The Spectacle Blog

Who Is David Frum?

By on 10.1.08 | 12:38PM

Did you catch this trashing of Sarah Palin in, where else, the NYT?

"I think she has pretty thoroughly -- and probably irretrievably -- proven that she is not up to the job of being president of the United States," David Frum, a former speechwriter for President Bush who is now a conservative columnist, said in an interview. "If she doesn't perform well, then people see it.[...]"

Now, I don't know David Frum at all well. We've spoken on the phone once during the Harriet Miers uprising and done that across-the-room nod at some event or another. Nice guy. Smart guy. But...one has to say based on the above, if accurate...an elitist guy. Any American conservative should know by know that there are three core qualities needed to be a good president: philosophy, character and good old-fashioned common-sense judgment. Harry Truman, as Frum should certainly know, was your basic New Dealer. But he had the same problems -- almost exactly the same problems -- as Sarah Palin. Which is to say the elites of the day could not stand him. Why? Succeeding the urbane New Yorker FDR, who was Harvard educated and spoke in that famous upper crust accent, New Dealer or not Truman was no FDR. He had only a high school education. He had been a farmer and a farmer's son. He had gone bankrupt as a haberdasher. He spoke in what was called at the time a "Missouri twang." The accent grated on the ears of Easterners, and was expressed in a plain-spoken Midwestern fashion.

Truman used words and expressions like "hooey," "something the cat dragged in," "cut out the foolishness," "get in harness," "come on boys, let's do the job," and "sure as shootin'." "Your Ma," he once wrote daughter Margaret, "put on her best bib and tucker…"

Were Truman seen to be nothing more than a "provincial" he would have gotten off easy. He didn't.

Harold Ickes (FDR and Truman's Interior Secretary and the father of todays' Clintonite Harold Ickes) left the Truman Cabinet in a huff, calling Truman "stupid." Truman, according to biographer David McCullough, was made fun of for his mid-American mannerisms, his Missouri pals, the by now famous devotion to his mother. "Every day is Mother's Day in the White House" went the snicker. The jokes demeaning Truman were rampant in Washington. He was supposedly late for a Cabinet meeting "because he woke up stiff in the joints from trying to put his foot in his mouth." The columnist Walter Lippmann thought Truman an embarrassment. The New York showman Billy Rose "suggested W.C. Fields for President in 1948, saying, 'If we're going to have a comedian in the White House, let's have a good one.." The torrent was so bad Time magazine wrote about "the shrill pitch of abuse heaped upon the President."

"What a test of democracy if it works," wrote one reporter when Truman became president. When a reporter asked Truman if he was the "sublimation of the average man" Truman replied: "Well, what's wrong with being the average man?" Dean Acheson, Truman's Secretary of State and the epitome of an Eastern elitist rose, to Truman's defense. According to McCullough, Acheson saw the man he was dealing with as "straightforward, decisive, honest and, if inexperienced, likely to learn fast." Eventually Acheson called Truman "the captain with the mighty heart."

To return to Mr. Frum of Yale and Harvard Law. The Frum review of Governor Palin reeks hilariously of the same kind of elitism that snapped at Truman's heels. Palin has thus far shown herself, precisely like Truman, to have the wrong accent, a tendency to be plain spoken, use non-elitist phrases ("doggone" escaped from her the other day somewhere on the trail) and, most un-forgivingly, had to work her butt off to get through the University of Idaho. Yet she has already shown in her career thus far a "mighty heart," excellent character, an instinctive understanding of conservatism (her father said she always had -- elitist alert here -- "her nose buried in some book") and, like Truman, if inexperienced an ability to learn fast. Fast enough to suit David Frum or the D.C. Green Room crowd? Apparently not. More ethical then Gwen Ifill, the VP debate moderator from PBS, NBC and the New York Times who signed on to moderate the debate knowing full well she had a pro-Obama book in the works and had done an Obama family puff piece for Essence magazine? Absolutely.

What disappoints is that Mr. Frum over there at National Review has apparently forgotten the wisdom of William F. Buckley. Sarah Palin -- like Harry Truman -- is the embodiment of Buckley's saying that he would rather be governed by the first one hundred people in the phone directory than the faculty of Harvard. For heart, character, common sense and good judgment Mrs. Palin -- like Truman and the British middle class Margaret Thatcher before her -- is hard to beat. Even if she never shows for drinks at the Yale Club.

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