I'VE been indulging my increasingly worrisome and incontinent nostalgia with a correspondent and fellow Indianapolitan (we do not call ourselves that, by the way), managing so far to let the confluence of the Underground Railroad, possible Native American forced migrations, the troubling loss of arable land, and the shameful state of legal protection for old cemeteries half-convince me that I'm not more affected by the destruction of the woods where Peggy Clarke let me reach under her training bra. Anyway, fair warning. I try to use this stuff to gauge the progress of Incipient Galloping Geezer Syndrome, so far only self-diagnosed. You're welcome to help.
But, you know, these kids today! When I was a lad, someone like Walter Brennan, who'd won something like six Oscars™, worked as a teevee sidekick. Today, someone who'd just been the fricking sidekick for a season is due international acclaim, and those Oscars™ would have entitled Brennan to the Sub-Saharan African nation of his choosing.
This, then, is the emotional and intellectual mindset with which I approach a Times guest editorial from Frum. Who th' fuck is David Frum? and What's he famous for besides being wrong? Kristol was Quayle's Brain. Frum was Bush's Uvula.
This attitude dovetails nicely into actually reading the piece, which is a nostalgic look backward at the period when "conservatives" could both afford utter obliviousness and get away with it. The titular "Triple Play" is...wait for it!...an imaginary panel discussion! involving the three types of "conservative": economic, social, and political, or "foreign policy". Frum poses the Big Question of 2005:
WHY is the Republicans’ three-legged stool wobbling?
Y'know, I'm just an amateur woodworker, but if I was to hazard a guess I'd say that one of your legs being wholly imaginary isn't helping much.
I mean, really, when has there ever been such a thing as a "Foreign Policy Conservative" who was a discrete species? We've certainly listened for decades to the line about Republicans being "tougher on defense" (read: more willing to throw unfathomable amounts of taxpayer dollars down that particular rat hole). You've even got a candidate over there figured he could run on that alone (The name escapes me. Jewish fellah? How's he doin', by the way?), but he jumped on the Bush Tax Cuts Are The Major Achievement Of Our Times Outside My 9/11 Leadership wagon pretty quick. You might've found a liberal hawk to join in as late as 2006, but they're hardly "conservative" by your standards, and they've all drunk themselves to death by now anyway. You might as well have made one of them a cabbie.
The Economic Conservative:
It’s not my fault that we’re in such trouble.
You foreign policy conservatives got us into this endless war in the Mideast. You’ve driven up oil prices and busted the budget. And you social conservatives: Your obsession with same-sex marriage makes us look as if we’re from the Middle Ages. And why can’t you people pay for your own prescription drugs? The Iraq war was bad, but Medicare Part D could cost at least 15 times as much.
What this party needs is a return to the good old Reagan message: less spending, lower taxes and no more of these weird social and foreign adventures.
All righty. Let's recap, shall we? The Iraq war was conducted from the get-go off the budget. Maybe that's not the technical term, but the administration chose to fight first and ask for money later, including, if you'll recall, avoiding any supplimental spending bills until after November, 2004, to the extent the Pentagon's financial boys had to do some fast shuffling to buy bullets. Name me the Economic "Conservative" who objected to these shenanigans at the time. Name me one who's objected since, prior to the post-'04 meltdown and subsequient realization that the party was in Deep Shit. Just one. Somebody at The Corner. Some guy in Helena with a chain of Vegetarian Poodle Clipperies. Anybody. Isn't "You Broke It, You Bought It" a foundation of Economic Theory, or am I showing my ignorance?
On the other hand, I'm with ya on this Medicare prescription plan business. I would have been earlier, but I didn't understand that "Economic Conservativism" meant "evaluating programs solely according to the projected long-term costs as determined by the Coefficient of Making Shit Up". I'd like to suggest you guys run on it. The day won't be far off when the Republican party once again serves as the unequivocal voice of the Railroads and Eastern banking interests. Long may she wave.
The Social Conservative:
You’re blaming us? It’s our votes that pass your tax cuts — and what do we get in return?
Of course you can’t understand why we care about the marriage issue. You’re rich and secure and highly educated. The divorce rates for people like you have plunged since 1979. With your big new salaries up there, mothers can quit their jobs and stay home with the children — while your illegal-immigrant housekeepers make the beds. Down here, though, it’s still the 1970s. Our wages are stagnant. Both parents need to work, and those megachurches you laugh at provide the day care that makes it possible.
We can’t afford a single mistake. We need government to send consistent moral messages to offset the poison your Viacoms and Facebooks are dripping into our children’s minds.
