Liberals in the Mist, Part III

by John Holbo on June 7, 2010

Andrew McCarthy’s book is apparently selling well! We’ll get to that.

But first: a couple weeks ago Jonah Goldberg did one of those diavlog thingies with David Frum. The occasion was Frum making accusations of ‘epistemic closure’ and Goldberg protesting that it’s all nonsense. The Jim Manzi/Mark Levin thing. The section we will be concerned with is this one. Only 9 minutes long, so you can watch it yourself. I’ve transcribed some highlights. (If anyone listens and notices I’ve mistranscribed or misleadingly paraphrased, please say so in comments.)

Frum: Do you think President Obama is a Marxist?

Goldberg: No.

Frum: OK. And yet that is something we hear on radio and television all the time. And a lot of the people who we rely on to support Republican candidates are absolutely sold on that proposition. Absolutely sold on it. And of course that makes it – if the President is a Marxist bent on overthrowing the constitutional order of the United States, obviously you can’t do business with him. You have to fight him with every tool you’ve got. But you don’t believe that, I don’t believe that. I suspect that very few of your colleagues at National Review, if any, believe that. And yet it’s said, and made an operational reality.

Goldberg: [nervous laughter] I don’t think he’s a Marxist. I do think he’s probably by temperament and conviction pretty close to a Democratic Socialist of the –

Frum: You think he’s a socialist?

Goldberg: Of the mainstream European variety.

[Some backing-and-forthing. ‘Lawyerly’ (Frum’s characterization) qualifying from Goldberg about how Tony Blair says he’s a socialist and he ‘takes Tony Blair at his word’, and Tony Blair isn’t so far from Obama so Obama must be a socialist. (editor’s note: Since Goldberg’s operational definition of a socialist is ‘people who say they are socialists’ it’s hard to say why he thinks Obama is a socialist.) Frum tries to extract a more positive, substantive, policy or political philosophy-centric notion of ‘socialist’, without conspicuous success. Goldberg: socialism does not equal Marxism, so we should be more willing to apply the ‘socialist’ label much more broadly than we are. Frum: that still doesn’t tell us what the term is supposed to mean. Goldberg: read my Commentary piece.]

Frum: If someone believes that markets should exist, but subject to the regulation that markets should meet the test of cost-benefit, that person is not a socialist … John Maynard Keynes wasn’t a socialist, Jimmy Carter wasn’t a socialism … Richard Nixon wasn’t a socialist … What it means to be a non-socialist is to believe in markets, private property and decentralized economic decision-making … Those would be the kind of things we’re talking about … I think you are demonstrating one of the things that I’m concerned about. I don’t think you really think President Obama is a socialist. But you are constrained here because to say ‘well, y’know, he’s spending too much money, and I think he’s taking on too much debt, and I think some of his specific ideas are overburdensome on private industry’ – that’s just not exciting enough.

Goldberg: Look, I’m trying to deflate – to siphon off the poisonous and radioactive level of the word ‘socialist’.

Frum: Was Richard Nixon a socialist?

Goldberg: He certainly – uh, he was sort of a corporatist. Look, I think there were socialistic elements, certainly wages and price controls and whatnot.

Frum: Was Richard Nixon more or less socialist than Barack Obama?

Goldberg: Uh, I would have to say less.

Frum: A President who imposed two wage and price freezes?

Goldberg: Hey look, I’m not burning with desire to defend Richard Nixon! My point is –
[Big snip here. Goldberg’s point is that we need to have words we can use, and allegedly ‘socialist’, as a word for what Obama is doing, is such a word. We’ll get back to that.]

Frum: Do you think the American Constitutional order is in jeopardy?

Goldberg: No. Well, let me put it this way. The threats to the American Constitutional order that have been proceeding apace for quite a long time, that predate Barack Obama and predate George Bush, they have to do with the post-New Deal Constitutional order. These problems that I do not like are accelerating and getting worse under Obama. But no, do I think we have a crisis of the Republic, or in the first things sense a crisis of the regime, no I don’t .

Frum: And yet you’ll acknowledge that a lot of people in the conservative talk complex say so.

Goldberg: Yes. And I don’t think they should.

Frum: And they have an enormous audience, much bigger than you and me. Bigger even than you and certainly bigger than me.

Goldberg: Yes, sure. Stipulated.

Frum: So we’ve got people who are very important to the conservative world who are saying things about the President that you think are really not true.

Goldberg: Yes, I think that’s right. And I’ve said that –
Frum: Is that a problem?

Goldberg: Yeah, it’s a problem. It’s also well within the confines of political discourse that has been going on in this country for a 100 years.

Frum: So you’re saying it’s a problem but if the most important conservatives in America, the most visible, the most listened to, are telling people the President is a Marxist, a threat to the Constitutional order, you say that’s not true, and it’s a problem, but it’s not a big problem.

Goldberg: Yes. Essentially. But now we’re getting lawyerly on both sides …

OK. Let’s stop there.

A couple posts back I quoted Andrew McCarthy re: his new book, Grand Jihad: what is the nature of the “partnership” – “effective partnership” – between the Obama-led left and the terrorists/Islamists?

“In order to establish their respective utopias they need to push out of the way American constitutional republican democracy. That’s the biggest obstacle to both of them.”

So the Obama-led left and the terrorists/Islamists are, in effect, ganging up on the United States constitutional order, in an enemy of my enemy spirit. This is strong stuff because it explicitly rules out the more charitable interpretation that Obama and the left are just clueless about strategy and tactics. It would be one thing for them to adopt counter-productive policies with perverse consequences. But you don’t attempt this sort of Machiavellian bank shot – aiming at overthrowing the American constitutional order by aiding and abetting enemies of the state – unless you are actually attempting this sort of Machiavellian bank shot. Just to confirm that McCarthy is not slightly mis-speaking in an interview, we can quote from a written Q&A in which he makes the same point, being quite clear that he is not accusing Obama and the left merely of incompetence. (In my previous post I made fun of McCarthy by asking whether Obama is like Benjamin Linus to Islamism’s Smoky. McCarthy makes clear, in this Q&A that he thinks that is pretty much exactly the right sort of analogy.)

