Robert Novak was respected and liked by many, and their memories of him are the memories that deserve hearing today.OK, I'll stop there and if anyone wants to read the rest, they can. But David, do you not see what was wrong with your 2003 article, and what is even more wrong with your untimely defense of it?
But there is one thing about Robert Novak that I have had in mind for some time, and today seems the appropriate moment to say it.
Novak was one of the people I discussed in a still-controversial 2003 article for National Review, “Unpatriotic Conservatives.”
That piece analyzed a group of conservatives so radically alienated from their country that not even the events of 9/11 could rally them to her cause. . . .
First, you did not "discuss" or "analyze" Novak, Buchanan, et al., you attacked them, and in exactly the same manner that liberals have attacked conservatives as far back as Barry Goldwater or even Joe McCarthy.
You did what a friend of mine calls the "Ransom Note Method," cutting and pasting like a kidnapper gluing together words clipped from magazines. You then presented this assemblage as if it constituted a complete file of the essential facts that told us who these men really were.
Nudge, nudge: "They're all Jew-haters!"
Unfair and unfortunate, especially considering that on the issue which was even then being weighed in the balance -- the Bush administration's decision to invade Iraq -- their doubts were ultimately vindicated.
'Cakewalks' Have Consequences
More than 3,000 U.S. troops died to implement that policy, thousands more were wounded, billions of taxpayer dollars were expended and, while the eradication of Saddam's Ba'athist regime was inarguably a good thing, patriotic Americans may reasonably ask, "Was it really worth the cost?"
The domestic political consequences have included the mobilization of a powerful left-wing grassroots movement, the loss of a congressional majority it had taken Republicans 40 years to gain, and the election of the most left-wing Democrat president in our nation's history. As to the foreign-policy results, we can only speculate what mischief may ensue in however many years it takes for American voters to get their bellyful of liberal misrule and regain their traditional good sense. (Assuming, of course, that the Bush-damaged GOP can yet be salvaged as a workable majority coalition, which is at this point a hypothetical proposition.)
For these multiple woes, then, leading advocates of the Iraq invasion must bear responsibility just as, had the invasion turned out to be the "cakewalk" that Ken Adelman notoriously predicted, its advocates would now be fighting over who should get credit for its success.
While future developments might conceivably lead historians to conclude that the Bush administration's policy was altogether wise and beneficial, as matters stand now, the Iraq invasion bids fair to rank as the most tragic folly of imperial overreach since the Athenian expedition to Sicily in 415 B.C.
How, then, can you possibly consider it "appropriate" on the occasion of Novak's death, to attempt to defend your foolish attack on him and others when even many of the most staunch Republican loyalists -- men and women who defended the Bush administration through thick and thin -- now freely admit that Novak, et al., were right all along?
Say what you will, David, but facts are stubborn things, and the facts are not on your side.
Ex-Democrats and GOP Cliques
Let us now leave to future historians to argue the merits of the Iraq invasion, just as Civil War buffs still endlessly argue whether Longstreet or Lee was correct about the tactical situation on July 2, 1863. (Most folks down home derogate Longstreet as a faithless scalawag, but I believe Lee was both sincere and correct when he said he was entirely responsible for that defeat.)
Military considerations aside, then, what of your attempt to smear Novak, along with Buchanan and others both living and dead, with the odious taint of anti-Semitism?
This involves an old intra-Republican feud to which I'd paid little attention before arriving in Washington. Having been a Democrat all my life until 1994 (a story I've told in bits and pieces over the past 18 months, including a thumbnail version at The American Spectator), I little suspected that what I had once dreaded as a mighty Republican monolith was in actuality a middle-school playground of antagonistic cliques.
David Horowitz and Peter Collier have described their own shock, upon leaving their New Left allegiances to support Reagan in the mid-1980s, at discovering the vicious factionalism inside the GOP. To its enemies, the Republican Party inevitably appears to be a carefully managed, well-funded, brutally efficient political machine, staffed entirely by ruthless automatons acting in synchronized lockstep.