You got a tax cut. We didn’t. That big increase in the per-child tax credit with which you garnished your big payday? We can’t use it. It’s only credited against income tax, and many of us don’t pay very much income tax. And even if we could use it, it usually gets clawed back by the alternative minimum tax. We are the party — but we’ve got little enough to show for it. It’s about time we ran it.
This is really stunning, and maybe I've misjudged Frum's abilities. It's not often you run into someone who can be wrong about both sides of an issue at once.
(That was my second thought. My first was, I sure wish he'd given his debate squad names, instead of labels. Zeke here sounds like my kinda guy.)
Interesting that Frum seems somehow to have stumbled upon the idea that Ronald Reagan Blesséd Be Thy Name's tax cutting hasn't really done the Tricklees much good, an idea I'm pretty sure I've heard "conservatives" moderately disputing once or twice in the intervening years. And I think you gotta love the fact that some sinecured Establishment Republican imagines th' folks in flyover country musin' over that durn Alternative Minimum Tax while they're tryin' to recollect which pot's fer pissin' and which fer totin' water. Assuming there's two.
Someday--I'm basically an optimist, but I'm disinclined to believe I'll live to see it--but someday, the people these charlatans hoodwinked for decades are gonna figure it out, and when they do Frum's "Economic Conservatives"--the people who have money and yet believe Hillary Clinton is a Communist--are going to regret picking the wrong side in the debates over the Second Amendment.
The Foreign-Policy Conservative:
Have you people gone crazy? Have you forgotten there’s a war on? And that we’re in real danger of losing? Don’t you have any sense of priorities?
You tax guys insisted on fighting this war on the cheap. So we didn’t expand the armed forces after 9/11 — and fought Iraq with half the troops the generals told us we’d need. You social conservatives are happy to talk about putting tariffs on Chinese toys. But the real issue is that the Chinese are underwriting Iranian energy development — and the North Korean weapons program. Can we do something about that, please?
Okay, I was gonna just type "Insert Charlie Brown teacher voice" here, but, again, you gotta love the idea that one "Conservative" faction dreamed up The War, and another figured out how to pay for it. And I still have a soft spot for the argument that we could have changed the manpower equation in Iraq by, you know, changing it. We had three options: 1) Military conscription, which would have taken a minimum of eighteen months to produce trained soldiers in any quantity whatever; whether we had the actual training resources to turn out 200,000 of them, barely trained for some undefined purpose by an administration which did not believe we'd face an insurgency, before the first of them was ready for retirement, is highly doubtful, or, put another way, No. 2) Putting together something like the first Gulf War coalition, which would have meant waiting at least a year while Germany, Russia, and the Evil French were satisfied inspections had not worked, which, of course, we now know would have involved finding that non-existent WMDs were non-existent, which the Bush administration was not going to accept, returning us to square one, except naked this time, or 3) Virtually abandoning every overseas commitment and sending troops--regardless of specialty or training--into Iraq to act as peacekeepers and to counter an insurgency the administration claimed was not going to materialize. Again, the logistics of this, assuming it could even be thought of (we note here that even the delusional idiots who ran the operation we wound up with rejected these three) and international reaction overlooked, is problematic at best; in the event we wound up tossed out of Turkey, and additional troops would have been stacked up in Kuwait for weeks, awaiting attack by those WMDs we had pictures of, remember? Sadly, Frum doesn't mention which of the three methods he'd have employed, or which he personally urged on the President.
But what of fixin' that stool?
Economic conservatives are right to want lower taxes on saving and investment. They need to recognize, however, that supply-side tax cuts are no longer a vote-winner. If Republicans want to hold their down-market voters, economic conservatives must learn to talk about health care with the same urgency, passion and detail that they are accustomed to bringing to taxes and over-regulation.
Not to mention the same lack of shame.
Social traditionalists too need to adapt to new realities. Opposition to same-sex marriage is dwindling. The pro-life cause, though gaining strength, remains a minority point of view. If social conservatives can avoid seeming judgmental or punitive, their core message will become more relevant than ever to an America where marriage is equaling college as a tollgate to the middle class.
Or, somewhat more succinctly, keep voting for us and getting butt-fucked, Jethro. There's a shiny new quarter in it for ya.
Last, foreign-policy conservatives must recognize that crucial blocs of voters have wrongly but unmistakeably put 9/11 behind them. The apparent success of the Iraq surge — along with the National Intelligence Estimate taking Iran’s nuclear program off the table — have transformed 2008 into a domestic-issues year. Uncontrolled immigration has replaced weapons of mass destruction as the supreme security concern.
Hell. Insert Charlie Brown teacher voice.