Self-Defeating Conservative Intellectuals

In the Washington Post today, novelist and essayist Mark Helprin discusses  what he calls the "unvarnished immigration debate."

Helprin rightly points out that not only can the nation's borders be secured, but doing so is a necessary precondition of sovereignty.  He also sensibly emphasizes that the question of border security "should be beyond debate" and is a separate issue from the question of the amount and type of immigration that the nation should permit.

Looking at today's immigration politics, Helprin notes that the open borders lobby is composed of a "strange" coalition of "businesses large and small, careerists with Latin nannies, and those who want wages low, the unions suppressed, and their gardens well tended" as well as those "who have embraced multiculturalism and bilingualism," who have "disdain" for America, and who "would be delighted to see it changed any which way as long as it becomes unrecognizable."  So far I completely agree with Helprin's analysis.

But then Helprin does what too many conservative intellectuals are wont to do:  He takes cheap shots at the grassroots activists who support border security (like the Minuteman Project), calling them "a febrile militia of Willie Nelson look—alikes" and accusing them of "polluting" the immigration debate with nativism, racism, xenophobia, and protectionism.  These are outrageous remarks that you would expect from The Nation or Daily Kos, not from someone who was a speechwriter for Bob Dole and who strongly supports the Republican Party.

Surely Helprin is smart enough to realize that the borders will never be secured without the efforts of the grassroots activists for whom he has so much disdain.  So why is he so quick to question their decency and good faith?  I'll tell you why —— because they aren't Ivy League educated, country club types, who think of politics as a polite debating society.  They are rough, angry, ordinary folks, who recognize that nothing is going to change in this country unless they get out there and actually, physically make it happen.  The Right needs a lot more of these people if we ever are to achieve our major policy objectives.

Yet too many conservative intellectuals (and political leaders) are clearly uncomfortable with "the common man" and with the kind of grassroots politics that, in fact, not only wins elections but sways public opinion and propels government action.  I strongly agree with David Horowitz that the Right needs to adopt more of the strategies and tactics of the Left if we are to prevail in the political war that is waging in this country.

Consider the recent rallies in favor of illegal immigration.  Hundreds of thousands of people came out all across the country to protest against any efforts to secure the borders or to deny full citizenship rights to anyone living in this country.  Where were the counter—demonstrations in favor of border security and reasonable limitations on immigration?  Despite enjoying the support of a majority of Americans, the Right is going to lose the immigration debate —— even the sensible border security that Helprin endorses —— because of our inability, indeed unwillingness, to engage in "street politics" with the same ferocity and commitment as the Left.

And for this situation much of the blame falls on conservative intellectuals like Helprin, who ostensibly are on our side, but who undermine the needed efforts of conservative activists by tarring them with the same unfair and unfounded characterizations that are spewed by the Left.

Steven M. Warshawsky    5 21 06

In the Washington Post today, novelist and essayist Mark Helprin discusses  what he calls the "unvarnished immigration debate."

Helprin rightly points out that not only can the nation's borders be secured, but doing so is a necessary precondition of sovereignty.  He also sensibly emphasizes that the question of border security "should be beyond debate" and is a separate issue from the question of the amount and type of immigration that the nation should permit.

Looking at today's immigration politics, Helprin notes that the open borders lobby is composed of a "strange" coalition of "businesses large and small, careerists with Latin nannies, and those who want wages low, the unions suppressed, and their gardens well tended" as well as those "who have embraced multiculturalism and bilingualism," who have "disdain" for America, and who "would be delighted to see it changed any which way as long as it becomes unrecognizable."  So far I completely agree with Helprin's analysis.

But then Helprin does what too many conservative intellectuals are wont to do:  He takes cheap shots at the grassroots activists who support border security (like the Minuteman Project), calling them "a febrile militia of Willie Nelson look—alikes" and accusing them of "polluting" the immigration debate with nativism, racism, xenophobia, and protectionism.  These are outrageous remarks that you would expect from The Nation or Daily Kos, not from someone who was a speechwriter for Bob Dole and who strongly supports the Republican Party.

Surely Helprin is smart enough to realize that the borders will never be secured without the efforts of the grassroots activists for whom he has so much disdain.  So why is he so quick to question their decency and good faith?  I'll tell you why —— because they aren't Ivy League educated, country club types, who think of politics as a polite debating society.  They are rough, angry, ordinary folks, who recognize that nothing is going to change in this country unless they get out there and actually, physically make it happen.  The Right needs a lot more of these people if we ever are to achieve our major policy objectives.

Yet too many conservative intellectuals (and political leaders) are clearly uncomfortable with "the common man" and with the kind of grassroots politics that, in fact, not only wins elections but sways public opinion and propels government action.  I strongly agree with David Horowitz that the Right needs to adopt more of the strategies and tactics of the Left if we are to prevail in the political war that is waging in this country.

Consider the recent rallies in favor of illegal immigration.  Hundreds of thousands of people came out all across the country to protest against any efforts to secure the borders or to deny full citizenship rights to anyone living in this country.  Where were the counter—demonstrations in favor of border security and reasonable limitations on immigration?  Despite enjoying the support of a majority of Americans, the Right is going to lose the immigration debate —— even the sensible border security that Helprin endorses —— because of our inability, indeed unwillingness, to engage in "street politics" with the same ferocity and commitment as the Left.

And for this situation much of the blame falls on conservative intellectuals like Helprin, who ostensibly are on our side, but who undermine the needed efforts of conservative activists by tarring them with the same unfair and unfounded characterizations that are spewed by the Left.

Steven M. Warshawsky    5 21 06