So it seems silly to me to rationalize that the Left has lots to lose in a partnership with Islamists — as if we were talking about a hypothetical. The cooperation is happening. The better question is: Why? The easy answer is that the two sides have more in common than they have in opposition. Moreover, to say that the Left would suffer more than anyone under Sharia law misses the point. We are not in a situation where the only ones left are the radical Left and the Islamists — where they would square off against each other. Instead, we are at a point in history when they both have a more pressing common enemy: the culture of freedom in the West. As they have done numerous times in the past, they will work together to try to defeat that enemy. Once that happens — if we let it happen — then they can figure out which one is the crocodile and which one the last appeaser to be eaten.

So, getting back to Frum and Goldberg: Andrew McCarthy is making precisely the claim that Frum picks as an example of a transparently silly claim, that no one serious could seriously credit, but which is stock talk radio fodder. Frum cites this as an example of something that Goldberg obviously doesn’t believe, that probably no one at National Review even takes seriously. And Goldberg agrees. He doesn’t push back, doesn’t suggest that it’s more complicated. And, very notably, omits to say anything like: ‘by curious coincidence, David, one of my NR colleagues, Andy McCarthy is publishing a very serious book this month, which defends the very thesis that you dismiss as silly.’

So, what does Goldberg have to say about McCarthy’s book, which says things that, according to Goldberg, conservatives shouldn’t be saying?

I still don’t have a copy of Andy’s book yet, so I haven’t said much about it. But I just happened to notice that it’s #9 on Amazon. Nice!

Well, that’s fair enough. I will be very curious to see whether, when Goldberg finds – to his shock and dismay – that McCarthy is saying things he (Goldberg) thinks are just plain silly, he takes a stern and Frum-ish stand against his colleague. (But I won’t hold my breath, waiting.)

And the same goes for McCarthy, in case he just happened to miss that bloggingheads episode: if McCarthy is right, then it follows that it is actively dangerous – extremely so – for people like Goldberg to give David Frum a pass (never mind agreeing with him!) when he says it’s silly to say that Obama is trying to overthrow the constitutional order of the United States. When, in fact, it is obviously impossible to form a sensible view of American politics that does not have that proposition at its core. (McCarthy doesn’t say that in so many words, but I think he would have to agree: if it’s true that Obama and the left are implacable enemies of the Constitution, democracy, republicanism and freedom, then it can hardly be possible to form a sensible view of what is going on in US politics without knowing this.)

In general, if it really were the case that some writers at NR believed that Obama and the Democrats are actively seeking the overthrown of the US constitutional order – indeed, of all democratic/republican forms of government; indeed, of human freedom – and if other people at NR believed otherwise, this would be the sort of thing one would want to debate. It would be hard to debate anything else intelligently, after all, without settling (or at least considering) which of the two views is more correct. Before doing anything else, you would need to head off into the mist, as it were, to figure out what the so-called ‘moderate left’ (Obama and co.) really thinks and wants. The fact that there is no interest, on the part of Goldberg and McCarthy and co., in debating what would seem to be rather an important issue … what does that suggest?

Let’s get back to Goldberg’s point about how we need words we can ‘use’ – including ‘socialism’ and ‘fascism’. (In McCarthy’s case: ‘Islamism’. We’ll get to that.) Goldberg complains that it is unfair if those on the left can use ‘socialism’ as an analytic category, but he is forbidden from calling people ‘socialists’, on the ground that it is insulting. But, as Frum points out, Goldberg doesn’t use ‘socialism’ as an analytic category. He isn’t interested in ‘socialism’ or ‘fascism’ as a label for a distinctive cluster of philosophical or policy positions.

What IS he interested in? It seems to me – let me try to get this exactly right – that he is in the market for a means of forming sentences that are systematically ambiguous between claims that are so silly that no one could take them seriously, and claims that are so trivial that no one could take them seriously (even if they are true.) I’ve discussed this fallacy before: the two-step of terrific triviality. If someone objects that you are saying something outrageous, pretend that you were just saying the trivial thing. If someone points out that you are saying something trivial, point to the outrageous thing as a sign that you are touching on very serious matters (even if, of course, you yourself aren’t asserting the outrageous thing – that would be silly.) In this way you generate the impression that there must be some substantive middle ground, between the silly extremes, where non-silly but unspecified versions of your point no doubt obtain. But, in fact, there is no such middle ground. You aren’t saying anything remotely serious; or even anything that you yourself would ever care to assert (if the point were translated into terms that would make its actual sense tolerably plain).

This is clearer if we look at examples. What does Goldberg have to say in the very next post, after congratulating McCarthy on his strong sales? He congratulates himself on the prescience of Liberal Fascism, for the way it anticipates and diagnoses the sort of ‘brave new world’ benign tyranny pushed by, for example, Derek Bok. This post has already gone on long enough, so – rather than paraphrase – I suggest you yourself just click over if you don’t believe me when I say that what Bok thinks, and what Goldberg actually quotes him as saying, is pretty much just that it is reasonable for medical researchers to try to find out what things allow people to be happy, by their own lights. (You ask them.) We should see whether it is possible for doctors and medical researchers to better facilitate provision of these things. So, for example, pain management and good sleep turn out to be more important than you might have thought. People who suffer chronic sleep disorders tend to be less happy even than those who have lost a limb. (Another common example, from the happiness literature: chronic pain is worse than blindness, if self-reports of happiness are to be believed.) Insofar as the government is involved in the crafting of health policy, it seems reasonable for the government to be supportive of what seem like reasonable research and treatment priorities. Medicine should not only be about life (keeping people alive) and liberty (making sure that people can do things like see and walk) but also happiness (because this is acknowledged to be a worthy goal.)

You think the government should make health policy such that doctors are in the needless-pain-and-suffering-to-build-character business?

Goldberg sounds the alarm. It isn’t possible for the government to be in the business of providing policy frameworks within which individuals can more effectively pursue happiness, by their own lights – good sleep, no pain: allowing them to get on with their lives – without this putting us on the slippery slope to Brave New World (soma and feelies and all that, I suppose. Details a bit hazy.)

Simply this: it is fool’s gold. The idea that we can create a heaven on earth through pharmacology and neuroscience is as utopian as the Marxist hope that we could create a perfect world by rearranging the means of production. The history of totalitarianism is the history of the quest to transcend the human condition and create a society where our deepest meaning and destiny are realized simply by virtue of the fact that we live in it. It cannot be done, and even if, as often in the case of liberal fascism, the effort is very careful to be humane and decent, it will still result in a kind of benign tyranny where some people get to impose their ideas of goodness and happiness on those who may not share them.

