every proposed federal regulation to a cost-benefit analysis and disallowing those regulations that flunk. OIRA is one of the bulwarks of the free enterprise system within the federal government.
That makes the job of OIRA director very, very important. Which is why conservative lawyers and regulatory experts like Christopher DeMuth, C. Boyden Gray, Ken Starr, Theodore Olson, and many, many more reacted with delight when President Obama named Harvard Law professor Cass Sunstein to the post.
A political liberal, Sunstein has written extensively in defense of the cost-benefit analysis performed at OIRA. He has argued against the “precautionary principle” that some European regulators have deployed to forbid genetically modified foods. His coauthored book Nudge has been lavishly praised by British Conservative party leader David Cameron – so much so that the left-wing British newspaper The Guardian mocked the book as Cameron’s “favorite American import.” The British Left objects to Nudge’s arguments that many left-wing goals can best be reached by libertarian means.
Those who know Sunstein’s work – and know the legal and economic issues – almost unanimously agreed that no better appointment could have been hoped from a Democratic president.
The broadcaster Glenn Beck disagreed. He astoundingly chose to present Sunstein as a wild-eyed radical, and distorted Sunstein’s work on animal protection to suggest that this very cautious lawyer wished to empower rats to sue homeowners. (What Sunstein actually said was that existing animal protection laws would be more effectively enforced if states shifted responsibility for them from district attorneys to offices modeled on the child welfare offices that protect children from abuse. Sunstein explicitly argued against creating new laws and against the animal rights philosophy of Peter Singer. The book he edited on the subject of animal rights contains essays by libertarian legal philospher Richard Epstein and law-and-economics guru Richard Posner. For the record, Sunstein eats meat.)
I thought Beck’s work on Sunstein was outrageous and said so in my NewMajority.com blog. (Again for the record: Sunstein was a professor of mine at Harvard. We are friendly, but I’ve criticized him in the past for things he has actually said and done. See here)
On Sept. 11, NewMajority.com posted two stories about Sunstein: one by reporter Tim Mak, listing the conservative legal luminaries who had supported Sunstein’s nomination.
(The nomination was also endorsed by the US Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers.) That same day, I posted a blog about the recklessness of Beck’s attack on Sunstein.
These posts prompted a reply from David Horowitz, which can be read here.
Although flattered by David’s description of me as an “armchair aristocrat” (pretty good for a guy whose ancestors came from the next street down from the Horowitz clan!), I was grieved by David’s core point:
“Our country is under assault by a determined, deceitful and powerful left which will stop at nothing to realize its goals. Facing them, I would rather have Glenn Beck out there fighting for our side than 10,000 David Frums who think that appeasing leftists will make them think well of us.”
I don’t believe that distortion and defamation count as “fighting for our side.” I think they are wrong, period, and also as the Sunstein episode shows, stupid and counter-productive. I said so in a rebuttal piece.
Two more rounds of back story.
David Horowitz followed up here.
And fellow Frontpagemag.com contributor David Swindle chimed in here.
I’ve taken a lot of space to bring the story up to date, so I’ll be brief in my two reply points to Horowitz and Swindle.
Horowitz writes this about me:
“Joe Klein describes Republican critics of Obama as “racists” in the current edition of Time. What has David got to say about Klein? That’s a big part of my problem with David’s current crusade. His passionate defense of Sunstein (who after all is a member of an Adminstration that is busily wrecking the country and had no problem serving with Van Jones) is extraordinary for a man of David’s normally conservative temperament. I’ve never heard David raise his voice this way in defense of maligned conservatives. (Maybe I just missed it.)”
Well as a matter of fact, David Horowitz did “just miss it.” See for example this very tough piece on Joe Klein I published in Moment magazine in 2008.
In fact you could make a small library out of my pieces championing fellow- conservatives. Crikey, it’s really too many to count! Not only did I write a whole book on President George W. Bush titled The Right Man, but I have also praised/defended/celebrated William F. Buckley, Ann Coulter (!), Tom DeLay, Russell Kirk, Mark Krikorian, Richard Perle, Diana West and Paul Wolfowitz.
As well as a gallery of Canadian and British conservatives whose names may not be so well-known to FrontPage’s readers. For an example of one among hundreds of astringent takedown of shabby work by liberals, see here.
I am not proposing that David Horowitz has any obligation to keep up with my collected publications, far from it. But if you’re going to criticize somebody for what they have not said, you do have some duty to check the record. “I couldn’t be bothered to look it up, therefore it must not exist,” is not an argument I’d expect from the coauthor of The Fords and The Rockefellers.
It is true that I have criticized some famous conservative talkers like Rush Limbaugh and now Glenn Beck, just as I have previously criticized right-wing opponents of the war on terror like Pat Buchanan and Lew Rockwell. But my “crusade” as David Horowitz calls is not a crusade to criticize. It is a crusade to repair and modernize a very troubled conservative movement.
I agree with David’s implied point that a thriving conservative movement needs a variety of talents: politicians and academics, thinkers and activists, intellectuals and popularizers.
