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Ideologues Have Hijacked an Important Debate

IMMIGRATION

February 24, 2002|JONAH GOLDBERG

WASHINGTON — I first met Pat Buchanan almost 33 years ago, though I can't say I remember him--I was 8 days old. My dad's great friend, Victor Lasky, the late, great conservative muckraker, brought Buchanan to attend my bris (the Jewish celebration that brilliantly marries ritual circumcision and smoked fish on a bagel). Lasky introduced the future three-time presidential candidate to my Dad: "This is Pat Buchanan, he's a terrific redbaiter." Since my family's apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan was, for political conservatives, what the catacombs were for Christians in ancient Rome--sanctuary from the pagan authorities--it was probably the only place north of Lincoln Center that someone could be called a "terrific redbaiter" and it would be both offered and received as a high compliment.

The reds are gone for the most part, thank God. But Buchanan remains a great baiter. Now, though, rather than attack the manifest evil of international communism and its sympathizers here at home, Buchanan finds himself arguing about demographics and what immigration is doing to American (read Anglo-American) culture. It is a debate that has marginalized Buchanan and those in his orbit. But far more disturbing, it has marginalized the entire debate about immigration at the exact moment that the issue needs all the intelligent discussion it can get.

At a time when Latinos make up 13% of American citizens, 28 million Americans are foreign-born and tens of millions of Americans are the children or grandchildren of immigrant-success stories, it hardly seems constructive to declare that immigrants, in general, and Mexicans in particular are "enemies" and "invaders" who threaten Western civilization. Rather, a constructive discussion might simply focus on the idea that we want immigrants--no matter where they come from--to become assimilated Americans, not aliens in our midst, and that maybe our current policies at home and on the border are not promoting that effectively.

Instead, we get Buchanan and his new book "The Death of the West," which warns hysterically that the white race is becoming an "endangered species," about to be swallowed up by the duskier Third World (defined as all nonwhites no matter how rich, educated or democratic). We get Peter Brimelow, a once-respected conservative voice who now runs the shrill anti-immigration website VDARE.com, named for Virginia Dare, the first British child born in North America. We get syndicated columnist Samuel Francis (widely considered Buchanan's personal ideologist of choice) who has argued earnestly for "imposing adequate fertility controls on nonwhites." These are not stupid men--indeed, they are extremely talented individuals--but they have become dismayingly obsessed in recent years with creating, to borrow a phrase from my colleague at the National Review, Ramesh Ponnuru, an "identity politics for white people."

Rather than focusing on how to create a rational immigration policy that recognizes the permanence of America's ethnic diversity, they live in denial about how to get back to the days when America was 90% white. Buchanan even seems to imply in his book that Russian ultranationalist Vladimir V. Zhirinovsky wasn't totally off his rocker when he introduced a bill in the Duma denying Russian women the right to leave the country and permitting ethnic Russian men to marry up to five wives.

Hiding out in their bunkers on the web and in the pages of a few obscure publications, these unhappy paleoconservatives and neo-nativists have rallied the troops under a single flag: white supremacy. No, they aren't Klansmen or skinheads, and, no, they won't like that label. But they are very serious about keeping America a white country because, in their view, white people, on the whole, make better Americans.

Take Brimelow's VDARE.com, which features--pardon the expression--a Chinese menu of white-pride dishes. Some authors concentrate on genetic questions, others focus almost entirely on cultural arguments, but pretty much everyone agrees that immigration spells the doom of America (some even claim that all immigration after 1865 was bad for the Republic).

Francis, whose writings Buchanan borrows from heavily, once declared at a conference, "The civilization that we as whites created in Europe and America could not have developed apart from the genetic endowments of the creating people."

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