Recently (March 1-3), I attended the 34th annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). Sponsored by the American Conservative Union (ACU) and held in Washington D.C., CPAC has long served as a sort of massive family reunion for the fractious followers of the American Right (or, perhaps more accurately, the Soft Right).
Each year, like Star Trek fans to a sci-fi convention, thousands of self-styled conservatives (most of them college students) descend on some posh inside-the-beltway hotel to see their heroes denounce the evils of liberalism. At night, it's hard put to find a bar without at least a dozen College Republicans carrying a beer in one hand and a copy of Anne Coulter's latest screed in the other.
Since the 2008 Presidential Election appears to have already begun, this year's CPAC was especially important. And it drew quite a crowd—over 1,700 registered visitors. Naturally, my friends and I went to support Congressman Tom Tancredo, and I was impressed to see many others there doing the same. On Thursday, he gave a speech to a crowd of around 200 at a reception hosted by the Leadership Institute (which, some might remember, is the same outfit that canceled a debate featuring American Renaissance's Jared Taylor last year).
Tancredo lamented the fact that "we have lost the momentum on the immigration issue" but went on to say that restrictionists still had a fighting chance to stop amnesty. He spoke briefly about other issues, but stressed that immigration was more important than any of them because with immigration "Western Civilization itself is at stake." He deplored the rise of "hyphenated Americans" and denounced the "cult of multiculturalism." He warned that mass immigration was turning the country into "a sort of linguistic and cultural Tower of Babel," and told the members of the audience they should ask the other candidates if they felt that the same way.
"Or," he added with a smile, "I guess you could also just ask them whether they think Miami is becoming a Third World country."
Tancredo admitted that he was "as long a shot as there is out there" and that this was "the ultimate David and Goliath experience. But hey," he reminded everyone, "David won." Whatever his chances, he said he was determined to at least force the top tier candidates to deal with issues that are of such critical importance to the country.
Judging from the repeated and thunderous applause, the audience agreed with pretty much everything he had to say.
Each of the presidential hopefuls took turns speaking before a massive audience huddled inside one of the hotel's ballrooms. Rep. Duncan Hunter (CA) went first and spoke at length on immigration. He reminded everyone that he had been responsible for getting the San Diego border fence built and pledged to see it extended for another thousand miles.
Gov. Mike Huckabee (AR) followed. He said that if he as a governor had to go through security checks at an airport, would-be-immigrants ought to meet some high standards before they are allowed into the country.
Sensible enough perhaps, but given his abysmal record and past statements, there really isn't any reason to trust Huckabee on immigration.
Sen. Sam Brownback (KS) didn't have much to say on the issue, neither did Rudy Giuliani. Mitt Romney got a big round of applause when he denounced McCain-Kennedy and amnesty in general. But no one can tell what he really thinks about the issue (or any issue for that matter).
McCain himself was a no show at CPAC. I guess he doesn't think he needs the conservative movement (or rather what's left of it) to win the nomination.
Two panel discussions on immigration were held on the third and final day of CPAC. The first dealt with the subject of "assimilation," and featured John Fonte of the Hudson Institute, Mark Krikorian of the Center for Immigration Studies, Roger Clegg of the Center for Equal Opportunity, and Randy Johnson of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Mark Krikorian went first and more or less argued it would be impossible to assimilate most of the immigrants coming in today. Curiously, he claimed that this was not because the new immigrants were any different from the old (a statement that would no doubt surprise my German grandmother) but because our society had changed. Technology makes it very easy for immigrants to maintain ties to their home country, and "multiculturalism" encourages them to retain as much of their old culture as possible.
Randy Johnson went next. He defended the Chamber's support for amnesty, but claimed that it also supported tougher enforcement and workplace verification. He recycled the usual clichés about immigrants wanting to learn English and supposedly "patriotic" foreigners serving in our armed forces. The only good news contained in his very brief speech was that family holidays had become a pain for him because "ninety percent of my family is on the other side of this issue."
Roger Clegg followed, and offered a list of the top ten things we should expect immigrants to do in order to prove that they've "assimilated." However, most of what was on his list—don't break the law (2), don't have children out of wedlock (8), don't view working hard as "selling out" (7)—could describe a good citizen of any country. Aside from "being proud of being an American" (10), there were no specifically "American" requirements on the list, except perhaps speaking English (1) and opposing "racism" (4), because "racism," according to Mr. Clegg, "is un-American."
John Fonte was last, but gave by far the best speech. He advocated abolishing bilingual education, bilingual ballots, affirmative action, and the practice of allowing American citizens to vote in foreign elections. All of this was greeted with loud and repeated cheers from the audience.
Yet while there was much to praise in Fonte's speech, some statements left me wondering. Fonte said we should always emphasize "political loyalty to the U.S.," but does he not know that a patriot must always be ready to defend his country against his government? Or, more importantly, does he know the difference between the two? Let us hope that he does.
