Comeback: Conservatism That Can Win Again Hardcover – Dec 31 2007
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From Publishers Weekly
In his new book, Frum (The Right Man), former speechwriter to President Bush, offers a conservative blueprint for accommodating challenges central to the next half-century of American life. Drawing on his expert knowledge of domestic politics and foreign policy, Frum shows how Republicans must evolve in accordance with the challenges and fluidity of contemporary America to win hearts, minds and elections. After staking out viably conservative positions on the salient political battles in America-healthcare, education, the economy, foreign policy, embryonic stem cell research, taxation and the like-Frum shines when dealing with the grand strategy of taxation, particularly his pro-growth model for accommodating domestic spending obligations such as social security. His analysis is particularly striking in its advocacy for consumption taxation in lieu of taxes that stifle investment and free enterprise. Taxes aimed at upper-class consumers rather than savings and investment is a provocative idea worthy of consideration. And although Frum's ideas are good, if not brilliant, the final chapter, in which he describes the errant behavior of the Bush administration, seems like a tardy rebuke to a president he once called The Right Man.
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PRAISE FOR DEAD RIGHT
“The most refreshing ideological experience in a generation.” – William F. Buckley
“Not just a great book – but a classic.” – Peggy Noonan
“The smartest book written from the inside about the American conservative movement.” – Frank Rich
“The Road to Serfdom of our time.” – Newt Gingrich
PRAISE FOR WHAT’S RIGHT
“One of the leading political commentators of his generation.” –Wall Street Journal
PRAISE FOR HOW WE GOT HERE
“[A]n audacious act of revisionism, written in a voice and style so original it deserves to be called revolutionary.” – John Podhoretz, National Review
“More than any other book I know, it shows how we came to be the way we are.” – Michael Barone
PRAISE FOR THE RIGHT MAN
"An acute analysis . . . [A] look at Bush different from any we've ever seen. Remarkably candid." – Los Angeles Times Book Review
PRAISE FOR AN END TO EVIL
“A radical, even revolutionary, vision of the contemporary world and the role that the United States can and must play in reshaping it . . . a refreshing departure from the postmodernist view of the world.” – New York Post
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Top Customer Reviews
As the race to replace the current Republican President of the United States pushes ahead, Frum provides a deftly written analysis of what lies at the heart of the current American Conservative malaise.
Frum is part of both the Canadian and American political scenes, as a regular contributor to the National Post in Canada and many U.S. publications, and a skillful blogger at the National Review Online. But his stint as the president's speech writer early in the current Administration did the most to raise his profile, particularly south of the border. His tenure as a Special Assistant in the Bush White House is probably best remembered for the phrase, Axis of Evil, used to describe Iran, Iraq and North Korea. Since leaving his White House post Frum has written from the conservative perspective for a lengthy list of high profile publications, and is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.
David Frum's previous work includes The Right Man: The Surprise Presidency of George W. Bush, his insider account of the Bush White House, and his audacious look at the 1970s entitled How We Got Here: The 70's: The Decade That Brought You Modern Life (For Better or Worse). In his more recent work, An End to Evil: How to Win the War on Terror, Frum and his collaborator Richard Perle authored a bold and contentious conservative approach to defeating terrorism and insuring domestic security for the United States.
With Comeback, Frum seems resigned to a Republican loss in the 2008 presidential campaign.Read more ›
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Some of his most thought provoking comments pertain to health care, a special interest of mine. He is concerned that the middle class has been getting a raw deal for the past twenty years, partly due to health care costs. I have studied health care both as a physician and as a gradate student in health care economics. I won't get into details but Frum poses serious questions that Republicans will have to answer if they wish to retain power at the federal level. That section alone, is worth the price of the book.
He has serious questions about foreign policy for the next few decades and criticism of some of the Bush Administration's puzzling decisions about the handling of radical Islam. He has a long chapter on what he calls "Green Conservatism" that poses questions about energy policy. The only good suggestion that Al Gore ever made publicly (Some his private suggestions in the Clinton Administration sound far more practical than his dull public persona would suggest.), was the 50 cents per gallon gas tax. Had this been done in 1992, and the revenues devoted to defense, we would be far more secure. A carbon tax is one of Frum's suggestions.
This is a very practical and intellectual book with ideas that should be debated in the Republican Party. I don't agree with all his suggestions; his education and health care ideas need a lot of study, but the first step in solving a problem is to look at it objectively. This book does that well.
The conservative movement today needs to refresh itself ideologically and to start talking about what its for rather than talking about what its against.
Comments in 2011
Things have moved on since the book was published. While my view of the book is the same, I have nothing favoriable to say about its author anymore. There is a line between supporting conservative solutions to social problems and trying to transform conservatism into Lyndon Johnson style liberalism with social spending run amok at home and wars abroad.
I think the arguments presented in the book are substantially more mild than the thinking behind the arguments have turned out over time to be.
