Jonah Goldberg is now grumbling that people are calling him stupid. But, to be fair, the upshot of Goldberg’s indignant response to Henry’s post would seem to be that Henry was actually too charitable to Goldberg’s original post. But I’m getting ahead of my story. Goldberg complains: “Any fair reader of my post (hint, that excludes Henry) would see that I was criticizing liberals and conservatives for not taking culture into account enough.” Now what would that too low accounting value be? “My point was not that culture is everything, but that government isn’t everything.” That is, Goldberg is claiming that the assignment of a non-zero significance to culture is bold contrarianism that places him at odds with both left and right. Of course, far from being a bold position, the claim that culture is not nothing is something everyone would grant freely, if it seemed to anyone worth mentioning.
To put it another way, Goldberg is making a standard rhetorical move which has no accepted name, but which really needs one. I call it ‘the two-step of terrific triviality’. Say something that is ambiguous between something so strong it is absurd and so weak that it would be absurd even to mention it. When attacked, hop from foot to foot as necessary, keeping a serious expression on your face. With luck, you will be able to generate the mistaken impression that you haven’t been knocked flat, by rights. As a result, the thing that you said which was absurdly strong will appear to have some obscure grain of truth in it. Even though you have provided no reason to think so.