“Reform Conservatism”—Another Beltway Scam That Ducks Immigration, Race


We can do better than this

The Founding Fathers of Conservatism Inc.’s New America—Andrew Kelly, Adam White, Scott Winship, James Pethokoukis, Yuval Levin, Kate O’Beirne, W. Bradford Wilcox, Peter Wehner; seated, from left, Michael R. Strain, April Ponnuru and Ramesh Ponnuru—deliberately staged to echo Ferris’ paintingWriting the Declaration of Independence, 1776.” [About that photo of the ‘Reformicons,’ by Monica Torres, New York Times, July 9, 2014]

“Reform Conservatism” is the latest scam coming out of a Conservatism Inc. frantic to change the conversation away from the Camp of the Saints on the Southern border. Having failed to force an Amnesty/Immigration Surge down the throats of the conservative base after the 2012 election, some self-appointed leaders are now feigning interest in “middle class” voters, meaning those members of the historic American nation who stayed home rather than vote for Mitt Romney. But the “Reform Conservatives’” real object: securing their own (subordinate) place in the Ruling Class—epitomized by an adoring cover1404419560[1] story (right) in the New York Times Magazine by long-time conservative-smearer Sam Tanenhaus [Can the G.O.P. Be a Party of Ideas?, July 2, 2014]. Fatally, neither the “Reform Conservatives” nor Tanenhaus’ article mention the dread word “immigration.”

Tanenhaus attacks a straw man of the “angry right,” who were apparently empty-headed barbarians until these “Reform Conservatives” led by Yuval Levin, “the son of Israeli immigrants,” and Ramesh Ponnuru, the son of Indian immigrants, came to enlighten them. Tanenhaus makes the usual drive-by slurs of “the presidential prospects of Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann,” “Fox News hosts and Rush Limbaugh and the radio host Laura Ingraham,” and the “Tea Party aboil.” In contrast, the “temperate” Reform Conservative intellectuals are providing a kind of conservatism that the New York Times can be comfortable with. (Tanenhaus is careful to report that Levin and Ponnuru now tactfully suppress their opposition to abortion, homosexual marriage and even Obamacare).

Levin in fact makes this co-optation strategy explicit:

“I think the Tea Party has been a very great good for the kind of change that needs to happen” Levin said. “It’s a source of great energy. It’s a reaction to the right kinds of problems. It didn’t arise with a policy mentality. A real grass-roots movement doesn’t, generally.”

Tanenhaus concludes: “Levin and company, who do have the policy mentality, will happily fill in the blanks.”

As service to VDARE.com readers, I have waded through the “Reform Conservatives’” new manifesto, Room to Grow (PDF). To look on the bright side: at least it identifies the middle class as the political center of gravity and notes that “two-thirds of Americans think it is harder to reach the American Dream today than it was for their parents.” “A rising cost of living amid stagnant wages,” rising education costs, rising work hours, and declining upward mobility should be directly addressed by conservatives instead of taking shelter in “broad abstractions about the economy.” Senator Jeff Sessions would agree.

But Sessions has a solution: cut immigration. The Reform Conservatives can only offer wonkery such as:

  • An expansion of the earned income tax credit (to ensure no one who works full time is in poverty)
  • Eliminating special breaks in the tax code and working to break up banks that are “too big to fail”
  • Reforms to copyright and intellectual property laws which favor major corporations. [Yawn!]
  • Flexible family leave policies, instead of simply dumping money into institutional child care

And the biggest factors in the collapse of the American middle class go completely unmentioned:

  • Silence on offshoring—a passing reference to energy sources providing leverage in negotiations is the only mention of free trade.
  • No mention of anti-white (and anti-Asian) racial preferences, which impose horrific costs on the economy in their own right. Nor is the increasing necessity to be bilingual to get a blue collar job in certain areas of the country.
  • In fact, no mention of race at all. This is especially important given the “Reform Conservatives’” focus on “school choice.” Room To Grow sticks to the Conservatism Inc. mantra that the quality of the school somehow has nothing to do with the demographics of the students and can simply be “reformed” into excellence by permitting “federal funds to be used for the full panoply of educational choices.”
  • Most importantly, and unforgivably, no mention of immigration—the main factor behind rising inequality and the destruction of the middle class.

