The banishment of David Frum from the American Enterprise Institute may be one of the best things that's happened to him. He's become a cause celebre. As a newly hot commodity, he'll get gobs of publicity -- a New Yorker profile must now be in the offing -- and website hits for his fledgling FrumForum. But it's not good for the conservative movement, which has regarded his efforts to drag it into modernity with increasing consternation.
Frum has long had the right stuff for the right, working at the Wall Street Journal and for the Bush administration. In recent months he's been staking out somewhat heterodox stands, at least in the context of the conservative movement. Even mild dissent, however, is apparently too much for it to swallow. It has reached the point where, in Bolshevik fashion, it's devouring its own children.
Is Frum really an apostate, a ranks-breaker? No, he isn't. I haven't seen any evidence that Frum, a vigorous polemicist, has fundamentally deviated from traditional conservative positions when it comes to Israel or tax rates. What he has argued for is a more modern Republican party that doesn't stage a gadarene rush to the far right, but tries to come to terms with environmental issues, health care, and so on. Writing in the Washington Post on Thursday, Anne Applebaum observed that much of what Frum represents is a no-brainer for conservatives, who, like the British Tories, may well find themselves in the wilderness for many years if they refuse to acknowledge new realities.
Frum's saga resembles in reverse the odyssey of the neoconservatives who used to argue that they hadn't left the Democratic party. It had left them. Now, it seems fair to say, Frum isn't leaving conservatism; rather, the conservative movement is rapidly leaving Frum behind.
Frum's fate sends a loud and clear message: even mild dissent is taboo, subject to ostracism, vilification. This is weird stuff, and it could get a lot weirder as the right continues its quest for ideological purity. For now, Frum is the most prominent victim and beneficiary of the latest purge on the right.