Of course, Bok didn’t say anything about creating heaven on earth. So subtracting the complaints about utopianism, which don’t apply, what’s wrong with just trying to do things better – which certainly is a charge that will score against Bok? How much sting is there in this charge?

Approaching from a different angle: Goldberg does register awareness, at one point, that there is a famous line in the Declaration of Independence. But he gives no indication – and how could he? – of how, if facilitating ‘the pursuit of happiness’, by people’s own lights, is a ‘liberal fascist’ goal, American government has not been essentially fascistic in spirit from the start. (The New World quite Brave from the get-go.) If the Declaration of Independence was, in spirit, an attempt to make Americans less free and more like Europe …

And now you are set. Being a fascist is, of course, bad. But if, trivially, even the Declaration of Independence is liberal fascist in spirit, you have a foolproof method for ensuring all serious attempts at proof can be baffled by a wall of pure foolishness. You never have to have a sensible discussion of liberalism again. And, if called on it, you can cover your retreat: you can mock-innocently protest that what seems like a drop of rhetorical poison is really an attempt to draw the poison out of the discussion, by normalizing the use of ‘fascist’ (‘socialist’), so forth.

Now there is, of course, an alternative interpretation of Goldberg’s complaint against Bok. He might say that the problem with Bok’s proposal is that the government should not be involved in health care issues at all. These are private matters between doctors and patients. There shouldn’t be public health policy. Period. Because then the government will be stepping between doctor and patient, mandating values like ‘pursuit of happiness’ … But then Goldberg should say so, and explain why he thinks so. But he should also make clear that his beef is not with Bok, or Obama, or even the New Deal, but with the fateful step taken in 1789, when the US got its first public health policy in the form of the Marine Hospital Fund. The US had a public health policy – at least the nose of the fascist camel had got in under the tent – before it had a Bill of Rights, actually. (Fun fact!)

What about Andrew McCarthy? Well, I’ve gone on too long already. The schtick depends on finding a term – ‘Islamism’ – that facilitates systematic slippage between terrorism and a world religion with over 1 billion adherents. But, actually, most of the action is in the middle, where what you find are middle-of-the-road liberal policy ideas caught up in a circular swirl of bizarre insinuations. Leftists are guilty by association with Muslims, and Muslims by association with leftists, and so round we go until they both must be very guilty, in rather the way that Baron Munchhausen pulled himself out of the mud by his own ponytail.

Consider, by way of illustration, this post by McCarthy at Powerline. The bold bits, in particular. The evidence that there is some grand alliance between Islamists and Leftists, when McCarthy finally produces it, is … that the left supports health care reform, and there are some Muslim groups that favor the versions of health care reform that the left tends to support. (In another interview he mentions that some Muslim groups favor unions, too.) And there are Muslims concerned about global warming, and the left is worried about global warming …

since the book was published last week, I’ve been asked questions like: “So, are you saying that President Obama wants to implement sharia?” and ” Isn’t it true that if Islamists came to power, the Left would have a lot to fear?” Again, the alliance between Islamists and Leftists (not all progressives, but the modern hard Left) is an alliance, not a merger. Leftists and Islamists have worked together numerous times in history and, as we look around us today, we see them working together on Obamacare, global warming, the Palestinian cause, the campaign to close Gitmo, the campaign endow terrorists with constitutional rights, and so on. That they work together is not a hypothesis on my part; this partnership exists, period. And why it exists is simply explained, it if we are willing to look at the facts. While they differ on a number of significant issues, Islamists and Leftists are in harmony on many parts of the big picture. Islamism and today’s Leftism (which, as I note in the book, David Horowitz aptly calls “neocommunism”) are both authoritarian ideologies: they favor a muscular central government, virulently reject capitalism, and are totalitarian in the sense that they want to dictate all aspects human life. They both see the individual as existing to serve the greater community (the state or the umma). Saliently, they have a common enemy: Western culture, American constitutional republicanism, and their foundation, individual liberty.

When I argue that Islamists and Leftists are working together to sabotage America, this is what I am talking about. Historically, when Islamists and Leftists collaborate against a common enemy (e.g., the Shah in Iran, the monarchy in Egypt), these marriages of convenience break apart when the common enemy has been eliminated. We are a long way from that point in America – and, hopefully, we never reach it. We must expect, though, that Islamists and Leftists will continue their alliance as long as the Western way of life remains an obstacle to their respective utopias.

The advantage of the two-step of terrific triviality is that you have a two-step formula for generating the impression that there is something slippery-slopingly alarming about any policy proposal. You don’t even need to say anything about the policy proposal. You only need to say some other stuff that is ambiguous between something you yourself wouldn’t say, because it’s too silly, and something that is too silly to say – e.g. if you expand the definition of ‘totalitarianism’ to include support for health care reform, you are going to find out a lot of people are in favor of ‘totalitarianism’. Which is, after all, perfectly true.

{ 64 comments }

1

Ollie 06.07.10 at 11:00 am

Jonah Goldberg gets mocked here a lot because he is easy to mock. But that should offer a clue.

What’s the point of comprehensively shooting down Jonah Goldberg? That’d be like arguing with Glen Beck, or even let’s face it, Daffy Duck.

2

John Holbo 06.07.10 at 11:06 am

Bugs Bunny is one of my major philosophical influences, Ollie.

3

JulesLt 06.07.10 at 11:46 am

I always end up wondering why the Right don’t simply move off to Sudan or some other failed state that seems to exemplify small government and complete freedom of the individual.

That has to be the ultimate question for any Rightist spouting rubbish about European socialism – if you were forced to choose, would you live in Sudan or Sweden?

What’s also interesting is that the opposite of their complaint – a benign tyranny imposing ideas of ‘goodness and happiness on those who may not share them’ surely implies that they, themselves, shouldn’t wish to impose their ideas on anyone – yet historically, the Right have very much done so – and often when elected on a minority vote.

(There’s also a refusal to respect what the majority have voted for – democracy is fine, so long as it doesn’t result in the majority wanting to restrict the power & wealth of a minority).

Perhaps the answer is to start describing them as ‘Anarchists’ rather than ‘Libertarians’ – after all, a lot of their philosophies look sort of anarchist, so you know, if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck . . .

4

P O'Neill 06.07.10 at 12:11 pm

You’ll have more documentary material on C-span at 9 eastern.

5

Henri Vieuxtemps 06.07.10 at 12:51 pm

As Studs Terkel said: “suppose communists come out against cancer, do we have to automatically come out for cancer?”

6

chris y 06.07.10 at 12:56 pm

Perhaps the answer is to start describing them as ‘Anarchists’ rather than ‘Libertarians’ – after all, a lot of their philosophies look sort of anarchist, so you know, if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck .

Most of the anarchists I know are distinctly left wing, in the sense of consistently anti-capitalist. In living memory, anti-statist anti-capitalists who didn’t buy the full Bakuninist package used to call themselves ‘Libertarians’, and they were mighty pissed off when the Randians and company stole their label. So stealing the only identity they’ve got left as well would maybe be a bad idea.

7

Lee A. Arnold 06.07.10 at 1:01 pm

John, thank you for pointing out another bonehead to avoid. I had never read McCarthy before — and, because he writes that Islamists are working against global warming, because he advises that we “help” the Muslims to “redeem” their religion (without writing a word about how he thinks he would do that) and because he omits that Israel (to name one of many capitalist countries) has a national healthcare system that is FAR to the LEFT of Obamacare, therefore he is clearly a third-rate intellectual clown, and I won’t be reading another word by him, ever.

8

Ginger Yellow 06.07.10 at 1:05 pm

“Look, I’m trying to deflate – to siphon off the poisonous and radioactive level of the word ‘socialist’.”

This is pretty hilarious, given that Goldberg wrote an entire book whose sole discernable purpose was to make the word “progressive” as radioactive as fascist, and whose main evidence is that the word “socialist” is in the name of the Nazi party.

9

matt 06.07.10 at 1:34 pm

Interesting. Is this episode of “In the Mist” meant more to be an “error theory” of how Goldberg and McCarthy could think such stuff, or more an analysis of their rhetorical methods? Do you think either of them are themselves taken in by their own two-step?

To me, Goldberg has the suggestibility (see his conversation w Frum) and sloppiness characteristic of a certain kind of blase stupidity. He probably thinks, in the presence of admirers, that there really is something substantive in what he’s written. I don’t know McCarthy as well, but the quoted passages here seem to have the sort of venom you get from self-conscious propagandists.

10

mds 06.07.10 at 1:35 pm

he omits that Israel (to name one of many capitalist countries) has a national healthcare system that is FAR to the LEFT of Obamacare

I think you will find, just as with the Gaza flotilla imbroglio, that this fact is also somehow Obama’s fault.

The easy answer is that the two sides have more in common than they have in opposition.

Hmm. Opposition to gay rights, restricting the rights of women, belief that one’s own religious creed alone should be enshrined in law, a desire for empire in the Middle East … My gosh, it’s as if McCarthy is holding a mirror up to the American Left, that’s for sure. Seriously, though, does he give any specific examples of the particular “freedoms” he thinks Western leftists and Islamism Itself are jointly targeting? I’d rather not click through to Powerline this morning.

11

bianca steele 06.07.10 at 1:36 pm

I think I may want to take back my comment on CT a while ago that Goldberg judges ideas on their genealogy and which side they came from. Since the entire interest in a label like “liberal fascism” comes from the genealogical argument that ideas associated with fascism are horrifically wrong, and that fascism’s putative use of ideas associated with liberalism means liberalism is fascist, this raises the issue that by Goldberg’s own lights, his book should not be selling very well.

I really like this part especially: “Goldberg: Look, I’m trying to deflate – to siphon off the poisonous and radioactive level of the word ‘socialist’.

12

BenSix 06.07.10 at 1:46 pm

Andrew “the Iraqis remain ingrates” McCarthy is a man who found a case where US troops had massacred five civilians and was shockedshocked - to learn that they’d, er – apologised.

13

Elf M. Sternberg 06.07.10 at 1:51 pm

Ollie: And like Bugs Bunny, John seems to enjoy playing the middle between his favorite Daffy Duck and his favorite Elmer Fudd. After all, when John rhetorically asks, “You think the government should make health policy such that doctors are in the needless-pain-and-suffering-to-build-character business?” he’s echoing back to one of his earlier, and one of my favorite, posts where he pointed out that Goldberg’s opening nemesis, David Frum, once wrote his own terrific triviality thatrevealed he believed exactly that.

14

gocart 06.07.10 at 1:52 pm

Conservatives and neo-Nazis have worked together numerous times in history and, as we look around us today, we see them working together AGAINST Obamacare, immigration, affirmative action, Federalism, the campaign to close Gitmo, the campaign to endow terrorists with constitutional rights, and so on. That they work together is not a hypothesis on my part; this partnership exists, period. And why it exists is simply explained, it if we are willing to look at the facts.

15

gocart 06.07.10 at 1:58 pm

Very good analysis John but I will just cut to the chase and point out the obvious. Jonah and McCarthy don’t beleive a goddamned think they say. They are just demagogues and pathological liars who will write ANYTHING so long as it will help their wingnut careers and make them money.

16

gocart 06.07.10 at 2:12 pm

K-Lo defends the pantloads precious.

http://www.cartoonnetwork.com/video/

17

chris 06.07.10 at 2:47 pm

The idea that we can create a heaven on earth through pharmacology and neuroscience

Describing Bok in this way is like interpreting my lunch as an attempt to end world hunger, and then pointing out that it cannot do so and acting as if that were a rhetorical victory.

Also, McCarthy’s definition of “working together” is apparently “they agree on some things” — at least when it suits him.

Frum, at least, recognizes that you can’t be a serial equivocator and still have people take your arguments seriously. The other two either don’t recognize that, or find equivocation too valuable to give up.

18

Bloix 06.07.10 at 2:52 pm

It’s a mistake, I believe, to try to understand Goldberg in terms of the way he thinks. Goldberg doesn’t think – he functions. He is a cog in a complex assembly of opinion-manufacture. His role is to speak to an audience that reads books and newspapers. He produces material that looks superficially like the output of a traditional political commentator: books, columns, and articles. In this way he occupies space that would otherwise be occupied by people who think and argue rationally, he engages people like David Frum and wastes their time, he creates endless debates and arguments over non- issues. This is what he’s paid to do. He exists to create a buffer zone between rational thought and the scorched earth insanity of the Becks and the Limbaughs and the rest of the paranoid and racist right.

