Brimelow On Buckley: Making And Breaking The Conservative (And Immigration Reform) Movement

John O'Sullivan's July 30 American Conservative cover story Getting Immigration Right: How conservatives blocked the open-borders establishment has finally appeared online, as Steve Sailer noted here last week. It opens with an amusing account of how O'Sullivan, in his then-role of editor of National Review, maneuvered my own 1992 Time To Rethink Immigration? NR cover story, which he (perhaps too generously) says "launched the modern American debate on immigration", past the magazine's proprietor, Bill Buckley. This whole opening passage is a salutary reminder of the extreme inhibitions that had prevented even established conservative intellectuals from addressing immigration policy up to that point.

And, alas, subsequently. The glaring omission from O'Sullivan's article is the fact that in 1998 National Review "stopped stridently claiming opposition to immigration as a conservative cause", as Wall Street Journal Editor Robert L. Bartley accurately gloated (July 3, 2000), and did not return to the issue until some time in 2002. The reason for this, of course, is that Buckley fired O'Sullivan and purged the magazine of immigration reformers (e.g. me).

In an embarrassing aside that he would have been better advised to omit, O'Sullivan implicitly denies these developments, although they are widely known. Of course, public silence was enjoined upon him by the terms of his severance agreement, which I am happy to say was negotiated by my lawyer.

Those of us who were personally injured by Buckley's betrayal are obviously vitally interested in this story. But it is not without wider significance. It raises the question of whether the current National Review editors' recent opposition to the Kennedy-Bush Amnesty/ Immigration Surge bill was anything more than an opportunistic effort to insert themselves at the head of a parade, which they will abandon when their assessment of their career requirements shifts.

After all, the amnesty they now congratulate themselves on opposing was the monomaniacal obsession of a president they slavishly supported, although his views were obvious. Indeed, O'Sullivan provides an example of this opportunism. He writes:

Bill Kristol, representing many neoconservatives disposed to favor the bill, came out against it. He did so in part because it had serious drafting defects but, more importantly, because it was creating a bitter gulf between rank-and-file Republicans and the party leadership. That in turn was imperiling Republican objectives in other areas, notably Iraq.

Kristol will return to immigration enthusiasm once he has helped persuade Bush to attack Iran.

Buckley is conventionally credited with making the modern conservative movement. It is less commonly recognized that he has also been complicit in breaking it - beginning with his fratricidal attack on Pat Buchanan's presidential insurgency in 1992, continuing with his allowing National Review to be taken over by sycophantic GOP gofers. This fatally facilitated the spreading Bush blight that has led the movement, the party and the country to utter disaster.

O'Sullivan in effect suggests that Buckley tried to play the same making-and-breaking role in the "modern American debate on immigration". Only through luck, and the miracle of the internet, did he fail.