I’m not a political strategy guy. The only time I ever ran for office (class president, sixth grade) I came in third. But I was surprised at some of the response I got from my piece highlighting some legitimate concerns about health care raised by former Bush speechwriter David Frum. A liberal buddy responded to my suggestion that we follow the president’s vision of bipartisanship and work with Republicans when they seem to be making a good-faith effort to improve policy with a “Were you just trolling?” But I wasn’t — not only is it good policy, it’s good political strategy.
Yesterday afternoon, neoconservative bastion American Enterprise Institute showed Frum the door for his critiques of Republican strategy. Frum is no moderate, and it is a sign of how far the Republican Party has moved to the right that the guy who coined the phrase “Axis of Evil” gets defenestrated for not being tough enough. Or — more likely — for being too tough on the real power source of the conservative movement: Rush Limbaugh, Fox News and what Frum called the “conservative entertainment industry.”
But this is an encouraging sign for progressive causes and the Democratic Party. As long as the conservative movement is dominated by Tea Party orthodoxy and spin-job martinets disciplining wonks and the rank-and file, it will continue to shrink its tent. The president’s willingness to sit down and negotiate with reasonable interlocutors across the aisle provides an instructive contrast. On the other side, bipartisan cooperation is verboten and heretics are cast out from the party. On our side, the president sets the tone by continuing to preach bipartisanship. Which of those approaches will play well with independents?
In much the same way as the Obama’s “open hand before the closed fist” foreign policy — an approach that has gotten Europe to line up with us against Iran and is likely soon to achieve a new START Treaty — has been more successful than W’s “with us or against us” cowboy ideology, so will a continued willingness to listen to constructive critiques provide better policy and better political results than refusing to listen to the opposition.