a citizen’s journal by Thomas Nephew

David Frum and a Tale of Two Spotlights, Maybe Three

Posted by Thomas Nephew on March 29th, 2010

Last Sunday, conservative and former Bush speechwriter David Frum had the temerity to criticize Republican strategy in the wake of the health care and insurance reforms passed on Sunday.

Last Tuesday, the Wall Street Journal lashed out at him, claiming he “now makes his living as the media’s go-to basher of fellow Republicans, which is a stock Beltway role.”

Last Wednesday, David Frum was forced out of his position at the American Enterprise Institute.  Like others, I had a good time with the news, suggesting a paragraph on the AEI “About Us” page be rewritten as

“The Institute’s community of scholars is committed to expanding liberty, increasing individual opportunity, and strengthening free enterprise. AEI pursues these unchanging ideals through independent thinking, open debate, reasoned argument, and by firing anyone who disagrees with us.”

Scott Horton, in What Frum’s Firing Tells Us About Politics Today, writes that event

…tells us a good deal about AEI and the current dynamics within the Republican camp. In today’s AEI, policy experts aren’t there to do analysis and give advice—they’re there to serve as made-to-order propagandists. Differing views are not wanted.

And that’s true.  But what’s also interesting is how little Frum’s views differed from a Republican Party’s of not so terribly long ago, and how embarrassing they could and should have been for Sunday’s victors, not its vanquished.  For the centerpiece of what Frum wrote was this (emphasis added):

“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.

And it’s true — even Nancy Pelosi and liberal columnist E. J. Dionne tout the Republican antecedents of the current legislation, identifying its ancestors in Heritage Foundation proposals of the early 1990s, the 1996 Dole campaign, and of course (however much he now hates to admit it) Mitt Romney’s Massachusetts health care bill of 2006.  And they celebrate that.

Imagine two spotlights illuminating a stage, one with blue light, one with red; there’s some overlap, and a small bluish dog squats there, producing small bluish dog output.  To its right, a tethered Doberman gnaws on a couple of bloody bones, with older ones gnawed clean and abandoned stage left.  When the Doberman’s occasional snarls frighten the little blue dog, it invariably wags its tale and briefly assumes a submissive posture.

A frumpy little man on stage right has taken a hesitant step towards the little blue dog, hand outstretched, but when he turns to his compatriots to urge them to follow him, they snarl and bar his way (perhaps with sharpened car radio antennas, but my view from the peanut gallery isn’t the best.)

The observation of a few minutes reveals both fields of light are drifting rightward across the stage — looking closer, one sees little piles of bluish dog output labeled ‘NAFTA,’ and ‘welfare reform’ showing the progress.  Indeed, the red field of light is already partly off stage, revealing angry people wearing tricorn hats festooned with teabags. Sounds of sawing , hammering, walls collapsing offstage, suggest that their efforts are concentrated on expanding the stage rightwards; unfinished, even sloppy looking work onstage suggests something like this has succeeded before, while what sounds like the screams of torture victims promises the new stage right will be a good deal more unpleasant than the present one.

But while the red light field stays about the same size as it begins its exit stage right, the blue light field widens — losing intensity imperceptibly at first, but more and more as it widens to cover a third of the stage — while it drifts rightward as well.

The left side of the stage is now largely dark, except for one small, paralyzed green field of greenish golden light illuminating a corner.

Aside from the lighting, the sounds, and the puzzling action on the set, spectators notice that the theater is gradually getting uncomfortably warm, and that pools of water are forming under the lowest rows of seats.

I don’t have an ending worked out for my little scenario.  The likeliest one is that a new stage right is built, and the new center stage is somewhere to the right of where the little frumpy man was when he tried to pet the little blue dog.

But the one I’d like better goes like this:

Suddenly, to the astonishment of the blue dog, the Doberman, and the teabag wearers, a kettle drum strike signals the beginning of growth of the green and golden field of light.  In the stage that light newly illuminates, we see banners with words and slogans like “350,” “Reduce Military Spending,” “End the Wars,” “Torture: Never Again,” “Medicare for All,” “Unions Make Us Strong,” “Corporations Are Not People”, “Elections: Not For Sale,” and “Of the People, By the People, For the People.”

A group of people young and old, black and white, poor and comfortable, clad in suits and overalls take up those banners.  Then both they and growing numbers streaming towards them from weakly lit blue and even some red parts of the stage march to the middle of that stage under a widening, intensifying pool of green light and occupy it — ignoring both the little blue dog and the Doberman.  The sounds of sawing, hammering, and screams dwindle from offstage right, then end altogether.

And now that the left side of the stage is finally illuminated, we see there’s a good deal more of it than we first suspected, with figures as diverse as suffragettes, sharecroppers, Kansan farmers, abolitionists, and mine workers coming to life before our eyes — a lost world become a new world once again.

And while the theater inexorably continues to get warmer, and the water continues to rise, we at least have the hope that we’ll face that together, instead of at one another’s throats.

2 Responses to “David Frum and a Tale of Two Spotlights, Maybe Three”

  1. Tracy Says:

    I read your comment on David Frum’s site and followed that link here. I haven’t read anything else yet, but I’m loving what you wrote above. It was so amazingly expressed. I’m still not sure how to reconcile my hope for an ending like the one you fantasized with the despair that such an ending just isn’t possible. :0(

  2. Thomas Nephew Says:

    That’s really very kind of you, thanks.

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