Both have their appropriate roles. But it seems to me that latterly the conservative intellectuals have not properly fulfilled theirs.
And the result is that the conservative intellectual movement has become subservient to the political entertainment complex – with seriously negative consequences for conservative political success. It’s very sobering to compare how much conservatives got done in the 12 years before the creation of Fox News in 1996 with how little they have achieved in the 13 years since. And the problem has only intensified since the election of 2008, with the conservative entertainment complex helping to trap conservatives in a cycle of shrillness, rage, and paranoia that radically off-putting to the centrist voters who will choose the next president and Congress.
Let me end with a quick reply to David Swindle.
To deny Beck’s work as a publicist for Ron Paul is to deny reality.
Yes as you say, Beck had some harsh words for Ron Paul supporters in mid-2007. But since the end of 2007, his position on Paul has grown more and more enthusiastic. In December 2007, Beck offered a glowing one hour interview with Ron Paul.
Beck is more admiring still in April 2008.
By July 2008, Beck is in almost total accord with Paul.
In January 2009, Beck is telling Paul that his words are “interchangeable” with those of the Founding Fathers, and by July 2009, Beck has utterly absorbed Paul’s crank monetary and banking theories as his own.
In his second post on my Beck comments, David Horowitz wrote:
“Ron Paul is a crackpot, a conspiracy nut and a public menace. His crank views of the economy have a lot of Republicans snookered enough to ignore the fact that he is an anti-Semite and an America-hater — fundamentally at odds with America’s role in the world as the guardian of freedom. I have to confess that I am not familiar with Beck’s promotion of Paul. If David wants to engage this I would have to review Beck’s statements about Paul first.”
I find those italicized words amazing. Let me suggest that maybe David should have reviewed the evidence before taking polemical sides on this matter. But better late than never. It’s all clickable above. Watch them first and then maybe it will be time, to coin a phrase, for some second thoughts?
Horowitz: I have a very high regard for your intellect and integrity David. I always try to pay careful attention to what you have to say because you are a diligent student of politics and government and because your observations are often astute. I even agree with a lot of the critiques of Republican figures posted on your website and with much of what you have to say about Cass Sunstein’s views on regulation and animals. I think keeping conservatives honest is a noble and important cause and takes courage for a conservative to perform.
But it is the intemperate nature of some of your attacks and the venues you choose to launch them in (Newsweek for a no-holds-barred assault on Rush Limbaugh for example) that I find unacceptable. I also have a problem with the very premise of your efforts. I don’t agree that conservatism is a “very troubled” movement; I don’t think conservative intellectuals are subservient to an entertainment complex, and I don’t think that Fox News has helped to “trap conservatives in a cycle of shrillness, rage, and paranoia that is radically off-putting” to voters. I think this is a slander of Fox and conservatives more suitable to Huffington Post than a conservative website. Fox is a tremendous asset to the conservative movement precisely because it sets the record straight to a mass audience that leftists have so maliciously distorted. Just to take an example from one of my own interests – the rape of the university by political zealots: Do you for a moment think that Ward Churchill would be a household name if it weren’t for Hannity and O’Reilly? (Or Bill Ayers?)
I also have a problem with your basic presumption that Republicans must clean their house before they can appeal to centrist voters and defeat the left. This implies that the left’s attacks on conservatives have merit and will be blunted if we purge our ranks of embarrassments to our cause – the shrill, the enraged and the paranoid – who in your mind – seem to be Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh and now Glenn Beck. Did you notice that these are also our most powerful and feared and charismatic conservatives?
Years ago, at the birth of the modern conservative movement, Bill Buckley performed a purge in this vein, declaring no quarter for racists and anti-Semites and also conspiracy nuts like Robert Welch who thought Eisenhower was a card-carrying Communist. This was an important and necessary service to a young movement. It was repeated 15 years ago when Buckley came down hard on the anti-Semitic writings of Joseph Sobran and Pat Buchanan, and that was important too (and I recall that you played a forthright role in that effort). But Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin and Rush Limbaugh are not racists or anti-Semites (nor are they paranoid or shrill) and it is your attacks on them that are reckless -- untempered as they are by your usual good judgment -- and that sound very much like the attacks from our enemies on the left.
Before I get into details let me apologize for the use of the term “armchair aristocrat” to describe you. It was a strained metaphor and probably inept. I was not referring to your pedigree or pocketbook. I was attempting to encapsulate the idea that there are conservatives – you are one, David Brooks is another -- who think that if everyone on our team only behaved better, there would be no targets for the neo-Stalinist left to attack. Not a chance. If they were able to demonize George Bush as a liar, a murderer, an idiot, and a religious nut they can do that to anyone. So-called liberals have shown themselves to be shameless, unprincipled, bigoted, intolerant and determined to personally destroy any conservative whom they consider to be politically effective and therefore dangerous to their agendas. That’s where we really differ. If you understood this or believed it, you would not attack a Glenn Beck in the scorched-earth manner in which you did.