The second panel focused on how states and local communities were handling the immigration crisis. It featured Chris Simcox of the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, St. Sen. Nancy Schaeffer (GA), and Rep. Steve King (IA).
King spoke first and demonstrated an impressive command of the issue. He noted that illegal immigrants do a miniscule amount of work when you take the entire economy into account. He denounced Republicans who support open borders for the cheap labor and liberals who support it for the votes. He explained that immigrants always assimilate into the politics of where they settle, and told the members of the audience that if they didn't believe him "go look for an Irish Roman Catholic Republican in Boston." By the end, I couldn't help but wonder if he read VDARE.COM.
Georgia St. Sen. Nancy Schaeffer gave a stirring speech of her own. When she said that "we Republicans in Georgia do not believe in the guest worker program" the audience erupted in applause, and did so again when she said that "we do not believe that there are jobs Americans won't do." She talked about the various laws Georgia had passed to crack down on illegal immigration and cited a litany of statistics demonstrating the ruin that illegal immigrants had brought on her state.
Chris Simcox gave his "report from the border," and said the Minutemen plan on supporting more ballot initiatives in Arizona. Their next targets will be sanctuary laws and employers who hire illegal immigrants. He explained that people have been waiting for years for the government to secure the borders, but that he represented people who were "no longer willing to wait."
After hitting several home runs, however, Simcox finally struck out when he said that we should increase legal immigration to help address the illegal immigration crisis.
How did the attendees react to all of this? As noted, there was plenty of applause whenever a speaker "got tough" on immigration. Many subscribed to Simcox's "illegal immigration bad, legal immigration good" fallacy, but there were quit a few who hadn't fallen into that trap.
Frank Beard, who introduced Tancredo, was one such individual. Vice President of the American Conservative Student Union (ACSU) and a student at Drake University, Beard had a remarkable grasp of the subject. Unlike Simcox, he clearly understood the problems inherent in mass legal immigration, and even mentioned some of them in his introduction. He has also been quite busy. At Drake he founded the first campus-based anti-illegal immigration group in the country, and he also started the group No Amnesty for Illegal Immigrants on Facebook.com, which eventually attracted over 16,000 members.
Tyler Whitney of Western Michigan University was another one of the energetic young immigration reformers that I met. Active in Michigan Republican politics, Tyler and his friends succeeded in getting a tough anti-amnesty resolution passed by the state party convention in January.
These were only a few of the many people I met at CPAC who were devoted to fighting immigration anarchy. Apparently not all young people have been brainwashed.
Tancredo didn't do all that well in the straw poll, failing to make the top five, but one wonders what might have happened if Hunter and Rep. Ron Paul weren't in the race. The other candidates also had a lot more money to spend. Romney reportedly spent $350,000 on CPAC, essentially bribing college students with a free trip so that they could come and vote for him. Not surprisingly, he won the straw poll.
It's worth noting though that virtually everyone who voted for Tancredo must have been an intensely enthusiastic supporter, because as far as I could tell, there were as many people holding Tancredo signs as there were holding Romney, Giuliani, or Brownback signs.
Leftwing snoop Max Blumenthal agreed. Armed with a video camera, he had come to CPAC to get an up close and personal look at those sinister conservatives.
Perhaps the most interesting part of Blumenthal's video [watch it here] was when he interviewed a young Hispanic Republican. Apparently shocked by some of the rhetoric she had heard that day about immigration, she said that "immigrants are becoming the majority" and nodded her head when Blumenthal asked her if she had ever considered whether or not the GOP might be "a white man's party."
Blumenthal got a rude answer when he asked some Tancredo supporters if they thought they were defending "white culture," but the question is a fair one. There is a strange psychological disorder that seems to run through the immigration reform movement. People fret about America becoming a "Third World" country and beat the drum for "Western Civilization," yet few among them would ever be caught dead saying that race has anything to do with it. This was more or less the case with the people I met at CPAC (though as always, there were exceptions).
In any event, I came away from the convention convinced that the immigration genie was finally out of the bottle. According to the straw poll, ninety percent of the attendees considered illegal immigration an "important issue," making it the fourth most important issue overall. Both of the immigration panels were dominated by restrictionists and were well attended. Mentioning a candidate's support for amnesty was guaranteed to unsettle their supporters. Rather than brush you and the issue aside, they would try to cite whatever restrictionist credentials their man had.
And this might turn out to be the tragedy of '08. I found quite a few sincere restrictionists sporting Romney buttons, and I can remember one of them staring in disbelief at Chris Simcox when he told her that in his opinion only Tom Tancredo and Duncan Hunter were serious about securing our borders.
Immigration might be an issue, but politicians will always try to fool most of the people most of the time.
Still, it was heartening to meet so many other young people who are as passionate as I am about immigration. VDARE.COM readers should rest assured that when the old guard retires, a new one will rise to take its place.
Kevin Carter [email him] lives in the Washington D.C. area.