The Current Crisis

Return to the Wilderness

Remarks delivered at The American Spectator's annual Robert L. Bartley Dinner last Wednesday night.

By 12.5.08

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The prepared text of remarks delivered at The American Spectator's annual Robert L. Bartley Dinner in Washington, D.C. on December 3, 2008.

AND SO THE LAMENTABLE November 4 presidential election is entombed in history… and in keeping with the benevolent wishes of the mainstream moron media the American conservative movement once again enters the wilderness. In the wilderness, all we shall have to comfort us is the L.L. Bean catalogue. As you might have noted, we have distributed several versions of the renowned Bean catalogue on your tables. My personal favorite is the fishing catalogue. Regnery prefers the hunting catalogue. Pleszczynski is waiting for his very own Polish-language edition. I urge you all to take your L.L. Bean catalogues home with you tonight. Study them assiduously. Learn the bird calls.

Winston Churchill, during his wilderness years, was comforted by Pol Roger and a fistful of Havanas. Unfortunately, Champaign has become very pricey, and nowadays smoking is malum prohibitum almost everywhere. Even in the wilderness a lit cigar would be highly controversial. Thus we American conservatives are left with L.L. Bean as our solace and our guide. In my fishing catalogue there are many varieties of warm and sturdy boots, colorful parkas, and a product that I am particularly curious about, "breathable rainwear." I ask myself, "Am I to breathe it or will it breathe me?" -- all very exciting. So perhaps the wilderness will not be so bad -- especially for those of us who drive Hummers.

Of course, to hear some conservatives, for instance David Brooks, David Frum -- both being members of the conservative movement's Davidian Branch -- the rest of us are going to be out there with the flora and the fauna for many, many years. Personally, I hope to get a tent not far from Sarah Palin. She is very cute and can handle a firearm. Shortly after the November 4 election David Brooks, writing from his sofa at the New York Times -- predicted that the Republican Party will veer to the right and suffer still more defeats. That means that we shall be out there in the poison ivy with the wolves and the coyotes for a long time. I pray that Alaska's curvaceous governor will keep her shootin' iron handy.

Now, as I look around this grand and distinguished audience I can see the worried looks on your faces. Probably it has occurred to you that as the Prophet Obama surrounds himself with Clintonistas many of you will be forced to become virtual Boat People. Actually, with Hillary at State, the Prophet Obama himself may become a Boat Person too. Well, relax. I have arranged the boat. Our friend Taki Theodoracopulos has promised that he will have his yacht, Bushido II, at anchor off Nantucket. And if you cannot make it to Nantucket, try Cap Cod. Perhaps the Kennedys will supply a boat. They have been trying to get us out of the country for years.

Of course, we conservatives have been thrust into the wilderness before: in 1964, in 1976, and in 1992. Every time the experience has proved to be highly amusing: recall if you will, LBJ (we called him Old Beagle Ears), Jimmy Carter (we called him the Wonder Boy), and Bill Clinton (we called him many things, the Boy President, Boy Clinton, and our Ithyphallic President). Who needs Pol Roger or the accouterments advertised in the L.L. Bean catalogue when the Democratic Party provides entertainment like that?

Incidentally after every stay in the wilderness we conservatives have come back stronger. The reason we keep coming back is that we are not a party of prophets or messiahs but a party of principles. Our principles have been preferable to the dreams and fantasies of the likes of LBJ and Jimmy Carter.

Now Boy Clinton was a different kettle of fish. He was the one who said "the era of big government is over." Well that seemed to be true, until this autumn when the bell tolled for government-ordered subprime mortgages and the social engineering of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Now we have big government as America has never had it before, and it is going to be up to conservatives to sound the alarm when the Democrats are negligent about returning to the prosperous America of the late 20th century created as it was by tax cuts and free markets.

Our belief in free markets is one of the reasons that our critics think that we are going to be shivering in the wilderness. They seem to agree with the heralds of the incoming Administration that the time is now for a new New Deal. Yet as the best recent scholarship has made clear the old New Deal presided over nearly a decade of a no-growth economy with double digit unemployment -- at times 25% of the workforce was unemployed. In today's looming intellectual struggles to return America to free markets and to growth economics we conservatives are going to emerge from the wilderness sooner than the Davidian conservatives anticipate. As the distinguished economist, Henry Manne, recently observed in Forbes magazine, today, unlike the 1930s, we have think tanks and publications that will be at the center of the public debate, arguing for a return to Reaganite prosperity with Reaganite economic therapies.

