David Frum is the new moderate Republican, but he's still a Republican. I think he's an inveterate straw manner. That's annoying. Here's a recent example:
In December, Obama traveled to the Kansas town of Osawatomie to deliver one of the most important speeches of his presidency to date. There he poignantly described the dimming prospects of the American middle class—and then offered the following policy response: “The over 1 million construction workers who lost their jobs when the housing market collapsed, they shouldn’t be sitting at home with nothing to do. They should be rebuilding our roads and our bridges, laying down faster railroads and broadband, modernizing our schools—all the things other countries are already doing to attract good jobs and businesses to their shores … Of course, those productive investments cost money. They’re not free. And so we’ve also paid for these investments by asking everybody to do their fair share.”
In other words, the president is championing a more active government, not as a way to meet social needs but as a permanent and growing source of middle-class employment. Some of us will work directly for the public sector. Others will be contractors. Either way, many more of us will be working in jobs from which it will be difficult to fire us—and where the government sets more of the terms of employment.
This is very puzzling. The President seems clearly to be addressing short term unemployment and our decaying infrastructure: saying that we ought to address the former by building the latter. He doesn't suggest anything like Frum's "in other words" would suggest. I would also suggest that Obama elsewhere doesn't suggest anything like the "let's increase the size of government and fix everything that way." Had he thought that, we'd have single payer health insurance. But no.
So we have a kind of classic straw man. It seems that perhaps in the age of newspapers, when space was short and expensive, one had an excuse for being so uncharitable. But now the internets have made space cheap. And worse, I can always check what you say against what the person says. In this case even, Frum quotes a passage then immediately misrepresents it. There's really no excuse for this. Anymore. I think.
The funny thing is that Frum's piece is allegedly a response to the alleged weak-manning of the Republican position (by Andrew Sullivan). Sadly, the weak-manning was merely a critique of the cast of characters known as the candidates for President. Sullivan writes:
The right’s core case is that Obama has governed as a radical leftist attempting a “fundamental transformation” of the American way of life. Mitt Romney accuses the president of making the recession worse, of wanting to turn America into a European welfare state, of not believing in opportunity or free enterprise, of having no understanding of the real economy, and of apologizing for America and appeasing our enemies. According to Romney, Obama is a mortal threat to “the soul” of America and an empty suit who couldn’t run a business, let alone a country.
To which Frum says:
Andrew Sullivan had good sport last week shooting fish in a barrel, rebutting the most unfair, the most intemperate, and the most flat-out crazy of the criticisms of President Obama.
Now let’s move to the real debate. You don’t have to succumb to ideological fever or paranoid fantasy to see that the Obama administration is dragging America to the wrong future: a future of higher taxes and reduced freedom, a future in which entrepreneurs will innovate less and lobbyists will influence more, a future in which individuals and communities will make fewer choices for themselves and remote bureaucracies will dictate more answers to us all.
Might be right about those criticisms (Sullivan also attacked the lefty critics too), but those are the criticisms on offer at any Republican debate, on Fox, in the National Review, at the Heritage Foundation, or any other place such people gather. If their view amounts to "fish in a barrel" that's their fault. Frum ought to say: Sullivan is right. These arguments really suck. Sadly they are the most often made. Maybe someone should make this one. But his argument kind of sucks too, so I guess there's that.