John Derbyshire on Lowry-Kristol: Half A Cheer—But Count The Spoons!


In the current hiatus between the Senate’s passing of the Schumer-Rubio Amnesty/ Immigration Surge bill and the House’s taking up, or deciding not to take up, the bill (or deciding to try for piecemeal legislation), bigfoot pundits have been peddling their immigration wares, like the girls who appeared in spotlights with trays full of ice cream for sale during intermissions in the movie theaters of my childhood.

Much of their commentary was not so much about the bill itself as about other people’s commentary. 

Thus Bill Keller [Liberals vs. Immigration Reform, New York Times, July 7, 2013] sought to “address some of the liberal misgivings.”

As usual, reader’ comments on a NYT article about the Senate’s passing of the bill [Senate, 68 to 32, Passes Overhaul for Immigration, By  Ashley Parker And Jonathan Martin , June 27, 2013] had included many that were negative, often from an Old Left viewpoint (“It’s a slap in the face of the American working class and the millions of unemployed Americans . . .,” etc.)  Keller sought to shore up the globalist elite’s dwindling base of Old Left support.

Along the way he made some interesting concessions, saying things that are close to heretical by Times standards, although wearily familiar to VDARE.com readers: 

As the demographer Michael Teitelbaum points out, you can find shortages of skilled labor at some times, in some fields, and in some places, but over all there is plenty of domestic STEM talent looking for work.

Disaffection among Outer Party members must be serious!

Neocon Seth Lipsky then used Keller’s column as a text from which to preach the Old Time Religion of open-borders immigration romanticism:

Many [Republicans] are in the camp that understands that more immigrants mean a bigger economic pie for everyone — that is, the conservative camp that is wedded to economic liberty. [Opening the borders for a richer nation, New York Post, July 10, 2013]

That is of course innumerate.  It’s not the size of the pie that matters, it’s the size of the slices.  As I have pointed out elsewhere, Bangladesh has a much bigger pie than Luxembourg.  The key here: the arithmetic operation known to us math geeks as “division.” But don’t be looking to immigration romantics for numeracy.

The commentary that generated the most commentary was the advice to the House GOP offered jointly by Rich Lowry of National Review and Bill Kristol of The Weekly Standard [“Kill the Bill,” NRO, July 9.]

The Lowry-Kristol piece was a curate’s egg:  some sensible political proposals interspersed with short bursts of immigration-romanticism cant.

There is no case for the bill, and certainly no urgency to pass it.

Good, good.  But then:

During the debate over immigration in 2006–07, Republican rhetoric at times had a flavor that communicated a hostility to immigrants as such.

No doubt it was spun that way by the anti-“hate” vigilantes of the Left; but why should anyone on the Right yield to their interpretation?  Why give the Left anything? (And why not, since both authors were posting to the internet, a link to an actual example of such rhetoric?)

I feel sure that a proper respect for precision in language has declined across my adult lifetime.  This has most notably happened with the natural, widespread (in different degrees, like other human traits, but on average harmlessly mild), and probably biologically-based preference for people whose customs and appearance bear more rather than less resemblance to one’s own.  That is now “hate”—leaving us with no word to describe our feelings when grievously wronged.     

Likewise with the distinction between legal and illegal immigration—now so routinely elided that no-one notices it any more.

Likewise again with the use of “anti-immigrant” for immigration patriots, as if we displayed Lowry-Kristol’s “hostility” to the actual persons seeking settlement.  Peter Brimelow and I are routinely accused of being “anti-immigrant,” even though both of us—and in my case, also my wife—are immigrants.  Can you be anti-yourself?  Am I anti-Mrs. Derbyshire?  To the contrary, I am very fond of her.

Similarly:

It’s become clear that you can be pro-immigrant and pro-immigration, and even favor legalization of the 11 million illegal immigrants who are here and increases in some categories of legal immigration–and vigorously oppose this bill.

Again, the writers are using terms that defy definition.  “Pro-immigrant”?  Pro- which immigrant?  Albert EinsteinTamerlan Tsarnaev?  “Pro-immigration”?  Pro- how much immigration?  from where?  selected how? 

