Conservative propaganda whore David Frum tries to distract people with smoke and mirrors

In David Frum’s recent piece in The Atlantic , he asks us to consider the question: “What explains the outrage at Prime Minister Stephen Har...

In David Frum’s recent piece in The Atlantic, he asks us to consider the question: “What explains the outrage at Prime Minister Stephen Harper?”  The article fails roundly to answer the question one may well assume is intended to frame the argument. Indeed, Frum manages to even fail to show that the question itself is coherent.  Here’s a few of the things I found pathetically wrong with Frum’s Toryphilic post.

The Title

"The Delusions of the Canadian Mind."  While the article itself targets Stephen Marche’s recent piece The Closing of the Canadian Mind, Frum’s use of “the” implies a universality that is neither justified nor demonstrable. If he really wanted to target Marche, he’d’ve titled his work The Delusions of a Canadian Mind.  In other words, Frum just insulted every Canadian for shits and giggles. Thanks a lot, asshole.

One might argue that Marche is equally guilty of a similar overgeneralization, but that would be incorrect. While Frum’s title suggests a study of a property (delusions) of “the Canadian Mind,” Marche’s use of the gerund (“closing”) implies an actor attempting to close the collective mind of Canadians. Two entirely different messages*.

NYT! NYT! NYT!

Frum’s boringly repetitive use of “The New York Times” three times in the very first paragraph reminds me of the Republicant rallying cry “Benghazi! Benghazi! Benghazi!” What exactly is the point there, besides providing a feeble distraction for readers?

Cherry picking quotes

Frum dedicates two paragraphs to an overview of Marche’s article, quoting the conclusions Marche draws. Yet even though he implies having read “all 17 paragraphs” of Marche’s article, he seems to have only counted them. Marche provides ample examples to support his thesis, examples that are extensively documented in readily accessible work.  And yet Frum writes: "As so often happens with anti-Harper invective, the accusation combines intense outrage against the man with gaseous vagueness about the man’s offenses. You’re supposed to just know. If you don’t know already, it won’t be explained to you.”  This is an outright lie apparent to anyone who actually bothered to read Marche’s piece.

Missing the point

Frum writes: "Stephen Harper is a right-of-center politician. Some people like that; others don’t. Which is fine. That’s how democracy works.”  The question is not whether Harper is right of centre; the question is whether Harper is right. That is, regardless of one’s political bent, it is possible to reason out the correctness and implications of a decision. The evidence is clear and abundant: Harper has made decisions that have deprived Canadians of accurate information - without which Canadians cannot make informed decisions; that have deprived Canadians of programs that are demonstrably consistent with improving the well-being of society; that have shown a reckless disregard for the environment; and that have benefited the political “elite” rather than the people who put him (only due to a woefully dysfunctional election process) into power.

Propaganda and more propaganda

Frum then engages in a series of bald assertions that may only be true if one is blind, deaf, and dumb.  "Harper is a highly cerebral man,” he writes to cover up Harper’s sociopathic lack of empathy.  "Harper also runs a tight ship.” That’s conservative doublespeak for megalomania.

Smoke and mirrors

Frum then pulls out the smoke and mirrors to try to disarm Marche’s evidence.  The fact that Frum does this directly contradicts his implication, early in the piece, that Marche has no evidence at all.  Of course, Frum’s intended audience are those right-wing nut jobs who lack the attention span to read past the first few paragraphs anyways, so it’s no surprise this kind of self-contradictory prose appears here.

  • Frum denies Marche’s claim that Harper intends to not participate in conventional debates.  Yet Harper is on record as saying precisely that. That he was forced to participate in any public event that wasn’t just a Tory brainwashing session is another story entirely.
  • On the matter of Conservative events being subjected to gag orders, Frum and Marche actually agree. It appears that Frum’s point is that the gag orders were abandoned, so that makes everything fine.  But it doesn’t. Harper’s default approach is to control information and be as opaque as possible.  That Canadians won’t tolerate that kind of bullshit, and that Harper was successfully dragged kicking and screaming into the light doesn’t make it better. Harper wants a dull and uninformed voting public, and he’ll always start there.
  • Frum’s claim that Harper identifies particular reporters by name, "rather than responding to whoever shoves an audio recorder closest to the prime ministerial nose” is only a distraction. The question is not how Harper responds, but whether he responds at all. Marche’s point is that Harper will respond only to those questions that reinforce his own messages, not the hard ones that paint him into a corner.
  • Frum then entirely ignores all the other evidence (e.g., cancelling the long-form census) in Marche’s piece, probably because he couldn’t figure out how to spin them in a pro-Harper way.

