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RightNation.US: The Tyranny of Cliches: Conservatism's Defensive Playbook - RightNation.US

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Four years ago when I reviewed Jonah Goldberg's
Liberal Fascism, I used a football metaphor. I termed it "conservatism's defensive playbook". And I still think that's a good metaphor; however, now that I've finished his newest book, The Tyranny of Cliches: How Liberals Cheat in the War of Ideas, I have to expand it a bit.

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Liberal Fascism is now the basic defense you teach on day one. It gives you the alignment and philosophy from which to work. TOC takes that basic alignment and builds a game plan for each possible offense you might face during the season--that's if your season lasted twenty four games.

Okay, enough sports metaphors. TOC is a book length essay about a collection of rhetorical cheats liberals use when arguing with conservatism. These "cliches" amount mostly to avoiding the question. The example Jonah likes to give when speaking about the book is the "It's better that ten guilty men go free than one innocent man be imprisoned" argument. His point is that it's not really an argument but a way to avoid one. It invariably comes up on college campuses where the discussion is about, say, a cop killer like Mumia Abu Jamal. There's a little back and forth about the evidence against the suspect and then some kid stands up, delivers the cliche and sits down as if he just scored a rhetorical touchdown. Jonah's point is that he's done no such thing. He's repeated something everyone agrees with but has nothing to do with the actual argument at hand. It's just a way to get out of defending a position that's untenable.

He goes on to expose the lack of logic and historical misunderstandings behind the idea that liberals are non-ideological, a pet peeve of mine as well. Liberals are supposed to be "pragmatic" and data driven. Meanwhile, conservatives are slaves to ideology and can't recognize solutions to our nation's problems as a result. So, when confronted with data that shows precious government programs like Head Start don't work, the liberals scrap it and conservatives howl in protest because they can't abide a change in the status quo. Right? Not so much. Time after time, the empirical evidence shows that programs or whole schools of thought underlying liberal policies are flawed or just flat out wrong, yet liberals hang on to them and defend them for no other reason than it's the "moral" thing to do. Or it's "for the children". Or "it's progressive". Whatever the reason, it's an ideological one. No matter how many times a president or governor soaks the rich on taxes and ends up bringing in less revenue, the answer always comes back to "fairness". Obama said as much in a 2008 interview. FDR is constantly portrayed as a pragmatist, but none of his bold, persistent experiments included making government smaller and less intrusive.

It's as if we are just supposed to take their word for it. Like Kramer telling Jerry, "Oh, we're pragmatic." (I don't think he ever said that, but you can picture him saying it. Or is that just me? Just me? Okay, fine. Back to the review.)

The rest of the book debunks and unpacks related cliches such as my favorite, separation of church and state. Goldberg makes some of the same arguments I tried to make in that little marathon tiff I had with a few readers years back. Namely the idea that states themselves had official churches for much of the 18th century and didn't disestablish them because of some court ruling or other federal intervention. Nor was there ever a problem with local authorities engaging in official displays of faith. Goldberg describes himself as a mostly secular Jew, yet he gets this and doesn't extrapolate from it that school children would be forced to bow before the cross every morning. It's a liberal cliche to insist that separation of church and state is absolute and to do so without regard to history or original intent.

In all chapters, he offers some tasty nuggets of historical context. My favorites being his take down of Gandhi (yeah, that Gandhi. Dude was kind of an anti-Semitic jerk but don't expect liberals to cop to it) and his history behind the phrase "social justice". Glenn Beck went back to Father Coughlin's usage a few years ago, but Jonah takes it all the way back to its original meaning in the Catholic Church. It's very interesting how the thing mutated into a catch all phrase for everything good according to liberal dogma.

Finally, I love his take on unity. Much like the description of how conservatives are the ones standing athwart history and yelling "stop", we are also the ones who have to brace against the hurricane force winds of the mob mentality and say, "you will not lynch this man today." What a great line. And the book is full of them.

The only regret I have is that I didn't buy the dead tree version. I've made quite a few converts with Liberal Fascism, and I think I could make even more with TOC since it's a much easier read. But, I guess there's always the paperback version coming out later. Still, it'd be nice to have some copies to throw around to friends and colleagues this election year.

In other words, you can't borrow mine, so go buy it. And you're all rich, so buy multiple copies.

My Mind is Clean

2 Comments On This Entry

These days, I've taken to thinking, "If you have to qualify 'justice' with an adjective, it's no longer justice."

moocow, on 21 May 2012 - 03:48 PM, said:

These days, I've taken to thinking, "If you have to qualify 'justice' with an adjective, it's no longer justice."

Pretty much works like that with any word. "Compassionate Conservatism", "Social Gospel", heck even "drive by shooting" means you probably aren't hitting the intended target.

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