I very seldom agree with conservative columnist Jonah Goldberg, whose work appears in the Times weekly, but he said something Wednesday morning in an interview on NPR that was dead-on: "Aggravation is a muse." His interview aggravated me so much, and unintentionally revealed so much about what's wrong with conservatism in general and Goldberg's mindset in particular, that it inspired me to blog about it.
Goldberg was on "Morning Edition" to promote his new book, "The Tyranny of Cliches: How Liberals Cheat in the War of Ideas." I haven't read it, but you can get the gist of what it's about from his interview; Goldberg rails against what he considers an unfair debate technique used by liberals, who fall back on cliches rather than seriously addressing conservative arguments and ideas. "I don't agree with what you say, but I'll defend to the death your right to say it" is one such liberal cliche. Goldberg pointed out that this is not only a lie -- very few people would really be willing to take a bullet to defend someone else's free-speech rights -- but it's pablum for people who lack the intellectual firepower to mount a real debate.
True enough. But where Goldberg goes wrong is in presuming this is a "liberal" phenomenon -- it has been the last refuge of intellectually lazy people from all ends of the political spectrum from time immemorial. Conservative cliches might include "Barack Obama is a socialist," "You're with us or against us" and "Global warming is the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people." Challenged on this by host Steve Inskeep -- who noted that Goldberg himself has touted such conservative cliches as the Ronald Reagan catchphrase "Government is the problem, not the solution," Goldberg had to admit that it goes both ways. "I don't know if that qualifies as the kind of cliche I'm talking about, because one of the things I try to unite all of the cliches in the book around are ones that have this sort of progressive bias towards a certain understanding of the role of the state and all the rest. I'm sure a liberal could come up with a whole bunch of conservative cliches that go the other way." In other words: The very title of my book, "How Liberals Cheat in the War of Ideas," is a lie, because conservatives cheat in exactly the same way -- I'm just not going to write about that.