19

Substance McGravitas 06.07.10 at 2:58 pm

What’s the point of comprehensively shooting down Jonah Goldberg?

He is a conservative intellectual. Okay, I giggled a little. Back to this:

But, as Frum points out, Goldberg doesn’t use ‘socialism’ as an analytic category. He isn’t interested in ‘socialism’ or ‘fascism’ as a label for a distinctive cluster of philosophical or policy positions.

Here is Jonah five days after the Frum conversation:

I’ll let Cohen’s suggestion that anyone who disagrees on this matter is not “sane” slide, to make an easier point. If Barack Obama isn’t a very good socialist, never mind a Very Good One — in super-serious capital letters — doesn’t that mean he’s still a socialist? Bob Uecker was not a very good baseball player, but he was a baseball player.

Jonah Goldberg: not a very good fascist.

20

Anderson 06.07.10 at 3:07 pm

Bill Gates: not a very good socialist.

21

Rich Puchalsky 06.07.10 at 3:24 pm

chris: “Frum, at least, recognizes that you can’t be a serial equivocator and still have people take your arguments seriously.”

But the problem is, you can. Holbo in a series of posts (right around the same time, or after, “Dead Right”) demonstrated the futility of doing that. But he’s still doing it. The criticism here has to go not to Goldberg, who is at least getting well paid for his nonsense and presumably knows why he’s doing it, but to Holbo.

Why still rehash Goldberg et al? I could say that it’s like an addiction, but an addiction requires a specific outside substance that you are attached to, which I don’t think is the case — I would guess that if Goldberg et al vanished tomorrow, John would happily go on to someone else. Perhaps a bad habit? Nope, it’s stronger than that. John is acting like he has a machine designed to approach arguments in a particular way. And since absolutely nothing out there in the pundit rightwing universe will provide an argument that is worth using this machine on, it’s going to be set to pointlessly grind up anything available. It’s like watching someone revving a chainsaw in a leaf pile.

This is the fundamental thing that annoys me about part of CT and a good chunk of the academic blogosphere in general. You don’t get to have the kind of public sphere that you want to have. Yes, I’m sure that everyone would be happier if we had serious right-wing pundits who made real arguments. But we don’t. This continuing study of the hacks that we do have, and related syndromes like the civility fetish, are just symptoms that people are out of touch with reality and are responding to their own desires for what should be out there rather than what really is.

Perhaps it might be objected that discrediting Goldberg does good? No. Goldberg was discredited when he started writing Liberal Fascism, if not before, to anyone who cares about argument. This doesn’t discredit him, it elevates him to “someone worth thinking about.” And, of course, it repeats or ignores the serious, historically grounded work done on right-wing propaganda by e.g. Dave Neiwert and the like.

So, geez, find something else already.

22

mpowell 06.07.10 at 3:29 pm

I’m starting to think Goldberg might be a lot smarter than anyone gives him credit for.

On the socialist point, I think you are missing a pretty damning critique of the situation. If Goldberg were really interested in trying to ‘draw the poison out’, why isn’t he willing to call Nixon a socialist? He doesn’t even want to defend the man, but he still won’t call him a socialist! For fear of retribution from the right, or maybe because once you get a single drop of that in the river of Republicanism, the whole project is lost. Anyhow, his refusal to call Nixon a socialist suggests to me that he knows perfectly well what game he is playing here. And is very nimble in avoiding critical mistakes. Maybe not smart in the sense you would appreciate, but certainly quite shrewd.

23

mpowell 06.07.10 at 3:31 pm

Rich @20: I think I understand what you are coming from, but I’m not sure what you would have Holbo do. He is consistently pointing out the idiocy of the Right which you think is redundant. But trust me, there are people who are new to this conversation every day.

24

Rich Puchalsky 06.07.10 at 3:53 pm

New to this conversation every day? Really? Sure, there must every day be some teenagers who are just reaching the age where they start to get interested in politics. Is a Holbo post their gateway into it? No. Otherwise, everyone interested in politics has been through the Bush years, you know?

Here’s what John could do instead, if he wants to look at arguments: he could look at arguments of people on the center-to-left. That’s the only place where people take them seriously anyways. And there are people who are unfamiliar with a lot of the basic work done.

25

Harry 06.07.10 at 3:53 pm

I have actually had the Ollie/Puchalsky feeling about this in the past. But Rich, although CT is absolutely not a public intellectual forum, we do know that it is read by people who engage in these debates (eg, Sullivan seems to read it occasionally — and I know that other journalists read it because I’ve been asked to do other things on the basis of writing here). So Holbo is entertaining us/himself, which is fine, but also doing underlabor for people who are more directly engaged with Goldberg etc (eg Frum, whom I doubt reads CT, but who almost certainly has friends (if he has friends any more) who do.
And mpowell’s point above.

26

Bruce Baugh 06.07.10 at 3:56 pm

I think Rich has a point, but mpowell does too. What I’d like to see, personally, is the dissection of Right stupidity flanked some more by looking at successes: people doing some good in the world, and how they think about what they’re doing, and what lessons they think there are in their work, and like that. It’s true that someone’s always new to the existing conversation, but some of us are pretty ground down and would like also to think about what actually does work to promote the general welfare and like that.

27

geo 06.07.10 at 3:56 pm

mpowell@22: trust me, there are people who are new to this conversation every day

Exactly. Carry on, Holbo. Brilliant post.

28

John Holbo 06.07.10 at 4:04 pm

Rich, I think you somewhat mistake my mocking tone for over-seriousness. Just because I hold up Goldberg to an argumentative standard doesn’t mean I’m irrationally expectant of an Ideal Public Sphere (though I wouldn’t kick one out of bed for eating crackers). I think it’s instructive, now and again, to anatomize the rhetoric of it. You have more of a sense than I that if someone was well-mocked in 2004 they will dam well stay mocked for (I dunno) several years. Anyway, I take a certain pleasure in doing the occasional thorough run-through. I expend more effort on it than the object deserves, perhaps, but no one makes YOU read the things. And in this case there genuinely is a fresh element (well, relatively): it’s nice that Goldberg is on the record as thinking that what McCarthy is claiming is obvious nonsense. I thought that was worth documenting, so I did my part to type it out.

