David Frum: “Health Care Waterloo” [Updated]


Update: Frum yesterday declared in an interview with ABC, “Republicans originally thought that Fox worked for us and now we’re discovering that we work for Fox.” 

Ex-pat Canadian conservative pundit David Frum, (son of the late great CBC journalist Barbara Frum) has declared the GOP defeat on health care reform their Waterloo:

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.

Frum’s punchline: So today’s defeat for free-market economics and Republican values is a huge win for the conservative entertainment industry.” [My italics]

That says it all.  “The conservative entertainment industry” includes all of Fox News: 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 12 months a year, and prominently features the clownish figures who are its most public face: Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin, Sean Hannity.  How can you tell when Fox News pundits are lying?  Their lips move.

Don’t, therefore, believe the reflexively flung ‘conventional wisdom” that the “political fallout” will cost the Democrats congressional seats during the November midterm elections.  If the GOP believed that, they would not be offering a speaking-in-tongues serving of lies and hysteria, including the ludicrously resurrected “death panels”, not to mention this week’s increasingly incoherent scare tactics over “fiscal responsibility”.  Bush and the GOP controlled congress, you’ll recall, threw away trillions in savings by giving tax breaks to the rich while starting two ongoing wars, one of which was supposed to pay for itself with oil revenue.  Since when did the Republicans care about the bottom line?

This vote on health care reform may well be a watershed generational win; a slow but gradual move back toward liberal government whose first interest is in the basic rights and well being of citizens rather than of corporate interests at the cost of everything else.  There’s still a long way to go.  But, irony of ironies, this may indeed, as Frum suggests, prove to be the GOP’s Waterloo — which is exactly what was smugly predicted (and dutifully repeated in the MSM) for Obama himself just two months ago.  Remember Republicans crowing, “Health reform is dead and it’s not coming back”?

Why do Republicans underestimate Obama?  It can only be that they still think they’re dealing with someone no brighter, no more capable, no more courageous, and no more principled than Bush.

That’s some big boo boo.  Perhaps fatal.

This victory for liberalism redefines both the centre and the assumption that government serves the people, and not, as the Republicans would have Americans believe, the other way round.

So it’s a good day for progressives.  It doesn’t mean the job is anywhere near done.  And it certainly doesn’t mean the other side stops being crazy: like the Teabaggers who spat at Rep. John Lewis on Saturday and called him “Nigger” and called Rep. Barney Frank “Faggot.”  But it does mean the crazy can be contained and made increasingly irrelevant.

Let’s be clear: health care is a right of citizenship — and it is both socially and economically productive besides, like education.  Only the American right wing is blind to this, and for entirely self-serving reasons.

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2 thoughts on “David Frum: “Health Care Waterloo” [Updated]

  1. Jonathan Cox

    I would also take issue with Frum’s pronouncement that yesterday’s vote is a defeat for ‘free-market economics.’ Economist James K. Galbraith (son of John Kenneth Galbraith) has written about how, more often than not, the ‘free market’ is most often used in contemporary conservative rhetoric as a kind of disguised metaphor — it’s clear he doesn’t mean ‘metaphor’ in a Frygean sense and that, perhaps, ‘euphemism’ would simply be the better term.

    Galbraith fils writes: “When you hear someone speak of a market, the first question should be, is it real? Is there a commodity, and can one really choose among competing suppliers? If not, there is no market[.]” Also, “decisions about pricing do not flow from a negotiation between the patient and doctor but are based instead on norms established in negotiation among providers, insurance companies, and the government. There is not only no market in health care, there are no markets _within_ health care either. The suggestion that ‘market forces’ might be usefully deployed to regulate prices and quantities in this area runs into the basic difficulty that no such markets either do exist or could exist.”

    It’s clear that in relation to the United States’ health care system, ‘free market’ applies only as a euphemism for ‘profit motive’ and not for a genuinely free, competitive market. This, of course, is clear from both the progressives’ demand for a public option that would increase competition and from the insurance companies fear of losing ground where there’s money to be made.

    So while I agree that that yesterday’s vote marks a victory of sorts for U.S. progressives who demanded expanded coverage, it’s also true that Frum’s ‘free market’ in no way suffered a defeat, because it was never in play except as a euphemism for something that this legislation preserves.

  2. Michael Happy Post author

    Just to clarify: I don’t subscribe to Frum’s views on anything, Jonathan. It is striking, however, that the man who co-authored the phrase “axis of evil” should so loudly and clearly proclaim this for what it is: a big, big loss for Republicans. The Reagan era is over. It’s true that this particular bill is only a moderate win for big L liberalism, but, hell, Obama’s managed to do in a year what has eluded other presidents for a century. That’s a win, if only by a point or two. But it’s a win also for the notion that government is of, by, and for the people — and that’s why the GOP has been howling and thrashing and intimating it’s armed to the teeth on the issue. They don’t want people to want government. Government is merely for the further enrichment of the already well-connected; everybody else can go hang. Not anymore.


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