Tanenhaus’ omission of immigration appears to have raised some editorial eyebrows at the New York Times: asked about it by a shrewd in-house blogger, he said the “Reform Conservatives” simply disagree on the issue (which doesn’t explain why he didn’t report it). [Behind the Cover Story: Sam Tanenhaus on the G.O.P.’s New Intellectuals, by Rachel Nolan, July 7, 2014]. Token conservative columnist Ross Douthat (not one of the contributors, but something of a fellow-traveler) reported that “some of the authors in the Room to Grow manifesto support [comprehensive immigration reform a.k.a. Amnesty/ Immigration Surge] but that the “so-called reformers” are the most likely to resist the simplistic analysis which says that if the Republicans pass Amnesty, all will be well and they will win the Hispanic vote. [“Reform Conservatism” and Immigration, New York Times, June 23, 2014].

Because we’re going to have “Reform Conservatism” stuffed down our threat for some time to come, I decided it was worth examining the positions of the contributors individually. Unfortunately, the past statements of leading “Reform Conservatives” on the issue, where they even exist, are not particularly encouraging.

  • Yuval Levin has acknowledged he was friendlier to the (pro-amnesty) policy proposals of Marco Rubio than “other conservative critics” (including even the timid National Review editors) and has even repeated the discredited talking point that “our economy is held back by a shortage of high-skill (and especially the highest of high-skill) workers—a serious problem with no real precedent in the postwar era for America.” [Reforming Immigration Reform, by Yuval Levin, National Review, May 6, 2013]

In fairness, Levin has admitted that mass immigration hurts working class Americans and has called for “assimilation”—though whether that is even possible with a Third World population is left unsaid [In Praise of Half Measures, by Yuval Levin, Weekly Standard, December 3, 2012]

  • Ramesh Ponnuru, long a Person of Interest to VDARE.com, occasionally feints right to support restriction, but usually attacks the actual proposals to accomplish it. He told Tanenhaus that he “regretted” Eric Cantor’s defeat i.e. the greatest electoral victory ever won by an immigration patriot. Sadly, Ponnuru is probably still the best of the lot.
  • John Murray “Senior Strategist” and Chairman of the Board for the “Young Guns” Network which published Room to Grow is former Deputy Chief of Staff for Cantor, and, of course, someone who built his career through various trade and industry associations and corporations. One of these was Freddie Mac—the very model of crony capitalism. He also served in the Dole/Kemp 1996 campaign, which sabotaged the Buchanan insurgency and chose respectable defeat over an offensive victory. Naturally, Murray also spends his time writing pro-amnesty boilerplate (“living in the shadows…current immigration system is broken… helping [young people] to achieve citizenship…” etc., etc.) for the Leftist Huffington Post. [Can Meaningful Immigration Reform Emerge Through the Rhetoric, by John Murray, Huffington Post, April 18, 2013]
  • Peter Wehner, author of Room To Grow’s introduction which claims to care about the American middle class, beams that he is “favorably disposed to the immigration reforms outlined by House Republicans like Paul Ryan” but is now glad the GOP didn’t act on “immigration reform”– this time around. He fears that a debate would give media coverage to “irresponsible” voices—like those who were upset by Coca-Cola’s in your face multilingual ad during the Super Bowl. [Republicans Wise to Punt on Immigration Reform, by Peter Wehner, Commentary, February 7, 2014] (Wehner links approvingly to Jon Stewart’s Daily Showmocking Americans who want to keep their country English-speaking.)
  • James Pethokoukis dreams about an America that functions as a “high-IQ utopia” and wants more H1-B visas to dispossess American tech workers. But, he hastens to add, “Of course I don’t want to bring in just the brainiacs. American immigration policy should be about more than just economic benefit.” [Should the US try to be a global, ‘high-IQ utopia for immigrants, by James Pethokoukis, American Enterprise Institute, July 9, 2014] Evidently, immigration qua immigration is a good in itself. Pethokoukis also wants a “super-efficient public sector”—something that will not happen if Affirmative Action and multiculturalism are off the table.
  • Michael R. Strain also wants educated Americans to be replaced to be foreigners [Stapling green cards to diplomas: Time to make this cliché a law, by Michael R. Strain, American Enterprise Institute, June 21, 2012]
  • James C. Capretta writes mostly on health care, and does not seem to have taken a public stand on immigration.
  • Robert Stein and Andrew P. Kelly also don’t focus on the issue.
  • Scott Winship has done some work on how Hispanic immigration affects wages, but avoids the critical question of what to do about it [Guest Post by Scott Winship: How Much Money Are U.S. Workers Earning?By Reihan Salam, National Review, April 8, 2013]
  • Frederick Hess is a bit better, previously writing on the limitation of “transactional” citizenship focused on pure economics instead of a more meaningful concept where citizens feel like they really belong to the country [The Limits of “Transactional” Citizenship, by Frederick Hess, Education Week, October 4, 2010]. He also sounds a bit like Steve Sailer when discussing why Finland succeeds in education (because of the Finns). But he also does not take a strong public stand on mass immigration or speak much about the issue directly.
  • Adam J. White has written that Arizona’s SB 1070 law restricting illegal immigration was constitutional. [Obama v. Arizona, by Adam J. White, The Weekly Standard, July 9, 2010] However, he does not express any normative argument against mass immigration. And like many members of the Beltway Right, he is uncomfortable when the grassroots actually starts noticing its own dispossession. He was extremely displeased when Matt Drudge linked to a story (not mine unfortunately) pointing out that Obama is using a “Cloward-Piven” style strategy to force through an Amnesty/Immigration surge.