29

Rich Puchalsky 06.07.10 at 4:20 pm

Harry: “we do know that it is read by people who engage in these debates (eg, Sullivan seems to read it occasionally [...] people who are more directly engaged with Goldberg etc (eg Frum, [...]“

Sully the Pooh was the guy who went on about how liberals on the coasts were going to form a fifth column for Al Queda. Frum is the guy who the phrase Donner Party Conservatism was created about (by Holbo, of course). In any sane punditosphere, those people would themselves be jokes who would have to find another line of work. But instead they’re treated as if they are reasonable by comparison, because their buddies predictably turned on them and they on the surface sounded better once they were squabbling with said former buddies. In another five years people will be saying how reasonable Goldberg is in comparison with the next new rightwingers.

Contrast, say, Berube’s recent pieces on the two rhetorics of the left. At least there was an argument that wasn’t between hacks and people pretending to be arguing with hacks. The latter isn’t just a waste of time, or an annoyance; it actively corrodes your ability to think once you start accepting people like Sullivan as being serious.

30

engels 06.07.10 at 4:22 pm

I like Rich Puchalsky’s image of a man revving a chainsaw in a pile of leaves, but I’d always assumed that was more or less the effect John Holbo was striving for with these posts. As someone who certainly isn’t interested in Goldberg, or in ‘engaging’ with his ‘ideas’, I must say I often enjoy these posts and find them quite amusing in kind of ironic, Gen-X way, like sitting around with a bunch of stoned students discussing post-structuralist interpretations of Richard and Judy. I admit I haven’t read every word of this latest three-part Holbovian epic though.

31

Ollie 06.07.10 at 4:28 pm

It is widely believed that Jonah Goldberg owes his career to nepotism.

I once sent an article of his to a French colleague, labelling it the most perfect example of the insanity of the American right.

I’ve essentially done what John Holbo is doing with this blog post.

I much enjoyed the blog post but it is just too easy. Goldberg really very much is a joke.

32

Kevin Donoghue 06.07.10 at 4:52 pm

I much enjoyed the blog post but it is just too easy. Goldberg really very much is a joke.

I don’t think it can be easy at all. The very fact that Goldberg is a joke must make it that much more difficult to treat him with Holbovian solemnity. I certainly couldn’t do it and if John Holbo enjoys it more power to him. Goldberg probably prefers the Sadly, No treatment, which gives him something to whine about.

33

Anderson 06.07.10 at 5:00 pm

Sully the Pooh was the guy who went on about how liberals on the coasts were going to form a fifth column for Al Queda.

Right. Tho I gotta tell ya, I know we did the right thing by burning him for heresy in 2002, but I’ve sometimes wondered whether the man might have changed any of his opinions had he been given the opportunity to continue blogging. Oh well, I guess we’ll never know.

34

Glen Tomkins 06.07.10 at 5:46 pm

Reading too much into Goldberg’s admission

Okay, so McCarthy thinks Obama is a knave, while Goldberg thinks him to be just a fool. We have similar distinctions, of questionable difference, made by people on our side about their political leaders.

In our case, the last administration gave us a ready-made personnel dichotomy — Dubya was the Fool, and Cheney (well, maybe Rove, too) was the Knave. But really, did this distinction make a difference? Was Dubya less evil for merely going with the flow, blundering into war for no better reason than to avoid losing the 2002 mid-terms? Were Cheney and Rove any less the fools for pursuing policies which, however ruthlessly efficient in the political short-term, were a long-term political disaster for their side?

Any attempt to understand why things go wrong in a universe that we have to believe has some intrinsic order, rests on attribution to some combination of malevolent intentions (human and/or super-/sub-human) plus the operation of blind, impersonal forces. Whether you’re asking “Whence evil?”, or just, “Why are things so fucked up?”, you are left believing one or both of two things about the people who do wrong, who contribute to the fucked-uppedness/evil: they are agents of this wrong, or they are the tools of such agents, and/or of impersonal forces that tend to disrupt or downgrade order.

Reasonable people, of course, will say that you don’t really have to choose, that people who do evil (or advance entropy, whichever formulation of fuck-uppedness you are more comfortable with) are both Fools and Knaves, both vicitms of impersonal forces, and actively drawn to advance evil/entropy for the hell of it.

I don’t see how Goldberg or McCarthy would be much exercised brushing off this distinction in their current approaches. Whether or not this administration is the agent and chief cause of evil in the modern world, or just its most obvious and important consequence, seems to me to not make much practical difference. You either think both ideas are daft (my vote), or both are true, and not at all in contradiction with each other. Goldberg can believe it’s silly to imagine Obama coordinating strategy with Osama, and still think that just being a passive by-stander, where it is obvious to him that the president needs to take a particular line against Osama, is calculatedly in line with advancing interests that he imagines that Osama and Obama have in common. Does that more careful and nuanced account of Obama’s wrong action, still clearly evil, represent a contradiction of McCarthy’s rhetoric aimed at the masses, or just the formulation that Goldberg has to make to explain the same views as McCarthy’s, only to the more nuance-friendly audience of Frum and his lot? You can talk about Satan to people who understand the world in those terms, and about impersonal forces to those other people who believe in that set of explanations, and you can claim that your own beliefs lie more to the latter, and all without denigrating the folks who like to hear the common political enemy described as Satan. You’re going to have a small tent indeed if you excommunicate everyone who doesn’t buy every detail of your entire theology.

35

JRoth 06.07.10 at 6:01 pm

“Bugs Bunny is one of my major philosophical influences, Ollie.”

Unfortunately, stupid Times-Warner quashed John and Belle’s treatise on Bugs Bunny’s philosophy due to alleged issues with John’s illustrations.

36

Salient 06.07.10 at 6:47 pm

What’s the point of comprehensively shooting down Jonah Goldberg?

See here.

37

mds 06.07.10 at 7:36 pm

What’s the point of comprehensively shooting down Jonah Goldberg?

One could consider that he is a columnist for the Los Angeles Times, a published author, and a frequent MSM television commmentator. This argument about “Why waste time refuting people who are given huge tracts of land in the public square to spout mendacious foolery” always leaves me with the question, “As opposed to … ?” Publishing a textbook refuting the mendacity and complete intellectual bankruptcy of freshwater economics? Writing treatises on Being and Nothingness in Sanskrit? What?

