David Frum Speaks the Obvious — Aimed at Those for Whom It’s Not

Another great piece by David Frum of The Atlantic. I am presuming that he is aiming his remarks at what he calls the “wine track” crowd, upper-middle class professionals. (James Carville, Bill Clinton’s staffer, said it much better, referring to them as the “wine-sippin’, Volvo-drivin’, NPR-listenin’ crowd.”) Frum is describing obvious facts to a group for whom it is not obvious at all; the correct word for that group is “oblivious,” not “obvious.”

Of course, I’m biased, because, as some of you may have noticed, a lot of what Frum says is similar to the views I myself have long expressed. In my post about a previous piece of Frum’s, I could hardly contain my glee at seeing someone at the august, highly Establishment Atlantic (of which, admittedly, I am a reader) dare ridicule the economists, who are great number crunchers but have no idea what the numbers mean, and who in many cases are (consciously or not) just trying to confirm their preconceptions.

In short, the “wine track” people are badly in need of education as to why Trump has such fervent supporters (even if many of them probably wince at with at least some of his remarks).

I do have a number of comments, though. Since I am a Democrat and Frum’s piece is aimed largely (though not exclusively) at the Republicans, I may be a poor one to criticize, but I believe that Frum should have gone a little further in some of his points.

For example, why no mention of Grover Norquist? Frum is correct, I believe, that the Tea Party began as a “No one cares about us in the mainstream” movement, but it was hijacked by Norquist and his money into an anti-tax thing.

Frum suggests, correctly, that many in the Tea Party crowd may be just as worried about their Social Security funding as any mainstream Democrat, but he draws the line at Obamacare. I’m much less sure of that, because many Tea Partiers will find that they need it, as they find that it becomes harder for them and their grown children to obtain decent-paying work. If a Republican wins the White House in November, he/she will find it much more difficult than they thought to dismantel the program.

But in a different sense, Obamacare does epitomize the problem. When he took office and started pushing for health care reform, Obama never bothered to explain to the nation why it was needed. In my opinion, it was indeed needed — the present employment-based system is unsustainable in the long run, I think. But most people were pretty happy with their present health care, and Obama should have explained it to them. (He also should have been MUCH more on top of its implementation, which has been disastrous.) Obama basically treated the populace as children, people who didn’t need to know why health care reform was imperative.

Obamacare also ties in to the recurring theme in Frum’s piece of immigration. It was never mentioned that a substantial number of the uninsured were immigrants; that’s why the business lobby is so strongly pro-immigration, desiring cheap and benefit-free labor.

And immigration of course is the other issue that has never been properly sold to the population. I believe most Americans really do want to “Welcome the stranger” (a biblical phrase that is one of the immigration lobby’s favorite talking points), but they do want to feel that they have been part of the policy-making process. Being asked to “Press 1 for English” by a phone recording dramatizes the point that they have not been consulted.

It wouldn’t hard to write policy that, for example, would ensure that most legal immigrants would know at least rudimentary English BEFORE they immigrate. (I’ve made such proposals, actually.) And in setting immigration policy, its effects on other aspects would be carefully considered and discussed openly with the nation. Instead, what we get is a lot of slick pro-immigration PR, and a president who sets his policy on the basis of a single pro-immigration economist.

Another point that Frum neglected to develop is the impact of immigration on blacks and Latinos. Historically, the Democrats have been the champions for poor African-Americans, only to abandon them in favor of the Latinos, particular the Latinos that Jay Leno cleverly termed “undocumented Democrats.” Immigration does hit our most vulnerable people especially hard, the poor and less-educated. Yet there is only one major presidential candidate today who has said so. Is it Clinton?, you ask. Surely you’re joking. Sanders?  Sadly, no. It’s…yes, Donald Trump.

