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, 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. Now they have brought their dialogue to Frontpage Magazine. On Monday, September 21, they fought Round One of this debate. Today they join us for Round Two.
FP: David Frum and David Horowitz, welcome back to Frontpage Symposium.
David Frum, what is your response to David Horowitz’s comments in Round One of your debate?
Frum: David, your response in the first round is a real service. It focuses the issues very clearly and tightly in a way that helps everybody understand this discussion better, whatever side they ultimately end up on.
It’s bad luck for you that we are having this discussion in the same week that Glenn Beck a) expressed his enthusiasm for a Hillary Clinton presidency, b) stated that he thought Obama a better president than John McCain would have been, and c) wished that he could travel back in time to vote for Ron Paul. Now do you see what I mean when I call Beck “unscrupulous”? He’s an act, a showman, as indifferent to the future of conservative politics as he is to the facts of Cass Sunstein’s career. I agree he’s a very good showman, a natural TV talent. But he cares nothing, David, about politics in the way you care about it, and you are in for more nasty surprises if you continue to place your hopes in him.
In this, Beck is very different even from Rush Limbaugh and Mark Levin. I’ve crossed swords with these other broadcasters for other reasons. I believe that their rage and extremism repel more supporters than they attract. But at least these broadcasters do know a lot about politics and hold considered and coherent worldviews. Beck, by contrast, is a random walk, capable of reaching any outcome. And I have to believe that after Beck’s performance over the past couple of days, you probably inwardly agree with me.
However, David, your post deals with more than Glenn Beck personally. You raise other important issues and present some personal challenges – and I take both very seriously.
You write: “[Al] 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.”
I am as disgusted as you by the election of Al Franken. Norm Coleman was one of the senators I admired most, and his defeat in the courts was a severe blow to the country and to the Republican party.
But it’s just plain wrong to suggest that Coleman lost because Republicans were not war-like enough in their political tactics. Coleman was the senator from Minnesota! His well-deserved reputation for decency, integrity and civility were huge political assets to him.
No, Al Franken is a senator for three very different reasons, which call for a different political approach than you propose.
Coleman lost (1) because the Democrats learned from the 2000 Bush v. Gore recount experience to organize much more effective close-election responses than the GOP. They worked better with local government officials, they fielded larger legal teams, and they did more effective media messaging. In other words: The Dems come to these kinds of fights better prepared, more sophisticated, and better financed than the Republicans.
Coleman lost (2) because five years of bad economic and foreign news had corroded support for Republicans nationwide – and not even as attractive a candidate as Coleman could survive in a state like Minnesota.
And Coleman lost (3) because beyond these political cycles, there has been since the mid-1990s a deeper and broader national trend away from a Republican party that seems out of touch and out of date to voters under 40 and outside the South.
The kind of “in your face” conservatism that you laud makes all these problems worse.
You challenge me to notice that the “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” are also our “most powerful and feared and charismatic conservatives.”
I challenge you to notice that all three of these people repel and offend many millions more Americans than they inspire and attract.
Look at the impact of this kind of politics on the three points I itemize above.
(1) If we accept that conservatism will remain a politics that is unacceptable to the young, the urban, and the educated, we will have great difficulty raising the resources and finding the volunteers to fight a recount battle on anything like equal terms. Jon Stewart’s audience will sleep on the floor, five to a room, through an Iowa winter. The Fox audience won’t and can’t.
(2) We lost in 2008 in large part because we had not governed successfully over the previous eight years. More than political tactics, more even than media, what matters in politics is results. If national incomes had grown by 1% a year under George Bush instead of stagnating, Al Franken would have lost in a landslide. Populists like Sarah Palin may excite a TV audience, but they cannot govern. They don’t like it and are not good at it. (That’s why Sarah Palin did not even complete one term in office, let alone run for a second.) Limbaugh and Beck style politics can gain ratings. It will not win re-elections.
(3) See point 1, only with triple exclamation marks.
Let me end by responding to your more personal remarks. You criticize me for being too tough on fellow-conservatives – and for taking some of these criticisms to a more general domain rather than keeping them in-house. And you know what? I too worry about this a lot.
