National Review's Conservative Summit: "Making History and Yelling Go!"—But Where?

See also: Immigration Genie Out Of Bottle At CPAC Conference, by Kevin Carter

For several years, publications like VDARE.com, The American Conservative, Chronicles, and LewRockwell.com have been warning that the Beltway-dominated "conservative movement" is becoming increasingly irrelevant, if not counterproductive to the goal of "conserving" the most important aspects of America. Since the 2006 midterm election disaster, there has been even more discussion. Is the "conservative movement" still relevant? What should its relationship be with the Republican Party and George W. Bush? In an effort to get the conservative movement and GOP back on track, National Review magazine hosted a "Conservative Summit" at the JW Marriott hotel in Washington D.C. over the weekend of January 26-27. I went along.

The official conservative movement, led by National Review, has reacted to its critics by calling us pessimists and "unpatriotic conservatives" who were just jealous that we couldn't get President Bush to speak at our fundraisers and should be read out of the movement. NR took credit for the War in Iraq and GOP electoral successes in 2002 and 2004. But unmistakably, things are going south. Would National Review now listen to the party poopers who were warning about the need to reevaluate the movement when the rest were celebrating?

Answer: Of course not. Even the morning after, National Review has yet to have its moment of clarity.

And of course the rich donors who show up at events like this would much rather be pampered by Pangloss than chided by Cassandra—who after all, was still ignored even after she warned of the Trojan Horse.

Although the $225 dollar price was not exorbitant, especially given the four-course meals and top-shelf open bars, the crowd felt more like that at a high priced GOP fundraiser than at any other conservative event I've been to. I couldn't complain about having steak for lunch and dinner. But when it came to food for thought, I asked myself at the end of the weekend: Where's the Beef?

Rather than address the biggest failures of the conservative movement and Republican Party, National Review barely even acknowledged that there was a problem.

Foreign Policy

One of the biggest mistakes of the conservative movement has been embracing a neoconservative foreign policy that entangled us in an unpopular and interminable war in Iraq. Virtually all analysts agreed that the major reason for the 2006 Democratic takeover was the War in Iraq. Yet National Review's symposium on foreign policy did not include a single critical voice.

With their panel on a New Agenda of conservative foreign policy, former NR editor John O'Sullivan gave a genuinely intriguing portrait of the state of the world and the many challenges America faced across the globe. Nonetheless, he insisted that we stay in Iraq for quite some time, and felt that we must continue to be actively involved in the Middle East. Cliff May of the Foundation For Defense of Democracies (formerly EMET, which means "truth" in Hebrew) and Bush I/ Reagan lawyer David Rivkin added little other than giving more emphasis to the struggle against "Islamofascism" and, somewhat paradoxically, anti-Islamic Russia.

The other foreign policy debate, on the merits of Bush's "surge" in Iraq, was between William Kristol and Lawrence Korb. Kristol, of course, represented the neoconservative position—more troops—and Korb gave a number of reasons to oppose it. What was odd is that Korb works for the left wing Center for American Progress and has absolutely no conservative credentials whatever. (Not that Kristol has any either, but still…) That National Review chose not to get a single "unpatriotic conservative" is very telling.

Not surprisingly, Korb received the coolest reception of the day.

Immigration

In contrast to conservative pet causes like privatizing social security—to say nothing of the War on Terror and the like—immigration restriction is one issue where an overwhelming majority of the public agrees. Peter Brimelow's 1992 National Review cover story "Time To Rethink Immigration?" is sometimes credited with restarting the current debate, and the magazine led the challenge to Wall Street Journal Open Borders dogma until William F. Buckley fired editor John O'Sullivan and purged immigration critics in 1998. Sometime after 9/11, National Review half-heartedly re-entered the debate. What now?

As one conservative journalist who attended the conference told me: "A real conservative debate on immigration should be between Pat Buchanan and Tom Tancredo." But instead we were given Center for Immigration Studies' Mark Krikorian, imported as National Review's immigration beard in response to VDARE.COM's relentless ridicule, and…the appalling Tamar Jacoby. Krikorian is the first to admit that he is to the left of Peter Brimelow on immigration, and he has a long history of triangulating against VDARE.COM to curry Establishment favor. That he is now on the restrictionist end of the NR debate (why was there a debate at all?) shows how far the magazine has fallen over the last decade.

This is not to say that Krikorian does not have many good things to say or that he cannot hold his own in a debate. Tamar Jacoby—whom one student attendee said gave off the aura of his feminist literature professors—made a case based solely on a purported economic rationale. Nevertheless, at one point, she claimed that the law of supply and demand does not apply to immigration. She insisted that our economy needed more low-skilled workers and bemoaned the low number of native-born high school drop-outs.  When Krikorian asked: "So you're saying we want to import high school dropouts?" the audience burst out in laughter and applause. When Jacoby claimed that Hispanics were "natural Republicans" with family values, Krikorian noted that they certainly do not live that way, instancing their many social pathologies.