These are not words with direct referents in the real world of physical objects and mental processes.  They are emotional signals aimed at women and feminized men:  “It’s become clear that you can be a kind person…

In its objective effect, though, Lowry-Kristol’s “Kill the Bill” has to be counted a Good Thing, likely to get some attention from actual GOP congresscritters.  It shows some dawning understanding of the psephological reality we have been arguing here at VDARE.com for a long time. 

They write, for example, that:

At the presidential level in 2016, it would be better if Republicans won more Hispanic voters than they have in the past—but it’s most important that the party perform better among working-class and younger voters concerned about economic opportunity and upward mobility.

Leftists of course jumped all over that as “dog whistling” (although the term itself seems to have fallen out of fashion).  Michael Tomasky:

I like the way they allude to “working-class and younger voters.” They had the sense not to be so crass as to put the modifier “white” in front of those nouns, because that would have eaten up all the discussion oxygen, but we all know by simple process of elimination that that`s what they really mean. [‘Kill the Bill’, Daily Beast, July 9, 2013]

Heaven forbid anyone running for office should seek to appeal to white voters!  Why should whites even have the vote, anyway?

New York Times token conservative columnist Ross Douthat hastened to save the appearances for Lowry-Kristol.  After quoting that same passage from Tomasky, he writes:

That’s not the sensible implication of what Trende is saying. Rather, it’s that many of his “missing white voters” are the lowest-hanging fruit for a party trying to rebuild itself, and that the kind of populist arguments that resonate with that constituency might actually offer the Republicans a better chance with minority voters in the longer run as well. [Rubio-Schumer and the Republican Future, New York Times, July 9, 2013]

Nice catch, Ross.

Sean Trende’s conclusion that the GOP “can probably build a fairly strong coalition” if it chooses to “go after these downscale whites” was spun back the other way by Slate’s John Dickerson, also responding to Lowry-Kristol:

The second blow to the political case [i.e. that Republicans need to appeal more to Hispanic voters] was the argument, put forward by Sean Trende of RealClearPolitics, Byron York, and others, that Hispanics aren’t the key voting bloc for the GOP’s future hopes of creating a winning presidential coalition. The GOP can also make a path to the presidency by courting lower-income white voters . . .  If House Republicans follow Lowry and Kristol’s advice, that kind of tone and language is likely to become more common.  [The Immigration Impasse, Slate, July 9, 2013]

It’s easy to get depressed reading this stuff—especially when reading the leftward side of it, steeped in the Left’s incorrigible attachment to vapid cant, and their resolute determination to exclude any data-based empirical analyses of vitally important issues.  (Is current immigration policy dysgenic?  Either it is, or it isn’t.  Can we discuss it, bringing to bear as much science as we have on as much data as we’ve gathered?  Ask Jason Richwine.)

But the Right is very little better.  Conservatism, Inc. swims in the same murky warm soup of smudged semantics and girlish emoting.  The younger generation of careerist conservatives early in their educations internalized the poisoned vocabulary of “hate,” “nativism,” “hostility,” “bigotry,” “supremacist,” and the rest.  Their nervous systems suffer involuntary reactions—hot flashes, or some metrosexual equivalent—when someone in their immediate social environment trespasses too close to the boundaries.

Talk about immigration, outside the narrow scope of nation-of-immigrants clichés, is felt—not understood, please note, but felt—to be dangerously near those boundaries. 

I have seen this with my own eyes.  In 2011, as the GOP presidential primary contenders were shuffling into line, several of them dropped in at National Review (this was before I was purged) to give us face time.  On each of the four or five occasions I was present at these events (Romney, Gingrich, Cain, and Rand Paul were the only droppers-in I recall meeting, though there may have been others I have forgotten) I waited for some NR staffer to ask about immigration. 

No-one did until I raised the topic myself.  When I did, a perceptible frisson of embarrassment rippled through the room.  I think it would have been worse if I had broken wind; but not much worse.  It’s not very polite to ask about THAT! 

(I can’t recall any candidate giving a satisfactory answer—or even just an informed answer—to any of my questions.  Gingrich babbled incoherently, though with unruffled self-assurance—a very weird thing to see.  It made me think of the late British comedian  Stanley Unwin.)

