R.I.P… The Frum Forum WAS an Independent Voice, a Rebel from The Engineered Consent of the GOP Establishment

DAVID FRUM’S GOP’S WATERLOO

Conservatives and Republicans today suffered their most crushing legislative defeat since the 1960s.

It’s hard to exaggerate the magnitude of the disaster. Conservatives may cheer themselves that they’ll compensate for today’s expected vote with a big win in the November 2010 elections. But:

(1) It’s a good bet that conservatives are over-optimistic about November – by then the economy will have improved and the immediate goodies in the healthcare bill will be reaching key voting blocs.

(2) So what? Legislative majorities come and go. This healthcare bill is forever. A win in November is very poor compensation for this debacle now.

So far, I think a lot of conservatives will agree with me. Now comes the hard lesson:

A huge part of the blame for today’s disaster attaches to conservatives and Republicans ourselves.

At the beginning of this process we made a strategic decision: unlike, say, Democrats in 2001 when President Bush proposed his first tax cut, we would make no deal with the administration. No negotiations, no compromise, nothing. We were going for all the marbles. This would be Obama’s Waterloo – just as healthcare was Clinton’s in 1994.

Only, the hardliners overlooked a few key facts: Obama was elected with 53% of the vote, not Clinton’s 42%. The liberal block within the Democratic congressional caucus is bigger and stronger than it was in 1993-94. And of course the Democrats also remember their history, and also remember the consequences of their 1994 failure.

This time, when we went for all the marbles, we ended with none.

Could a deal have been reached? Who knows? But we do know that the gap between this plan and traditional Republican ideas is not very big. The Obama plan has a broad family resemblance to Mitt Romney’s Massachusetts plan. It builds on ideas developed at the Heritage Foundation in the early 1990s that formed the basis for Republican counter-proposals to Clintoncare in 1993-1994.

Barack Obama badly wanted Republican votes for his plan. Could we have leveraged his desire to align the plan more closely with conservative views? To finance it without redistributive taxes on productive enterprise – without weighing so heavily on small business – without expanding Medicaid? Too late now. They are all the law.

No illusions please: This bill will not be repealed. Even if Republicans scored a 1994 style landslide in November, how many votes could we muster to re-open the “doughnut hole” and charge seniors more for prescription drugs? How many votes to re-allow insurers to rescind policies when they discover a pre-existing condition? How many votes to banish 25 year olds from their parents’ insurance coverage? And even if the votes were there – would President Obama sign such a repeal?

We followed the most radical voices in the party and the movement, and they led us to abject and irreversible defeat.

There were leaders who knew better, who would have liked to deal. But they were trapped. Conservative talkers on Fox and talk radio had whipped the Republican voting base into such a frenzy that deal-making was rendered impossible. How do you negotiate with somebody who wants to murder your grandmother? Or – more exactly – with somebody whom your voters have been persuaded to believe wants to murder their grandmother?

I’ve been on a soapbox for months now about the harm that our overheated talk is doing to us. Yes it mobilizes supporters – but by mobilizing them with hysterical accusations and pseudo-information, overheated talk has made it impossible for representatives to represent and elected leaders to lead. The real leaders are on TV and radio, and they have very different imperatives from people in government. Talk radio thrives on confrontation and recrimination. When Rush Limbaugh said that he wanted President Obama to fail, he was intelligently explaining his own interests. What he omitted to say – but what is equally true – is that he also wants Republicans to fail. If Republicans succeed – if they govern successfully in office and negotiate attractive compromises out of office – Rush’s listeners get less angry. And if they are less angry, they listen to the radio less, and hear fewer ads for Sleepnumber beds.

So today’s defeat for free-market economics and Republican values is a huge win for the conservative entertainment industry. Their listeners and viewers will now be even more enraged, even more frustrated, even more disappointed in everybody except the responsibility-free talkers on television and radio. For them, it’s mission accomplished. For the cause they purport to represent, it’s Waterloo all right: ours.

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1 Comment

  1. frfumtopia said,

    January 7, 2012 at 4:34 pm

    TerryF98 // Mar 21, 2010 at 5:07 pm

    Yay, welcome to reality tea folk. Thanks David for posting this. Your side could have cut a deal, this legislation is not far from Nixon’s plan, romneycare or even the McCain plan. However as you say the loons won the day in your party.

    Best of luck repubs, you made your bed with the nut-jobs like Beck, Hannity, Bachman, Palin and the rest of the death panel idiots. Now lie in it.