This powerful illusion of Republican unity vanishes as soon as, dillusioned by the latest Democratic Party betrayal, the ex-Democrat ventures inside the GOP camp and tries to join up. Immediately, the arriviste finds himself pulled this way and that, urged to pledge his loyalty to one clique, one cause, one ideological posse within the intramural league of Republican rivalries.
Paleo, Neo, Me-o, My-o
Little did I suspect, while yet a Democrat, how bitterly Republicans were torn by Operation Desert Storm. While I thrilled at this brilliant military victory that vanquished the Vietnam Syndrome, from my purely political standpoint as a moderate Democrat, that war had the tragic consequence of destroying the presidential hopes of Sam Nunn.
Meanwhile, unknown to me, the GOP faction led by Buchanan had opposed Desert Storm from the beginning. By the nature of the arguments the Buchanan faction made against that war, they left themselves exposed to the charge of anti-Semitism. We might say, as Antony said of the accusation that Caesar was ambitious, "If it were so, it was a grievous fault, and grievously hath Buchanan answer'd it."
As in every previous and subsequent engagement between the paleocons and neocons, the paleos emerged the embittered losers, while the neos went on to new heights of prestige and influence.
However, allow me now to suggest, David, that in the Babylonian debacle that destroyed Karl Rove's "permanent Republican majority," the neocons have now suffered their Philippi.
You cannot recover from this self-inficted disaster, my friend. Whatever the future holds for the GOP, if the Republicans should recapture their Reaganesque mojo, displace the vaunting Pelosi Democrats and roll onward to new glories, I pray that they will never again commit the errors of Bushism, failing to discern wise counsel from folly merely because the fools were clever enough to accuse the wise of crude bigotry.
Plagiarize Yourself Much?
Your 2003 "Unpatriotic Conservatives" article that defamed Novak and other critics of the Iraq war -- some of them arguable less innocent than Novak -- was not your first exercise in that sort of attack. I am grateful to my friend Daniel McCarthy for having filled the gap in my knowledge on this score:
While at the [Wall Street] Journal, Frum accepted the freelance assignment that would make his name: a 1991 cover story for The American Spectator attacking Pat Buchanan.So, a dozen years before your 2003 National Review cover, you had deployed the same theme in the same situation. When America was at war under a Republican president, you denounced conservative critics of the war in a way calculated to inflict maximum damage on their influence. What could be more damaging than the suspicion of anti-Semitism?
The article, "Conservative Bully Boy," described Buchanan as "everything couth conservatives want to escape" and took aim not just at Buchanan himself -- then contemplating a run against George H.W. Bush for the 1992 Republican presidential nomination -- but also at his paleoconservative and libertarian supporters, including Paul Gottfried, Murray Rothbard, and Thomas Fleming, among others. Frum accused Buchanan of "sly Jew-baiting" -- so sly, evidently, that it slipped past Jewish intellectuals Rothbard and Gottfried, but not the ever vigilant Frum. . . .
The hit on Buchanan earned Frum a book deal with The New Republic's imprint at Basic Books; indeed, Frum reused much of his material on Buchanan and the paleos for Dead Right's chapter on "Nationalists."
It is worth mentioning here that I have various disagreements with Buchanan and some of his supporters. For starters, I am a philo-Semite so staunchly pro-Israel as to make Netanyahu look like a squish. Also, as was true of Novak, I am a resolute free-marketeer who has no use for tariffs, labor unionism, and other such economic deviations to which the Buchananites are sadly prone. (I admit an uncouth nostalgia for the gold standard, but some Austrian School friends assure me that this is actually quite orthodox.)
Despite these various disagreements, however, I cannot bring myself to say that Buchanan and his followers are evil. Nor, in the grand scheme of things, would I consider their support for the Republican Party a net liability to the GOP. If you take a look at the Tea Party crowds and townhall "angry mobs" now striking terror in Democratic hearts, they look a lot more like Buchananites than Frumians.