It speaks volumes that Bernie doesn’t feel free to say what Trump said, that immigration has been harmful to low-skilled blacks and Latinos. And it speaks volumes that so many Latinos have been led (by Univision, the Hispanic activists and so on) to think that an expansive immigration policy is in their interests. And for that matter, it’s very telling that the Republicans are bashing Obamacare so fiercely when it actually has its genesis in a conservative think tank (the Heritage Foundation) and was first implemented, to great approbation, by a Republican governor in Massachusetts (Mitt Romney). All of these epitomize the bypassing of the American public in how the nation is run.

I have my own problems with El Donaldo. But those who quickly dismiss him have no clue as to what’s going on in the real world.



18 thoughts on “David Frum Speaks the Obvious — Aimed at Those for Whom It’s Not

  1. When I tried to enroll my daughter in the nearest elementary school, I was told by the staff that there were not any spots left for a child from an English speaking household. I was told that I had to take her to a school farther away. Meanwhile, Spanish speaking parents were allowed to continue to enroll their children after my child was turned away. My daughter is now 22 years old. That is how long illegal immigration has been a problem in places like Texas.


  2. No. Frum was a sharp guy ten years go. He has little or no idea what is going on today. This Atlantic article echoes conventional views. I was talking to my 20yo nephew over the holidays, he’s transferring to Davis next fall intending to major in polisci. His opinions are mostly millennial liberal pish-tosh, but he shows signs of thinking past that, and I have few worries for him – except what nonsense the school might aim at him. Anyway, I engaged him in talking about current events, and he gave some reasonable if somewhat biased analysis. I didn’t try to correct him, but I did warn him. There’s one response to any of these scenarios which will never be accepted in any normal university class, and it’s something that David Frum dare not utter in this article or any, because he does not believe it or he does not see it, or he knows it is forbidden ever to say it so it is best to be blind to it. But I propose that it is the case today, and that is: “It’s different this time.” I could tell you exactly why in another thousand words or so, but just look up “institutional capture”, that’s most of the story. And that’s why the Rove’s and Frum’s are just so wrong. Trump is no angel, but neither is he what they make him out to be.

    Objectively, what Frum completely misses in this article is that the system really is broken. Trump sees it. Masses of citizens see it. It was seen as something like this in the 1960s, but I assert it is much, much worse this time, real turn of history stuff. Don’t know if any president can do much about it, lots of long-term trends conspire in the situation. But it’s just nice if we can find someone who doesn’t make it worse.

    The problem with Obamacare btw is it is all good intentions and entirely fraudulent and incompetent implementation, the pieces fit together much worse than social security or medicare ever did, the numbers are a joke, the services provided are in no way what was promised. One or two good features like eliminating preexisting conditions, are first of all necessarily expensive, and second of all could still have been implemented at a tiny fraction of the cost of Obamacare. And can be kept when the rest is trashed.

    Whew, that got long.


    • I was going to mention, as I often do, that none of these people — the economists, the politicians and likely Frum himself — has ever experienced a long period of involuntary unemployment or other financial hardship. The system has worked for them, and thus they think it should work for everyone, maybe with a little tweaking.

      In my view, what’s needed IS tweaking — but tweaking of EVERYTHING, in a coherent manner.

      Ask your nephew to look me up at UCD. Among other things, I’ll tell him what a great uncle he has. 🙂


      • And they need to invite those that have worked in the top 10% of jobs who have now been unemployed for five or more years to the table as we have been in the trenches and we understand what we are facing where they don’t.

        It is one thing to be unemployed for a year or less.

        It is an entirely different mindset when you have nearly gave up hope because they system is broken.


        • You also need to punch through the huge amount of arrogance in tech and in the young as well. When defense was downsizing I decided not to go to Arizona with the company I was working at. I had barely missed a few layoffs and had no delusions about what might happen if I went to Arizona. It just so happened that there was a temporary lull in the layoffs and the second Gulf War started so I might well have gone the distance. As it was I lucked into a job I didn’t much care for but the great pay and stock options more than made up for it.

