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National Review Institute Summit: Conservatism Inc. Stunned—But Not Stunned Enough To Consider Patriotic Immigration Reform
The first stage in the grieving process is denial. That was the central message of the recent National Review Institute's Summit on the “Future of Conservatism.”
Ostensibly this was a meeting to discuss how Conservatism Inc.—the parasitical congerie of lobbyists, consultants, foundation executives, PR types pundits, etc. that exploits the votes of the historic American nation to advance a Big Business agenda—has once again snatched defeat from the jaws of victory .
But it was actually an exercise in telling attendees what they wanted to hear. The Main Stream Media, which extensively covered the conference (see Dave Weigel, Jonathon Chait, and Jonathan Krohn ) was, alas, quite right to note that there wasn't much actual soul searching—except for a near-consensus (among the speakers) on the need to pass amnesty for illegal aliens.
The overwhelmingly white crowd was assured that demographics is not necessarily destiny and that the Republican Party can eventually win over minority voters with better “messaging.” There was no discussion of the GOP’s chronic failure to mobilize its white base—and, of course, no discussion of any alternative to Likudnik war-mongering (which is particularly odd, given the increasing strength of libertarian ideologues in the GOP. For all intents and purposes, it’s still 2003 when it comes to foreign policy for National Review.)
Thus Friday's night star attraction was neoconservative political columnist (and born-again amnesty supporter) Charles Krauthammer. He received a rock star welcome and the applause only built as he confirmed what the audience already believed: “I don't believe in the demographic theories,” Krauthammer assured the throng.
Furthermore, Krauthammer claims to believe that Hispanics are “natural conservatives”—aside from immigration. He actually said: “I think that's one community, if we were running ideologically, we'd win.”
And Krauthammer even asserts that the same old Republican playbook that Conservatism Inc. has been using for 30 years will still work: he claimed that as long as Republicans “stay the conservative party... they will succeed. The reason is we are a center-right country.”
This largely set the Summit’s tone. Conservatives—both the Conservatism Inc. apparatchiks and the grassroots—know they are in trouble. Both were represented at the summit. The professional activists were from the vast array of economic conservative groups from inside in the Beltway—many of whom have long championed championing amnesty and mass immigration. Many of the grassroots attendees had come from out of town for the annual March for Life. They wore sweatshirts and backpacks with the names of various Catholic universities.
But confronted with the “Emerging Democratic Majority,” Conservatism Inc. has announced that the proper response is surrender. Having disregarded (and punished) prophets like Pat Buchanan, Sam Francis, and Peter Brimelow—whose prescient 1997 NR cover story, Electing A New People, co-authored with Ed Rubenstein, was absolutely not mentioned—Conservatism Inc. is now smoothly transitioning from claiming that immigration is Not An Issue to insisting that it necessitates immediate capitulation. Selling this message to the grassroots was a key purpose of the NRI Summit.
For example, one of the Summit's panels was entitled “What is wrong with the Right?” It tells you what’s wrong with Conservatism Inc. that this purportedly representative cross-section of the American Right consisted of a gay marriage-supporting second-generation Bangladeshi immigrant (moderator Reihan Salam), three Jews (Bill Kristol, Yuval Levin, John Podhoretz) and two employees of the liberal MSM (Ross Douthat, New York Times; Joe Scarborough, MSNBC).
These champions of the Heartland spent much time joking around about their mutual inability to pronounce each others’ names. But they also found time to reprove conservatives for imposing restrictions on Republican politicians' freedom of action.
Thus Salam began the panel by trying to nudge the discussion towards a defense of George W. Bush, especially on immigration. John Podhoretz complained bitterly about going on talk shows where he thought he was getting a “friendly audience” to sell his bookon how we have to stop Hillary Clinton, but instead was confronted with Republicans slamming George Bush on immigration.
Why won't conservatives get their priorities straight?
However, the immigration issue was quickly sidetracked by economics. Joe Scarborough was the most forceful here. Instead of the take-no-prisoners approach to fiscal matters of the Tea Parties and the libertarians, Scarborough wants “moderation.” He slammed “stifling group-think,” especially on fiscal matters, that prevent Republicans from cutting deals. (Presumably this was a reference to Grover Norquist, who nevertheless was featured at the conference, perhaps because of his exceptionally dogmatic immigration enthusiasm or just because of his Beltway prominence). Scarborough won applause when he asked rhetorically why no Republicans ran on “breaking up the banks.” He praised Bill Kristol's recent call for the Republicans to abandon their focus on preventing upper class tax hikes. “Our focus has to be on winning,” Scarborough said.
