Transcript: Thom Hartmann asks David Frum how to stop the right wing crazy train from taking over their party. 24 Mar '10.

Thom Hartmann: Well, Republicans are valiantly trying to stop modifications to the Senate bill that was signed into law yesterday, the health insurance, not health care, health insurance reform. And it’s David Vitter and others putting forward these amendments, trying to slow it down and blow it up. Still operating off the play book that if they can just somehow damage the Democratic Party or make things not work the way that Obama wants them to work, that that’s going to adhere benefit to the Republican Party over time.

It’s, I wrote an op ed a couple of years ago that was widely circulated on the web called "Republicans - Please Take Back Your Party " recalling the days of, you know, my growing up in the 50s and 60s and my father was literally a life long Republican, died a Republican just a couple of years ago, and an activist Republican. And as a kid I went door to door for Barry Goldwater, in 1964, I was 13 years old, and with my father. And I remember the Republicans of that day and it seems like they’re all gone. Where are the rational Republicans? Where are the Republicans that you can actually have a reasonable debate with?

And I think that the, one of the few lone voices left in that realm is David Frum, the former speech writer for George W. Bush and among other things in his website, he’s the conservative journalist and author, his most recent book, “Comeback: Conservatism That Can Win Again”, the former special assistant to President George W. Bush for economic speech writing, and his website, David, welcome to the program.

David Frum: Thank you so much.

Thom Hartmann: Before we get into the gist of this, I had a caller in the last hour who called and spoke very glowing, I teased the fact that you were coming up in the next hour, and spoke very glowingly of your mother as a reporter in Canada, apparently your family, your parents anyway, were Canadian. And that he said she was so good that he never had any idea what her politics were. And he was curious where you got your politics from and what you thought of your mother’s politics.

David Frum: Oh well I would talk all afternoon about this.

Thom Hartmann: You were what?

David Frum: We could talk all afternoon about this. My mother was a, just one of the most remarkable, no the most remarkable person I think I’ve ever known. She was the host for 10 years of a program called “As it happens” which is the ancestor of "All Things Considered" in the United States as a knock off of a program invented in Canada and then to return the favor, that the CDC where she worked knocked off "Night Line" and she hosted the Canadian knock off of "Night Line" for ten years.

Thom Hartmann: Wow.

David Frum: She was a genius interviewer. And somebody once asked her what was the secret of her success as an interviewer, and she said, ask short questions. And you think, well, that’s not much of an answer. Except when you watched her you realized what that meant was you have to delete all personal ego, you’re not the star, the guest is. You have to know exactly where you’re going with your line of questioning, you have to pare away everything that’s inessential, you have to be prepared, you have to be ready. And she had her politics, she started, I think, she started as a kind, in the ‘50s as a kind of Kennedy style liberal went, I think, somewhat further left than that in the late 60s and late 70s and became in the Canadian context somewhat more conservative than that in the 1980s. And we disagreed, when I was young I disagreed with her a lot politically. But the thing I learned from her and this is maybe germane to our conversation today, was her method. She always knew what she was talking about. She always questioned, she questioned other people’s beliefs but her own even more intensely. And it’s always easy to judge everyone else in the world by one standard and your second by a kind of sloppier standard and she always judged herself by the hardest standard of all. And that example is the one that you know…

Thom Hartmann: Sounds like…

David Frum: I don’t live up to it very often, but on my good days I do, I come close.

Thom Hartmann: Sounds like both a great mother and a good mentor. We’re talking with David Frum, his website. This article that you wrote, a special to CNN, it’s CNN published it, titled "How GOP can rebound from its 'Waterloo'", has gotten a lot of coverage. And you’ve been talking about this in the media a lot. I’d like to start with toward the end where you talk about "The vitriolic talking heads on conservative talk radio and shock TV", I’m quoting you, "have very different imperatives from people in government. Talk radio thrives on confrontation and recrimination". You talk about Limbaugh, you say when he said that he wanted Obama to fail he also wants the Republicans to fail, you say, because if Republicans succeed Rush’s listeners get less angry, if they’re less angry, they listen to the radio less and hear fewer ads for Sleep Number beds. And I would like to respectfully suggest or submit for your consideration and discussion that it’s not that Limbaugh wants Democrats or Republicans to fail, it’s that Limbaugh has his own world view, his own ideology and he’s been quite consistent to that since the, since ’87 when he went on the air, he was consistent to it before that, before he was nationally syndicated. And he’s still largely consistent to it and I don’t think he cares one way or the other.

