On All Souls' Day, Peter Brimelow Remembers Ben Wattenberg
November 03, 2015, 04:13 PM
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November 2 is All Souls' Day in the Roman Catholic and Anglican Churches, when you pray for the departed, and it reminds me that I have not yet remarked the June 29 passing of Ben Wattenberg, whose stormy relationship with myself and VDARE.com can be inspected here. He was the quintessential neoconservative: when I first met him in Washington D.C. in 1979, we were immediate allies because of his anti-communism and anti-New Leftism; later, I was completely blindsided by the ferocity and fanaticism of his immigration enthusiasm.

The change in our relationship actually occurred very suddenly in the late spring of 1996, after the publication of my book Alien Nation: Common Sense About America's Immigration Disaster. I recounted it in the Afterword that I wrote for the paperback edition at Christmas of that year:

But any debate about immigration is exactly what much of the opposition absolutely does not want to see. As Milton Friedman once remarked to me, many individuals in American intellectual life are not truly intellectuals but frustrated activists. And the activist's characteristic concern with tactics rather than truth became pain fully apparent as the controversy about Alien Nation got rolling.

A classic example: Ben Wattenberg. When I arrived at Diane Rehm's celebrated WAMU talk show in Washington at the beginning of my book tour, I found Wattenberg was to appear with me. We had a perfectly affable disputation, not surprisingly since (we agreed) we had substantial policy proposals in common—such as the utility of an English-language preference, which would have a dramatic impact, particularly on the Hispanic influx. Wattenberg undertook to send me his forthcoming book for a possible Forbes article.

A month later, with Alien Nation getting famous and legislation reducing immigration being introduced by Rep. Lamar Smith and Senator Alan Simpson, Wattenberg was transformed. He bristled with determination to anathematize me for mentioning the fact that government immigration policy is shifting the U.S. racial balance. He was comically baffled because (at a Congressional briefing with him sponsored by Jane DeLung's Population Resource Center) I instead talked about how immigration policy is also in effect second-guessing the American people's implicit decision, evidenced by their generally smaller families, about the ideal U.S. population size overall

Even more comic was Wattenberg's behavior when we taped his PBS TV show Think Tank. (Me versus two critics and Wattenberg as a self-declared 'immoderator.” Balance!) He made the very common error of claiming that Alien Nation advocates a shift to white immigration, instead the “time-out" from all immigration I actually recommend on p. 262. I challenged him. Confidently, he started to read something from his lectern. It began “Brimelow says. . .

“That's a review!” I interjected. It was a knockdown blow. So much so that before the show appeared, Wattenberg (or his handlers) took the unusual but masterful step of going into the tape and editing out the exchange.

His book never arrived at Forbes, presumably because it tries to shrug off Alien Nation as “half hokum, half racism.” Without explanation, of course. Its title: Values Matter Most.

You said it, Ben.

In a typical Conservatism Inc. hagiographical obit in (naturally) National Review, Yuval Levin referred  to "the country Wattenberg loved."

Given that Wattenberg famously asserted in his book The Good News Is The Bad News Is Wrong that “The non-Europeanization of America is heartening news of an almost transcendental quality,” it's all too clear that country was not America.