Conservative Fissures

After decades of perceived harmony, competing factions of conservatism allowed their disagreements to finally bubble to the surface this week as a new magazine put the challenge out to competitors to return to core conservative values.

Edited by political rebel and three-time presidential candidate Pat Buchanan, writer Taki Theodoracopulos and former New York Post editorial editor Scott McConnell, American Conservative magazine was founded with the sole purpose of drawing a line in the sand against the so-called hijackers of the conservative movement, say its leaders.

"We're trying to take back the good name of conservatism from these right-wing impersonators," Buchanan said at the magazine launch this week.

The editors say they are "filling a niche" left void by rivals who have taken over the conservative movement.  These "neo-conservatives" are in favor of pro-globalization free trade, big government and military interventionist ideals.

Trying to return to a debate on those ideas, the magazine will discuss how the American worker has been victimized by free trade, how foreign cultures have been increasingly Westernized to their peril and how poor immigration policies lead to disaster, McConnell said.

The magazine's mission statement, outlined in its first edition, says that the American Conservative will attack "the global free-trade economy, free the immigration debate from the prison to which it has been consigned … and re-ignite the conversation that conservatives should have engaged in since the end of the Cold War."

What the magazine's release has re-ignited so far, however, is a war of words between the American Conservative's editors and the editors and writers of standard-bearers National Review and The Weekly Standard.

Bill Kristol, editor of The Weekly Standard and former chief of staff to Vice President Dan Quayle, responded to Buchanan's pre-launch rhetoric -- in which Buchanan charges his rivals of being in the pocket of Israel -- by accusing Theodoracopulos of being both anti-Semitic and racist in his writings, charges that have been made before.

"I'm all for another magazine," Kristol told the Washington Times, "but I think the inclusion of Taki, who is quite a loathsome character, will hurt their credibility."

"The magazine will end up appealing to a very small slice of the conservative population," predicted one Washington conservative who asked not to be named. He added that conservatives broadly support President Bush and the war on terrorism, and that leaves little room for alternative conservative philosophies.

The American Conservative's editors rebuke their critics by saying that the avidly pro-Israel policies of the neo-cons and their refusal to challenge the president on critical foreign policy questions, make it impossible to hold an honest discussion of critical issues confronting the United States today.

"In some cases, charges of anti-Semitism have been used to shut down the debate," McConnell said. "But I very much want to have a debate on the issues, and not anti-Semitism."

Conservative philosophy, however, has evolved quite a bit since the 1950s, when the American Conservative's style of conservatism dominated the debate. And whether there is still room at the table for that brand remains to be seen.

"Conservatism has gone through an identity crisis and in the last decade, you can see the deep divisions within it,' said Gregory Schneider, author of Cadres for Conservatives: Young Americans for Freedom and the Rise of the Contemporary Right.

"The paleo-conservatives believe that the neo-conservatives have taken over all of the institutions, the magazines, and they have lost their ability to control the conservative movement," he said.

Rich Lowry, the editor of National Review who considers himself more in the mold of the old conservatives despite being lumped in with the neo-cons by Buchanan's team, said he is happy to see a new viewpoint in the marketplace of ideas.

"There's nothing illegitimate about it," Lowry said. "There should be people throwing rocks at the establishment, trying to challenge it."

"I'm a believer that you can do a lot with a little magazine," McConnell said. "We are filling a niche that needs to be filled."