A couple of things that did stand out--Frum calls for a Carbon tax offset by an increase in the child tax credit that seems to make economic sense; it encourages the development of green energy (without the government subsidizing pork barrel issues like corn in Iowa) while also not being punitive to the poor. Frum also basically declares the war on choice dead--he argues that we've reached an equilibrium where pro-live advocates have achieved many of their goals and pro-choice have maintained many of theirs while still respecting state's rights. (At least, I think that's what he's saying).
It's at least somewhat gratifying to note that Frum is ready and willing to admit he was wrong when he championed Bush's presidency and to acknowledge that a harkening back to Reagon economics at this point in time is not going to win any republicans any votes (He states that despite repeated loud and vociferous cries from republican voters that they do not want anymore tax cuts, Republicans keep beating this dead horse).
Many of his claims are not backed up (despite a deep section of footnotes. It seems that some of his claims he must take for granted and thus doesn't feel the need to demonstrate where the claims are supported--this was deeply problematic. I couldn't even go check out the source which makes it difficult to evaluate the data)
The result has been a remarkably stable system of government. The serious student of politics knwos that within the larger party, there is always a dominant faction and that this dominant faction changes from time to time.
For about thirty years, genuine conservatives dominated the Republican Party. With them came the West's victory over the Soviet Union, the freeing of Eastern Europe without bloodshed, forcing welfare and budget reform on the nation and other victories, large and small, including the historic 1994 election victory. Perhaps because of its very success, the Republican Party lost its way and genuine conservatives were shouldered aside.
Now comes David Frum, a Canadian, with his thoughts on how Conservatism can win again.
It is indeed a thought provoking book, but not one that will be adopted as a Conservative bible.
Frum's basic thesis is that conservatives have lost their way, that too many of them have lost touch with the changing public and its views. He is right in his perceptions, but his prescriptions may not be acceptable to real conservatives.
For example, Frum goes on at length about how his proposal for a new way of viewing the abortion issue. I have a better idea, I think: ignore. Just say that the government has no business getting involved with the question at all and take the Republican Party out of a can't win situation.
Frum's suggestions on trying to get people to understand that terrorism is a real problem, on the other hand, are sound as are his suggestions for true reform of public education.
To his credit, Frum doesn't declare that his ideas are the only ideas. They are suggestions to get the debate rolling - and his book is laudable for that. It is, in fact, excellent and thought provoking reading.
One thing Frum can't do in this book, however, is to reconnect conservatives to the leadership of the Republican Party, which truly seems to have lost its way.
Most of his ideas are good in principle. Yes we need to reform healthcare. Yes we need to do something about global warming. Yes the middle class hasn't been doing well for the past 30 years and Conservatives need to admit it and try to do something about it. Etc. But the irony is, post-Comeback, a lot of the issues Frum addresses are things Democrats would be more than happy to do (or have done).
Healthcare: Well, the healthcare reform that just passed Congress looks a lot like Romney's program in Massachusetts (a program Frum addresses positively, though briefly, in his book). It's for the most part market oriented. I know Frum doesn't like the healthcare reform, but it's not clear after reading the book why one should be against such a reform.
Global warming: Clearly a Democratic issue. Frum wants a tax on carbon. Liberal Democrats want that too! But Congress's political middle and right don't. I know Democrats were pushing Cap-and-Trade, but that was supposed to be the compromise. And the reason why the compromise didn't make it was because moderate Republicans walked away.
Helping the middle class: Well, the Democrat's healthcare reform goes a long way. It looks like the GOP will only go along with extending the lower and middle class tax cuts if the rich get their taxes extended too. What's more, Paul Rayan's plan actually increases taxes on the poor and middle class, and lowers them for the rich. And Paul Rayan is very much a respected member of the GOP. Which party is Frum supporting again?
I know this isn't so much a direct criticism of Frum's book. But what I'm doing is pointing out that these issues are being addressed, and to a very real extent Conservatism has defined itself by its opposition to these sorts of issues. So I can interpret Frum's book as tacitly advocating the dismantling of Conservatism, and replacing it with another Democratic party. Obviously this interpretation makes Frum's book look silly.
Another problem I have with the book is that it's not just about advice for the GOP. A lot of it is simply old fashion anti-Democrat statements. Frum gives a few examples of things Democrats do which, he feels, help the rich and unionized labor at the expense of the middle. I didn't find his points very convincing, which is reasonable because he just interjects them and then moves on. So there's not much hope that his comments will convince anyone, unless you already agree that Democrats are awful. It kind of seemed like the point of the comments was just to tell Conservatives "hey really--I'm one of you guys."
Outside of the Democrat hating and policy recommendations, there's not very much else in Comeback. The book is only 180 pages long. I think he would have done his readers a great service if he would have went into more detail regarding why his policy proposals will make America better. Generally, he goes into the Bush-era history of the policies he recommends, gives some examples, and addresses the politics. If he wants to convince anyone that disagrees, he needs to dig deeper and explain the mechanics of his recommendations. In this case, if you wanted those details, you'd have to go to other books, which is a huge disservice to Frum's target audience because most of those books are written by Liberals.
(If you read this David Frum, know that I love you and I really wanted to like the book, but alas I can't do that.)