Even among this group of Country Club Republicans, Jacoby received the coolest reception of all the speakers next to Korb.

Outside of this debate, the only speaker who brought up immigration without being prompted by audience was Michelle Malkin.

A number of politicians and Presidential candidates showed up to sell their conservative credentials to the conference audience. Among them were Jeb Bush, Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee, and Newt Gingrich. Notably absent: Tom Tancredo, Duncan Hunter, and Ron Paul—the only restrictionists in the race.

None of the candidates who spoke said anything substantive on immigration. But it was on the audience's mind. Jeb Bush was so hounded by questions about immigration that he finally responded that all immigrants are assimilating and the only problem is that there are some people who don't like people who have accents! [VDARE.COM note: Perhaps he's thinking of John Podhoretz, who claimed that once, in an immigration debate including Peter  Brimelow, O'Sullivan, John Derbyshire, and George Borjas, he was the "only person speaking with an American accent"—a familiar form of xenophobia.]

Affirmative Action

Along with immigration, opposition to affirmative action a.k.a. racial and gender quotas is one of the most popular conservative positions among the general public. Unlike immigration, this is an issue where conservatives of all stripes, be they libertarians, neoconservatives, paleoconservatives, or traditionalists, agree. In fact, it may be the only policy issue that unites all strands of conservatives. But, while I have yet to see a conservative defense of affirmative action, the Republican Party and its conservative movement mouthpieces are nevertheless rapidly retreating on the issue.

Michael Steele, the black former GOP Lieutenant Governor of Maryland, Ward Connerly, and Abigail Thernstrom spoke in a symposium, "Trumping the Race Card", on how the GOP should be the party of African Americans. Of course, a true conservative debate about race would wonder if minority outreach is counterproductive because it may alienate the white vote—the real prize in American politics, as VDARE.COM's Steve Sailer has pointed out in his "Sailer Strategy" articles. A true conservative debate would also wonder whether there are limits to how much we can improve their situation in American life. And of course, as a starting point, one would expect everyone to be for dismantling affirmative action and the rest of the racial spoils system.

But only Connerly, who has heroically led two successful state wide ballot initiatives against affirmative action, made opposing the policy a top priority. Michael Steele said affirmative action was a side issue—we needed to revitalize the black culture and it will go away. Thernstrom said it was pointless to worry about until the testing gap disappeared.

Charles Murray would no doubt have much to say about these silly claims. But he was relegated to a tiresome panel on limited government.

Of course the entire "Race Card" symposium was filled with adulatory references to Martin Luther King. When one member of the audience mentioned King's leftism, Thernstrom acknowledged he was indeed a socialist, but insisted the true outrage was that people ignored how deeply religious he was. She then humbly asserted that she "worshipped the ground he walked on".

Middle Americans

While there was a great deal of talk about the need to reach out to African Americans, there was no discussion at all about reaching out to working and middle class whites. Fewer than 10 percent of blacks voted for the GOP in 2006, but this has always been the case, even in the Reagan-Bush landslides. However, the alienation of Middle Americans, who felt that the GOP was serving the interests of corporate America was a major cause of conservative failure in 2006. A significant number of populist Democrats were able to oust conservative Republicans—Bob Casey Jr., Jim Webb, Heath Shuler. Nowhere was this topic, or related issues like trade and outsourcing, even addressed. The closest anyone came was radio talk show host Laura Ingram who made a very quick aside comment about how Republicans needed to get out of the country clubs and needed to find a new strategy in confronting candidates like Webb.  The only response was Mona Charen's questioning of Webb's patriotic credentials.

So, rather than addressing why conservatives are alienating middle America with their support of a globalist foreign policy, complete retreat on issues like affirmative action and immigration, and slavish support for the Republican Party, National Review instead invited the most prominent Republicans it could find, continued its globalist agenda, and said nothing new on the National Question.

Does this mean the conservative movement is finished?

Maybe not. It's hard to imagine the Democratic Congress accomplishing much good. If Hillary or Obama get elected president, and when Americans finally get fed up with them, no doubt they will turn to the Republicans again. And the Beltway-based "conservative movement" will be whooping it up, and raising money from gullible businessmen.

Still, when National Review was founded in 1955, William F. Buckley told its readers in its inaugural editorial, that the magazine aimed to "Stand Athwart History Yelling Stop!" At the Conservative Summit's final lunch, White House press secretary Tony Snow told a cheering audience that now "Conservatives make history, and we yell go!"

Yelling stop may not have been as profitable, and Bill Buckley could not have gotten as many high profile politicians to speak at his meetings in 1955. But at least they were conserving something.

Marcus Epstein [send him mail] is the founder of the Robert A Taft Club and the executive director of the The American Cause and Team America PAC. A selection of his articles can be seen here. The views he expresses are his own.