When in doubt, equivocate


Having run out of reasonable arguments, Frum then resorts to equivocation on some points.

On the matter of Harper restricting "the chief executive of Elections Canada from promoting the act of voting,” Frum sits on the fence. "Good call? Bad call? Canadian election specialists will debate the question endlessly on the dedicated cable channel for Canadian political junkies.”  Of course they will.  But that’s irrelevant. The argument against Harper’s changes to the scope of Elections Canada is overwhelming: what better agency is there to promote voting than the arm's-length, nonpartisan Elections Canada?

Filling time and inches

At this point, Frum runs out of steam entirely, and switches gears by reminding us that he is related to Senator Linda Frum, that Marche’s father-in-law gave him his first job in journalism, and other utterly vacuous trivia.

Oh Gawd! An Actual Answer!

Finally, a good four-fifths of the way through Frum’s spew, we get to what passes for an answer to Frum’s original question about explaining the outrage against Harper.  He bases his answer on two phenomena.

  1. The “Laurentian Elite” (read: well-educated and well-informed urban dwellers of the St. Lawrence River area) didn’t see a vast immigration of highly skilled individuals, who formed the foundation of a new conservatism rooted in Western Canada.
  2. The Web has brought information in unparalleled quantity to otherwise isolated (read: non-urban) areas.

These two phenomena have resulted in a suddenly large and informed group that, being outside of the Laurentian Elite, will oppose it.

Based on this, Frum’s argument is simply that the Laurentian Elite is responsible for the outrage against Harper, because they’re butt-hurt over their loss of their elite-iness brought on by those two phenomena and their systemic effects on Canada.

While this is a reasonable hypothesis, it is only that; Frum presents no evidence that his “model” of the situation is complete or even accurate.  And it does nothing to suggest that anti-Harper outrage is misplaced; so while he poses a possible explanation, he does nothing to justify Harper’s correctness or incorrectness - which is after all the point.

Furthermore, there’s a few features of his explanation that undermine its appropriateness.

  1. He does not demonstrate that the Laurentian Elite is wrong in advocating for their perspective as the most beneficial among the available alternatives.
  2. He does not address the cultural and educational differences that many immigrants bring with them and which will bias their decision making in ways not necessarily consistent with Canadian values.
  3. "Highly skilled” does not necessarily equate to “well-educated” or “well-informed."
  4. The speed with which immigration has occurred, as demonstrated quite unequivocally by significant international research easily found on the Web, tends to create social pressures that often lead to regrettable political decisions.  It’s not a question of the amount of immigration, but the rate at which it occurs.
  5. The proliferation of easily accessed information in non-urban areas does not address the quality of that information. Faux News, for instance, is as readily available in small-town Alberta as it is in megalopolic Ontario. But the immigrant inhabitants of those non-urban areas are at a disadvantage; their lack of experience in Canada and their potential lack of education opens them up to being adversely influenced by all the bullshit on the Web.

Taken all together, Frum’s “explanation” is vacuous at best, and downright wrong at worst.

Frum finally wraps up with a complete non-sequitur, reminding people of Canada’s not-so-terrible economic standing in the G7.  Because, you know, everything worth while is economic in nature, right?

It rather figures Frum is now in the US, where his kind of truthiness passes for acceptable public debate. As far as that goes, America’s loss (in gaining Frum) is Canada’s gain (in losing him).


* Of course, considering that Frum was a propagandist for the puppet-tyrant G.W. Bush, his superficial attempt at linguistic manipulation is not surprising.

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The Trouble with Normal...: Conservative propaganda whore David Frum tries to distract people with smoke and mirrors
Conservative propaganda whore David Frum tries to distract people with smoke and mirrors
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The Trouble with Normal...
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