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Why I Like David Frum

National Review contributing editor and former Bush speechwriter David Frum is probably the most intellectually honest conservative in American journalism. Having led (and subsequently won) the fight against his old boss’s shambolic appointment of the unqualified Harriet Miers to the U.S. Supreme Court, Frum has continued to oppose his own side on principle by pointing out the many deficiencies of John McCain’s running-mate, an act of heresy for which he’s been tarred by his fellow NRO bloggers as a dandy arriviste more fond of attending D.C. cocktail parties than blindly supporting any old candidate the Republicans toss up this year. 

Though Frum still supports McCain, that he does so with avowed reservations and that he sympathizes with others who have abandoned the GOP makes him an unwelcome figure in his own house. And never mind that, for all the recriminations he’s put up with on the right, he still finds the time to risk his good reputation with the effete liberal media types by telling the overrated Rachel Maddows to her face, on her own show, that she’s lowering the level of political discourse–a charge that, when Jon Stewart made it of Tucker Carlson, was greeted with yelps of joy on the left.

Anti-intellectualism, like wealth, is best when it’s evenly distributed. And it’s good to see a man standing his ground. Frum’s latest adult intervention into the playpen that is NRO’s Corner blog is to defend the excellent Ann Applebaum. A Thatcherite conservative with an independent cast of mind, Applebaum wrote a column for Slate in which she explained why she couldn’t in good conscience vote for John McCain this year. She did not technically endorse Barack Obama, but just being anti-McCain was enough to tweak the epigones of William F. Buckley, some of whom were even more strongly anti-McCain when Mitt Romney was still a nationally saleable dreamboat.  The problem, of course, is that Applebaum has done more for the cause Buckley made the New Right’s raison d’etre — anti-Communism — than anyone now running around at National Review. That includes the magazine’s deputy editor Kevin Williamson, who wrote:

There are all sorts of good reasons to not vote for McCain — e.g., if you prefer Obama’s policies — but this bit from Applebaum is shabby nonsense. And I find it difficult to believe for a moment that this was some sort of wrenching, soul-searching exercise for the one DC-born/Sidwell Friends-and-Yale-alumnus/Europe-dwelling member of the Washington Post editorial board who was seriously thinking about going Republican this year. Spare us the opera; you’re an Obama voter. Big deal. 

Everything in here smells, from the reflexive and laughable biography-bashing to the suggestion that Applebaum’s piece was some flamboyant sturm und drang exercise in apostasy. (It wasn’t; read it here.) Anyway, Frum called bullshit on this in very handsome terms:

Williamson omitted one item from Anne’s appallingly elitist biography. As well as graduating from Yale, as well as living in Europe, and as well as writing for the Washington Post, Anne Applebaum is the author of the definitive history of the Soviet Gulag. Anne’s history won a Pulitzer Prize in 2004, and has been acclaimed by (among others), Richard Pipes (ex of Ronald Reagan’s National Security Council) and Robert Conquest (who received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President George W. Bush in 2005). Anne’s politics are more centrist than center-right, but she was a vocal and important supporter of Margaret Thatcher during her years living in the United Kingdom. In the 1980s, she lived in Poland and reported sympathetically and at some personal risk on the Solidarity anticommunist resistance movement. I’ve known Anne for almost a quarter-century, and if Anne did not cast her first presidential ballot for Ronald Reagan, I would be very greatly surprised.

Has the tradition of Burke and Chambers really degenerated into such hands?  Buckley, of whom I’m a lesser admirer than most of the so-called "Obamacons," could at least keep lifelong friendships with liberals such as Murray Kempton and John Kenneth Galbraith. And Robert Conquest, I have it on excellent authority, was quite the gentleman to Susan Sontag when they were first introduced. (The author of The Great Terror, who fired a rifle on behalf of the Anarchists in the Spanish Civil War, once lived in Europe, too.)

I’m under no illusion that an Obama administration will usher in a period of American "healing." The politics of polarization has always been with us, and it’s in no danger of expiring in the Age of Blogorrhea. But how sad that those paid to do the hard thinking about the future of conservatism should all rush to prove that they’ve got the intellects of four-year-olds, and the temperaments of Comintern agents.

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