The Spectacle Blog

Frum Targets Levin Again

By on 7.28.09 | 12:30PM

Mark Levin is once again targeted by David Frum. Sometimes these kinds of debates get lost in the whirl of personalities. When one deals with someone as reticent as Levin, who always has to be prodded to speak his mind, this can be a problem. Under a post titled "Quit Whining" over at his New Majority website Frum tries to convince that Levin, whose business it is to make other people whine -- a task at which he is remarkably proficient -- has written a book "suffused with this message of doom." Inexplicably, Frum then describes Levin's bestselling Liberty and Tyranny (now in its 17th week on the New York Times bestseller list) as "excellent." Whatever.

Unintentionally, Mr. Frum has fingered precisely what's wrong with the approach of Republican "moderates" or "neo-Statists," as Levin might say. Having read Levin's book from cover to cover and reviewed it, I sense not a scintilla of "doom" in these pages. Levin is a seriously credentialed Reaganite, which among other things by definition means he shares the late president's affinity for bold colors and optimism. But even if one were unaware of that, the hard fact is that it is not Levin or his book but the "Statist" argument that is the greatest purveyor of doom and gloom. And if one is a "neo-Statist" as Frum has apparently become, the idea is to be gloomy but just not as gloomy as the Statist. Sort of gloom-lite.

At the core of the Statist is the drive for control, or, as Levin all too accurately puts it, "an insatiable appetite for control." This appetite is nothing if not fed by a sense that the world will go to hell in a hand basket unless the government controls…let's see…automobile manufacturers, banks, financial institutions, your health care, your kid's school…etc. etc. etc. down a list that truly is eternal. From what's served up at Applebee's to what you say on your college campus, the driving force is control, control, control. But why?

Because of an absolute reflexive horror at individual freedom. And contrary to Frum's point that freedom is not popular in "Gaza and Waziristan" and Paris, Stockholm, London, Toronto, Buffalo and New Orleans, one only has to ask the obvious: What is it that gives whoever is in charge in these places the drive to do whatever they do, whether for good or ill? A drive for freedom. No freedom in Gaza? Who runs Gaza? Hamas -- a bunch of thugs who are so insistent on their own freedom to be thugs they enforce that freedom at the point of a gun.

This said, Frum is right to say that "apocalyptic despair" on the part of conservatives is wrong. From some of what he says it sounds as if he's having a debate with himself. The gloomy gus who elitely views us outliers outside the Beltway as part of some sort of "Cult of Rush" -- versus a Frum who sends up the occasional bubble of optimism as if he were having a bit of an intestinal moment. 

The Levin book I read is filled with the zest of the happy warrior. OK…maybe the occasionally cranky warrior. But gloom and doom from Levin? Not only is this not so (that's a smile he's wearing on the cover of his book. Really!), it's a real safe bet that nearly 1 million copies of his book would not have been sold nor would his radio show be as popular as it is if all he had to offer was despair. Americans -- God bless us one and almost all -- simply aren't culturally built that way. They aren't buyers of gloom and doom. Ask Jimmy Carter, who is still licking those 1980 wounds from trying to sell "malaise."

Almost a million people buying a book that tells them to get under the bed, it's over? I don't think so. Why do you think Air America fails and Levin succeeds? Because at its heart, we don't live in a Frumpy country.

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