From the point of view of practical statecraft, this is bizarre.  As I wrote in that worldwide bestseller We Are Doomed after noting the hyper-moralization of the immigration issue:

Immigration is just a policy, like farm price supports, military recruitment, national parks maintenance, and income tax rates.  Goodness, as the lady said, has nothing to do with it.

All that said, I think immigration patriots can take some consolations from this current round of punditry.  Poking through the enstupidated romanticism and sentimentality that passes for public discussion of immigration, there are now some small shoots of realism. 

Lowry-Kristol, with all its concessions to cant (and with all the authors’ past sins) shows awareness of some facts.  Immigration-wise, that’s a new thing for Conservatism, Inc.

And what else do we have to work with?  A frequent response among conservatives when you open discussions on this topic—a response whose frequency has increased very noticeably across the 15 years I’ve been engaged with U.S. politics—is that the Republican Party is hopeless and best left to die by its own hand.

I’m not unsympathetic to that point of view.  As so often—Thatcher-Reagan, Blair-Clinton, etc.—the American sentiment has close parallels across the pond.  John O’Sullivan, a former editor of National Review (and still a contributor last time I looked) remarked to me a year or so ago that the urgent task facing British conservatives was “to smash the Conservative Party to pieces”!  Faced with the Tories’ current leader, the unspeakable David Cameron—a registered supporter of Britain’s street-fighting Marxist far left—it’s hard to disagree.

It is similarly difficult to summon up any loyalty or affection—never mind enthusiasm—for the GOP, a party whose last major spell in power brought the nation absurd missionary wars, vast increases in federal spending, affirmative-action hires into key offices of state, and wide-open borders; a party that puts dimwitted ethnic mascot Marco Rubio into the ring with shape-shifting evil genius Charles “A Passion To Legislate” Schumer; a party, fourteen of whose senators voted for Schumer-Rubio; a party that, combing through its ranks for another Lincoln, another T.R., another Reagan to represent it in a presidential contest, comes up with John McCain.

The transatlantic comparison doesn’t really fit here, though, for at least three reasons.

Most of them have grand titles beginning with the word “European” and sumptuous, well-staffed offices in Strasbourg or Brussels.

  • Second, immigration romanticism never had much of a hold on the British.  Prior to the middle 20th century, immigration was a negligible factor in British life. 

Jewish sentiment—much the strongest element in American immigration romanticism—has had much less influence over there.  There is no British equivalent of Emma Lazarus.  British Jews are as multiculturalist as their American co-ethnics; but they are less numerous (0.5 percent vs. two percent) and less bothered by the watery remnants of British Christianity than American Jews are by our nation’s more intensely assertive Christian culture. 

Margaret Thatcher, the most philosemitic Prime Minister of recent years (her parliamentary constituency had an unusual number of Jewish voters), presided over no significant surge of immigrants.

Two-party systems are notoriously difficult to crack (though perhaps less so in a parliamentary model), and on present statistics UKIP probably should not hope for more than a spoiler role; but that is still much more than can be said of any U.S. equivalent.

So even if you believe, against longish odds, that the Brits will soon dump the less-liberal of their two major political parties, there is not much prospect of Americans doing the same.

We patriotic conservatives are therefore stuck with the GOP as the only plausible vehicle for our cause.  We are likewise stuck with our role as minority propagandists for unsentimental realism, and as a concentration point for policy ideas based on empirical calculations of what is likely to turn out best for our nation and her citizens.

We should welcome any faint signs of enlightened realism among commentators influential in a major U.S. political party. 

In that spirit, we should welcome Lowry-Kristol…while taking care, after the authors have left our house, to count our spoons

Onward, therefore, and upward.  Excelsior!

John Derbyshire [email him] writes an incredible amount on all sorts of subjects for all kinds of outlets. (This no longer includes National Review, whose editors had some kind of tantrum and fired him. He is the author of We Are Doomed: Reclaiming Conservative Pessimism and several other books. His most recent book, published by VDARE.com com is FROM THE DISSIDENT RIGHT (also available in Kindle).His writings are archived at JohnDerbyshire.com.

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