    Reply
    tomtom // Mar 21, 2010 at 5:13 pm

    It was one thing in ‘94 when the Republicans said the sky would fall over the budget bill – that was a fight only wonks watched.

    But now, when HCR dooesn’t cause a federal takeover of health care, when it turns out to be imperfect but did not kill grandma, and delivered a few benefits along the way, what will happen?

    Republicans not only chose not to participate, and therefore chose not to influence, but they also can’t maintain credibility as the sky stubbornly remains overhead.

    It really can make problems when yahoos are allowed to become the voice of a major party.

    Reply
    Churl // Mar 21, 2010 at 5:16 pm

    So tell me, what sort of deal could the Republicans have gotten? Which of the things in the bill that conservatives deem undesirable would Obama, Reid, and Pelosi have bargained away, and for what in return? What could Republicans have added to the bill that conservatives would like, and what would have to have given away to get it?

    Frum and Chums have said for months that Republican complicity in this monster could have improved the outcome, but gave no specifics, just suggested trying to get some compromise out of the most intractably left wing congress and executive ever seen in this country.

    Had they compromised, they would have only gotten to choose the bread for a dog-excrement sandwich that will leave a nasty taste in the mouths of voters for years to come.

    Reply
    sinz54 // Mar 21, 2010 at 5:22 pm

    Frum: Barack Obama badly wanted Republican votes for his plan. Could we have leveraged his desire to align the plan more closely with conservative views?
    No. Impossible.

    TerryF99: Your side could have cut a deal, this legislation is not far from Nixon’s plan, romneycare or even the McCain plan.
    No. Not true. Not possible.

    Olympia Snowe tried to work with Baucus for the better part of six months. In the end, she failed.

    Politico.com had an interesting piece this morning which explained why: The real power in this health care reform effort wasn’t Baucus (whom Snowe was working with), or even President Obama. No, the real power was Nancy Pelosi, who refused to budge an inch when Scott Brown won in MA, who insisted on an expansive liberal bill. Pelosi had a comfortable majority in the House. So unlike the Senate, she was not rattled by the Scott Brown win in MA and wasn’t deflected even one inch from the same damn plan she had been pushing all year.

    Nixon was NOT an economic conservative. You’re talking about a President who imposed wage and price controls (which failed of course)–remember?

    There is absolutely nothing that economic conservatives could have proposed that Nancy Pelosi would have accepted. Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Pelosi is a true believer, a doctrinaire ultra-liberal from San Francisco, immune to any appeals about costs or employing free market approaches.

    McCain and the Heritage Foundation wanted to open up the health insurance market to more competition. But Pelosi and her fellow leftists don’t believe that competition offers any advantages.

    It is now widely accepted among economic conservatives that RomneyCare was a mistake, since it failed to control costs.

    The only “compromise” that Pelosi accepted was giving up on the public option, which wasn’t due to GOP opposition but due to opposition from moderates within her own party.

    I don’t see it. It’s like excoriating Code Pink for not compromising with Bush on the Iraq War.

    Reply
    mlindroo // Mar 21, 2010 at 5:23 pm

    The great irony here is that Republicans may well have managed to kill the bill if only they had been able to sincerely pretend they wanted bipartisan health care reform… The main reason why there was so little progress last fall was Baucus & co. were scared shit of voting for a 100% Democratic bill. They were bending over backwards to accommodate centrist GOP Senators, and they would very much have preferred to have a few Republicans such as Olympia Snowe on board even if it meant the Bernie Sanderses on the left would have voted against.

    Of course, bipartisan support would further complicated negotiations so there would have been lots of room for Republicans to drag their feet while further nudging the health care bill to the right. Mitch McConnell’s total refusal to cooperate meant the Dems (who have a 59% majority, remember!) could win just by avoiding defections.

    MARCU$

    Reply
    ottovbvs // Mar 21, 2010 at 5:25 pm

    “There were leaders who knew better, who would have liked to deal. But they were trapped.”

    …….Er…… so who were these profiles in courage David?…..I agree that the plan shares similarities with the MA program but that’s been disowned effectively by it’s leading Republican author…..the reality of course was that those “leaders” in congress were determined to deny the Obama administration any sort of legislative triumph…..they weren’t even willing to support the stimulus program even though the economy risked slipping into a depression and most serious conservative economists said it was essential….. so they as sure as hell weren’t going seriously pursue healthcare reform…..the Heritage plan that was essentially McCain’s program is a stalling tactic with numbers that don’t work……otherwise you’re largely right……..rumors of Democratic death in November have been somewhat exaggerated……it’s never going to be repealed……this is a huge defeat for Republicans and a huge victory for Obama and Pelosi…… but you’re wrong in one final thing….. I don’t think you’re going to find that many conservatives to agree with you.

