Skip to main content

After Boston, nothing will change

By David Frum, CNN Contributor
updated 8:29 AM EDT, Tue April 23, 2013
People pause at the memorial site in Copley Square on April 30 in Boston. The city continues to return to normalcy with Boylston Street fully reopened and businesses back up and running after two weeks of closures. <a href='http://www.cnn.com/SPECIALS/us/boston-bombings-galleries/index.html'>See all photography related to the Boston bombings.</a> People pause at the memorial site in Copley Square on April 30 in Boston. The city continues to return to normalcy with Boylston Street fully reopened and businesses back up and running after two weeks of closures. See all photography related to the Boston bombings.
HIDE CAPTION
Photos: Nation mourns Boston bomb victims
Nation mourns Boston bomb victims
Nation mourns Boston bomb victims
Nation mourns Boston bomb victims
Photos: Nation mourns Boston bomb victims
Nation mourns Boston bomb victims
Photos: Nation mourns Boston bomb victims
Photos: Nation mourns Boston bomb victims
Photos: Nation mourns Boston bomb victims
Nation mourns Boston bomb victims
Nation mourns Boston bomb victims
Nation mourns Boston bomb victims
Nation mourns Boston bomb victims
Nation mourns Boston bomb victims
Nation mourns Boston bomb victims
Nation mourns Boston bomb victims
Nation mourns Boston bomb victims
Nation mourns Boston bomb victims
Nation mourns Boston bomb victims
Nation mourns Boston bomb victims
Nation mourns Boston bomb victims
Nation mourns Boston bomb victims
Nation mourns Boston bomb victims
Nation mourns Boston bomb victims
Nation mourns Boston bomb victims
Nation mourns Boston bomb victims
Nation mourns Boston bomb victims
Nation mourns Boston bomb victimss
Nation mourns Boston bomb victims
Nation mourns Boston bomb victims
Nation mourns Boston bomb victims
Nation mourns Boston bomb victims
Nation mourns Boston bomb victims
Nation mourns Boston bomb victims
Nation mourns Boston bomb victims
Nation mourns Boston bomb victims
Nation mourns Boston bomb victims
Nation mourns Boston bomb victims
Nation mourns Boston bomb victims
Nation mourns Boston bomb victims
Nation mourns Boston bomb victims
Nation mourns Boston bomb victims
Nation mourns Boston bomb victims
Nation mourns Boston bomb victims
Nation mourns Boston bomb victims
Nation mourns Boston bomb victims
Nation mourns Boston bomb victims
Nation mourns Boston bomb victims
Nation mourns Boston bomb victims
Nation mourns Boston bomb victims
Nation mourns Boston bomb victims
Nation mourns Boston bomb victims
Nation mourns Boston bomb victims
Nation mourns Boston bomb victims
Nation mourns Boston bomb victims
Nation mourns Boston bomb victims
Nation mourns Boston bomb victims
Nation mourns Boston bomb victims
Nation mourns Boston bomb victims
Nation mourns Boston bomb victims
Nation mourns Boston bomb victims
Nation mourns Boston bomb victims
Nation mourns Boston bomb victims
Nation mourns Boston bomb victims
Nation mourns Boston bomb victims
Nation mourns Boston bomb victims
Nation mourns Boston bomb victims
Nation mourns Boston bomb victims
Nation mourns Boston bomb victims
Nation mourns Boston bomb victims
Photos: Nation mourns Boston bomb victims
Photos: Nation mourns Boston bomb victims
Photos: Nation mourns Boston bomb victims
Photos: Nation mourns Boston bomb victims
Photos: Nation mourns Boston bomb victims
Photos: Nation mourns Boston bomb victims
Nation mourns Boston bomb victims
Nation mourns Boston bomb victims
Nation mourns Boston bomb victims
Nation mourns Boston bomb victims
Nation mourns Boston bomb victims
Nation mourns Boston bomb victims
Nation mourns Boston bomb victims
Nation mourns Boston bomb victims
Nation mourns Boston bomb victims
Nation mourns Boston bomb victims
Nation mourns Boston bomb victims
Nation mourns Boston bomb victims
Nation mourns Boston bomb victims
Photos: Nation mourns Boston Marathon tragedy
Nation mourns Boston Marathon tragedy
Nation mourns Boston Marathon tragedy
Nation mourns Boston Marathon tragedy
Nation mourns Boston Marathon tragedy
Nation mourns Boston Marathon tragedy
Photos: Nation mourns Boston bomb victims
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
29
30
31
32
33
34
35
36
37
38
39
40
41
42
43
44
45
46
47
48
49
50
51
52
53
54
55
56
57
58
59
60
61
62
63
64
65
66
67
68
69
70
71
72
73
74
75
76
77
78
79
80
81
82
83
84
85
86
87
88
89
90
91
92
93
94
95
96
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • David Frum: After the terror attacks of 9/11, people said they "changed everything"
  • He says today's frozen politics means that the Boston bombings won't change things
  • He says even the Newtown killings didn't shift politics enough to widen gun control
  • Frum: Advocates of fiscal austerity aren't admitting their policies are faulty