Yes, there have been a lot of posts dealing with the craziness of modern public discourse and supposed intellectual conservatism. But it’s still not yet 100% of CT posts, so why worry? There’s an ebb and flow in these things. And sometimes it just gets to the point where one finds oneself venting about neck-high levels of stupidity and dishonesty, as Salient @ 36 has just so eloquently reminded us in vis inimitable way. Ve is also probably quite attractive.

Sincerely,
Summer Glau

38

Area Man 06.07.10 at 8:08 pm

The fact that there is no interest, on the part of Goldberg and McCarthy and co., in debating what would seem to be rather an important issue … what does that suggest?

Hm, let me take a stab at this…

Goldberg and his ilk regard the deranged inanities of McCarthy and his ilk to be useful propaganda for stirring up the masses, and are not concerned with whether it’s true just so long as it helps the War on Obama. .

What do I win?

39

MQ 06.07.10 at 8:51 pm

he omits that Israel (to name one of many capitalist countries) has a national healthcare system that is FAR to the LEFT of Obamacare

ISRAEL IS IN BED WITH THE ISLAMISTS.

It’s a mistake, I believe, to try to understand Goldberg in terms of the way he thinks. Goldberg doesn’t think – he functions. He is a cog in a complex assembly of opinion-manufacture…. He exists to create a buffer zone between rational thought and the scorched earth insanity of the Becks and the Limbaughs and the rest of the paranoid and racist right.

This. He is a propagandist, period.

40

A. Jay Adler 06.07.10 at 10:39 pm

In contrast to Frum and Goldberg, there is a conversation ongoing at my blog between a liberal and conservative, ShrinkWrapped, In the past, there has been a good deal more commenting from his conservative readers than my liberal, so this is an invitation to come read and maybe even out the sides a bit more. “The Open Mind VII – the One and the Many” had now begun. Hope you’ll have look.

41

Rick Massimo 06.07.10 at 10:40 pm

… a kind of benign tyranny where some people get to impose their ideas of goodness and happiness on those who may not share them.

I think that’s called “being in the minority.” Which Goldberg thought was just fine when it wasn’t happening to him.

Goldberg doesn’t think – he functions. He is a cog in a complex assembly of opinion-manufacture…. He exists to create a buffer zone between rational thought and the scorched earth insanity of the Becks and the Limbaughs and the rest of the paranoid and racist right.

As Ezra Klein said of Bill Kristol: “His job isn’t to give his opinion; his job is to give THIS opinion.”

42

politicalfootball 06.08.10 at 3:08 am

You have more of a sense than I that if someone was well-mocked in 2004 they will dam well stay mocked for (I dunno) several years.

And in case this wasn’t sufficiently explicit, I’ll spell it out: Frum was a buffoon when* Holbo coined the phrase “Dark Satanic Millian Conservative,”** and Frum hasn’t changed a bit. Yet Frum is now the very face of reasonable conservatism.

We talk about Goldberg because that’s where the ideological action is – that is where real-world policy is being decided. Willie Sutton chose banks for much the same reason that Holbo chooses Goldberg.

The reality-based community is smug about its undeniable superiority over the nitwits. The problem is, in the real world, the nitwits are winning, and RBC views are marginal. It is not beneath me to debate torture, for instance, despite the fact that there is no reasonable debate on the subject.

*actually in 2003, not 2004.

**I use this phrase out of respect for the author, but alas, the liberal middlebrows have clearly won this battle, and the phenomenon is destined to be known as “Donner Party Conservatism.”

43

Something Polish 06.08.10 at 3:29 am

That was a long way to go to dismiss Jonah Goldberg. It was a decent read, but a long way to go.

I still can’t get past the disturbing fact that LA Times columnist and respected conservative thinker Jonah Goldberg is listed as the author of a book which compares Hilary Clinton to both [Adolf] Hitler and [Benito] Mussolini–ON ITS MOTHERFUCKING COVER!!!

44

Rich Puchalsky 06.08.10 at 3:30 am

“We talk about Goldberg because that’s where the ideological action is – that is where real-world policy is being decided. Willie Sutton chose banks for much the same reason that Holbo chooses Goldberg.”

Oh, God no. That is exactly wrong.

Goldberg decides no policy. He doesn’t even decide what he’s going to say. The people who decide, more or less, are the funders of the right-wing network — the “banks” if you’re going to use the Willie Sutton analogy. And they could care less what justification Goldberg comes up with. He just has to call Obama a socialist and not call e.g. Nixon a socialist. It’s not difficult, and if someone wants to spend time overinterpreting and debunking, all the better.

45

Landru 06.08.10 at 3:33 am

“Here’s what John could do instead, if he wants to look at arguments: he could look at arguments of people on the center-to-left. That’s the only place where people take them seriously anyways. And there are people who are unfamiliar with a lot of the basic work done.”

This statement pretty well captures the consensus here at CT, which is that only “we” smart, sincere, center-to-left types are seriously doing the things called “argument” and “work,” by operating within the bounds of logic, facts, history, consistency, etc. And, I don’t disagree; if I were smarter, I’d be one of “us” too. But, has it occurred to any of you geniuses to check whether your good, strong, sound and proper argumentation is actually having any effect in the real world?

Because, in case you haven’t noticed, the other side is beating the stuffing out of you. Even when they’re nominally out of elected power, the right wing still has an unbroken lock on politics and culture in the US. Endless wars rage unchecked, to the betterment of no one but arms merchants. A past president admits outright to war crimes, and no one blinks. Senior senators discuss revoking citizenship on the mere accusation of certain crimes, like something out of Caligula. The corporate “press” refuses to distinguish lies from facts, or admit that facts exist. Even in the face of historic disasters, with an historic left-ish executive and Congress, no significant changes will be made, to energy or to finance or anything else.

Yes, by any sense of the words, John Holbo is smart and thoughtful, while Jonah Goldberg is an illogical, inconsistent, drooling idiot. So, you tell me: why is Goldberg the one who’s winning the battle for the nation’s soul? Why isn’t the thousand horsepower of Holbovian analysis actually having any effect out in the real world? What good is all this “proper, correct argument” if it doesn’t lead to anything?