    Reply
    sinz54 // Mar 21, 2010 at 5:26 pm

    One more thing. A couple days ago, Pelosi told reporters that the basic structure of ObamaCare–guaranteed issue plus a mandate on all Americans plus subsidies for the underprivileged–was not open to negotiation, because all the parts were interdependent.

    That makes cutting a deal impossible. It meant that all Republicans could even hope for was to tweak a detail here or there, but the guaranteed issue, mandate and subsidies would remain intact no matter what.

    That makes any sort of real deal impossible. As I said, it would be like Code Pink offering this compromise to President Bush: “OK, we’ll sign onto the Iraq War, but just try not to kill so many civilians.”

    Reply
    lowandslow // Mar 21, 2010 at 5:26 pm

    Deal? With who? Obama, Reid and Pelosi weren’t going to make any deals with Republicans, why would they? They got what they wanted didn’t they? How in God’s name is this the Republicans fault?
    Really, what did you think they could do? Do you think Cantor, Boehner, McConnell, etc. were going to be begging for meetings so they could compromise on some sort of plan where the feds only take control of 90% of the healthcare industry and only further bankrupt us a slightly less amount?
    Come on Frum, you’re better then this.

    Reply
    mlindroo // Mar 21, 2010 at 5:27 pm

    Sinz54 wrote:
    > The real power in this health care reform effort wasn’t Baucus (whom Snowe was working with),
    >or even President Obama. No, the real power was Nancy Pelosi, who refused to budge an inch
    >when Scott Brown won in MA, who insisted on an expansive liberal bill

    Isn’t the final health care bill essentially the more centrist Senate version, with a handful of House amendments to remove things like the Cornhusker Kickback?

    MARCU$

    Reply
    diddle // Mar 21, 2010 at 5:28 pm

    This is, sadly, uncharacteristically rational and well-thought. It’s uncharacteristic of the hot air and impolitic bluster that has unfortunately characterized the Republican opposition since the rise of the Tea Party. Governance in Washington, the framing of legislation, should involve both sides of the aisle. The wholly partisan disinclination to engage in policy, beyond the churning of outright falsehoods to outrage one’s “base,” has been the most disheartening development in recent American politics. The Republican party, and good-faith political conservatism, would do well to recognize the limitations of such an approach, as David knowledgeably advises.

    Reply
    ottovbvs // Mar 21, 2010 at 5:37 pm

    mlindroo // Mar 21, 2010 at 5:23 pm

    “The great irony here is that Republicans may well have managed to kill the bill if only they had been able to sincerely pretend they wanted bipartisan health care reform…”

    …….Naah…. not really….. they did pretend for months…..Remember Grassley the late convert to death panels……the problem is you can only stall for so long and finally the other side figures out what you’re up to…….the Democrats were always going to get some sort of reform package because elections have consequences and that means they get to have quite a lot of say about what goes in the final package (Sinz please note….it’s called the democratic process with a small d)……they didn’t get the PO but otherwise they got everything they wanted and the PO is not going away……it could be tacked onto another bill and passed on recon at any moment so that will keep McConnell awake at nights.

    Reply
    Span Ows // Mar 21, 2010 at 5:39 pm

    Is it over? The abortion agreement announced earlier – is it genuine? – should give the DEMs enough.

    Reply
    lowandslow // Mar 21, 2010 at 5:43 pm

    diddle,
    “Governance in Washington, the framing of legislation, should involve both sides of the aisle.”

    You and Frum are looking at this in political terms, this bill isn’t about politics, it’s about ideology. This wasn’t Health Care Reform legislation, this bill is nothing more then a mechanism to implement the government takeover of the healthcare industry. There were no deals to be had, the insurance mandate isn’t about giving people access because it won’t and there’s no cost saving measures in the bill because it isn’t about cost. The only reform in the bill is lower quality and amount of care and more unfunded liability.

    Reply
    TerryF98 // Mar 21, 2010 at 5:48 pm

    Hey healthcare reform is old news.

    Let’s celebrate then press on with Cap and trade, Immigration reform and getting out of Bush’s wars and recession. All by October.

