Thursday, September 03, 2009

What's David Frum's point here?

His full post:
Bruce Bartlett sends this email:
I’ve been thinking lately that conservative elites are reaching a moment similar to that which confronted liberal elites in the late 1960s. At first they saw the rise of SDS, the Black Panthers and other extreme left groups as cannon fodder that could be used to achieve liberal goals. (Norman Podhoretz goes into detail on this point in Breaking Ranks and Tom Wolfe made fools of them.) But one day liberals realized that the extremists couldn’t be controlled and threatened anarchy. I read somewhere that the seminal event was when student radicals threatened to burn the Harvard library. This sort of thing led to the rise of neoconservatism (not the foreign policy variety, but the original one). I think conservative elites today see the teabaggers, birthers and other kooks as cannon fodder for larger conservative goals the same way liberals originally saw student radicals in the 1960s. I think one day soon something like the Harvard library burning is going to make conservatives realize that these people present more of a threat than a tool for advancing conservative goals. I hope it doesn’t involve an assassination or Oklahoma City-type event. But you can’t pour fuel on the fires of peoples’ emotions the way Glenn Beck does on a daily basis without getting an explosion at some point.
Bartlett’s comparison is thought-provoking, but I think fails for the following reasons:

1) The radical left of the 1960s was not “cannon fodder” for liberal elites. On the contrary, liberal elites were the principal target of the radicals. Student radicals hated Clark Kerr and Robert McNamara as much or more than they hated J. Edgar Hoover or Richard Nixon. The Panthers despised the civil rights leadership at least as much as they hated George Wallace. Today’s angry conservative base by contrast directs its rage across the partisan divide.

2) Liberal elites kept a much greater distance from the radicals than conservative elites do. Can you imagine the Sulzberger or Graham family giving a platform to the left-wing equivalent of Glenn Beck, in the way that Rupert Murdoch has done?

3) Both sets of elites feared their militant base. But while liberal elites feared that the student radicals and black radicals would attack them, today’s conservative elites fear that the angry Republican base will withdraw their support from them.

4) Violence was integral to the 1960s left, and especially to the Black Panthers. On the right, so far there’s plenty of paranoia but thankfully nothing remotely like the cult of revolutionary violence that wrecked so many lives in the years 1965-1975.
Frum seems to be saying that today’s angry conservative base:
  • Is not directing its anger at conservative elites.
  • Is being cossetted by Murdoch.
  • Are "wanted" by conservative elites (for their votes and noise making capacity).
  • Not violent (yet).
On the whole it appears that Frum is saying that today's angry conservative phenomenon is worse than the Black Panthers because there's no daylight between them and the conservative elites.

That sounds strange coming from Frum.


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