Thus of all the contributors to Room to Grow, not one can really be characterized as an immigration patriot—a ludicrous position for those supposedly united by their distaste for simplistic pro-elite policies and concern for the working poor and middle class.

But it gets worse. More revealing even than the contributors are the public figures they trust to transform their proposals into policy.

Room to Grow is a product of the “Young Guns” network. As the manifesto proudly claims,

“The YG movement began with House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, and House Budget Chairman and former Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan.”

We know “Reform Conservatism” is a non-starter just because of this one sentence.

Each one of these politicos represents the critical flaws within Conservatism Inc. Cantor, of course, was so compromised by his pro-amnesty policies and reputation as a shameless flack for big business that he was crushed in the primary by a challenger running an anti-Amnesty and anti-Establishment campaign.

Kevin McCarthy abandoned his opposition to Amnesty not so much in response to an influx of Hispanics, but in order to provide cheap labor to agricultural interests in his district. The only good thing that can be said about him is that he’s so obviously a corporate shill that his mediocrity might lead the conservative base to look for alternatives.

As for Ryan, he’s an aggressive supporter of Amnesty whose idea of bold reform is to cut the one government program the GOP base uses. An almost perfect example of the Beltway Right’s combination of sociopathy and stupidity, he blunders about attacking his own base slashing the programs they support, working to lower their wages, and trying to replace them with immigrants.

Despite Ryan’s facepalm-inducing attempts at outreach by bragging about his “black sweetheart” in college and flowery tributes to Martin Luther King, he still manages to provoke charges of racism every time he tries to speak about blacks.

No wonder the country is in trouble—the Beltway Right’s leading statesman-intellectual may be the only man in the country capable of losing a debate to Joe Biden.

Worst of all, perhaps sensing that their Young Guns in the House have been firing blanks lately, “Reform Conservatives” are rallying around, of all people, Marco Rubio. Like Amnesty itself, Rubio will not stay buried. Recently, he gave an address at Hillsdale coverage that was hailed as ““Reform Conservatism” in one speech.” And if this is representative of the bold new conservatism, the GOP is in deep trouble.

Rubio started promisingly, noting

Wages have stagnated; everyday costs have risen; industries that once flourished have dried up, their jobs shipped overseas or lost to automation; and millions go to sleep each night overcome with the sense that they are one bad break from financial ruin.

True enough. But Rubio did not mention immigration, Affirmative Action, or alternative trade policies.