    Reply
    lowandslow // Mar 21, 2010 at 5:51 pm

    ottovbvs,
    “they didn’t get the PO but otherwise they got everything they wanted and the PO is not going away”

    They did get the public option, it’s just going to take a little longer. Once the mandate kicks in they will have their public option only it will be called your healthcare withholding tax. There is no way it can’t happen.

    Reply
    Healthcare Reform will PASS today! – PreCentral Forums // Mar 21, 2010 at 5:55 pm

    […] author David Frum had a very revealing blog entry today. Among the interesting items (bold items mine): […]

    Reply
    johnt1977 // Mar 21, 2010 at 6:03 pm

    The Democrats forced through an unpopular and disaster of a bill through parliamentary procedures and backroom deals. It’s a slap in the face to the American public. Republicans should be proud of their no votes. As for negotiations, it wasn’t Republicans, but the Democratic leadership that made it clear early on that there would be no real negotiations. Any compromises by Republicans would only serve to legitimize the bill.

    Reply
    tomtom // Mar 21, 2010 at 6:04 pm

    Wow. I see a lot of passionate assertions but little argument.

    Of course Republicans could have had a lot of influence. The Democrats just barely managed to push this through, and the lack of a single Republican vote denies critical political cover come November. OF COURSE they would have compromised.

    HCR is not single payer (unlike Medicare, which is nonetheless beloved by Republicans everywhere). It keeps the present employer-based system and private insurance. Describing it as the dream plan of the far left is fantasy – the far left can barely stand it.

    It really is quite close to Romneycare and the plans the Republicans put up against ClintonCare in the 90’s.

    The Republicans decided to go zero sum on this one, and the problem with zero sum is that when you lose you lose 100%. Considering the Republicans almost pulled it off it is hard to say it was a bad decision except with the benefit of hindsight, but it did not work, and it is not leaving the Republicans well-positioned as the rather moderate reality of the bill sinks in with the nation at large. A lot of people will start to wonder why it was described in such apocalyptic terms.

    Reply
    MSheridan // Mar 21, 2010 at 6:05 pm

    A huge setback for Republicans, yes, but their biggest problem is that their agenda has become literally incredible. The wider electorate wholly disbelieves the rhetoric about smaller government coming from Republicans and isn’t sure why it should want it even if it did believe. Moreover, Republicans have no sustained track record of follow through except on tax cuts that benefit the wealthy alone (estate tax, anyone?).

    The one Republican leader who actually substantially lowered taxes on the middle class was Reagan, although of course he lowered taxes on the rich a heck of a lot more. While lowering taxes, he instituted the beginning of an orgy of deficit spending under Republican Presidents that has near bankrupted the nation. Next to “borrow and spend,” the old accusation leveled at Democrats of being “tax and spenders” starts looking fiscally responsible in comparison.

    Then we get a fiscal meltdown (under a Republican President too, although that was largely coincidence) and when economists on the left, middle, and right all say that government action is imperative to prevent utter catastrophe, the opinion makers of the Republican Party come out swinging against it. The American people aren’t stupid; they’re just not usually paying much attention. We’ve been paying much more attention the last few years. One party looks (at least in the light available) more adult than the other. The Tea Partiers may not be Republicans, but they seem affiliated and haven’t exactly helped the Republican image by engaging in exactly the same sort of attention-grabbing publicity stunts that for so long have been derided (rightly or wrongly) when engaged in by the left wing of the Democratic base.

    When Republicans stop sounding unhinged and start talking about fiscal conservatism in terms other than the looniest sort of supply side voodoo economics (a Republican originally came up with that phrase), maybe they’ll win more battles. However, I don’t think they can at this point. Conservatives like Frum used to be comfortable in the party. Heck, he wrote speeches for a Republican President. Now? Now he’s practically in exile for holding positions which are not remotely liberal but have a fairly consistent conservative worldview behind them.

    I actually feel slightly sorry for him.

    Reply
    mlloyd // Mar 21, 2010 at 6:06 pm

    the gap between this plan and traditional Republican ideas is not very big.

    Exactly. This is the Dole/Baker plan. This isn’t that big a policy defeat.

    The Democrats negotiated away a whole bunch– ie, the public option– in exchange for zero Republican votes. Grassley favored an individual mandate a few months ago; once it became part of the proposal, he pretended to believe that it was unconstitutional. http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/archives/individual/2010_02/022592.php

    I don’t see why this is all that bad for the GOP, except to the extent that it boosts Democratic morale.

