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David Frum

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Why I Am Still a Republican

Posted: 10/25/11 01:58 PM ET

Recently, Tablet magazine ran a profile of me by Michelle Goldberg that remarked, "These days the former Bush speechwriter sounds more and more like a Democrat."

Michelle had in mind items like this blogpost, in which I enumerate the ways the GOP is wrong about the present economic crisis.

That latter post prompted a rejoinder from Scott Galupo at US News. Galupo's comment is especially noteworthy since he's a former staffer to Speaker John Boehner and a writer for the Washington Times. Galupo says of my "GOP is wrong" list:

"This is, to put it mildly, an exhaustive and damning litany. But the actual point of Frum's blog post was that former Gov. Mitt Romney kinda-maybe-sorta doesn't agree with this consensus, and therefore offers the best hope (but only a "slender" hope!) that the Republican candidate will be on the right side of the 'most urgent economic issue of the day...'


"I have to ask: Dude, why are you over there? You just more or less said you're going to vote for the guy who might agree with you and not for the guy who definitely does.

"As someone who's working through these issues myself, I'm being sincere here; I'm not playing 'gotcha.' This seems like an awfully risky bet.

"David: What's the dealbreaker for you?"

Galupo's question is one I hear a lot, both from puzzled Democrats and from annoyed Republicans.

My answer begins on this basis:

Yes I am dismayed that my party is wrong on the most urgent issue of the day. But in addition to what is most urgent, I am guided by concerns that if less immediate remain very important -- and on which I trust the GOP more than I trust the party of Barack Obama.

  • The Republicans are the party of American nationalism. We live in a world in which powerful economic, demographic and cultural forces are breaking down the concept of the nation altogether. But if nations don't matter, why should rich Americans care about the distress of poorer Americans -- who, after all, remain inconceivably wealthy by the standards of poor Africans? The flag-and-country themes of the GOP can be kitschy. They also are the indispensable basis of any idea of social cohesion across the vast continent.
  • Republican policies of lower taxes, less regulation, and restrained social spending may be poor medicine for the immediate crisis. But they remain the best formula to support the longer-term growth of the economy -- way better than the Democratic preference for high taxes and opportunistic economic interventions. The difference between the U.S. growing at an average of two per cent vs. three per cent over the next decades will determine not only the life-chances of the next generation of Americans, but the power balance of the planet between the U.S. and China.
  • Like the late Herb Stein, my preferred approach to federal budgeting starts with national defence. Defence and national security are the supreme priority of the state. Only after fully funding defence can you then worry about the appropriate level of spending for everything else, and the appropriate level and form of taxation to pay for that spending.
  • I intensely oppose any aid or subsidy to particular companies or firms except in cases of the most extreme national necessity, e.g. TARP. Solyndra is only the latest example of the zeal of Democratic administrations dating back to Jimmy Carter's to solve America's energy problems by inserting government into the business of "picking winners." Now as in 1977, I say no, no, no.
  • The omnipresent system of racial preferences built since the late 1960s in hope of compensating for the effects of slavery and segregation is not only a moral inequity, but also a practical disaster. The gap in wealth between white and black families -- 10 times greater than the gap in income -- has widened under affirmative action. As the Pew Foundation's research shockingly demonstrates, the children of the black middle-class experience frightening downward mobility, discrediting the most basic assumption on which the racial preference system has been built. And this system is one of the most basic political commitments of the modern Democratic party.
  • I remember that from Teddy Roosevelt and the national parks to George HW Bush and acid rain, real progress on the environment almost always comes under Republican presidents.
  • Public sector unions rank as one of the most important obstacles to the improvement of public services from education to transit. And the Democrats are the party of the public-sector unions.
  • Democrats were wrong on crime from the 1970s through the 1990s, and I'm still mad about it.
  • I believe that the elected prime minister of Israel is a better judge of Israel's national security than the assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs. Democratic administrations typically seem guided by the opposite theory.
  • I admire business people, and the GOP is the party more sympathetic to business concerns and challenges.
  • Modern democracies generate a choice between one party offering more public services and higher taxes and another offering fewer services and lower taxes. Under the pressure of the current crisis -- intoxicated by anti-Obama feelings and incited by talk radio and Fox -- Republicans have staked out an extreme position on the role of government. They are expressing opinions they have never acted on in office and won't act on if returned to office. They're talking to relieve their feelings, always a big mistake. I remain convinced that the Tea Party moment is a passing infatuation, a rhetorical over-indulgence, that will fade as soon as Republicans re-encounter the responsibilities of governing -- just as the Democrats' over-heated MoveOn.org type rhetoric about the war on terror was quietly retired by President Obama in favor of continuing most of the anti-terrorism policies of the Bush years. In a more normal kind of contest between the party of less (not zero) government and the party of more and bigger government, I'm with the party of less government. Especially because I feel confident that as the passions of the current crisis fade, Republicans will return to the kinds of ideas we've been advocating at my website, FrumForum.

For three years, my political party has veered in a direction I cannot follow. And if the GOP insists on framing the 2012 election as a ballot question on fiscal and monetary austerity, or if they nominate somebody manifestly incompetent to do the job of president, they're going to lose me -- and a lot more people beside me.

But I don't believe they will do either of those things. I believe that as the election draws closer, the GOP will recover its bearings and its good sense.

Those of us who publish at FrumForum have taken a stance -- not against the Republican party, but in favor of what we regard as the party's true nature, best traditions, and highest ideals. We remain confident that the party will rediscover those ideals, and as it does so, we'll be here, waiting.