I suppose I could point out in self-defense that nobody ever seems to mind very much when one or another of these conservatives speaks far more stridently about me than I have ever spoken about anyone – that the movement conservative version of Reagan’s 11th commandment seems very much a one-way option only to be exercised in favor of radio and TV hosts, never enforced against them. As self-defenses go, that would not be a very interesting one. Here’s something however that might be more interesting:
I speak out against people like Palin, Limbaugh and Beck because in my estimation they do enormous harm to the causes in which I believe. In my view, the talk-and-Fox complex marginalizes Republicans – and backs us into demagogic and unsustainable political positions. David, do you really want to abolish the Federal Reserve? Do you think the United States should have allowed Merrill Lynch, Bank of America, Wells Fargo and other banks to follow Lehman into bankruptcy in October 2008? Do you think that any cuts to Medicare amount to a death panel for grandma? Do you think we can sustain an adequate military – never mind finance future tax reductions – if we allow healthcare to continue rising from its current 16% of GDP to a projected 20% of GDP a decade from now if nothing changes?
I can’t believe you do. And if you don’t believe these things, is it not dangerous to have talk-and Fox whipping a couple of million conservatives into frenzy over things that are not true?
On the other hand, maybe I’m entirely wrong. Maybe “end the Fed” and “death panels” are a sustainable future for the conservative movement. Maybe talk-and-Fox are (as their admirers claim) energizing new and previously apolitical people to join the political process. If so, that would be a real achievement.
But is it so? I don’t believe it. I believe that their ratings and advertising imperatives are pushing them in a direction fundamentally antithetical to the electoral and governance imperatives of the GOP and the conservative movement.
Of course I could be wrong in my belief. So let me finish by issuing a proposition to you. Let’s test our diverging intuitions. Let’s sit down together and hire a mutually agreed pollster – Gallup? Whit Ayres? – to design a survey that can test whether the 9/12 protesters, the tea party attendees, the Glenn Beck audience really are new participants in politics.
If Beck is energizing new and previously apolitical people, then I will join you in saluting his achievement.
But if we discover that he is not energizing the previously apolitical – that he is instead inviting the Ron Paul contingent to take over as the new base and face of conservatism and Republicanism – then you’ll have to agree with me that we are witnessing a disaster in the making.
We don’t have to guess. We can know. Will you work with me to find out?
Horowitz: I agree with you David that this dialogue is getting more focused, and I find it much more pleasurable (and hopefully informative) as a result.
There are two issues here. One is a remarkable conservative outburst against the broadcaster Glenn Beck which includes you, Mark Levin and Pete Wehner among others, and which collectively wishes for his early self-destruction. The message from the three of you is that for the good of the conservative cause he should be silent -- and the sooner the better. Wehner expresses the judgment I detect in all three of your blasts in this sentence: “The role Glenn Beck is playing is harmful in its totality.”
More than anything else, it is this is that I am reacting to. I think this attitude is wrongheaded, absurd, destructive to the conservative cause and a blatant contradiction of the “big tent” philosophy which you otherwise support.
Unfortunately, it is exactly this line of argument that you choose to open this round with, presenting three “gotchas” to convince everyone that Beck is a dangerous moron – or, as the leftwingers at TIME would prefer it “Madman.” To justify your intolerance of Beck you give three examples.
The first is that he expressed his enthusiasm for a Hillary Clinton presidency (over McCain). I seem to recall Ann Coulter doing the same – and not after the fact as an idle speculation but before it, as an incitement against McCain. Before the 2008 election, I heard many conversations among good Republicans about whether conservatism and the Republican Party could survive another George Bush, which is what McCain threatened to be. So when Beck made his remark about Hillary he could very well have had the best interests of conservatives in mind.
The second gotcha is that Beck suggested that Obama is a better president than McCain would have been. This is another speculative and therefore inconsequential opinion (particularly when Beck, along with Rush, has been the chief thorn in Obama’s side). Chris Buckley actually did vote for Obama? Did you read him out of the conservative movement as a moron and a menace when he did that?