You accuse Beck of being motivated by money and fame and not out of concern for his country: “Glenn Beck is not the first to make a pleasant living for himself by reckless defamation.” This is a slippery slope my friend (writing a cover story attacking Rush Limbaugh for the leftist Newsweek isn’t about money and fame? And how is it that you didn’t keep your criticism within the conservative family, if the family is whom you’re really concerned about?) But it is also a ludicrous charge. Since when has going after a Communist in government been a path to money and fame in our “liberal” era, rather than to almost certain demonization as a McCarthyite and marginalization as a crank? It’s been fifty years, as I recall, since someone did that successfully. Was Beck’s successful crusade against Van Jones “reckless defamation?” His crusade against Acorn? You have one case to hand in which you charge him with getting something wrong. But instead of sticking to the example, and correcting him, you want to use it as a hammer to crush his skull. That’s my problem with what you have written.
Here’s the way you sum up your attack on Glenn Beck: “We conservatives, are submitting our movement to some of the most unscrupulous people in American life. This submission disgraces conservatism, discredits Republicans, and damages the country.” Would that you had written this about Jimmy Carter, or Al Gore, or Al Franken, who are unscrupulous and disgraceful and do damage our country. If you had done that, it would have been appropriate. As an attack on Beck it is a reckless slander of an American patriot, and damaging to the country and the cause.
I noted in my original post that I didn’t recall you defending conservatives who have been maliciously misrepresented and maligned by the left with the same passion you reserve for a moderate leftist law professor who never to my knowledge has stuck his neck out for conservatives when they have been maligned by his friends (you may correct me if I am mistaken). Your response was that you had defended Ann Coulter and others. So I looked up your article on Coulter, which turned out to be a review of Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them by Al Franken. Senator Al! Talk about reckless defamers! Yet I looked in vain for you to describe Franken as a “reckless defamer” or “disgrace” or one of the “most unscrupulous people in American life.”
I have a personal issue with Franken who referred to me in passing in his book as a “racist.” He was actually attacking Sean Hannity and merely dropped in passing that Hannity had invited the racist David Horowitz to be on his show – as if calling David Horowitz a racist needed no explanation – which made it even more slanderous. Of course Franken had no basis for saying any such thing and ignored my requests to correct his lie -- even when I posted an image of him with “RACIST” stamped across his nose to teach him a lesson. Yet Franken doesn’t merit the adjective “reckless” or “defamer” in your review.
Instead your review treats Franken in a gentlemanly manner, rapping his knuckles in a respectful fashion, as though he were Tom Brokaw mis-speaking. Your review begins with a quote from Franken -- “Telling the truth is something I take seriously, and I try to hold myself to an impossibly high standard” – to which you respond: “This time, Al Franken may have set the bar too high. By his own account, the self-appointed scourge of right-wing lies and liars has something of a truth problem himself.” Something of a truth problem! The man is a prevaricating scumbag. A reckless defamer and verbal assassin. But you wouldn’t know it from reading your review.
Franken’s chapter on Ann Coulter is titled “Ann Coulter: Nutcase.” She is described as “the reigning diva of the hysterical right, or rather the hysterical diva of the reigning right.” “Her books like her TV appearances consist of non-stop rabid frothing.” “The entire book [Slander] is filled with distortions, factual errors, and vicious invective – slander if you will – bolstered by the shoddiest research this side of the Hitler diaries.” In other words, bury her.
And here’s your two sentence defense of Coulter: “And, just as advertised, [Franken] and the fourteen research assistants provided him by Harvard University have caught some important conservative journalists and politicians in a number of embarrassing errors. Anne Coulter, for example, has identified Newsweek’s Washington bureau chief Evan Thomas as the son of Norman Thomas, the famous socialist politician of the 1920’s and 30’s. Evan Thomas is not Norman Thomas's son. He is his grandson. Gotcha.” Deftly done, but hardly a defense – you didn’t even mention that Ann has more wit and intelligence in her little finger than Franken does in his whole wretched body.
In fact, this is an exemplary case of exactly what I think is wrong with the conservative movement in contrast to what you think. Franken is now a U.S. Senator in part because conservatives of whom you are typical want to conduct politics by the Marquis of Queensberry rules when the other side is in it as war in which destruction of the enemy is the game. Franken calls us evil. You call him mistaken (and unfunny). And you want other conservatives to do the same. The more conservatives who follow your advice the more we will lose. Personally, I am thrilled with what is happening now in the conservative movement – our aggressive media like Fox and talk radio, the emergence of enraged conservative masses – the tea baggers – as leftist half-wits like to dismiss them. It is this energized, unapologetic, in-your-face (but also civilized and intelligent) conservative base on whom the future not only of the movement but the country depends.
Editor’s Note: David Swindle has a response to David Frum at NewsReal regarding Glenn Beck’s alleged embrace of Congressman Ron Paul’s ideology and what constitutes a need to excommunicate a figure from the Conservative Movement.