The excessively clean-cut, suit-and-tied young men who greeted me at the door had me worried that I was in the wrong place -- was this the "Books Done Right" forum, or had I wandered into auditions for the Mike Curb Congregation?
Reassured that it was the former, I took my seat to listen to two panels of right-wing luminaries including L. Brent Bozell III, David Frum, Michael Barone, George Marlin, John Podhoretz, Sen Zell Miller (D. -- no, really! -- GA), Richard Viguerie and former congressman Bob "He Done Me Wrong" Barr, discuss the effects of conservative books on both political culture and the presidential election.
The gathering was sponsored by the conservative book club American Compass. The founder, Brad Miner, struck the defining note during his opening remarks when he talked about creating the book club for "American readers conservative, libertarian, patriotic, religious" who have nowhere else to go to hear an affirmation of their core beliefs. This was echoed by the moderator of the first panel and God's gift to Grecian Formula, syndicated columnist Cal Thomas, who noted how appalled he was that the gatekeepers of traditional media had made a "conservative alternative" (American Compass' slogan) necessary.
What followed could have served as examples for both parts of Michael Barone's "Hard America, Soft America: Competition and Coddling in the Battle for the Nation's Future." The panelists were proud to brag that they were offering up red meat for conservative readers, following the hard stories the liberal media ignored, i.e., Swift Boat Veterans for -- you should pardon the expression -- Truth, which David Frum claimed the media had treated as a story "improper even to be discussed." They were proud that, in Bozell's words, there are now "thousands of shows" for conservative authors to go on to hawk their books. But they were also very happy to whine that they had been forced out of what Bozell, a few minutes later, called the "established media," relegating them to the hinterlands of Fox News and the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal, not to mention more places on the New York Times bestseller list than you could shake a welfare queen at.
And that's pretty much how it went. David Frum would say, quite lucidly, that the Internet had energized and empowered political speech, but then go on to claim that the left is enraged by this development (as all those Howard Dean supporters and MoveOn supporters will tell you). Bozell claimed that an established publishing house like Knopf would never touch a conservative title, apparently ignorant that Knopf publishes conservative cultural gatekeeper Gertrude Himmelfarb (mother of The Weekly Standard's William Kristol).
The exquisite irony in this, missed by the panelists, was captured by a full-page ad in today's New York Times. Signed by a group of Republicans, many former governors and senators, and others who served in the Nixon and Ford administrations, the ad called on the GOP to return to moderate, common-sense conservatism, the so-called Rockefeller wing of the party, which now seems stone cold dead. "Conservatives feel alone," John Podhoretz claimed.
Yes they do. Because right-wing extremists have turned them out of their own turf.