As for social policy, Salam addressed the difficulty of what he called “family formation” (without acknowledging Steve Sailer, naturally). He suggested that America could still limp along because of its still-preeminent productive sector, but in a way “that is deeply unsatisfying.”
All the panelists agreed that one of the most critical problems the GOP faces is the lack of “political entrepreneurship”—politicians willing to get out with new ideas that could change the Party and eventually policy.
Some of which may be OK—aside from the absurd suggestion that we need to rediscover the wisdom of George W. Bush on immigration.
But this condemnation of “group-think” is coming from the people most responsible for imposing it. Commentators like Salam and Douthat understand American society’s structural problems—the breakdown of civil society, “affordable family formation”—but they ignore the policies that could actually help, above all restricting immigration. Republican intransigence on trade and on peripheral issues like upper class tax cuts result from the destabilizing purge of populist pro-worker Republicans like Pat Buchanan—which was led by figures like Podhoretz and Kristol
Moreover, on fiscal matters, the wave of young libertarian activists systematically taking over the GOP are, if anything, less willing to compromise—and more eager to surrender on issues like immigration and social conservatism. Which means that the GOP’s working class problem will only get worse.
Repugnant racists from VDare are clogging up the #NRISummit hashtag. You people are a stain on the republic.
This outburst hardly inspires confidence that what passes for Conservatism Inc.’s intellectual leadership is capable of a rational discussion on critical policies like immigration or trade—let alone, of course, foreign policy.
The truth is that any “political entrepreneur” championing high wage policies to boost “affordable family foundation” will receive a hostile reception from Conservatism Inc.—and its donors. NRI Summit speakers bemoaned the GOP's “abstract” limited-government agenda and called for “pro-growth” policies. But none had any specific suggestions for what that meant—even when directly asked by an audience member. (The answer given, essentially: “Read our magazines.”
Senator (and young-Pat-Buchanan-lookalike) Ted Cruz did note some warnings for Republican operatives eager to push amnesty. He pointed out that, according to his own polling, immigration was the top concern of only 5% of Hispanic voters, whereas 54% worried about the jobs and economy. He also rejected the idea that if the GOP just will “run and embrace the policies of the Democrats... that will cure the electoral problem.”
Cruz also joked about the cowardice of Republicans on racial issues: he said that “if you turn off the volume” when racial issues come up on television, you can see it in the body language of conservatives: “Why can't we just talk about the capital gains tax?”
But even Cruz didn't have anything substantial to offer beyond “not being afraid to spread the message.” He even fell back on the old chestnut that “school choice is the civil rights issue of our time,” which I've been hearing at conservative conferences for a decade.
Cruz decried the GOP’s weak youth vote for the Republicans—but neglected to mention that Romney (unlike McCain) actually won the white youth vote.
And his foreign policy analysis was conventional neoconservative boilerplate—claiming that Chuck Hagel, a decorated combat veteran who fought in the infantry in Vietnam, is a “less than ardent fan of the US military.”
“If you want to go with the Democrats, they can bring you the success they have in Detroit!” he laughed, as the crowd chortled along.
Even more vacuously, Wisconsin governor Scott Walker argued that the biggest problem is that conservatives aren't “optimistic” enough. Ludicrously, Walker brought up his brother’s Mexican in-laws (I wonder if they voted for him?) to hammer home his point that conservatives just need to go talk to other communities.
This strange combination of panic and complacency was also obvious in the panel on “Do Demographics Doom the Right?” To NRI, demographics just means minorities and women, not the GOP’s failure to mobilize its white base; and, above all, not its failure to retain the “Reagan Democrats”—the white working class.
“Republicans aren't doomed by demographics, they are challenged by demographics,” said Michael Barone. He referred to Mitt Romney as Mitt “Self-Deportation” Romney and blamed his supposed hard line on immigration with costing the GOP the Latino vote.
Barone also moaned that Republicans sound “unfriendly” on the immigration issue. As an example, he contrasted Texas, where Hispanics are supposedly welcomed by “Anglos,” with California, where they are supposedly treated like maids and gardeners.
Of course, Barone offered no evidence that Republicans do better with Texas Hispanics by being “friendly.” They don’t. The GOP carries Texas because Texas whites vote as a bloc. It loses California because California whites do not.