Editor's note: David Frum, a CNN contributor, is a contributing editor at Newsweek and The Daily Beast. He is the author of eight books, including a new novel, "Patriots," and a post-election e-book, "Why Romney Lost." Frum was a special assistant to President George W. Bush from 2001 to 2002.

(CNN) -- Ten years ago, politicians and pundits liked to say, "9/11 changed everything." For a while, it seemed true.

Now it seems like a vanished era. Today, nothing changes anything.

No matter what happens, our thinking remains frozen exactly in place, impervious to new experience and new evidence.

David Frum
David Frum

On December 14 of last year, a deranged man fatally shot and killed 20 students and six teachers with an assault-style rifle, the second deadliest mass shooting in American history. In response, the country has done ... nothing whatsoever. No changes to gun laws. No changes in the treatment of the mentally ill. Last week, a Senate filibuster stopped the milk-and-water Toomey-Manchin proposal to tighten (slightly) background checks on would-be gun purchasers.

Early in 2013, Mike Lupica of the New York Daily News reported Adam Lanza's obsessive fascination with prior mass murders.

"[I]nvestigators found ... a chilling spreadsheet 7 feet long and 4 feet wide that required a special printer, a document that contained Lanza's obsessive, extensive research — in nine-point font — about mass murders of the past, and even attempted murders. But it wasn't just a spreadsheet. It was a score sheet. 'We were told (Lanza) had around 500 people on this sheet,' a law enforcement veteran told me Saturday night. 'Names and the number of people killed and the weapons that were used, even the precise make and model of the weapons. It had to have taken years. It sounded like a doctoral thesis, that was the quality of the research.'"

The next would-be mass murderer can take up Lanza's obsession from where he left off, with not a single new barrier in his way. Virginia Tech (the deadiest school shooting in U.S. history back in 2007) made no difference. The Aurora movie theater mass murder made no difference. The attack on former Rep. Gabby Giffords made no difference. Nothing changes anything.

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



It's not just guns. With economics too, nothing changes anything.

Over four years, policymakers in Europe and the United States have argued about public debt. In a recession, should government run deficits to substitute for weakened consumer demand? Or should they cut spending to balance their budgets, accepting pain now to avoid even greater pain later?

Republicans in the United States and the German government in Europe have argued for the second option. Advocates of austerity cited a powerful study by two acclaimed economists, Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff. The Reinhart-Rogoff study demonstrated (or appeared to demonstrate) that once public debt climbed past 90% of GDP, a country's future growth slowed, putting at risk the entire next generation.

Then, last week, a 28-year-old graduate student demonstrated that the Rogoff-Reinhart study contained a basic spreadsheet error. Correct the arithmetic, and you found that the connection between public debt and future growth was almost perfectly random: sometimes high-debt countries grew; sometimes they didn't; it all depended on other factors. The most important piece of advice in favor of the "cut now" school of thought collapsed into rubble.

Step-by-step timeline of Boston bombings
Boston survivor vows to dance again
Boston merchandise in high demand

And the result? Nothing, barely even a word of acknowledgment from the people who'd been citing the study and condemning people to the harmful effects of austerity for the past four years.

