Novak vs. Frum, Levin vs. Frum, and Casualties of Rhetorical Combat

Today’s news about the death of Robert Novak brought to mind my first meeting with Novak in 2002, and subsequent events:

It was Novak’s criticism of the Bush administration’s Iraq policy, and especially his agreement with Buchanan on that subject, that earned him inclusion in David Frum’s notorious 2003 catalog of “Unpatriotic Conservatives.”
Since then, Frum has gone on to attack others, including Mark Levin. . . . As a result of the Bush policy — and the rhetoric that attended the political defense of that policy — every consideration of the U.S. position in the Middle East became a crude referendum on anti-Semitism, so that all dissenters were suspected of being closet Jew-haters in “unpatriotic” allegiance with terrorists.
This Manichean rhetorical escalation was both unfortunate and unjust, even if some of the dissenters (including Buchanan) had unwisely given their critics ammunition with which to arm accusations of mala fides. When discussions of policy become clouded by such damaging insinuations, when disagreement is cited as evidence of moral inferiority — can anyone but a child molester be worse than an anti-Semite? — then honest discussion becomes impossible. . . .
Today, of course, Novak can no longer be harmed by accusations that he, born a Jew, was guilty of aiding and abetting anti-Semites. Whatever his faults and errors, Bob Novak now awaits the judgment of a higher authority than David Frum. Let us pray that Frum will now pause to consider that he, too, shall one day be judged by the same authority.

You can read the whole thing at The American Spectator, and I am grateful to be linked in Ed Driscoll’s own Novak tribute, as well as by DaTechguy, Mark Goluskin and Craig Henry.

Last night, I got a message from a veteran conservative communications professional, a friend who on Friday had tried to contact me about Frum’s attack on Levin. Over the weekend, my attention had been consumed by other news, and so I had not responded to an earlier e-mail.

In the meantime, however, Dan Riehl had blogged about it, and someone called my attention to Frum’s appearance on the Moyers show, and my response to that was actually mentioned on Monday night’s show by Levin.

Nothing is more harmful to the legacy of Ronald Reagan than when a conservative, engaged in good-faith discussions of politics and policy, is publicly accused of dangerous malice, immorality or irresponsibility by another who purports similarly to revere the worthy cause to which Reagan dedicated his life.

Frum’s attack on Levin was such an occasion, as was his “Unpatriotic Conservatives” article that attacked Novak and others. If a colleague in the conservative cause has erred in judgment, he should certainly expect criticism. Yet Frum has so clearly crossed a line — and crossed it more than once — that I wish he would entertain the hypothetical possibility that he has himself made errors of judgment.

Our nation is now in circumstances too desperate for good men to be silent while sincere conservatives like Mark Levin (who did honorable service under Ed Meese in the Reagan administration) are repeatedly and unfairly maligned by others who profess also to be conservatives.

(Cross-posted at The Other McCain.)