Conservatives identify problems but punish anyone who has solutions. National Review says to “Cancel Cancel Culture” and urges institutions and people to stand up for themselves. However, the conservative magazine is also celebrating Congressman Steve King’s recent primary defeat, even though Mr. King was taken down by dishonest critics who put the worst spin on his views. While statues and monuments go down all over the country, National Review is blowing an uncertain trumpet that sounds compromise and retreat. As things continue to get worse, we can’t count on conservatives to defend themselves, let alone whites.
In its most recent editorial, National Review strikes a tough pose. “Cancel Cancel Culture,” says people should be “treated with grace rather than opportunistic cruelty and with charity rather than pettiness.” It blames social media and a “Millennial subculture built on asinine coddling and infantile entitlement” for making it possible for online mobs to get people fired. It attacks “vicious totalitarians” willing to use “organized political violence,” comparing the situation to East Germany “without even having a Soviet-backed dictatorship to blame it on.” It also says that it was “particularly depressing that institutions ranging from The New York Times to the universities to Franklin Templeton have refused to stand up for themselves” and for “principles of free expression and open dialogue.”
This is rich coming from National Review, the flagship magazine of a “movement” defined by purges, self-policing, and slow-motion defeat. Perhaps National Review has a guilty conscience, because it suggests that scalp-hunting is different when it’s hurting “ordinary and often obscure people” instead of celebrities and politicians. However, this concedes the premise that “canceled” people are still doing something wrong. If freedom of speech is enjoyed by the powerless but by no one else, what good is it?
National Review is also offering concessions. “There is a discussion to be had about the ten U.S. military facilities named after Confederate generals,” it says, “and about Confederate monuments, especially those that were put up long after the war as explicitly racist protests against desegregation efforts, though there is no case for the lawless vandalism that has been directed at them.” National Review reveals its own confusion. Why should leftist vandals have a “discussion” with conservatives when they are getting what they want? Unless the magazine demands destroyed statues be rebuilt, its complaints are meaningless. Furthermore, why should we pretend this is about “Confederate monuments” or the army base names when statues of Christopher Columbus, Winston Churchill, or even abolitionist Matthias Baldwin are defaced or destroyed? What does any of this have to do with George Floyd, anyway?
National Review is, and should be, defensive about its own record. William F. Buckley defended segregation. In 1964, National Review said the “civil rights movement” should really have been called the “Negro revolt.” They were right then, but National Review’s been overcompensating ever since.
In 2017, National Review editor Rich Lowry called for removing Charlottesville’s Robert E. Lee statue. He did not want “discussion” with white advocates then, nor did he counsel compromise. In 2019, National Review’s David French demanded “war” with white nationalism. In 2020, Mr. French, now at The Dispatch, says the “central and salient consideration of American racial politics” should be “how much farther we have to go.” It’s hard to think of anything less “conservative” than demanding continuous social reforms until we reach an unspecified and probably impossible destination.
Kyle Smith, one of National Review’s better writers, correctly observed in his own column that “begging the mob’s forgiveness never works.” For example, New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees said he would “never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States of America.” “Never” lasted a few hours. He apologized, and his wife said she and her husband are “the problem.” “When you apologize for stating the plain truth, you almost never succeed in appeasing the mob,” Mr. Smith wrote. “Instead, you grant the mob’s premises. You take its side.”
He’s right, but this is what National Review has traditionally done and continues to do. It accepts the Left’s moral claims while quibbling with its tactics. National Review attacks rightists far more passionately than it does its supposed opponents.
Consider Congressman Steve King. Mr. King is a champion for conservative causes, especially in his opposition to abortion. Nonetheless, National Review celebrated and continues to celebrate his recent defeat in a primary. “His defeat was a long time coming,” said the magazine. “Steve King Loses Republican Primary after White Supremacy Comments” was one National Review story. “Coalition Politics and the Rejection of Steve King” was another. It argued that Republicans need to stay “respectable,” even though hostile leftist elites are the people who determine what is “respectable.”
Now we have yet another story: “How Iowa Republicans Sent Steve King Packing.” It credited evangelical leader Bob Vander Plaats with helping to defeat Congressman King. Other social conservatives also betrayed Congressman King, despite his support for pro-lifers. One official at the National Right to Life Committee “couldn’t recall the last time the organization opposed a GOP incumbent with a generally strong voting record.” Nonetheless, the article said that the closing argument against Steve King, who was already on “thin ice,” was an interview with The New York Times.
As a result of the interview, the GOP leadership promptly took away the congressman’s committee assignments, thus allowing conservative “leaders” to argue he could no longer be effective and needed to be replaced. Sometimes people draw a distinction between the “Republican establishment” and the “conservative movement,” but they worked together here, intentionally or not.
What this story leaves out, almost certainly deliberately, is that Mr. King was misquoted. This is what the Times quoted: “White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive? Why did I sit in classes teaching me about the merits of our history and our civilization?” Mr. King — as he explained later — wasn’t asking why the terms “white nationalist” or “white supremacist” were offensive. He was asking a rhetorical question about where this new vocabulary calling everything racist had come from. He was asking why schools were teaching students to despise Western Civilization rather than treasure it. Mr. King’s mistake was trusting a journalist. He should also have taped his call, assuming there was any point in speaking with the Times. The political veteran was naïve.
One would think that after decades of fighting for conservative causes, the “movement” could summon up some “grace” and “charity” of the kind that National Review now hypocritically calls for. Perhaps it could even summon some moral indignation on Mr. King’s behalf. Instead, it seized this cudgel and “canceled” Congressman King. He was a victim of precisely the kind of “woke” language policing and manufactured outrage that National Review claims to be against. The social conservative activists now congratulating themselves in National Review should spare a moment for prayerful reflection, especially on Revelation 3:16. They should ask themselves whether this dishonorable conduct and petty scheming is why America has gone from the Moral Majority to Drag Queen Story Hour within a generation. Why should anyone fight for a movement so eager to turn on its own and so willing to show its belly to foes?
“Cancel culture” is just a more extreme form of what Conservatism Inc. itself practices. If you speak too truthfully about race, immigration, or identity, you’re canceled. Pat Buchanan, Peter Brimelow, Sam Francis, Scott McConnell, Joe Sobran and countless others warned conservatives about the consequences of demographic change and were purged. Congressman King barely touched on “Western Civilization,” yet he was tossed aside despite many years defending Christian values and the unborn. Now, the Founding Fathers and the American flag itself are practically taboo in respectable company, but National Review refuses to learn. Instead, it wants a “discussion” with violent leftists.
Perhaps it’s conservatism itself that should be canceled. If this goes on much longer, there won’t be much of an America left to conserve anyway.