Nothing changes anything.

On this site a few days ago, CNN contributor Ruben Navarrette expressed worry that the Boston bombing, allegedly by two alienated young immigrants, might harm the prospects for the Senate immigration deal. He needn't fret. Nothing changes anything.

The Fort Hood massacre changed nothing. The Time Square bombing attempt changed nothing. The presence of so many of the 9/11 hijackers on overstayed visas has changed nothing: there is still no mechanism for confirming that persons who enter on visas depart on time. Why would one expect Boston to change anything.?

The immigration debate has been resisting new information for years, not only in the traumatic and of course rare instances of terrorist acts by immigrants and their children, but even more in labor economics. Much thinking about immigration remains shaped by statistics from 30 and 40 years ago, when immigrants arrived with higher levels of education than natives and equaled native wages within a decade.

We don't need horrifying acts of violence to prove that the United States is choosing its immigrants unwisely. Until 1970, immigrants to the United States were better educated than natives. Immigrants who arrived before 1970 took a decade or so to adjust, but then earned more than natives.

Since 1970, however, the skill levels of immigrants to the United States has sharply deteriorated. Relying on data from the 2010 Census, the Center of Immigration Studies observes:

-- 23% of all immigrants and their U.S.-born children live in poverty, almost double the rate for U.S. natives;

-- Immigrants and their children accounted for one-fourth of all persons living in poverty;

-- Immigrant-headed households are 50% more likely than the native-born to use at least one welfare assistance program, such as food stamps or Medicaid.

Yet even so, the president and the Senate's "Gang of Eight" insist: the United States must continue to keep its doors open to the least skilled and ought to actually increase its total immigration intake, as well as granting legal status and eventually citizenship to the present illegal population.

Nothing changes anything. You might almost call it a testament to human fortitude, if the results were not so perverse and the outcomes so costly.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter.