David Frum: He doesn’t care about, sorry, about?

Thom Hartmann: About whether we end up with a Republican or Democratic president. He knows if there’s a Democratic president, his ratings are gonna go up slightly and he’s gonna make a few million more bucks but he’s already making 400 million bucks I mean its, this is not about that, I really don’t think.

David Frum: OK. Let me quote Rush Limbaugh, he gave an interview to Zev Chafets of the New York Times magazine a little while ago and he was showing uh Chafets around his extraordinary mansion in Palm Beach. And he says, I’m reading from the New York Times magazine of 2006. “Do you know what bought me all this? Not my political ideas. Conservatism didn’t buy this house. First and foremost I’m a businessman. My first goal is to attract the largest possible audience so I can charge confiscatory ad rates. I happen to have great entertainment skills, but that enables me to sell airtime.” So it’s not, I don’t want to traffic in people’s motives unless they tell me what they are. If they tell me what they are, I think it’s fair to say. I guess the motives you have are the ones you tell me you have.

Thom Hartmann: Well I think, you know, the first goal of everybody in commercial radio or commercial talk radio, any kind of commercial radio or television, has to be entertainment. You know, if you don’t produce an entertaining show your politics are never gonna get heard.

David Frum: I understand that but there’s a degree, there’s also a degree of how, there’s a certain, you know, everyone is in the business of gaining an audience for ideas. But the ideas can have more or less weight. But one of the things we know, one of the reasons why the political discourse is so vitriolic and enflamed right now is because the country is not doing very well. People are in trouble. They want answers. They need answers. And they have to have somebody that they blame, because things have gone so badly wrong for so many people.

Thom Hartmann: Yeah. It’s, there’s always an other out there. We’re talking with David Frum,, what advice do you have as a Republican to stop what Christine Alexander, our host here in the morning, calls the right wing crazy train, from taking over their party. How do you get it back?

David Frum: Well I think that things are going to get a little bit worse before they get better. But I think we are going to see first Republicans are going to be surprised, they’re not going to do as well in these 2010 elections as they think.

Thom Hartmann: I agree with you.

David Frum: And they’re going to discover also that there are elements of this Obama care plan that are very popular with key Republican constituencies, the over 65 and small business. And we are going to have to shift to fit, identifying the things that are specifically wrong, and I’ve got a lot of specific things to suggest, and then working on reform and revision from within our values.

Thom Hartmann: Sure.

David Frum: And the more we do a pragmatic politics that is based on meeting people's needs, the more specific it is, the less enflamed it’s going to be.

Thom Hartmann: When it was obvious that this bill was going to be basically an Eisenhower Republican kind of bill, and we just have a minute left here David, I’m sorry, wouldn’t it have been smarter politics for the Republicans to embrace it and claim it as their own?

David Frum: Well look, there are a lot of things we don’t like. We don’t like the marginal tax rates, we don’t like the way it’s financed, we don’t like the expansion of Medicaid. But the exchanges were an idea invented by Heritage Foundation and we could have worked with that back when it was in Max Baucus’s committee. He’s the 45th most liberal member of the Senate, not very liberal.

Thom Hartmann: Right, just declare it a compromise, you know. Yeah, there are a few things we don’t like, some things we do like. This could have been a bipartisan victory I think for the Republicans and instead they’ve activated the crazy train.

David Frum: It would have had to have been a skinnier bill but yes I think that was doable.

Thom Hartmann: Yeah, amazing. Okay. David Frum, FrumForum, you can read all about it over there,, David thanks for dropping by.

David Frum: Thank you, bye bye.

Thom Hartmann: Good speaking with you. Um, interesting. The future of the Republican Party. Is it going down the, down the tubes? I am thinking that all conventional wisdom is going to be out the window in the 2010 election and we’re gonna see a Democratic win.

Transcribed by Suzanne Roberts, Portland Psychology Clinic.

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