Nor are we going to be alone in this debate. The majority of the American people side with us. In an October 2nd Rasmussen survey, fully 59% of those polled agreed with Ronald Reagan's pronouncement enunciated in his first inaugural address a quarter of a century ago: "Government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem." Moreover, even after the congressional Republicans tarnished the brand of conservatism, more Americans claim to be conservative than liberal and by a lot. In both the election of 2006 and 2008 a solid 34% of Americans claimed to be conservatives. Liberalism's number increased from 2006 to 2008 by but one percentage point, from 21% to 22%.

So let us not panic. We libertarian conservatives are the people whose ideas have spread throughout the world, to India, to China. Even Senator Obama seems to be picking them up. This September, as he slipped behind Senator John McCain in the polls, Senator Obama finally identified himself as a tax cutter. Today he is an advocate of growth. Possibly in the months ahead he will keep the lights on at the Pentagon. Yet I suppose we should have known all along that he recognized the fragility of individual liberty. After all, Senator Obama has been a smoker, a real smoker, a cigarette smoker. And he is sending his children to private schools!

Also he is somewhat of a traditionalist. When it came to choosing a vehicle for his political ascent he chose not the guerrilla band of Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn but the highly-thought-of Daley Machine of old Chicago. Al Regnery and I, as you might know, originally hailed from Chicagoland. Both of us have actually been acquainted with Mayor Daley over the years. I once had a beer with him back in my college days.

As ex-Chicagoans we know what Senator Obama had in mind when, during the campaign, he repeated over and again that he was going "to fix Washington's broken government." In Chicago the word "fix" is pregnant with meaning. Chicago politicians have been putting in the fix for generations. In fact, when President Obama is in the White House there will undoubtedly be a special office where parking tickets can be fixed and property taxes fixed. Your recently deceased relatives will be able to vote again. When the President-elect announced his jobs program for 2.5 million Americans, we ex-Chicagoans knew what he meant: hundreds of thousands of Americans are about to become sewer inspectors, parking lot commissioners, co-pilots on garbage trucks. All that is required of them is that they vote and vote often.

As a presidential candidate, Senator Barack Obama was a man of many firsts. On January 20th he will be sworn in as the first Chicago Alderman ever to be president. Already he is America's first motivational speaker to be elected president. Some will object that there have been other motivational speakers residing at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. But none of them has had his background, a background utterly uncluttered by experience. In fact, Senator Obama has had less executive experience than Alaska's curvaceous governor. In point of fact, the junior senator from Illinois has had no executive experience.


IF YOU WILL ALLOW ME a moment of self-satisfaction, I saw it all coming. As early as 2006 in finishing up my book on the Clintons' post-White House extravagances, The Clinton Crack-Up, I prophesied that a new generation of Democrats was emerging to challenge Hillary -- at the time, the so-called "inevitable" Democratic nominee. I made the point very publicly. Check the transcript of Brian Lamb's May 2007 interview with me on C-Span. There I predicted, "Hillary's going to have real problems getting the nomination. A new generation's come up…." I suppose that went down with the mainstream moron media as but another extravagant canard from another tiresome Clinton Hater.

Truth be known, I hate no one. The American Spectator hates no one. We greet the challenges ahead with cheerful anticipation. Our aim is to be the rallying point for a revitalized conservative movement. At the beginning of the conservative movement, Henry Regnery was one of the movement's founding fathers. He was also his son, Al's, predecessor on The American Spectator's Board of Directors. Conservatives such as Henry Regnery laid down the principles of a movement that has moved from obscurity to capturing the White House, spreading the message of individual liberty throughout the world, even into lands once crushed under Communist tyranny, lands liberated by our message of freedom and our military resolve. We shall fight on for personal liberty. And if this president will lead us we shall follow him. Either that or we shall find another defender of liberty.

I look forward to seeing you next year. My gratitude to you all for your support and involvement with The American Spectator.

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About the Author
R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr. is the founder and editor in chief of The American Spectator. He is the author of The Death of Liberalism, published by Thomas Nelson Inc. His previous books include the New York Times bestseller Boy Clinton: the Political Biography; The Impeachment of William Jefferson Clinton; The Liberal Crack-Up; The Conservative Crack-Up; Public Nuisances; The Future that Doesn't Work: Social Democracy's Failure in Britain; Madame Hillary: The Dark Road to the White House; The Clinton Crack-Up; and After the Hangover: The Conservatives' Road to Recovery.