It’s hard to write, especially everyday, without it turning into just the mindless typing of trivial thoughts and prejudices. I have a pretty good excuse, of course: I don’t get paid for it.
So what’s Jonah Goldberg’s excuse for his latest Townhall column?
If Sadly No were doing one of their “shorter” summaries of it, it would go like this: “Guess what, fellow conservatives? It turns out that the opposing party’s candidates are lame, the people who vote for them are lame, and Mike Huckabee, the one guy I really don’t want to win our primary, is sort of lame too.”
Does that sound like something worth reading? Was it really something that Goldberg thought worth bothering to write?
I perhaps shouldn’t be picking on just Goldberg for this. He’s simply doing what most lazy pundits trying to squeeze a weekly red-meat column into their busy schedule do: they grab a nice handful of recent media “events” and try to tie them all together into some sort of sweeping point about what it all means.
The ideas that come out of such an exercise aren’t outright bad, precisely: but the theses are generally trivially true (who disagrees with the premise that issues matter?), and the targets and examples are so woefully incomplete, and selectively skewed that it makes the entire exercise pointless. “How the media decided to frame things this week because it got bored of how it framed things last week” just isn’t a very good basis on which to sample reality. And simply grabbing a couple of random incidents that fit your thesis and not even mentioning anything else, much less demonstrating that your selection is comprehensive, is pretty much the Modus Operandi of Maureen Dowd-brand babbling bullshit.
Do voters care about personality and emotionalism? Probably some do. Some don’t. It’s pretty far from that simple. Do politicians often try to appeal to these sympathies when they can? Sure. They always have: and in part because it’s a lot safer than focusing on divisive issues. What’s “Oprah” or “Dr. Phil” about this age in particular? Nothing much: other than that these happen to be good partisan grace notes which Jonah’s audience can sneer along with.
Jonah’s unsurprising focus on the alleged dippiness of Democratic candidates (and the one Republican he’s “terrified” of) seems especially strained given that most polls show exactly the opposite of what Goldberg is implying: even if he’s right that Democratic voters don’t care about the issues as much as they think they do, Republican voters pretty clearly say from the start that they care about the personal mettle of their manly men most of all. In fact, this finding about
Democrats saying that they care about issues first and foremost is particularly amazing given there’s just not a lot to debate on the issues between the candidates from the Democratic side. Hillary thinks Obama’s universal healthcare plans go too far, Obama doesn’t think her universal healthcare plans go too far enough! Republicans, meanwhile, have been more engaged in the battle over Who Loves God Most and Guiliani finding new ways to mention offhand that 9/11 made him cry.
Which party is really the party of drippy, “let’s have beer!” emotionalism again?
Well, the answer is that trying to sum up the entirety of the debate that way would be a profoundly unfair and unbalanced picture of things… which I suppose is pretty much how Goldberg has resigned himself to earning his paycheck.His “Liberal Fascism” book, in which a non-Intellectual Historian tries to pen a work of Intellectual History that just so happens to have a slight partisan focus, also came out this week. Sure to sell well based on its title alone (a self-serving fact that makes Goldberg’s whining about not being taken seriously as an intellectual particularly precious), I’m a little wary of books that contain promo sentences like:
“Do these striking parallels mean that today’s liberals are genocidal maniacs, intent on conquering the world and imposing a new racial order?”
And then answer their own question with “Not at all” but then somehow expect us to actually take that answer seriously when they go on to claim that:
The quintessential Liberal Fascist isn’t an SS storm trooper; it is a female grade school teacher with an education degree from Brown or Swarthmore.
Please, tell me again how, no matter how many caveats about “liberal” fascism isn’t the same as genocidal mania, we are supposed to think that the point of such a book is anything other than to repeat the word “fascist” over and over again with the full knowledge that it is forever tainted by genocidal mania? Among actual Intellectual Historians, there is no tactic more detestable and small than this sort of “highly selective and hostile intellectual genealogy is destiny” trope.
Thankfully for the integrity of the field, Goldberg is no more likely to submit his work to an actual accredited journal of intellectual history than creationists are to submit their young earth screeds to Nature. In the end, I doubt either truly take their own claims that seriously.