Watching the stunningly large crowd at this year's Conservative Political Action Conference—about 9,000, up some 2,000 from the previous year—I thought of the conclusion drawn by Enoch Powell, the great ur-paleolibertarian, at the end of his biography of Joseph Chamberlain, a earlier brilliant British rebel, who, rather like Pat Buchanan, had broken with free-trade orthodoxy in the name of national revival:
"All political lives, unless they are cut off in midstream at a happy juncture, end in failure, because this is the nature of politics and human affairs."
For it is now undeniable that the American Conservative Movement, the flower of Free World and the true hero of the Cold War, has ended in utter failure.
The self-appointed leaders who leaped on board as it came to power—the Bush dynasty, the ex- (and no doubt future) Democratic neoconservative pundits, the Beltway publicists—have led it to shattering electoral defeat. Worse, it has essentially nothing to show for its hour in the sun except 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 still remains (judging from CPAC applause) a fatal mirage at the grass roots.
This is tragic. But it is not truly a tragedy—just as I think Powell's conclusion, properly considered, implies.
Nothing grows to the sky. The victories of the Conservative Movement, and its greatest achievement, President Ronald Reagan, over the then-imperative menaces, stagflation and the Soviet Union, were so complete that the menaces themselves are now discounted and forgotten.
That, however, was then. This is now. A new range of menaces rear their multicultural heads. A reformulated movement must appear to deal with them. And it will.
None of this was remotely in evidence at CPAC (except unofficially in ancillary gatherings and down in the Exhibit Hall). The leadership appeared fat and happy. Quite literally—down in the audience, I was astonished at the lateral expansion of old friends up on the podium whom I'd not seen for some years, like the host, the American Conservative Union's David Keene, Human Events' Tom Winter and the Washington Examiner's Mark Tapscott. (The American Spectator's Bob Tyrrell, in contrast, still looks lean and mean, although his magazine, alas, now mostly reflects Beltway Right consensus).
The followership, the vast and remarkably youthful crowd, essentially all white, both sexes dressed in very proper office clothes, was intensely enthusiastic if confused—applauding both Ron Paul's assault on indiscriminate military interventionism and former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum's very disappointing belligerent boilerplate about the Islamic threat with equal enthusiasm, so far as I could see.
But my guess is that the details don't matter here. In Kevin MacDonald's terms, a powerful "implicit community" is blossoming in opposition to Obama's racial-socialist coup. The backlash to Obama is likely to be faster and more furious than the Beltway Establishment, Right or Left, anticipates.
CPAC has changed enormously since I first started going there in the (ahem!) mid-1970s. Perhaps my favorite memory: writing a speech for Senator Orrin Hatch attacking affirmative action, the issue which a fellow staffer and I had decided could win him the GOP nomination. The speech was front page news in the old Washington Star—or, more precisely, the unchecked press release was, Hatch having chickened out at the last minute, apparently deciding that his usual free-enterprise boilerplate was the sharp sword that would win him the glittering prize. (It wasn't. But we probably got enough anti-affirmative action stuff into the Congressional Record under his name to stymie his reported later ambition to be appointed to the Supreme Court. Sorry about that, Senator.)
Back then, I remember intense, electric debate between those of us who supported a Reagan challenge to Ford in 1976, perhaps even a Third Party as advocated by then-National Review publisher Bill Rusher (still not clear to me he wasn't right), and the more conventional apparatchiks who even then didn't want to rock the boat. (We were proved right by Reagan's landslide victory in 1980, but the apparatchiks are still around, still unabashedly advocating "moderation". I've come to the conclusion that it's a psychological quirk, a political version of Tourette's Syndrome.)
Now, perhaps symptomatic of the general collapse of the Conservative Movement, CPAC is vastly larger but there is no central narrative, and above all, no dissent. Partly this is because, unique in all the conferences I've attended—and this is all too many, after nearly four decades in financial journalism—there was no formal lunch or luncheon speaker and dinners and the receptions were restricted to the smaller number of registrants who paid up to $750 for a "Diamond Registration Package". (General Admission was $125). The overall feeling was of standing in a teeming city center—mind-numbing hordes of people rushing round you excitedly, but not much sign that they knew each other or had any common purpose.
Even back in the 1970s, you sometimes got the feeling that CPAC was run for the benefit of an in-group, despoiling but secretly despising us hayseeds from the boondocks. This is now flagrant. Of course, "Inside the Beltway" has become an intoxicating, and notoriously insular, city-state. Still I've never seen a conference in which the speakers and celebrities were so systematically protected, with screened walkways and greenrooms, from contamination by the hoi polloi, general and Diamond alike.
And even if conservatives are supposed to accept hierarchy, it made me feel distinctly queasy to swan down the Diamond Registrants' reserved aisle to the Diamond Registrants' reserved seats right at the front of the vast hall, while everyone else stood and suffered in interminable, stalled lines.
Of course, there had to be some kind of system. The crowd was simply unmanageable, completely swamping the cavernous Omni Shoreham hotel. (An even more cavernous venue is rumored for next year). And there certainly are crazies out there to protect speakers against, although none stood a chance of getting past Ann Coulter's giant bodyguards.
But, basically, I haven't seen such a cattle call/mass rape of grass roots contributors since I went to my first and last Inaugural Ball in 1980. (Word to the unwise: there's no room for dancing at Inaugural Balls. There's no room for sitting down either. You just mill around. Don't go!)
And, as with the Inaugural Balls, there are no politics—just boosterism. It's always a bad sign when you see dinners with multiple speakers. No-one has time to develop an argument. Nor did the procession of Republican show horses, given just half an hour each, in which they mostly chose to conduct pep rallies for themselves.
In fact, Ann Coulter's rapid-fire liberal-bashing knockabout routine (much harder than it looks) was easily the most interesting performance. Ann has many jealous detractors among her supposed allies on the Establishment Right, but I have a lot of respect for her intellect and would guess that she could have developed the best political argument too. Significantly, however, she chose not to do so.
Naturally, Ann is too controversial for the modern CPAC. It failed to invite her last year and, according to rumor, did so this year only reluctantly, bowing to popular demand.
In the absence of a central narrative, many of the CPAC main sessions appeared to be (paid?) ad sessions for component organizations in the traditional conservative coalition—focusing on frankly wonkish issues like tax limitation, health care, education, energy, even (snore!) "technology policy".
Even Center for Immigration Studies' Mark Krikorian, a CPAC-certified trusty, expressed surprise that there was so little attention paid to foreign policy at CPAC—and that the only panel (a mere breakout session) was weighted to anti-interventionist views. Perhaps this partly reflects CPAC management's determination to dump the Bush Administration, to which it once toadied, down the memory hole. But, as Krikorian implied, it also reflects the eerie influence over CPAC achieved by Americans for Tax Reform's Grover Norquist, who is not only a raving Open Borders loony but who has also emerged, weirdly, as a Muslim sympathizer. (Indeed, Front Page's Jamie Glazov has reported that Norquist has married a Muslim but refuses to say if he converted, and Daniel Pipes has asked "Is Grover Norquist an Islamist?"[ April 14, 2005]).
Before the conference, Jihad Watch's Robert Spencer searingly denounced "the Norquistian Islam-Is-A-Religion-of-Peace orthodoxy that prevails at CPAC", telling Newsweek that "conservatives…were fearful of being accused of being anti-Islamic or racist for associating with [Geert Wilders, the Dutch parliamentarian currently being prosecuted for his opposition to Islamization]".
And in fact CPAC did not, as Spencer obviously anticipated, find room in its program for Wilders. Instead, he spoke to a packed ancillary meeting organized by supporters.
Perhaps this was a type of political correctness, as Spencer says. But it strikes me as so extremely weird (what American, really, cares what Muslims think?) as to suggest pressure from funders.
Spencer complained: "How is it possible that a conservative conference does not have a single panel on the threat from radical Islam?" But at least several of the speakers, for example Bush U.N. Representative John Bolton, went on about it at length.
The immigration issue, in contrast, was almost invisible. At VDARE.COM we have chronicled its inexorable emergence at CPAC, in 2003 (when Michelle Malkin got a standing ovation), 2005 (when Tamar Jacoby was booed) and 2007 (when, with help from some Presidential candidates, immigration reform patriots dominated the sessions). At every stage, it has been apparent that the CPAC audience was solidly in favor of immigration control.
No doubt for that reason, this year the CPAC managers took the incredible decision not to discuss immigration at all.
At least, that was the early word. The late word was that a panel had been arranged at the insistence of a major donor, Helen Krieble, head of the Vernon Krieble Foundation and a Colorado horse farm owner, who wanted to publicize her pet proposal for guest workers. Also on the panel: the house-trained Mark Krikorian, who made his usual solid presentation and politely did not attack Krieble; and Tom Fitton of Judicial Watch, who spoke about his organization's interesting work opposing illegal alien day labor centers and empowering local police to enforce immigration law.
Moderating the panel, with distinctly bad grace, was none other than Grover Norquist himself.
VDARE.COM has been critical of Ms. Krieble because of her role in persuading Congressman Mike Pence to try to sell out his Immigration Reform Caucus colleagues in the Bush amnesty wars. It was impossible to cross-examine her about her new plan because Norquist, perhaps alarmed by the spectacle of VDARE.COM contributor Marcus Epstein leering at the head of the microphone line like a happy crocodile, took the unusual step of insisting that all questioners ask their questions before the panelists got to give necessarily cursory answers. But she did say forcefully, in response to my query, that she was opposed to the citizen child interpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment.
This was a surprise. It would, of course, mean that any U.S.-born children of guest workers would not automatically be American citizens, which would certainly lessen the political consequences of a guest worker plan. But it would also sharply reduce any guest worker plan's value to the Hispanic lobby (although the numerous token Hispanics in the room, apparently imported by interested organizations to attend an earlier break-out session on some fantasy called the "Conservative-Hispanic coalition" and visibly unhappy at the close proximity of immigration patriots, seemed not to understand). And it could create a permanent disenfranchised helot class, something quite new in American experience.
In person, Helen Krieble seems like a nice lady. My guess is that none of the clever men that she funds have pointed this (or any other) problem out to her.
Showing my unerring journalistic instinct, I skipped Rush Limbaugh's now-famous closing address. Well, I wanted to spend the evening with my young wife. And I knew that Limbaugh's speech—televised live on Fox, as he quipped, making it his first-ever address to the nation—was the one CPAC event that you absolutely wouldn't have to be there in present in person to see. (Read/view it here). We gave our tickets to an older couple who might otherwise have expired in the now ultra-interminable, super-stalled General Admission lines.
Limbaugh's speech, of course, has subsequently been attacked by the White House and its MSM echo chamber—and, more interestingly by former Bush speechwriter/National Review blogger (same thing, really) David Frum, in his new NewMajority.com webzine, also amplified by the MSM echo chamber. Limbaugh and Frum, who has made a career out of triangulating against fellow conservatives, are obviously having a lovely time together—Rush gets the cover at Newsweek, David gets to write the story! What more could they want? (They've co-operated before: Limbaugh supported Frum's attempt to purge conservative opponents of the Iraq War).
Joy at Frum's ex-employer, National Review, seems distinctly less than unconstrained. You can see why: it must be difficult simultaneously to suck up to Limbaugh, who has helped the magazine in various ways, Frum, representing the neoconservatives to whom it is intellectually subservient, the MSM, to which NR editors long to graduate, and (yes!) the White House—NR editor Rich Lowry was one of the "conservative media pundits" whom Limbaugh said in a scathing aside had been invited to dinner with Obama "to anoint them as conservative spokesmen. These are the people that Obama's willing to break bread with...the people there happen to be the people who think the era of Reagan is over."
But there was another reason I skipped Limbaugh: I knew, from long observation, that notwithstanding his brilliant barn-burning delivery, he wouldn't actually say anything new, especially in the area of immigration and the National Question that are VDARE.com's focus. I think the NR editors are mediocrities intellectually and morally, but they do know a political risk when they see one, from long practice in not taking them. And they were quite right to say of Limbaugh, in their obviously uneasy editorial on the controversy: "His views are not extreme and his manner is not, for that matter, particularly angry."
When my immigration book Alien Nation was in preparation, the publishers, Random House, were desperate for a blurb from Limbaugh, probably hoping to appease their balking liberal sales force. But despite approaches by various mutual friends, we never got any answer. ("No" would have been fine). Subsequently, at Bill Buckley's 1996 Election Night party where Limbaugh was guest of honor—the idea that Buckley would have disapproved of Limbaugh is ludicrous; he fawned on him—I went up to Limbaugh and directly told him he should change sides on immigration. (The fleeting references I'd heard him make were Wall Street Journal dogmatic drivel.) Limbaugh immediately put on a very serious face and said earnestly: "I've not made up my mind yet"). Some years later, at a dinner party in Palm Beach, I told him the same thing. Again, he put on that serious face and said earnestly: "I've not made up my mind yet." Maybe he gets asked the question a lot.
At this point, I think it's pretty clear Limbaugh is never going to make up his mind. He played a heroic role in helping stop the Bush amnesties, but was noticeably hesitant about the tougher parts of the problem. I don't believe he has ever criticized legal immigration. And, of course, he was a blind Bush backer, although Bush's appalling immigration views were always obvious.
I can't really blame Limbaugh for this. He has a big business to run and he's very vulnerable to advertiser pressure. Patriotic immigration reform is simply not good for media careers. Even I was impressed by the fanaticism and unscrupulousness of the immigration enthusiasts after Alien Nation was published, including people I had regarded as friends for years. I sometimes wonder if I would have started writing about immigration at all if I had known that Buckley would betray us and purge patriotic immigration reformers from National Review. And Limbaugh's speech, of course, did not mention immigration or any related issue.
In fact, it's notable how many of Frum's complaints about his style and substance Limbaugh actually anticipated. He was relentlessly upbeat, obviously buying the conventional wisdom, mistaken in my view, that Reagan won because he was so sunny. ("Let me tell you who we conservatives are: We love people." [Applause]) He was politically correct. ("We want every American to be the best that he or she can be"…ugh. My emphasis.)
He rejected "racism" at groveling length. ("We don't hate anybody…let me deal with this head on. You know what the cliche is, a conservative: racist, sexist, bigot, homophobe. Excuse me, ladies and gentlemen of America, if you were paying attention, I know you were, the racism in our culture was exclusively and fully on display in the Democrat primary last year. [Applause] It was not us asking whether Barack Obama was authentic. What we were asking is: Is he wrong? We concluded, yes. We still think so. But we didn't ask if he was authentically black. We didn't say, as some Southern Christian Leadership Conference leaders said: Barack is not authentic, he's not got any slave blood. He's really not down for the struggle, but his wife is….
("President Obama stands for certain things. I don't care, he could be a Martian. He could be from Michigan, I don't know—just kidding. Doesn't matter to me what his race is. It doesn't matter. He's liberal is what matters to me.")
Needless to say, this did not prevent Frum agreeing with Chris Matthews that Limbaugh has "a race problem" ("He sometimes talks that way.") National Review bloggers complained about this smear against an ally, but it's one they themselves have been quick to make).
In one passage, Limbaugh even managed simultaneously to eschew race and endorse the "Proposition Nation" cliché ("We're no different than any other human beings around the world. Our DNA is no different. We're not better just because we're born in America. There's nothing that sets us apart. How did this happen? How did the United States of America become the world's lone super power, the world's economic engine, the most prosperous opportunity for an advanced lifestyle that humanity has ever known?")
And a momentary stumble in his peroration revealed that Limbaugh endorses the social liberalism that Frum urges on the party as if it's new. ("Don't measure your success by how many people like you. Just worry about how they vote. And then at the end of the day how they live, but that's really none of your business once they close the doors. Thank you all very much. It's been great." My emphasis).
In the end, it's hard to avoid the impression that Limbaugh's problem in Frum's eyes is that he is too effective—and that he's not David Frum.
Limbaugh has the heart to lead the troops, but on the evidence of this speech not the head—he offered no new strategic vision. (Neither does Frum, who has definite wonkish tendencies and wants to emphasize "free-market health-care reform").
In this connection, one passage in Limbaugh speech gave me a wistful pang:
"We are talking about the United States of America—and there will always be an America, don't misunderstand me—we're talking about it remaining the country we were all born into and reared and grown into. And it's under assault. It's always under assault. But it's never been under assault like this from within before..."
In fact, however, it's not clear "there will always be an America", much less that it will remain "the country we were all born into". Limbaugh was born in 1951, when America was nearly 90% white (and African Americans made up virtually all the rest). But recently, the census bureau projected that, because of Federal immigration policy, whites will be a minority by 2042. Most births could be minority by as early as 2011. To adapt Brecht's poem—which is on the point of becoming a cliché without anyone having grasped what it means—the government is literally dissolving the people and electing a new one.
Americans are trained to get uncomfortable at any mention of this demographic reality. But it's obvious that, on current form, the country that Limbaugh was "born into" will cease to exist very soon.
You could argue that the "Proposition Nation" will prevail and no-one will notice, although there is little evidence to justify this unprecedented gamble—and the Left is gleefully anticipating that things will indeed change. You cannot, however, argue that this shift will be other than devastating to the Republican Party. As we have repeatedly demonstrated on VDARE.COM, race is destiny in American politics. By supporting current immigration policy, the Republican Party is literally committing suicide, and very soon. The silence of CPAC (and Limbaugh, and Frum, and the entire Establishment Right) on the subject is nothing less than incredible. Which is why, watching the cavorting CPAC crowd, another quotation forced itself into my mind
Alas, regardless of their doom
The little victims play
For the Republican Party, America's post-1965 immigration disaster is both a problem and a solution. It is a problem because of the demographic drift. It is a solution because it gives the party the chance to emerge as the champion of the historic American nation—rather as it became the party of American nationalism after the Civil War.
America today is confronted with what we at VDARE.COM call "The National Question"—whether it is, or can be much longer, a nation-state, the political expression of a particular people.
The alternative is that it will degenerate into an empire, a congerie of nationalities held together by increasingly authoritarian managerial elite, perhaps ultimately merging (as President Bush and the late Wall Street Journal editor Bob Bartley apparently envisaged) with other bureaucratic "economic regions".
Three times in the last fifteen years, National Question issues have banged on the door of the Republican party—when patriots in California put initiatives on the ballot opposing taxpayer subsidies to illegal aliens (Proposition 187 in 1994), ending affirmative action quotas (Proposition 209 in 1996) ending "bilingual education" i.e. instruction conducted in foreign languages (Proposition 227 in 1998). All were massively outspent by ethnic lobbies and opposed by the entire political establishment; all passed overwhelmingly.
A National Question Strategy would feature at a minimum: (1) an immigration moratorium and the systematic dismantling of the illegal presence in the U.S.; (2) abolition of affirmative action, which has become a zero-sum shell game squeezing out the historic American nation from desirable positions; (3) an Official English policy, designed to compel linguistic assimilation.
Of course, these policies would be portrayed as anti-immigrant and anti-ethnic. But the unmentioned subtext of these initiatives is that they always get significant minority support. More generally, the American nation and its founding culture is more attractive than it is usually given credit for. The central revelation of Kevin Phillips seminal 1968 book The Emerging Republican Majority was that, with the singular exception of the Jews, most later immigrants were slowly migrating into the GOP, without any particular Italian or Irish outreach programs and despite (or because of) the great immigration cut-off of the 1920s. It takes time, and, on the part of the assimilating nation, confidence.
Ironically, the National Question Strategy would also supply answers, otherwise in short supply, to the issues that David Frum cited in Newsweek as new and pressing: stagnant, increasingly unequal incomes; the environment; even health care costs. All have an immigration dimension. It's just never mentioned.
And, of course, a National Question Strategy would take courage. That is what Limbaugh could provide…if he chose to. (Sigh).
But whether the current leadership responds or not, looking at that CPAC crowd, you could see that something is going on. The overwhelming whiteness of the crowd would have been shocking if you didn't know that white America voted solidly for McCain, although he gave them absolutely no reason to do so. (And you would not know from the MSM unless you studied it very carefully).
In effect, the historic American nation is faced with a minority occupation government. At some subliminal level, the crowd seemed to feel that the Obama Administration is deeply alien, even incomprehensible. That explained their visceral reaction to it—and guarantees that, sooner or later, one way or another, the National Question will surface in American politics.
Peter Brimelow (email him) is editor of VDARE.COM and author of the much-denounced Alien Nation: Common Sense About America's Immigration Disaster, (Random House - 1995) and The Worm in the Apple (HarperCollins - 2003)