Instead, he gave a series of almost Talmudic mediations on the meaning of the “American Dream,” which “holds us together as one people” and “defines us as a special nation.” [Rubio Delivers Address on Middle Class Economic Challenges, Marco Rubio, Press Release, June 25, 2014] as their new champion. Unfortunately, after all the interminable rhetoric and lengthy human interest stories about hard working Americans down on their luck, the policies Rubio advanced to safeguard the “Dream” were painfully weak.

  • Eliminating the accreditation process for colleges and universities.
  • “A federal tax credit that encourages contributions to scholarship granting organizations that distribute private school scholarships to needy children.” This sounds good to Beltway Right types, but if it actually worked, it would simply reduce the quality of private schools, and prompt the creation of more expensive schools for parents who want their kids to escape “needy” children.
  • A “wage enhancement credit” to replace the “flawed” earned income tax credit. How will this help the self-employed or those who can’t find qualifying jobs? Why not a citizens’ dividend?
  • “Tax reforms,” “regulatory reforms,” “market-centered” health care to help Americans by “giving them the power to buy the kind of health insurance they want, from any company they choose, at a price they can afford.” How? Does this differ from what Republican have been saying for the last 30 years?
  • And of course, Rubio thinks we should be “gradually raising the retirement age for younger workers.” That will help ordinary Americans! But don’t worry—in a note of extraordinary chutzpah, Rubio graciously includes himself as one of the “younger workers.” Truly, we can all admire the Senator’s sacrifice.

Naturally, this testament to mediocrity is being hailed by Reform Conservatives like Ponnuru as evidence that “another Republican politician—a very high-profile and ambitious one—is tying his political fortunes to these ideas.” [WTAS: Rubio the Reformer, Marco Rubio Senate Office, Press Release, June 27, 2014]

And so he is.

The conservative base is roiling with anger and looking for leader. Unfortunately, the Beltway Right systematically perverts its energy into misguided and self-defeating paths. When credible leaders do emerge (like Pat Buchanan) they are sabotaged by a Conservative Establishment more interested in remaining acceptable to the New York Times then taking and exercising power.

The result: conservative populism manifests itself in causes that are downright bizarre and open to exploitation by charlatans like Glenn Beck, Newt Gingrich or the black conservative flavor of the month. There is no patriotic leadership that effectively pursues the interests of conservative voters.

“Reform Conservatives,” by accepting the consensus narrative about immigration, race, or even trade policy, have nothing to say about the critical issues of our time.

Why we should listen to these people at all?: It’s precisely the warnings of the unrespectable populists like Pat Buchanan on issues like immigration and foreign policy that have been redeemed by history, while the Beltway Right intellectuals blunder from one fashionable catastrophe to another. And if the Beltway Right had listened to the warnings about mass immigration from people like Peter Brimelow and Ed Rubenstein (in National Review! Back in 1997!!), “Reform Conservatives” wouldn’t need to furrow their brows about ways to save the GOP from political extinction.

Today, it is the Dissident Right that is laying the groundwork for effective policy by applying the findings of human biodiversity, social dynamics, and even the political insights offered by the intellectual movement known as the Dark Enlightenment to the contemporary cultural and political scene. At its most basic level, helping the American middle class means discussing ideas about “Affordable Family Formation”—addressing issues like education, transportation, housing prices, wages, and the environment. You simply cannot speak intelligently on these issues if you are not willing to confront immigration and racial realities.

Unfortunately, as we learned with Jason Richwine, anytime serious research or innovative thinking threatens to penetrate the Beltway bubble, Conservatism Inc. moves to cut it away and remain in its state of proud ignorance.

But if reform conservatives can’t even bring themselves to identify the real problems, the entire effort is simply reshuffling the deck chairs on the Titanic. It remains for the patriotic Right to develop a National Conservative agenda that can actually put forward real policies that could be implemented by a GOP/ GAP that wants to win.

Of course, absent major foundation support and mainstream media connections, this is difficult to do and even more difficult to get people to take it seriously. But we don’t have an alternative.

The Beltway Right’s house intellectuals are not up to the task. “Reform Conservatism” isn’t a solution—it’s just another Conservatism Inc. scam.

James Kirkpatrick [Email him] is a Beltway veteran and a refugee from Conservatism Inc.