More than a month after National Review published ex-White House speechwriter David Frum's ill-advised attack on the various writers and journalists he dubbed "unpatriotic conservatives" (mainly because they disagreed with him and his fellow pro-Israel Likudniks on the desirability of war against Iraq), what remains of the "conservative movement" that neo-conservatives like Mr. Frum helped destroy at last is winding up to respond.
A glance at the responses from the "mainstream right" (as opposed to the paleo-conservatives Mr. Frum smeared) suggests that they probably should have kept their mouths shut.
National Review itself, in a rare fit of broad-mindedness, published several responses from the mainstream right in its May 19 issue, [not online] and not too surprisingly most are entirely sympathetic to the original article. Neo-conservative Myron Magnet calls Mr. Frum's piece "blisteringly clear-sighted," while neo-con Roger Kimball writes breathlessly that the article "is a bracing contribution to the library of conservative polemic," whatever that means.
But not all responses are so cuddly. Neo-conservative Jack Kemp, for instance, responds that "never have I seen the kind of personal invective or so many ad hominem attacks as were present in Frum's rant" against columnist Robert Novak.
Mr. Frum said nothing about Mr. Novak he didn't say about the others he splattered, but his clobbering of the establishment Republican columnist seems to have angered several people.
The magazine actually retracted the attacks on Mr. Novak in a later issue [also not online] and claimed the article never intended to lump together all the folks Mr. Frum lumped together.
But of course it meant to do so. Indeed that was the whole point of the article, which consistently spoke of the "unpatriotic conservatives" who supposedly "hate their country" as "they" and "them," and in any case Mr. Novak, who opposed the Iraq war, was one of Mr. Frum's main targets.
The magazine's "clarification" in effect constitutes a muted retraction of the whole article.
Columnist William Rusher, who strongly disagrees with the paleo-con critique of American foreign policy, rejects Mr. Frum's claim that the paleos are unpatriotic; they're just wrong, he says.
That's a statement we can at least debate civilly, but it's also a repudiation of Mr. Frum's whole thesis.
Mr. Rusher also says it doesn't really matter that the paleos themselves have dumped the "conservative movement" since Chronicles, the main paleo journal, has a circulation of only about 6,000.
Of course, in a country of 280 million people, journals like National Review with circulations of around 100,000, don't really matter either. Mr. Rusher ought to know better than to judge the value or influence of magazines by the number of subscribers. It's who reads them, not how many, that matters.
But National Review's rather obviously staged "forum" is not the only conservative response to Mr. Frum. Last week, Don Devine, a former Reagan administration agency head and now vice chairman of the American Conservative Union, also took exception to Mr. Frum's bloviations in a memo to his mainstream right colleagues.
Mr. Devine not only deplored that "conservatives are fighting each other on the front pages of their own magazines" but also complained that the "conservative movement" is devolving into a mere mouthpiece for the Republican Party:
"With George W. Bush's presidency, National Review and the [Weekly] Standard both became cheerleaders, expressing mild encomiums [?] that it would be pleasant if he moved right domestically but that it was understandable for political reasons if he did not. By 2000, there was no opinion journal heralding the limited-government position represented by National Review in the 1960s."
That's exactly what the paleos have been trying to tell the "mainstreamers" for years.
Mr. Devine's criticisms of the "movement" and its domination and misdirection by neo-conservatives are welcome, as are those of other conservative leaders who expressed similar views in the Washington Times last week, but why didn't they say so a bit sooner?
These ageing warhorses of the right have been around for decades, and if they had denounced the clear direction of the "movement" and the neo-cons in the 1980s, we wouldn't be in the fix we're in now.
Those who did have the guts and brains to speak out—namely, the present paleo-conservatives—back then lacked the stature to stop what was going on within the "movement."
Today neither does the "mainstream right" of Mr. Devine and Mr. Rusher.
Mr. Rusher does me the courtesy (I guess) of quoting me as writing "they [the neo-cons] can have my share" of the "conservative movement," and so they can—but frankly, not only is what remains of that "movement" not worth staying in; it's not even worth leaving.
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[Sam Francis [email him] is a nationally syndicated columnist. A selection of his columns, America Extinguished: Mass Immigration And The Disintegration Of American Culture, is now available from Americans For Immigration Control.]