The third gotcha is a Beck comment that he should have voted for Ron Paul (but obviously didn’t). As you know, Ron Paul makes me ill, but politics is a complicated business, and the conservative movement itself is rudderless at the moment and many of its adherents confused. On economic issues Ron Paul resonates with a lot of decent Republicans (even though I view him as a crank). And since Bush failed to defend or explain his foreign policy for four years, and reversed his opposition to terrorists in the Middle East, it’s no wonder that many conservatives are confused and want to pull back to Fortress America. I think a quarter of Republicans or more turned against the Iraq War. Do you want to read them out of the movement too? In sum, I think this comment may be an idle one of frustration, or based on one aspect of Paul’s political position. I’ll be concerned when Beck actually campaigns for Paul (i.e., when this is not an isolated gesture), but not until then.
For someone who doesn’t like take-no-prisoner conservatives, this “gotcha” approach and the auto-da-fe mode of political discourse is passing strange. It seems an expression of precisely the political mentality you claim to despise but worse – because it is directed at someone who is defending this country against its ongoing rape by Obama and the Democratic Party.
Glenn Beck is daily providing a school for millions of Americans in the nature and agendas and networks of the left – something that your fine books do not do, and Mark Levin’s fine books do not do, and Pete Wehner’s volumes of blogs and speeches and position papers – all admirable in my estimation, also do not do. How are conservatives going to meet the challenge of the left if they don’t understand what it is, how it operates and what it intends? And who else is giving courses in this subject at the moment?
Now I have to confess my own vested interest in this. Because the fact is that I have been attempting to do this from a much smaller platform than Beck’s for many years. Five years ago I put an encyclopedia of the left on the web called Discover the Networks. It details the chief groups, individuals and funders of the left and maps their agendas and networks. Since I put it up five years ago, 20 million people have visited the site, many of whom have written articles and even books from its information. So far as I can tell, this site has never been mentioned by you or Wehner or Mark Levin or National Review or the Weekly Standard or the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal. But it has been read by and profoundly influenced the producers and anchors at Fox News. Among these no one has used it so systematically and relentlessly and to such great effect as Glenn Beck.
The importance of Acorn, the way Acorn is embedded in a network of Soros-connected and left-oriented foundations and 501c3’s, the level of funding, the agendas , the interconnections all carefully documented can be found in DiscovertheNetworks. Through the broadcasts of Glenn Beck they are being made intelligible to millions of Americans – voters and activists – every day.
How important is this politically? Conservatives are outraged by the fact that Acorn received $53 million in federal dollars since 1994. 1994! – the year conservative Republicans led by Newt Gingrich took over the House and the federal purse strings! What were they thinking? They weren’t. They didn’t have a clue that they were funding the largest organization of the very radical left. Now they know.
Intellectuals like us have a role to play, but if you want to influence masses and affect real politics, you need someone who has the talent to command a mass audience and the dedication to put the information on the radar. Beck has done that with the most important intelligence of all: knowledge of the enemy.
So that’s why I’m defending Glenn Beck the broadcaster. I’ve devoted twenty frustrating years to revealing who the left is and what they do, while conservatives have continued to pretend that leftists are simply confused liberals. No they’re not. They’re malicious, and calculating and devious, and smart. And Glenn Beck is helping Republicans and those conservatives who will listen to understand that.
Now to the political part of our discussion. Let me begin by saying I don’t see that part of the discussion has any relevance to Beck. He is not a politician and he’s not running for office. He’s a voice – and an important one, but he competes with other voices and has no organizational base of power.
It’s a big difference. A politician holding Beck’s views could very well present them in the moderate manner you desire. Consider Barack Obama who certainly empathized (to use his word) with a rank anti-American racist named Jeremiah Wright, with an anti-American, unrepentant terrorist and small “c” communist, Bill Ayers, and with a big C communist Van Jones. So when one is talking about political style – as it appears to me you mainly are – one is not necessarily talking about political content.