    Reply
    Jefferson Smith // Mar 21, 2010 at 6:06 pm

    I don’t quite understand the argument here. If the plan the Democrats are passing has such a good Republican pedigree (Romney, Heritage Foundation, etc.), then how is this such an “abject and irreversible defeat” for Republicans? Seems like you could just as well argue that it’s a delayed victory for moderate conservative governance: What were once Republican proposals have become the new doctrine of the Democratic Party, shoving aside most of what the left wing of that party actually wants (single-payer etc.). Big win for the Heritage Foundation! All they had to do was be patient, and eventually a Democratic president and Congress did their dirty work for them.

    The “Waterloo” thesis seems to me more plausible if argued this way: 100% Republican rejectionism clarifies the issues going forward. If the idea that you can’t be arbitrarily denied health care in this country becomes popular — as it is in every other Western country, and in this country for senior citizens — then Democrats can run campaigns for the next 30 years reminding voters that the Democratic Party gave them this with zero help and nothing but obstruction from Republicans, who stood foursquare in defense of insurance company recissions and other such practices that will be looked back upon in horror. And particularly if Republicans run, as they swear they’re going to, on repealing reform, it will be very easy to make that case: “My opponent wants to go back to the days when you could be thrown off your insurance, when you and even your children could be denied coverage for pre-existing conditions.” NOW you’re talking Waterloo.

    Reply
    booch221 // Mar 21, 2010 at 6:10 pm

    “There were leaders who knew better, who would have liked to deal. But they were trapped. Conservative talkers on Fox and talk radio had whipped the Republican voting base into such a frenzy that deal-making was rendered impossible.”

    I must disagree. Republican congressional leaders Mitch McConnell and John Boehner made a conscience decision to kill HCR from the very beginning.

    If they cannot stand up to the Limbaughs, Becks and Hannitys, then they don’t belong in leadership positions. Instead they aligned themselves with the conservative entertainment industry, and hoped it would carry them to victory. Sad and cynical.

    Reply
    lowandslow // Mar 21, 2010 at 6:15 pm

    “HCR is not single payer (unlike Medicare, which is nonetheless beloved by Republicans everywhere). It keeps the present employer-based system and private insurance.”

    It does no such thing, what is wrong with you people? It’s designed to eliminate the employer based system and private insurance. That’s all the mandate is about. Didn’t you ever ask yourself why the fine for employers not providing access is so low? Did you stop and think why the fine for private citizens not having insurance is so low? Why in the world would anyone buy insurance until they’re sick? There’s no reason to when the fine cost less then insurance.

    Reply
    (Ind.-NYC) // Mar 21, 2010 at 6:22 pm

    David, thank you for expressing all of the reasons I’ve been remarkably uncomfortable with the direction the Republican discourse has taken. As an independent (who admittedly probably leans a little to the progressive side on welfare issues), I just find it difficult to listen to the Republican party on this issue. Firstly, I do note that a lot of this policy reflects a number of proposals put forth by the Republican party in the past, and that according to the CBO it makes inroads towards deficit reduction. I find the Republican proposal but forth by Rep. Boehner entirely underwhelming in that it doesn’t go as far on the scale the CBO measures (numbers insured, deficit reductions, cost reductions). The Republican retort to move slowly on this issue because of the complexity of this nation smacks of the sort of “American Incrementalism” that is extremely unbecoming.

    The second (and most critical) factor that turns me away is the viciousness of the way this has been debated. When you have people calling the President a socialist; reputedly calling members of the loyal opposition by racial and homophobic epithets; being filmed mocking those in need; and unfurling ridiculous banners that amount to a call to armed violence against government; and when you foster all of this by asserting the existence of nefariously-named politburo’s like “death panels”: how am I supposed to take you seriously? How can I possible listen to any alternative policy that you crafted?

    Reply
    theod // Mar 21, 2010 at 6:23 pm

    Frum is the first to not recognize that the current Republican Leadership he excoriates here is composed of the logical successors of the Atwater/Rovian/Gingrich/Luntz/FOX-style of politics. He liked it a lot better when it put people like himself in positions of greater influence. Now that it has degenerated to its base level of foolishness, he’s concerned and ringing his hands. He also, of course, fails to identify the leaders who knew better and yet didn’t have the guts to countermand FOX/McConnell/Boehner. He also fails to acknowledge the Southern Rump of Racism prevalent in the Republican Party, from Birtherism to racist jokes & graphics (see NRCC Fundraiser PowerPoint Display).


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