          I used to take some classes at UCLA extension because object oriented programming was the latest fad as well as other things I was interested in and hoping would enhance my skill set. The amount of arrogance by the people who were still working was ridiculous. It was common to hear “I can get a job in 5 minutes” or other such claims of their exceptional talents. I knew from my days in defense that there were some truly outstanding people there but they tended to be one out of 30 or so and not the ratio I saw in those classes. When I became a “software quality engineer” I also saw the relative mediocrity of the majority of programmers and engineers.

          The young engineers have bought into the myth that only deadwood and people who haven’t kept up are those who are let go. You often here them say “I can compete with anybody” or “I am not afraid blah, blah, blah”. They tend to have a somewhat libertarian view that “you don’t own that job” or “if he will do it cheaper why shouldn’t he?”. They don’t have any concept of how devastating it is for people in a debt based society to lose everything they have worked all their lives for up until now because they can no longer make the mortgage payments for more than 3 months.


      • Yes, that’s exactly how I though when I was 18-19, making what seemed to be good money flipping burgers, working in a copy shop, with marketable skills to spare and developing even more by the day, twisting professors into knots with probing questions they couldn’t answer and couldn’t even point to primary sources on which to launch further examination…or so I thought. And then working for NASA and another National lab, my head swelled to near bursting with attaboys and raises as far as the mind’s horizon could imagine.

        But I have another story about yet another USA STEM professional (must’ve been the great-great-great-great-great-grand-son of brilliant immigrants, though, because we all know that natives of the USA just can’t cope with science and technology and mathemarics). Started programming at Sandia National Labs at age 15, along about 1987. Got around to taking some university courses at UCSD in 2010 (tsk tsk, no credentials. Not qualified at all, don’t you know). Published his first SF novel in 2014, made into a highly-acclaimed movie in 2015. Andy Weir.

        And that terrible shortage of fashion models of outstanding ability must be filled with a few thousand more guest-models; it’s the only way to prevent the country from crumbling to dust…according to Rubio, McCain, Cornyn, Gutierrez, Ryan, Pelosi, et al. It’s just a shame how desperate the catalog and other advertising firms are getting.

        But on a brighter note, John Boehner’s picked successor in Ohio’s 8th district has been shamed into dropping out, leaving Winteregg and Derickson and Beagle in the primary.


  3. Prof. Matloff, I thank you, once again, for your tireless efforts on behalf of American-born IT professionals who are either unemployed or under-employed.

    I have a cavil. You wrote:
    “he/she will find it much more difficult than they [sic; ‘he’ ] thought to dismantel [sic; ‘dismantle’ ] the program.”

    I tend to ignore David Frum on most issues because he is thoroughly RINO, but, on this issue, perhaps he is worth a read.

    — Paul D. Bain


  4. “why no mention of Grover Norquist? Frum is correct, I believe, that the Tea Party began as a “No one cares about us in the mainstream” movement, but it was hijacked by Norquist and his money into an anti-tax thing.” – Norm

    You forgot to mention Norquest is a cheerleader for mass immigration. He easily gets top billing on the Hit Parade of Evildoers.


  5. The Tea Partiers are difficult to cram into a cubbyhole because they are diverse. I went to the state Capitol and later to a city hall gathering to see what was what and who was who. I didn’t recognize “the usual people” I used to see at such events.

    There were black, white, southern, Yankee, Eastern European, South American, Christians and Jews and at least one Sikh, tattooed, short-haired, long-haired, besuited, torn jeans, young, elderly, families mostly, and mostly shorts and T-shirts. There were libertarians, classical liberals and self-proclaimed conservatives. There were economics professors, politically active, university students, people who came out to such an event for the first time in their lives. Some wanted to “save” Medicare or Medicaid or Socialist Insecurity and some thought they were decades over-due for eradication. Some want to do away with the Federal Reserve System, that it’s fraudulent, a hidden tax, etc., while that was not on their radar screens at all. Some wanted to do away with Freddie and Fannie and Sally and HUD.