I will agree that it is a fair comment that Beck has something of a random walk in him – though not as random as you seem to be suggesting – and could wind up in places that would make me uncomfortable. Foreign policy is one such area. But by his own admission Beck is relatively new to politics and is learning. Cut him some slack. In any case – and to repeat -- he’s not a politician; no one is being asked to vote for him and put power in his hands. If he veers into directions that you’re not happy with, it’s still just about ideas. Argue with him. Don’t ban him.
I couldn’t disagree with you more about the talk-and-Fox complex as you put it that Roger Ailes has created. Far from marginalizing Republicans it is the most energetic, dynamic and expansive part of the conservative movement. Or is it your view that the decline of the leftwing network news operations has no positive impact on conservative prospects? In fact, the party identification poll numbers for Republicans are currently rising right alongside and in step with (and because of) the rising Fox ratings. Thank you Roger Ailes.
I like Norm Coleman. I supported him for Senator, showcased him at my events, and I’m unhappy that he lost. That said, he was a moderate Republican senator with whom I disagreed on several important issues but who also took courageous stands on several others. Politics is a complex business and I understand that he was elected in a liberal state and therefore cut him the same slack I would cut Mitt Romney for the same reasons. Politics is the art of the possible.
Coleman lost by the way, because an egotistical Republican maverick split the conservative vote. If Norm had 10 or so of the 200,000 votes that the other guy siphoned off from Republicans he would have won. My remark about Franken was directed to the fact that we do not pulverize their radicals they way they do any Republican who is effective. We do not understand the art of political warfare and they do.
I am a big tent Republican and also one who believes that it takes many different role players to win political battles. Bush allowed himself and the war effort and the Republican Party to be destroyed because wouldn’t defend himself. That doesn’t mean I think Bush should have left his presidential perch and gotten down dirty with the saboteurs in the Democratic Party – Jimmy Carter, Al Gore, Ted Kennedy, John Kerry, Nancy Pelois, Jack Murtha etc. etc. Bill Clinton never went on the attack in defense of himself but he did send his hatchet men, Carville, Begala, Blumenthal and co. to do it for him. Where were Bush’s spear-carriers?
Your chief political argument is that Limbaugh, Palin and Beck are albatrosses around the Republican neck: “I challenge you to notice that all three of these people repel and offend many millions more Americans than they inspire and attract.” This is rodomontade David. Where is your evidence? You think the 20 million people that listen to Rush have no impact on Republican election prospects? You think there are 20 million anti-Republican voters who can’t distinguish between a broadcaster and a political candidate? In my view – speaking from reports by friends who were actually running McCain campaigns -- the phones of Republican headquarters began ringing off the hook when Palin came on board and gave them something to fight for. (And just between us, Palin didn’t leave office because she was incapable of governing – all the evidence points in the other direction – but because the Democratic attack dogs set out to kill her politically with bogus ethics charges, the way they took down Gingrich and DeLay).
Your political questions – e.g., do I think Medicare costs need to be cut? – are all policy questions. This should be a discussion about politics not policy. The battle to stop Obama from ramming through a socialist health care system is one that Sarah Palin is leading. That’s the fact. If you don’t want Obama care, she’s the most potent force standing in its way. Do I think that government rationing of health care leads to the equivalent of “death panels?” Of course they do. And calling them that – even though at this stage they’re more of a goal than a reality – was brilliant politics. The Republican Party needs more of this not less.
You want to know whether the 9/12 protesters are new to politics. I take it that this means you think that dedicated conservatives will vote for Republicans whenever there’s an election and so we need new voters and can ignore the old ones. Actually, conservatives have a tendency to stay home when a McCain is running, and that’s when we lose. We won in 2004 because of the gay marriage issue (big Democratic mistake) not in spite of it.
You know, the very arguments you make against Palin were made against Reagan, and look what happened. All the same, I don’t take the position – in case you think I did --that what we need to win in 2012 is a holly roller of the right. I’m a pragmatist when it comes to elections. I want to see the lay of the land, the way the candidate conducts himself (or herself), the climate – and after that I’ll make an educated guess.
Let me close by saying your self-doubt is endearing. I’m with you. I can’t foresee the future anymore than you or anyone else can. Consequently a little humility is in order for all of us. So, how about easing up on Beck and giving him the benefit of the doubt?