(By the way, in the real world, Democrats are openly planning to flip Texas blue through mass immigration and redistributionist government policy. Treason, of course—but what are Republicans saying about it?
Former Christian Coalition chairman and Faith & Freedom Foundation head Ralph Reed gave an extraordinary performance, combining some truth-telling about the Republicans' costly (but commission-generating) campaign tactics of paid workers and robocalls, with outright lies about the Hispanic vote—actually deploying the long-refuted “Bush got 44% of the vote in 2004” canard. Reed too complained that Republicans lost the “youth vote”—without mentioning Romney's victory among whites.
Reed slammed immigration restriction, but he ignored what we might call the beam in his own eye—that it’s Christian fundamentalism, on issues like abortion and especially gay marriage that really costs the Republican brand among young, educated, socially liberal whites.
Pollster Kellyanne Conway [Twitter ]chimed with in additional support for amnesty and “outreach.” Conway maintained that, even though Hispanics do not rate immigration as their top issue, it still looms over all other discussion and must be eliminated in order for Republicans to convey their message (of “limited government.”) She argued that, as with women and abortion, immigration isn't the top issue for Latinos “until it is.”
She also praised the great “values” of Asians and talked about faith—seemingly unaware that while Asians have the highest rates of intact families, they are generally more secular than other racial groups. She did not explain the dissonance between supposedly “natural Republican” Asians and their intact families and simultaneously “natural Republican” Hispanics and their broken families.
In other words, while the GOP Establishment took some hits for professional incompetence, the ideological assumptions of Conservatism Inc. went unquestioned.
Krikorian’s presence was the one bone that the NRI Summit threw to immigration patriots—a necessary tactical allowance, considering the grassroots opposition to amnesty that derailed George W. Bush's amnesty drives.
But note that immigration was the one issue where the NRI Summit actually allowed a debate. There was no equivalent “debate” on abortion or foreign policy. Conservative pro-choicers and non-interventionists were simply cast into the outer darkness.
In fact, calling the showdown between Hewitt and Krikorian a “debate” was a disservice: Hewitt explicitly argued the issue should not be debated at all!— that every time Republicans discuss immigration, in any context, the party's image among Hispanics is hurt!
Diversity is Strength! It’s also…self-censorship.
Krikorian offered the first real challenge to Conservative Inc. assumptions. He noted that immigration restriction had no “elite constituency” and restriction was being used as a “scapegoat” to hide larger Republican failure. He pointed out that Hispanics poll the most hostile of any group to capitalism. Finally, he argued that immigration is a constant issue in national policy, like defense. It can't simply be gotten off the table, so that Republican operatives don't have to talk about it.
Krikorian is a triangulating squish to VDARE.com. He even explicitly conceded that parts of the DREAM Act might be necessary, though he did not give specifics. He failed to mention birthright citizenship reform.
But he did present the larger case against amnesty with a variety of statistics, studies, and hard evidence. He even managed to work in a brief remark about the need to cut legal immigration!
In contrast, Hewitt emotionally argued that the Republican brand had become toxic among Spanish language media. The solution: get beyond the immigration issue as quickly as we can—even though Krikorian had just pointed out this was impossible.
Hewitt marshaled no evidence in support of his contentions. In a typical exchange, Hewitt's indignant rebuttal to Krikorian's citation of welfare use by Hispanics was: “Have you read An American Son by Marco Rubio?”
The irony: Hewitt is right—but not for the reasons he thinks. Hispanics are opposed to the GOP, not just because of its ties to immigration patriotism—although this was seen as common sense by Democrats like Barbara Jordan and Harry Reid (!) only a generation ago—but also because it is the “Generic American Party” (GAP); and therefore hated by all those antagonistic to the core population i.e. the factor that the late Joe Sobran defined as “alienism”.
2012 was the fulfillment of prophecies that the conservative movement preferred to ignore back when it could have made a difference. Now, instead of asking how we got to the point of having a vast Spanish language media in what used to be our country, conservatives are wondering why Hispanics don't like white Republicans.
Hewitt typified the response widespread at the NRI Summit: the refusal to study the immigration issue was a positive sign of virtue. It's discouraging that, while Kirkorian certainly had more applause at the end of the debate than at the beginning, Hewitt still had his strong supporters. Krikorian convinced some in the audience, but Hewitt was telling the Republican functionaries what they wanted to hear. Overall, I’d estimate the audience breakdown was 50-50.