    But the core consensus was that the federal government was spending way way way too much, sticking it’s nose into state, local and private voluntary matters that are none of its business, and taxing way too much in order to fund it. The most frequent signs (all were hand-made, not mass printed) was “Taxed Enough Already”.

    What needs to be “tweaked” is expectations. The expectations of students who enjoy programming need to be tweaked so that they are not deceived into thinking of it as a solid career. The experienced professionals need to be tweaked into realizing it is nor a career before they are left totally high and dry with no other means, and no way to get to any from where they are. All need to either battle against temp/contract/consulting/contingent/bodyshopping or resign themselves and immerse fully into it and to a much lower quality of living. We need to realize that every time there is a remote possibility that the USA STEM job markets might — maybe 2-5 years out — befpging to improve, the politicians can and will in th face of all reason, rapidly move to make the job markets even more dysfunctional. The executives need to be tweaked into realizing they can’t get away with hardly trying to recruit (not investing in training, relocation, etched.) and then complaining that they don’t get their every wish every time. They can’t have ever-soaring profit and ever-soaring exec compensation packages while the production workers see their standards of living plummeting like a rock dropped from a high-altitude plane (from both devaluation of currency and stagnation of compensation).


  6. As I have said many times before, immigration proposals do nothing to address the problem of illegal entry by uneducated, low skilled workers. They also ignore the financial problems created by family based immigration; the most obvious of this policy is the sponsorship of elderly parents who will never work and contribute but who will reap benefits; many will receive benefits at a lower age than that qualifying for earned Social Security benefits. Some will even receive Social Security benefits without contributing even a penny to the system.

    The entire system is broken and the people with the ability to affect change do not have the desire to do so because they – and for politicians, their supporters – benefit from the status quo. However, I predict that after I am gone but within my grandchildren’s lifetimes the immigration problem will be solved by the US being no different from the third world countries from which most immigrants now come.

    Immigration problem solved, and everyone is a loser.


  7. On another subject, I am still waiting to hear your thoughts on EAD that supposedly that just passed as part of OMNIBUS bill. I too am a life long Dem. But as crazy as this sounds, I am not voting this cycle unless Trump is on the ballot.


  8. Actually Bernie Sanders has said repeatedly that opening our border to significant numbers of low-skilled and unskilled immigrants reduces job prospects and wages for low income and working class Americans–who are disproportionately black and Latino–which is why he opposes an influx of low/unskilled immigrant workers. He has caught a lot of flak from so-called progressives for this position, see here for just one example of many. Bernie’s “progressive” critics on immigration claim that he’s perpetuating right-wing talking points and that immigrants create American jobs and boost wages and the overall economy. Working class Americans know that’s BS. Bernie’s position on immigration isn’t perfect as far as I’m concerned, but it’s better than any other candidate’s.


    • Thanks for pointing that out. I was aware that he had made some statements about the unskilled, but not that he had specifically mentioned U.S. minorities as victims.


  9. I trust Fox over CNN but I’m not a fanatic. The RINOs and country club GOPers have done their damage to the middle-class. However my philosophy on the border basically matches this (from Frum’s article):

    “We’ve gotta get rid of the immigration issue altogether,” Sean Hannity told his radio audience the day after the election. “It’s simple for me to fix it. I think you control the border first, you create a pathway for those people that are here, you don’t say, ‘You gotta go home.’ And that is a position that I’ve evolved on.”

    I just can’t see what is the big problem. Its our nation and our border. Every other nation controls their’s.

    The border patrol is demoralized. Any border agent will tell you 40% of the crossers have criminal records.

    If someone is here legit for a job and a relatively clean record okay they can stay. Mass deportations would never work. But terrorists and criminals have to go or be locked up. But it will never happen until we secure the border.

    I’d advise people to check out on YouTube the African-American gentleman who introduced Trump in Phoenix several months ago. His son was killed by an illegal gang-banger with a long record. There is the black-brown war in Southern California which has gotten hundreds of people killed. As long as we let in gang-bangers and drug cartels this will continue.


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