The editors of the editorial page of The Wall Street Journal were sitting around an oversized table in an office high above Manhattan talking with one another in those tones of mutual approbation that members of the wise-and-knowing class reserve for one another when they are talking about the unenlightened.
In this case, the targets of their conversation were the benighted "conservatives" now insisting that the federal government make a serious effort to enforce the laws of the United States before giving up and granting amnesty to somewhere between 12 million and 20 million illegal aliens.
The conference was captured on videotape and posted on the Internet -- apparently by the editors themselves.
"But the other thing that is fascinating to me," said Journal Editorial Page Editor Paul Gigot, "is the degree to which the right isn't even rational about this anymore."
Gigot named a name.
The "conservatives at National Review," he said, are pushing an "enforcement-first agenda," which means they want to build a "border fence" and "harass business."
Another editor was certain that deep down the drive to enforce the immigration laws had dark and sinister -- even unspeakable -- roots. "But the fact is," said Deputy Editorial Page Editor Daniel Henninger, "their objection is fundamentally cultural -- and they can't say that, OK. It's the biggest unspoken truth at the center of this debate, and they can't talk about it."
Excuse me, Mr. Henninger. Let's talk about it now.
When I saw the tape of this Wall Street Journal editorial meeting -- which was linked to an editorial posted at National Review Online (for which I have occasionally written) in which the editors of National Review challenged the Journal editors to a debate on immigration -- I thought of a certain Catholic parish on the outskirts of Washington, D.C.
This parish, I suspect, must be one of the most multiethnic institutions in America. Survey the pews on any Sunday, and you will find people who can trace their ancestors -- or perhaps their own birth -- to every continent on Earth. All shades of human epidermis are represented in that congregation.
But as multiethnic as this parish is, it is not ultimately multicultural.
All who belong believe in the same basic things: the same natural law, the same justice, the same God. They all would agree, I believe, on the indispensable elements at the heart of American culture.
So, too, would their neighbors at the Evangelical church, the Episcopalian church and the Jewish synagogue down the road. For at the core of our culture are words carved in stone for Moses and the Word made flesh in a baby born to Mary -- and it doesn't matter whether you first learned of these things in Lagos, Seoul, Mexico City or New York.
To be sure, there are important secondary things that also define our specifically American culture. These include our enduring constitutional tradition, our reverence for the Founders of that tradition and our respect for other heroes who through the years maintained that tradition, often at great cost. It includes our English language, our prose and poetry, and our pop, folk and rock 'n' roll music.
It includes our love for the American land itself, its unmatched beauty, and the honor we pay our parents (and, in some cases, their parents, and their parents' parents) for the blood and toil they invested to keep this land free and make it a better place for us and our children.
As long as they do not overwhelm us with sheer numbers coming from any single country or foreign-language tradition, new immigrants who share our basic values can over time join us in our love for the particular things that define us as a nation. They can assimilate. Balkanization, fostered by the multiculturalist mindset, is a threat to American culture, but there is a greater threat behind the current drive to amnesty all illegal aliens and maintain a flow of new, exploitable, unskilled foreign laborers.
This is the ideology that wants to write into law -- in this nation founded on the principle that God created all men equal -- that there shall be a resident subclass of laborers constrained by government to work for wages so low no American would accept them. This ideology is a form of materialism that puts the pursuit of profit above all else. It is the inordinate love of money.
It would dissolve what is best about America in a culture of greed.