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of David Frum.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 5:01 PM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
Paul Callan says the grand jury is the right process to use to decide if charges should be brought against the police officer
updated 12:19 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Theresa Brown says the Ebola crisis brought nurses into the national conversation on health care. They need to stay there.
updated 6:35 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Patrick Hornbeck says don't buy the hype: The arguments the Vatican used in its interim report would have virtually guaranteed that same-sex couples remained second class citizens
updated 9:36 AM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
Paul Begala says Iowa's U.S. Senate candidate, Joni Ernst, told NRA she has right to use gun to defend herself--even from the government. But shooting at officials is not what the Founders had in mind
updated 6:08 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
John Sutter: Why are we so surprised the head of a major international corporation learned another language?
updated 5:54 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Jason Johnson says Ferguson isn't a downtrodden community rising up against the white oppressor, but it is looking for justice
updated 12:21 PM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
Sally Kohn says a video of little girls dressed as princesses using the F-word very loudly to condemn sexism is provocative. But is it exploitative?
updated 4:06 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Timothy Stanley says Lewinsky is shamelessly playing the victim in her affair with Bill Clinton, humiliating Hillary Clinton again and aiding her critics
updated 10:14 AM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Imagine being rescued from modern slavery, only to be charged with a crime, writes John Sutter
updated 12:00 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Tidal flooding used to be a relatively rare occurrence along the East Coast. Not anymore, write Melanie Fitzpatrick and Erika Spanger-Siegfried.
updated 7:35 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Carol Costello says activists, writers, politicians have begun discussing their abortions. But will that new approach make a difference on an old battleground?
updated 9:12 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Sigrid Fry-Revere says the National Organ Transplant Act has caused more Americans to die waiting for an organ than died in both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq
updated 2:51 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Crystal Wright says racist remarks like those made by black Republican actress Stacey Dash do nothing to get blacks to join the GOP
updated 6:07 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Mel Robbins says by telling her story, Monica Lewinsky offers a lesson in confronting humiliating mistakes while keeping her head held high
updated 9:29 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Cornell Belcher says the story of the "tea party wave" in 2010 was bogus; it was an election determined by ebbing Democratic turnout
updated 4:12 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Les Abend says pilots want protocols, preparation and checklists for all contingencies; at the moment, controlling a deadly disease is out of their comfort zone
updated 11:36 PM EDT, Sun October 19, 2014
David Weinberger says an online controversy that snowballed from a misogynist attack by gamers into a culture war is a preview of the way news is handled in a world of hashtag-fueled scandal
updated 8:23 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Julian Zelizer says Paul Krugman makes some good points in his defense of President Obama but is premature in calling him one of the most successful presidents.
updated 10:21 PM EDT, Sun October 19, 2014
Conservatives can't bash and slash government and then suddenly act surprised if government isn't there when we need it, writes Sally Kohn
updated 8:05 AM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
ISIS is looking to take over a good chunk of the Middle East -- if not the entire Muslim world, write Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider.
updated 9:00 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
The world's response to Ebola is its own sort of tragedy, writes John Sutter
updated 4:33 PM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Hidden away in Russian orphanages are thousands of children with disabilities who aren't orphans, whose harmful treatment has long been hidden from public view, writes Andrea Mazzarino
updated 1:22 PM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
When you hear "trick or treat" this year, think "nudge," writes John Bare
updated 12:42 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
The more than 200 kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls have become pawns in a larger drama, writes Richard Joseph.
updated 9:45 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Peggy Drexler said Amal Alamuddin was accused of buying into the patriarchy when she changed her name to Clooney. But that was her choice.
updated 4:43 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Ford Vox says the CDC's Thomas Frieden is a good man with a stellar resume who has shown he lacks the unique talents and vision needed to confront the Ebola crisis
updated 4:58 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
How can such a numerically small force as ISIS take control of vast swathes of Syria and Iraq?
updated 9:42 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
How big a threat do foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq pose to the West? It's a question that has been much on the mind of policymakers and commentators.
updated 8:21 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
More than a quarter-million American women served honorably in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Now they are home, we have an obligation to help them transition back to civilian life.
updated 4:27 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Paul Begala says Rick Scott's deeply weird refusal to begin a debate because rival Charlie Crist had a fan under his podium spells disaster for the Florida governor--delighting Crist
updated 12:07 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
The longer we wait to engage on Ebola, the more limited our options will become, says Marco Rubio.
updated 7:53 AM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Democratic candidates who run from President Obama in red states where he is unpopular are making a big mistake, says Donna Brazile
updated 12:29 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
At some 7 billion people, the world can sometimes seem like a crowded place. But if the latest estimates are to be believed, then in less than a century it is going to feel even more so -- about 50% more crowded, says Evan Fraser
updated 12:53 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Paul Callan says the Ebola situation is pointing up the need for better leadership
updated 6:45 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Nurses are the unsung heroes of the Ebola outbreak. Yet, there are troubling signs we're failing them, says John Sutter
updated 1:00 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Dean Obeidallah says it's a mistake to give up a business name you've invested energy in, just because of a new terrorist group
updated 7:01 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Fear of Ebola is contagious, writes Mel Robbins; but it's time to put the disease in perspective
updated 1:44 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Oliver Kershaw says that if Big Tobacco is given monopoly of e-cigarette products, public health will suffer.
updated 9:35 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
Stop thinking your job will make you happy.
updated 10:08 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says it's time to deal with another scandal involving the Secret Service — one that leads directly into the White House.
updated 7:25 AM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Americans who choose to fight for militant groups or support them are young and likely to be active in jihadist social media, says Peter Bergen
updated 9:03 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Stephanie Coontz says 11 years ago only one state allowed same sex marriage. Soon, some 60% of Americans will live where gays can marry. How did attitudes change so quickly?
updated 4:04 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Legalizing assisted suicide seems acceptable when focusing on individuals. But such laws would put many at risk of immense harm, writes Marilyn Golden.
updated 9:07 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Julian Zelizer says the issues are huge, but both parties are wrestling with problems that alienate voters
updated 6:50 PM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Mel Robbins says the town's school chief was right to cancel the season, but that's just the beginning of what needs to be done
updated 11:43 AM EDT, Sat October 11, 2014
He didn't discover that the world was round, David Perry writes. So what did he do?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT