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Below, James Kirkpatrick’s address on The End Of Conservatism Inc., And The Way Forward
By way of an introduction, my experience is with a libertarian think tank inside the Beltway, so I want to focus my talk today on the conservative movement itself. In light of what some of the other speakers have said, I just changed a lot of what I was going to say. This is going to be off the cuff and I'm on a lot of coffee right now so this should be fun.
I’m going to challenge a lot of things, I want people to be kind of angry at the end and to come back at me. This is the last presentation of the day so I want to go out forcefully.
Ok, imagine electric guitars wailing in the background while I say this first part:
“For it’s the end of history, it’s caged and frozen still.
There is no other pill to take so swallow the one that made you ill.”
I like those lyrics for two reasons. First is the mentioning of swallowing the pill that makes you ill. That is exactly how the Conservative Movement is dealing with immigration. Only yesterday it was something we don’t have to worry, don’t have to talk about, and indeed have to force people out of the movement for trying to talk about it. Now it’s suddenly it's a problem so massive we can’t do anything about it. It has gone from nothing to worry about to a cause for instant surrender.
That said, the lyrics reflect a second, deeper point.
When people talk about the “End of History,” what they are referring to is Francis Fukuyama’s book of that title where he posited that liberal democracy was the final form of human political evolution, meaning that it satisfies the human desire for recognition and dignity in a way that no other form of government really can.
But he had a caveat about that, and the second part of his title that a lot of people forget was “And The Last Man.” The Last Man that the creature that Nietzsche said appears at the end of history, a “man without a chest,” somebody who doesn’t want to strive for any great victories, someone who thinks purely in terms of material comfort.
Or, I like to think of what Tony Soprano said: “It’s good to be in something from the ground floor. I'm come too late for that, I know. But lately I get the feeling that I’m coming in at the end, the best is over.”
Should be noted that his therapist Dr. Melfi adds: “Many Americans I think feel that way. “
When you think of the “Last man,” you can’t help but think of the sorts of people that populate the Beltway Right. There’s the man-without-a chest-element in the sense that they believe there’s this system, there’s no alternative and we’re going to accept all the rules that are presented to us. I think one of the great examples was when Robert Weissberg was fired from National Review and Richard Lowry went so far as to thank the Leftist who brought Weissberg’s thoughtcrimes to his attention. It was an open admission that the job of the Conservative Movement is to lose and lose gracefully. And they accept this.
But you also see this with the discussion of demographics—the changing demographics of America are just happening, like the weather. It has nothing to do with policy, it certainly can’t be reversed, and furthermore, the only possible thing we can do in response to it is to adjust the way the Leftists say we should.
There’s also a certain amount of Beltway contempt for the base. I remember an organizing meeting for the Conservative Political Action Conference, the major annual gathering for conservatives. They discussed the prospective panels and everything else. Someone got up and wanted to do an immigration panel and talk about how changing demographics was going to threaten the Republican majority. And the person heading the meeting sat there and listened to this proposal, said it was a good idea, really wanted to talk about that…and the proposal that ended up on paper as a result of that discussion was “How we can win the Hispanic vote.”
This was literally the exact opposite of what had been proposed.
A critical point about the Conservative Movement is that, within the Beltway it’s a purely economic movement and one that doesn't even get to the core of economic policy. It just sort of tinkers on the edges of the welfare state.
I don’t think I’m making an original point when I say that most Conservative Movement types just wish the immigration issue would go away. But I think they also feel the same way about just about everything that doesn’t have to do with marginal tax rates. Staffers and Movement Conservatives are profoundly uncomfortable with anything that might get them in trouble socially.
As for the libertarian or “Liberty Movement,” it is the true rising faction within the American Right and it is systemically taking over the Republican Party from the bottom up. However, it is also being assimilated by the Party. A lot of radical anti-state critiques of a Mises or and Rothbard are being thrown by the wayside. And certainly the politically incorrect insights of a guy like Murray Rothbard are also being ignored.
So, is the Liberty Movement taking over the Republican Party? Or is it being subsumed?
Regarding the Tea Party, the great manifestation of grass-roots resistance in recent history, its leaders will very aggressively tell you they are only concerned with issues about the debt and economy. And while occasionally somebody will pop up to the surface to talk about something else, it always creates a controversy and their Beltway backers do not want to hear it.
My point is that the Establishment and the anti-Establishment Republicans are basically the same. Conservatism is supposed to be the negation of ideology, but actually there is a very rigid ideology. While you might get a mention of Russell Kirk or something at a conservative intellectual group like the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, it has no real practical impact.
An earlier generation of conservatives might have thought they were being clever by discussing certain issues in an abstract way, by saying a particular cultural issue was actually about the size of the state or limited government as opposed to real social changes that are going on. But the new generation of conservatives only know this postmodern, leftist America, so the very idea of fighting a cultural battle is alien to them.
Thus, you really have to examine the practical impact all the money and activism that the Conservative Movement absorbs and what it gets funneled into. For example, now [early January 2013] conservatives are mad at Speaker Boehner for caving on fiscal cliff. However, Speaker Boehner may cry a lot, but I don’t think he’s especially weak or stupid. The reason he couldn’t go as far as a lot of Republicans would like is because it’s just not politically popular to take the kinds of fiscal stances the Conservative Movement demands.
And yet what a lot of normal people took away from Paul Ryan was the Republicans' great idea was to cut Medicare.
In other words: let’s pick the one program that Republican supporters benefit from and take it away!
The Conservative Movement is willing to go down with the ship on the issues that they do not have majority support on. This is a political movement which, at every level, is almost designed to lose.
Despite this, if you read a lot of journalism, especially from the Left, they'll say the country has had a dramatic shift to the Right over the last couple of decades. Of course, if you’re looking at the America of 1950 and the “America” of today you'd conclude that’s insane. But one thing where there’s a lot of truth is if you look at the share of amount of taxes that the very wealthiest Americans pay: they pay a lot less now than they did under say, Eisenhower.
In that sense, the Conservative Movement has won a victory. And they’re conscious of themselves as having won a victory.
But the larger cultural changes and the growth of government have continued unimpeded. And they’re not going to learn any lessons from that.
Let’s take a look at California. California was the birthplace of the Conservative Movement in many ways. You had Orange County and the John Birch Society and the rise of Reagan and Nixon and all these other things.
Well now, the conventional wisdom is that it’s no-go territory for Republicans forever. [VDARE.com does not agree!] And yet, Reason magazine will publish half of its articles about how California is falling apart, the ending of the California dream—and then the other half of the articles are about how America needs more immigrants. It will literally never occur to them to connect these two dots.
So here’s the strategic question (and here’s where I want to start getting people angry!): Can Patriotic Immigration Reform survive as a faction in a “Movement” which to a large extent is built on inventing justifications for cheap labor?
Put it this way: The Wall Street Journal hates our guts. So is our attitude: we agree with the WSJ on everything except for this one thing about immigration? Are we basically trying to save the Conservative movement from itself?
Now, control of the overall societal “narrative” was a big topic today. But it’s also critically important within the Conservative Movement itself. It's controlled by what I like to call the Beltway Gatekeepers. For example, conservatives will have conferences dedicated on economic issues that will still feature people like Michelle Malkin who has columns on VDare.com, or the late Andrew Breitbart talking about Cultural Marxism. However, the end result everybody will take away is: we need a free trade agreement with South Korea.
He was basically cast out of the Movement. You could argue it was about foreign policy. You could argue it was about Israel or supposed anti-Semitism, you could argue maybe it was about his stance on immigration. But I don’t think it was any of those things.
I think what hurt him with a lot of Movement conservative elites was his attitude on trade—because that has become something that is very important to people who run foundations and who perpetuate the ideology that young, good, Movement conservatives are supposed to accept.
So here’s a problem: a lot of the talk today is, how do you rally traditional American to defend itself? And I don’t think that this can be done with the type of program that the leadership of the Conservative Movement will accept.
I don’t think that it’s just a question of rallying “true conservatives” to take back the GOP from the evil elite. I would argue that they’ve basically done so already—and there hasn’t been much of a difference.
That said, I do think you can put forth a new program that the conservative base will accept. The in-reach to the base should go along with outreach to the type of constituencies that we need. And the reason that I say this is because so much of the conservative movement’s media is built around harnessing resentments and then funneling it into frankly stupid causes. We can funnel resentments and grievances into more productive causes.
As a quick aside, when I say funnel into stupid causes, let’s face it, the Republican Party and the conservative media are sometimes dedicated to these little cause celebres that make us look really foolish. Sometimes, I find myself agreeing with the Jon Stewarts of the world making fun of people. Let me give you an example:
If you say “I don’t want mass Muslim immigration into the country because it will change what the country is about and I don’t want my city to look like Dearborn Michigan,” you will be kicked out of the Establishment Conservative Movement. This is one of those things you simply can't say in respectable company.
But what you can say among conservatives is that this Ground Zero mosque is being funded by Saudi Arabia and is going to be used as a secret plot to implement Sharia Law in Manhattan. That’s actually more Politically Correct. You can go on a talk show and say that, even though it’s completely idiotic, compared to the more rational position of opposing mass immigration generally.
These are the sort of weird perversions that the Establishment Conservative Movement has lead us to.
So, what is this new program that I’m advocating? What is it that I think we should do?
Obviously immigration restriction is a big part of it. And forget legal vs. illegal, it’s a question of numbers. Opposition to racial preferences is obviously a big part of it. Opposition to money for anti-American studies classes in places like Arizona is part of it.
These are the types of things that if the Conservative Movement wanted, they could get behind. Opposition to Affirmative Action is probably one of the few things that all the different factions of the Conservative Movement agree on. It’s just you can’t get them to do anything about it.
But it needs to be more than that.
Where I’m going to part with a lot of people is that I don't want this to just be some cynical use of—let’s be honest—marshaling white racial resentment to advance the same agenda. I want to see an actual positive agenda that’s going to help people, something where issues like immigration restriction are married to a larger agenda of helping white workers and swing voters, but also American workers in general.
So let's lay out some specifics.
Trade is a big part of it. Every time Obama talked about free trade during his first campaign, he condemned it. But then it was very revealing that when he condemned NAFTA, one of his officials [Austan Goolsbee] during the 2008 campaign went to the Canadian government and said, oh, don’t worry, he’s just kidding. [Memo Gives Canada’s Account of Obama Campaign’s Meeting on Nafta, By Michael Luo, NYT, March 4, 2008]
There’s a vulnerability on this issue. And in dealing with the more Libertarian elements in this movement you can take the same stance with things like NAFTA and CAFTA that Ron Paul does: he says it’s not real free trade and we should be voting against it on that basis.
Immigration should be pushed as a wage issue. If you’re talking about what is a policy for the “1%,” nothing is more a policy for the 1% than mass immigration. In the immortal words of Mayor Bloomberg, who do you think cuts the lawns at the golf course? The case makes itself.
Another issue, of course, would be the bank bailouts. I think the moment John McCain lost the 2008 election was when he halted his campaign to go back and campaign for the bailouts.
He could have popped Obama’s reformist bubble overnight by taking a stance against the bank bailout. All of a sudden, the great brave reformer who is going to re-make America in a progressive image would have had to explain why he’s defending Goldman Sachs and John McCain is defending American workers. A bailout for Main Street, not Wall Street, as they say.
But let’s go even further. This is where I want glasses being thrown at me and everything else! The people who I fear more than the Left-wing ethnic activists – who I mostly just find amusing—are the people in the Chamber of Commerce. Dealing with that opposition is something we ought to think about.
So let’s think of something like the Citizens United ruling, which says, essentially, that you can have a lot more money in political advertising. It’s essentially a way for Big Business to lobby the public.
Immigration patriots should not support this. The type of people who fund these things are the same types of people who push open borders.
I’m going to go even further.
Let’s say we had public financing of campaigns. Assuming we still had the First Amendment of course—which is no sure thing. In Europe, they have public financing of campaigns but if they have an anti-immigration party that comes up they just ban the party. But if we can somehow keep that from happening, if you have public financing of campaigns, that helps us! Now, populist candidates would have a way to get around without the gatekeepers and go straight to the people.
And, before limited government types throw up their arms about this, this is exactly what Charles Murray has proposed. Actually, if you look at Gary Johnson, libertarian candidate for President, he advocated something similar with the way he would implement the fair tax where people would get what he called a pre-bate, before you pay. So, minimum income is well within the Mainstream of the conservative and libertarian movements. In fact, it’s being done right now in the state of Alaska.
As far as taxes, let’s have an active bias in taxing investment as opposed to wages as a way to appeal to workers.
I might even be willing, seeing as how it’s a fait accompli at this point, I would even be willing to go pretty far with health care.
As a way to win over some of the SWPL types, the Stuff White People Like types, the over-educated whites from liberal arts universities, the type of people that you see on HBO’s Girls and shows like that, let's just straight-up abolish student loan debt owed to the government.
That’s a game changer right there.
And I think you can make the case that we have made young, smart people a promise that if they get a degree there are going to be jobs waiting for them and it hasn’t panned out (partly because of immigration).
Obviously, there could be a lot more of reform to higher education you could do. But I think something like that would put a serious dent in the Progressive coalition.
There are also smaller things we can do as far as redistributing resources and really attacking the cultural bases of power of the Left.
Take when you buy cable.
When you buy cable, you get this whole package of channels whether you like it or not. One of the things that gets proposed is the idea that you can pay channel by channel.
How many of you in the audience have kids? Okay, most of the audience. If you had the choice, how many of you would buy MTV?
(For those of you in cyberspace, there is not one hand.)
Overnight, you’re taking away a lot of the power and money that goes to Left-wing entertainers and other people who destroy the culture.
That’s the kind of thing that the Republicans could do tomorrow, if they thought of politics as a zero-sum game. But instead, they say that well, our job is to make sure Viacom makes more money so we’re going to keep things the same.
I would say: no. One, a lot of things that may sound a little alien to conservative ears, like minimum income, actually are being talked about by intellectuals. There are ways we can do this that don’t make us betray conservative principles.
However, we’re also getting into a debate over terms and semantics here. Grover Norquist, who by the way, supports Open Borders, pushes a no-taxes pledge. How do you say that’s more or less “limited government” than, say, ending the drug war as Tom Tancredo advocates? Or putting restrictions on the TSA? Or getting rid of gun restrictions?
Is “limited government” to be defined in purely fiscal terms, or in terms of just tax breaks especially on the very rich?
Or is it to be defined in terms of what the government—specifically the federal government—has the power to do?
And I think one of the easiest parts to go after are corporate subsidies. Things like the subsidies to the corn lobby, which is why we have high-fructose corn syrup in everything. That would be the kind of thing you could go after and the ordinary person, the ordinary worker, would understand it. “Why is Big Business getting a huge subsidy and I’m not?”
I would say if we’re going to have to subsidize anyone—which we are already doing—let’s subsidize workers!
Here’s the larger point: the Conservative Movement’s been around for a long time. It’s made a lot of money. I should point out Dick Armey who just left Freedomworks is walking away with a huge pile of money. Senator Jim DeMint who just left the Senate is going to make a lot of money at Heritage now.
So, they’re doing very well for themselves. But the government is still growing. Spending is growing. The debt is growing. And yet I still have to deal with people in the Movement telling me that the real problem is that people haven’t privatized the roads yet.
There’s a certain air of unreality about this whole thing.
There’s very little chance that I see, with the Conservative Movement continuing to operate as it is, that they’re ever going to cut spending, never mind reduce the power of the government in any significant way.
So why are we wasting time talking about this—instead of re-orienting the Movement to protect the people and the culture?
To a certain extent, when people are talking about how it will violate this principle or that principle, who cares? WHO CARES?
It hasn’t made a difference in fifty years!
If we’re serious about uniting traditional Americans—and part of that is bridging the class divisions among whites—it means rethinking some of these principles.
There's also one other thing that should be mentioned. The Beltway Right talks a lot about winning over minority voters. I think the kind of program I’m talking about will do more to win over minority voters and actually chip into the Hispanic vote and the black vote than talking about why blacks really, really really should care that Coca Cola doesn’t have to pay any estate tax or something.
How do we execute this? This is obviously a pretty big thing. I don’t think you can really do it by a Gramscian “March Through The Institutions” of the Beltway or anything like that. I don’t think that’s really possible.
But one advantage that Americans have as opposed to Europeans is that political parties are very weak. Personality matters a lot more than platform. Anyone can call themselves a Republican, or a Democrat for that matter. My challenge—what I would say to anybody in this room and watching online—is to run for office yourself, or recruit someone you know to run on this kind of platform.
Start creating a little boomlet where “Republicans for the working man” come out at the state level or even the local level. Even if you don’t win. We can talk about how running is waste of time and the system is rigged and all the rest. But as far as educating people, and getting things out there, running for office is still one of the best things you can do.
For whatever reason, people really like donating to candidates. They like donating to candidates a lot more than they like donating to non-profits!—even though the latter may have a bigger impact.
The other thing is that there are laws requiring certain broadcasters to carry your election messages if you’re running for office. Whereas we raised a bunch of money and VDARE.com tried to do some sort of educational ad, they could just reject it and there’s nothing we could do about it.
One of the things that gets discussed a lot is that, one of these days, Beltway conservatives are going to learn that what they’re doing doesn’t work.
But I don’t think they will.
As I said, they’re doing very well for themselves personally. There are no sign that that’s going to change any time soon. There is always going to be a need for this kind of controlled opposition. And there’s always going to be people who can profit personally from it.
Politically, the Republican Party still has a future. The example I would point to is the Conservative party in the UK. They’re the government now and they get to have the perks of office. They don’t really do much. In some ways, they might really be worse than the Labour Party. But, just like here, every once in a while the Left will screw up really bad, every once in a while nominal right of center types will get in.
Every once in a while Republicans here—like Conservatives there—will tinker at the edges of the welfare state and stop funding to this department or that department. Then they'll get crucified for it and leave. But a lot of people in the party machinery will be perfectly satisfied with that.
To break this, there has to be a willingness by immigration patriots that if candidates comes up who doesn’t give us what we want, we let them lose.
We hear the argument that you have to vote for this guy or that guy to try and staunch the bleeding. I argue it really doesn’t matter anymore. It’s too late for that.
Whether it’s five years of Democratic rule or eight years of Democratic rule or whatever …it’s not going to make too much a difference.
The important thing is that we have a real resistance movement that has a possibility of victory. We don't have that now. Conservatism Inc.—as it presently exists—is in the way.
So, I’m going to close with a slightly modified quote from the movie Watchman.
“The accumulated filth of all their ignorance and corruption will foam up around their wits, and all the whores and politicians will look up and shout, save us. And we’ll whisper, “No.””
James Kirkpatrick [Email him] travels around the United States looking for a waiter who can speak English.