Aside from Krikorian, the NRI Summit speakers were virtually unanimous: amnesty was a political necessity, indeed, a “pro-growth” policy in its own right. In the economics panel following the “debate,” Amity Shales argued that what the economy desperately needed, at this time of high unemployment, was more immigrants. Diana Furchgott-Roth added that what would really help economic “growth” was, you guessed it, more immigrants. Grover Norquist even went so far as to say that we don't need to worry about China because, after all, they don't let in more immigrants!
Needless to say, there was no evidence offered in support of any of these assertions. Studies by, for example, the Heritage Foundation, showing that amnesty would cost trillions of dollars, were simply ignored.
Purged NR Editor John O'Sullivan, who is still dragged out at NR functions like a chained King Kong, just wrote an NR piece opposing the “stupid and evil” Rubio amnesty proposal. But, significantly, he was not given an opportunity to speak on immigration. Instead, he was relegated to a foreign policy panel, where his reliably neocon proposal that John Bolton should be Secretary of State won loud Conservatism Inc. applause.
Perhaps the most revealing comment of the entire summit was Bill Bennett's bald claim that the Rich Lowry National Review is better than any National Review of the past. Bennett added that with the right messaging, conservatives don't need to worry about the demographic shift. “Cheer up – this is America!” he urged.
The closing speeches by Artur Davis and Bobby Jindal confirmed that Conservatism Inc. is just looking to put a new face on the same old policies.
Still, if Conservatism Inc.’s ideological reboot is purely cosmetic, why the dramatic shift on immigration? The answer lies in the nature of Conservatism Inc. itself. Its primary goal is perpetuating itself, and this means prioritizing policies that can guarantee funding and career prospects. Political victory is of secondary importance. While only a few decades ago independent intellectuals like Russell Kirk or Murray Rothbard could coalesce around insurgent candidates like Pat Buchanan, the contemporary conservatism of the Fox News era pursues a remarkably shallow, homogenized agenda.
The grievances of the Republican base against President Obama's agenda are real, but they are systematically channeled into “safe” causes. There was no mention of Affirmative Action at the NRI Summit, nor any questioning of free trade, even though both issues could provide a means of outreach to white working class voters in critical states like Ohio and Pennsylvania.
Instead, the anger that motivates conservative voters is channeled into causes like…opposing deficit spending. The agenda is communicated by the self-contained culture of conservative celebrities that magazines like National Review and outlets like Fox News provide— meaning that the conservative grass roots are supplied with a steady stream of personalities and talking points through a universally acceptable media.
If dissidents cause problems, they are simply cut off and forgotten. Conservatism Inc. is the go-to sock puppet “opposition” to whatever Obama and the Democrats are doing.
Conservatism Inc. defines itself purely in opposition to the Democrats. And. as the Democrats will always exist, so too will the market share for the rent-seekers at Conservatism Inc.
Amnesty's central importance is not that it provides a way for Republicans to win Hispanic voters—there was no concrete evidence drawing on hard data in support of this idea.
Instead, amnesty's central value is that it provides a way to scapegoat the unfashionable “angry white males” and the genuinely-threatening economic populists like Buchanan, while preserving the core of Conservative Inc.'s agenda.
More important than winning future elections (or even thinking seriously about winning future elections) is maintaining the Republican position as a party of economic globalization, foreign policy interventionism, and low taxes.
Thus, a sudden master plan to win the Hispanic vote by getting out “in front” of immigration allows Conservatism Inc. to be seen as reacting to November's defeat, move against internal enemies, and avoid questioning anything essential. Social conservatives like Ralph Reed may join the amnesty bandwagon today, but in the future they will find they are the next expendable group.
Conservatism Inc. has learned nothing and forgotten nothing. Winning over white working class voters, examining what Hispanics actually say they want, confronting Americans’ skepticism towards a “neoconservative” interventionist foreign policy, were all simply ignored. There is no evidence to suggest that this will change until, ironically, demographics cause Conservatism Inc.'s donors to see it simply as a poor investment.
Conservatism Inc. hero Paul Ryan won loud applause when he joked (plagiarizing Kennedy) that the National Review Summit was the greatest collection of “conservative talent, with the possible exception of when William F. Buckley dined alone.”
Maybe that's the problem – and that's not meant as praise of Buckley.
But give them credit. Although conservatism may not have a future in the United States—indeed, while the historic American nation may not have future—Conservatism Inc. intends to survive.
James Kirkpatrick [Email him] travels around the United States looking for a waiter who can speak English.