In response to this piece from Robert Shrum, David Frum here agrees that the coming wilderness years for Republicans cannot be a replay of the wilderness of 1993. Then, an eager and over-confident young Democrat was ascending to the nation’s highest office already tainted by scandal, with only 43% of the nation’s support, and working against an opposition poised to reunite (despite Perot) in response. Bill Clinton had genuine political savvy but he lacked self-control--and not just in in his private life. His lack of personal prudence was but a metaphor for his larger and ever-grasping public persona. True, he succeeded in holding on to office; but he also succeeding in uniting his opposition with his rash approach to the office in that first year, in losing majorities for his party in 1994, and in sacrificing the good of that party to his own political fortunes. Though Republicans could never quite turn the horse around, they did not come out too sore from the long eight-year ride.
Frum does not think the ride of 2009 is going to be anywhere near as smooth. Like Shrum, he thinks that Republicans seeking solace from the memories of the early 90s should be wary of such simple comparisons. Barack Obama is no Bill Clinton. And, though it is odd to think of the 1992-93 GOP as united and firm of purpose--for we’re talking of the aftermath of the H.W. Bush "read my lips" years and the immediate aftermath of the Perot revolt--Frum insists that compared to today, those were halcyon days in the GOP.
Still, it’s certain that Robert Shrum does not offer Republicans his advice in order to help them advance their future political prospects. His objective is to make Republicans believe that they court political disaster (and will deserve it) if they dare to oppose Barack Obama’s agenda. He is poised, once again, to admire the "Maverickiness" of a John McCain (or at least claim to) now that he believes McCain’s bucking will be in designed for the purpose of clearing the saddle of conservatives.
Frum’s response is to concede the point that the political winds have changed and that mindless opposition to Obama proceeding according to the notion that this is nothing but a replay of the 90s is suicide. Frum makes an observation that is uncomfortable both for the likes of Shrum and for the likes of certain hard-headed conservatives: this is not a parliamentary form of government. It’s not the case that Republicans elected to high national office are simply "out of power." They can, do and will have some real impact on the legislation that affects Americans and it is, therefore, their duty to do what they can to make that legislation the best it can be for America. There are political reasons for prudence, to be sure, but there are also constitutional ones. And these reasons, happily, assure that while Republicans cannot ignore Democrats--neither can the Dems ignore the GOP.
But Frum is even more explicit. He argues that Shrum’s advice to Republicans amounts to suggesting that Republicans "play dead" and he wonders whether Obama is likely be the guy to deliver Shrum and liberals like him into the vast and sunny promised land of their dreams. In the end, Frum rates Obama’s political prudence higher than Shrum does and concludes that this is unlikely. But, if Shrum is right and the Obama Administration is as recklessly ambitious as Shrum would have it, then Frum is concludes that Republicans had better "risk being rolled over rather than play[ing] dead."