David Frum On Republicans And Health Care

Former presidential speech writer David Frum says the GOP made a mistake by not working on the health care bill. The position cost him his job last week at a conservative think tank, but he says the think tank was well within its rights.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Was the first casualty of President Obama's health care bill a Republican blogger? Well, some people think that David Frum, who writes the FrumForum.com, was just that. Frum's conservative credentials are impeccable. He was a White House speechwriter for President George W. Bush.

But he criticized Republicans for approaching health care with the position of no negotiations, no compromise, nothing. He was promptly denounced in a Wall Street Journal editorial and then he was fired by the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington think tank that is generally a base for conservative and Republican writers, although there are some noteworthy exceptions.

David Frum, were you sacked by the American Enterprise Institute because of what you wrote?

Mr. DAVID FRUM (Founder, FrumForum.com): Well, I was given the option of continuing to work but with no salary and no office, so I chose to interpret that as a sacking and handed in my resignation. I have no complaints about that. There is no right to work in a think tank, and these are very privileged positions. Think tanks do have points of view, and they are absolutely entitled to defend them.

SIEGEL: Was it clear to you and to the heads of the AEI that your point of view was a problem for them?

Mr. FRUM: Well, I can't speak to what is in anybody else's head. I can only look at the timing of events. I wrote an article on a Sunday. It was denounced by the Wall Street Journal on a Monday, and I was packing my bags on Thursday.

SIEGEL: Here's what the Wall Street Journal editorial said about you: Mr. Frum now makes his living as the media's go-to basher of fellow Republicans, which is a stock Beltway role.

Mr. FRUM: I have to say that is a very distressing and alarming way for the Journal to talk. I - what I see myself as doing, and especially in this (unintelligible), is upholding some important principles in the face of the largest expansion of government since the New Deal.

In a moment like this, with an economic crisis like this, you have to think with your head, not with your gut. And there's so many conservatives who are so angry, who are so upset and who are being so inflamed by provocative media that they just cannot think rationally about how to deal with the problems we face.

President Obama was not Bill Clinton. He was not elected with 42 percent of the vote. He was elected with 53 percent of the vote. He had a Democratic majority in both houses of Congress. It was much more liberal. At one point, he had 60 seats in the Senate. And the Democrats had read the same history books that Republicans had. They knew what had happened in 1994, when they didn't pass health care, so they were going to. The Republicans made a big bet that they could stop this bill. They refused the opportunity to shape it, and as a result, we have a bill that they didn't stop and that they didn't shape.

SIEGEL: The phrase, which is now attached to your analysis, is this wasn't the Democrats' Waterloo. This, as you would see it, this disaster that befell the Republicans in Congress, this was the Republicans' Waterloo.

Mr. FRUM: This was the Republicans because the Republicans decided that this would be the all-or-nothing place to fight to break the Obama presidency. Instead, it made the Obama presidency.

We, as conservative intellectuals, should not be in the business of making excuses for bad parliamentary decisions by Republican leaders in Congress.

SIEGEL: What do you say to the conservative political observer, who says, look, the polls show this bill is unpopular. They have polls, which show that, and therefore, this is what is going to deliver the House of Representatives to the Republican Party. Blue Dog Democrats in heavily Republican districts will be defeated because they voted for this health care bill.

Mr. FRUM: I would say: You are wrong, and so what? Let's say the Republicans do take back the House of Representatives. Let's say they take back the whole Congress. They're not going to be able to repeal this bill. This bill is a permanent change in American life, and it is a bill of enormous magnitude.

I forget how often the House of Representatives has changed hands since 1965, but Medicare is still there. This bill is forever, and that is I think what is wrong with a lot of the way people talk about this. They would say this is Hitler, this is murdering grandmother, this is the end of constitutional republic in the United States, but we will accept it in exchange for picking up a few seats in November. That strikes me as a very wrong way to think.

Also, I think what Republicans are going to discover is the economy is recovering. They're going to discover that the bill is front-loaded with goodies that people are going to like. It is not going to be as unpopular in October and November as it was before it was enacted.

SIEGEL: Is it true that when you were fired by AEI, or when you left, that you lost health insurance?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. FRUM: I will retain my health insurance for 18 months under the COBRA law, a law that I believe was passed and approved under Republican administrations, and I thank President Reagan and President Bush for their compassion and kindness.

SIEGEL: David Frum, thank you very much for talking with us.

Mr. FRUM: Thank you.

SIEGEL: David Frum, formerly of the American Enterprise Institute. He blogs at frumforum.com.

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