The End of Paleoconservatism? Not quite…

James Lubsinkas` much-noted recent article in “Frontpage” article suggested that “paleoconservatism” – the attempt to rethink the conservative establishment Cold War consensus on issues like immigration – has been crushed. One particularly crushed paleocon (he worked for Buchanan) thinks its soul is marching on.

 

Funny thing is, a kinder and gentler version of “paleoconservatism” lives on within the Republican ranks, despite Buchanan`s departure, his weak third-party showing and all the other factors Lubinskas mentions.  Paleoconservative writers and activists (including me) deserve no credit for it.

The apparent re-evaluation of the conservative establishment`s immigration position is but one sign.  People who think about immigration understood that Dubya`s pandering would draw few poor Mexican voters into the GOP. But to most standard Republicans, such an outcome was easy and tempting. Now the illusion is shattered. 

The signs of a re-evaluation are subtle, but everywhere: in The American Enterprise symposium; in National Review, even, very quietly, in the odd passage in The Weekly Standard. Open-border Republican Spencer Abraham, who had been chair of the Senate immigration sub-committee, was defeated in Michigan – an accomplishment for which various immigration restriction PACs deserve considerable credit. I`d wager the party`s position will soon move more closely to restrictionist Lamar Smith.

On foreign policy, it has long been clear that rank and file Republicans are far more isolationist than The Weekly Standard would like. During the bombing of Serbia, Bill Kristol became so exercised by the lack of war enthusiasm in the GOP Congress he seemed nearly to toy with leaving the party. The  New York Post editorial page, then edited by John Podhoretz, wrote editorials chastising “Kay Bailey Isolationist.”

What both publications fear is that the Republicans and conservatives for whom they purport to speak, have no real interest, now that the Cold War is over, in ginning up foreign crusades where America has little stake. Few Republicans may want to, pace Pat Buchanan, rethink U.S. involvement in World War II. But, short of that, their instincts are more Chronicles than Commentary.

Dubya, if his margin holds, will appoint Colin Powell and Condi Rice to the big foreign affairs posts. Neither will make the neoconservatives happy.

Indeed, if paleoconservatism is defined with some modesty (how about: skeptical resistance to multiculturalism, support for immigration reform, and opposition to an over-extended and militaristic foreign policy) there is still a heated battle for the soul of the Republican Party taking place between paleoconservatives and neocons. The battle endures although many paleocons left the GOP with Buchanan and others were purged from their journalism jobs years ago; and although the neocons have played their cards assiduously, made sycophantic pilgrimages to Austin from early 1999 onward, control the key publications, the money, etc. etc.

The reason that some mild version of paleoconservatism lives on, despite all, is that it is not a normal conservative sentiment to want your country made over by foreign immigrants; or to go to war against people who mean you and your family no harm.

And a zillion editorials in The Wall Street Journal can never make it so – at least not in any way that endures.

December 03, 2000