David Frum

Today's Question: Fire John Derbyshire?

05.22.12 1:25 PM ET

The next questioner I'll answer who wins a free Kindle copy of Patriots is Daniel Schwartz. Keep submitting questions and we'll have another winner tomorrow. Daniel asks:

What are your thoughts on the firing of John Derbyshire (not to mention Steve Sailer) from National Review (a entity you once wrote for as well)? Is National Review getting better or worse by exiling Sailer and Derbyshire?

Struggling to beat back a nomination challenge in the 1992 New Hampshire primary, President George H.W. Bush offered this explanation for one of his appearances in the state:

"Message - I care."

Those words were seized on as an epic gaffe. Everybody understands that politicians contrive photo opportunities in which they can perform "care" and "concern." They're not supposed to acknowledge that's what they are doing. They're supposed to enact the script: Bush read aloud the stage directions.

I think of that episode when I think of John Derbyshire. A lot of effort has been invested since 2009 to create a narrative of white endangerment and beleaguerment. The Drudge Report showcases selected local police blotters to create an impression of an intensifying criminal rampage by blacks against whites. Rush Limbaugh very explicitly describes the Obama presidency as a project of racial revenge. Fox News suggests the same idea more obliquely. The theme is taken up—with appropriate euphemism—by elected politicians and some conservative writers as well.

What's going on is obvious to all, but of course any mention of what is being done is met with indignant denials.

John Derbyshire made the fatal mistake of explicitness. In so doing, he left the editors of National Review with little choice. He'd embarrassed them, and obviously he fully intended to continue embarrassing them.

Yet there was something also very weird about his termination. The feelings that John Derbyshire ventilated—where did they come from? Yes, some of them are common prejudices, such as rattle around in many of our heads. But others were so very highly specific. The belief that the country is pulsing with potential "flash mobs," ready to erupt at any moment? That black people form a new privileged caste in America?

Just yesterday morning, I invested a few minutes to take the temperature of local talk radio. I heard the host deliver a rant about how terribly unfair and one-sided the media are, culminating in the outright declaration: "We [meaning conservatives, or maybe Republicans] are the new blacks." Meaning, presumably, that blacks are the new whites.

It's in the air, in this case quite literally.

The question ahead for American conservatives is whether they envision their future as a multi-ethnic coalition in favor of enterprise and individualism—or as a Bloc Québécois for older, white people. Fox News and Rush Limbaugh have embraced this latter future, and profited immensely by it. Nobody's firing them.