Made my debut this week on BloggingHeadsTV , rapping for forty-five minutes with David Frum on "The Past, Present, and Future of Conservatism." Bar none, the ten seconds of sweaty stammering herein was my favorite moment—perhaps the favorite moment of my career:
Here was how one of the commenters scored the debate:
Frum usually gets away with rearranging and whitewashing history on BHtv. I think, because he sounds so sure of his "facts" that people doubt their understanding of history. It was nice to see Perlstein call him out on some of his... revisionism ( i don't think he lies, exactly, just gerrymanders the facts to fit his views).
This navigates us straight into some tricky waters: what to say when, as is so often the case, conservatives utter confident falsehoods in mid-debate that just happen to gel exquisitely with their own preferred arguments? Are they lying? Ignorant? Or merely a bit opportunistic?
Charging any of these is inflammatory, of course, or at least ungentlemanly. And, yes, perhaps even unfair (there is such a thing as a good-faith factual mistake, even one that happens to seem to clinch an argument).
But not charging any of these things might be yet more discomfiting—because you might let a blackguard escape the scene of a rhetorical crime.
As it happens, one of American politics' greatest masters of talking himself out of sticky verbal situations—most often with a quip—derived a perfect solution to my little dilemma. Here's Ronald Reagan, in his famous October 27, 1964 televised address for Barry Goldwater, in a line he often repeated: "Well, the trouble with our liberal friends is not that they are ignorant, but that they know so much that isn't so."
Just so. That's the most generous, non-judgement way of describing my problem with our conservative friends.
I once coined a word  to describe all the untrue utterances I heard at the 2004 Republican National Convention to write around the thorny problem over whether the men and women of the Grand Old Party were lying or merely ignorant: not-so's. The coinage never took off, but I'm going to revive it to neutralize characterize all the untrue utterances that so casually came out of David Frum's mouth as I debated.
Here's a minor one: in support of his argument that Nixon's second term was liberal, he cites the founding of the Environmental Protection Act.
I decided to do the gentlemanly thing and not point out that Nixon chartered the EPA in the eighteenth month of his first term.
Wasn't so gentlemanly in this next example. Here he is saying how Lyndon Johnson could have saved the Democratic Party in the late 1960s "if there had been a police response that sent the message, 'this is not going to be tolerated, no more riots,' um—"
Then I pointed out—well, watch it for yourself:
Note that once the factual underpinnings of his point have been proven nonsense, he shrugs off the very premise of his Monday Morning Quarterback argument.
I only wish I had been sharper, after he noted how salutary it was that National Guard units were sent in to police riots, in recalling my own argument in Nixonland: that National Guardsmen were the Keystone Kops of 1960s civil insurrections. Examples like: Ohio Guardsmen in 1966 burning out their machine gun barrels shooting out street lights, which caused other Guardsmen to think they were under sniper attack, which caused Guardsmen to cut each other down in their own crossfire (four years later, the same National Guard killed four students at Kent State who weren't even protesting); or the Guardsmen in the South who were clearing a school, and went through the doorway too close to one another, so started cutting themselves to ribbons with their own bayonets.
In this next clip he asks me, "do you see a role for market competition in healthcare?" I noted that, like most Democrats these days, and certainly the most influential ones—such as every viable candidate for president this entire cycle—I prefer a scheme in which public and private plans compete (described in detail here ). I added that I found it offensive that he wrote otherwise in his recent book —that Democrats "call their solution 'single payer'"—given that most Democrats now are not advocating single-payer. "Wait a moment," objected Mr. Frum, before claiming that he documents in a footnote that Congressman Conyers' single-payer bill was "cosponsored by a majority of the Democratic members of the House of Representatives."
That's a glaring notso: you can look it up. Conyers' bill  presently has 89 cosponsors. There are, of course, 234 Democratic members of the House of Reprentatives,  and 89 isn't even close to a majority of 234. But maybe single payer had more cosponsors when Frum was writing? Well, you can look that up too. Footnote 26 on p. 185 of his own book: "As of the summer of 2007, HR 676, the Conyers-Kucinich bill proposing a single-payer health system had attracted seventy-five cosponsors, all Democrats."
I will not belabor the point that seventy-five is not a majority of 234. It's not even a third of 234.
Am I being a bit pedantic? Wait until we get to the meat before you judge. I've been interviewed by two conservatives so far about my book on Nixon , and both, to my suprise, attempted to downplay the significance of Watergate.
Here's where Frum says the Nixon team's break-in of a political enemy's psychiatrist's office was "very familiar. Kennedy did things like that all the time." Watch the fun, which runs for appromximately a minute and two thirds—until Frum opportunistically changes the subject:
There's more fun, if you can stand it, but I've run on long enough for now. Question: would you like to hear the one about how the lion's share of Southern Democrats who became Republicans in the 1960s were not segregationists, but "modernizing" racial moderates? It's a story conservatives just love to tell, as does Frum, but it's...notso! But I've detained you for far too long already. Let me know if you want to sample this particular fancy of Frum's, and my debunking, and I'll revisit it on another day.
Until then, here's the full context for the stammering that leads off this post:
So, share with me your thoughts: David Frum. Is he lying, opportunistic, and/or stupid? Or am I just being churlish? Watch the whole thing , and tell me if my editing is fair.