All of which is to say, as I look at the conservative movement going forward, I think we have seen an end to the era when populists and traditionalists -- Bradford, Sobran, Brimelow, etc. -- would periodically be scapegoated and purged to maintain the standard of "respectability" necessary to sustain the support of a tiny clique of highbrow elitists.
We Don't Need No Stinkin' Elitists!
No more of that. From here on out -- and I think I speak now for a very broad consensus of conservative opinion -- we're rolling like the Hell's Angels on a Labor Day weekend run to Monterrey. If this flagrant contempt for elite opinion causes panic among the effete snobs at the Wall Street Journal, if it offends the tender sensibilities of gentle souls like Peggy Noonan, David Brooks and Rich Lowry -- well, screw them.
And in an ironic way, David, you have helped make possible the new bad-boy conservatism of the future. Let's list a few names of those you have denounced in recent months:
Alas, no one important to the GOP's future is listening to you now. If your conservative credibility were a bank, David, the FDIC would shut it down. So far as any ability to influence rank-and-file conservative Republicans is concerned, you're as bankrupt as Kathleen Parker.
What really makes your renewed ax-grinding against Novak's ghost so risible, David, is your accusation that Novak and friends were "so radically alienated from their country that not even the events of 9/11 could rally them to her cause."
David: You're Canadian.
Case closed. Court adjourned. You are remanded to the custody of Judge Ann Coulter for sentencing.
UPDATE: My previous discussion of the Frum/Novak/Levin feud has now been front-paged at Hot Air.
UPDATE II: More Novak obituary tributes piling up, including this one from American Spectator editor R. Emmett Tyrrell:
He is one of the most loyal contributors that The American Spectator has ever had. Some who have written for us never let it be known in their bios lest they give offense to polite company. Bob never hid his relationship with us and mentions it often in his stupendously informative memoir, The Prince of Darkness: 50 Years Reporting in Washington. . . . He served on our Board of Directors, never flinching when the government haled us before a grand jury or when and the Clintonistas infiltrated into the media tales of our treasonous behavior. During all this hullabaloo I innocently asked Bob what the mainstream journalists thought of us. The mortar fire was pretty heavy. "They think you're obnoxious," he responded. Gee, Bob have a heart!Read the whole thing. Meanwhile, Mr. Tyrrell's indefatiguable right-hand man, Wlady Pleszczynski, posts this video tribute: Special note to David Frum: I noticed your most recent e-mail in my inbox but, due to my chronic e-mail overflow (which my intern has promised to fix as soon as he returns from his holiday jaunt to Florida), it was auto-deleted before I had a chance to read it.
He actually did have a heart and a strong conscience. On the one matter that temporarily ended our friendship he was proved wrong or at least sort of wrong. When that became apparent to him he suggested we dine and smoke the peace pipe. He admitted he had been wrong. I insisted that he had only been a bit wrong. Our friendship was renewed. In all my years as an editor I have only known one other acquaintance to come forward and admit to being wrong. And again, Bob was only sort of wrong, but he had the self-confidence to admit error. He also had the intellect and general competence to fall into error rarely.
Please don't take a non-reply, or the reiteration of my criticisms, as unfriendly gestures. I still want to be your friend, but your relentless ax-grinding against the paleos and populists is passed its sell-by date. I have done what I can to try to persuade my paleo friends to relinquish their own ax-grinding, and intend to do more in that direction.
However, if there is to be a "New Majority" -- a conservatism that can win again, as you say -- it cannot be built on the basis of an elitist disdain for those unruly grassroots activists. Majority coalitions are not built by a process of subtraction, which is what your anti-populist agenda represents. The fact that Bill Kristol continues to say nice things about Sarah Palin should be a warning signal of how badly you're isolating yourself.
I'll be in town Thursday, if you'd like to upbraid me in person for this criticism.