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It means "I accuse" in French and was the title of the novelist Emil Zola's famous 1898 open letter alleging a miscarriage of justice in the Dreyfus Affair spy scandal. Before National Review immigration enthusiast John J. Miller accuses me of being un-American , I must note that Norman Podhoretz used the phrase a few years ago one of his articles claiming that Israel was being mistreated in some way or other that I forget.
And, as I know Miller would be the first to say, you can't get more American than Norman, can you?
Although an immigrant, I've been involved in the American conservative movement for more than 35 years. I worked for John Ashbrook (Ashbrook, not Ashcroft) against Richard Nixon in the 1972 Presidential primaries. I regard the conservative movement as the flower of the Free World and its first fruit, Ronald Reagan, as the greatest President of the twentieth century. But every stage of its development was paid for in blood--in sacrificed careers, in social ostracism, in endless hours of unrewarded toil.
Now that dream has turned to ashes.
The full measure of Tuesday night's disaster is not simply that the self-appointed leaders who leaped on board the movement as it came to power--the Bush dynasty, the ex- (and no doubt future) Democratic neoconservative publicists and intellectuals--have led it to shattering electoral defeat.
Instead, the full measure of the disaster is that the conservative movement has essentially nothing to show for its moment in the sun. The discontents of the Religious Right are well-known. Economic conservatives are confronted with relentlessly increasing federal government spending. To mention one of my pet interests, far from being willing to break the power of the teacher unions and introduce market forces into public education, the Bush Administration has done exactly the opposite: moving to federalize the K-12 system in a way that is certain to be captured by the education Establishment. And, of course, Bush turned out to be bent on actually increasing immigration, already running at record nation- (and party-) breaking levels.
In place of all of this, conservatives were offered war, and the acquisition of what are in effect colonies, in the Middle East. I can honestly say that in more than three decades in the movement, I never heard this objective even mentioned, let alone agreed upon. Yet it suddenly became the centerpiece of the Bush Administration's political strategy. And, because Americans are patriotic, it did indeed reverse the GOP's increasingly chronic failure to turn out its white base, already threatened by inundation through immigration--albeit modestly and, as it turns out, temporarily . The problem with war, however, is that you can lose. And defeat is demoralizing. The plain fact is that, for the effort it put into conquering an empire in the Middle East, the Bush Administration could have sealed America's borders and ensured Republican hegemony for a generation. Instead, we face the very real possibility of a post-Vietnam style national funk.
The alternative strategy is obvious even in this election. In Arizona, Colorado and Michigan, grass-roots initiatives aimed at combating illegal immigration and affirmative action quotas (a species of National Question issue, because quotas directly attack the American majority) won in the teeth of media and elite opposition. In Michigan, combining lack of principle with its normal stupidity, the Republican leadership ran away from Ward Connerly's Michigan Civil Rights Initiative--and the party was utterly routed at every level of state government.
However, we know from earlier experience with California's Proposition 187 in 1994, and for that matter Arizona's Proposition 200 in 2004, that just because the immigration issue walks up and bangs on the Republican Party's door, it is not necessarily welcomed'indeed, it can be rebuffed. On present form, that is exactly what will happen again.
Indeed, it is entirely likely that the Bush Administration may attempt to pass its Amnesty/Immigration Increase bill with the support of the new Democratic majority--although a lame duck President may find the dynamic has changed and that he merely succeeds in ensuring that the Republicans, finally, decisively, oppose immigration.
"All political lives, unless they are cut off in midstream at a happy juncture, end in failure," wrote the prophet of Western immigration reform, Enoch Powell, "because that is the nature of politics and of human affairs."
The same, obviously, is true of political movements. This is not a pessimistic assessment: it is part of the endless cycle of birth and death. I argued in the summer that even passage of Bush's amnesty would not be the end for the immigration reform movement, but move the struggle to another plane. Similarly, American patriots will regroup and reorganize.