46

Something Polish 06.08.10 at 3:45 am

So, you tell me: why is Goldberg the one who’s winning the battle for the nation’s soul?

I think it has something to do with what the kids like to call The Bobbi Flekman Principle.

47

Rich Puchalsky 06.08.10 at 3:48 am

“Rich, I think you somewhat mistake my mocking tone for over-seriousness.”

No, I don’t think that I really do. I’ve been reading your stuff since before the Valve started, and you generally don’t bother with an article like this, mocking or not, unless you think there is something worth seriously mentioning there:

“in this case there genuinely is a fresh element (well, relatively): it’s nice that Goldberg is on the record as thinking that what McCarthy is claiming is obvious nonsense. I thought that was worth documenting, so I did my part to type it out.”

Nope, not worth documenting. But this is more than a a waste of time, or a “you don’t have to read it if you don’t like it.” It’s a fundamental misreading of politics. Look at this thread: half of the people defend the article because it’s funny, half because it’s a needed debunking of Goldberg. No doubt it’s even better because it’s both, in some fashion, right? I mean, the only news media the left has these days are the Onion and Jon Stewart.

I have much, much more to say about this, but in short, the left mocked right-wing bloggers and pundits during the Bush years because there wasn’t much else we could do. And since they operated as (minor) fronts for the people in power, maybe it was worth something. But now it’s just become a sort of cultural habit, one in which we focus on people who have no real power at all.

48

Rich Puchalsky 06.08.10 at 4:00 am

Landru: “has it occurred to any of you geniuses to check whether your good, strong, sound and proper argumentation is actually having any effect in the real world?”

Of course it doesn’t: that’s not the purpose of a blog like CT.

“Because, in case you haven’t noticed, the other side is beating the stuffing out of you. Even when they’re nominally out of elected power, the right wing still has an unbroken lock on politics and culture in the US”

They do? They are losing in every way. They lost the Presidency, both houses of Congress, and they are fumbling or at least not adequately taking advantage of the wave election that is supposed to sweep them back into power. Their cultural demonstrations have ranged from ineffectual (Tea Parties) to actively counterproductive for them (Arizona).

Are endless wars raging, past presidents admitting to war crimes, and the Senate discussing revoking citizenship? Yes. But the center-left is in charge of all that now. As the Bush years demonstrated, if the Obama administration had wanted to push on these things, they could have, and the minority party could not have done much about it.

So, yeah, whenever someone brings this up, it’s always that the “right” has a lock on discourse. It’s not the right, or, rather, it’s not just the right. Goldberg has his media jobs because the right supports him, so he’s allowed to publish his nonsense. But he has no ability to make Obama do anything. Pretending that he does is good for him, and is good for Obama, but it’s not good for us.

49

tom bach 06.08.10 at 4:00 am

It is a shame that this post, which does so much good in demolishing the idiocy flowing from conservative intellectuals, is being criticized for doing so much good in demolishing the idiocy flowing from conservative intellectuals.

50

Substance McGravitas 06.08.10 at 4:08 am

But now it’s just become a sort of cultural habit, one in which we focus on people who have no real power at all.

This seems like a self-defeating argument: JH’s power should be used on people with power. But if we accept that JH has power, doesn’t JG?

51

politicalfootball 06.08.10 at 4:12 am

No doubt it’s even better because it’s both, in some fashion, right? I mean, the only news media the left has these days are the Onion and Jon Stewart.

Rich, I gotta say, it’s a pleasure to disagree with someone who clearly has a grip on my argument. I think that’s your attraction to Berube (for example), and I entirely understand it.

But now it’s just become a sort of cultural habit, one in which we focus on people who have no real power at all.

This strikes me as contradictory to this:

Goldberg decides no policy. He doesn’t even decide what he’s going to say. The people who decide, more or less, are the funders of the right-wing network—the “banks” if you’re going to use the Willie Sutton analogy. And they could care less what justification Goldberg comes up with. He just has to call Obama a socialist and not call e.g. Nixon a socialist. It’s not difficult, and if someone wants to spend time overinterpreting and debunking, all the better.

Fair enough: Goldberg decides no policy, but he speaks directly for the people who do, and that makes his statements important. After all, Holbo, too, is merely a tool of the Vast Enlightenment Conspiracy, and decides no policy.

52

Rich Puchalsky 06.08.10 at 4:17 am

Substance McG, I’m saying that JH’s argumentative ability should be used on actual arguments. I’m not saying that he has political power. The point of academic blogosphere posts is to help people to think about something, more or less, isn’t it?

53

Landru 06.08.10 at 4:30 am

Rich (re 47):

“Are endless wars raging, past presidents admitting to war crimes, and the Senate discussing revoking citizenship? Yes. But the center-left is in charge of all that now. “

Yes, this is exactly the point. Even after a complete change of party, the government is still hewing to the right-wing path. Obama doesn’t refute the crimes of Bush, he repeats and sanctifies them. Both parties follow the right wing lead, because that’s what the culture at large wants them to do. The question is, why has the culture gone that way?

I don’t know whether Goldberg or Holbo have any power, or any influence, necessarily; but that’s beside the point. I do know that the culture at large can either go in the direction that Holbo wants — with respect for sound thought and reason — or it can go in the direction that Goldberg wants — frightened, tribal, unthinking. Whatever the cause, it’s the latter that seems to be happening, whether with R’s or D’s in the seats; and so in that sense Goldberg is “winning” over Holbo despite the latter being more “correct.”

Oh, and BTW: “Of course it doesn’t: that’s not the purpose of a blog like CT.” The point is not exactly what the blog does, but what the _people_ who write at the blog (including commenters), or people like them, can accomplish anywhere in the world as a result of their superior reasoning and analytic powers. And, that appears to be basically bupkis.

54

Rich Puchalsky 06.08.10 at 1:27 pm

Landru: “Both parties follow the right wing lead, because that’s what the culture at large wants them to do.”

In short, no. The whole point of having political leadership is that you don’t blindly follow what you imagine that the culture wants. If Obama and the Democratic leadership are following a right wing lead, then that’s where they want to go. Or, really, it’s not a right wing lead after all.

If Obama is excusing war criminals and perpetuating war crimes, then it’s a kind of denial to say that the right wing is making him do it. Or, to take the same argument back one iteration, that the right wing set the culture and now the culture is making him do it. He won an election having promised to do the exact opposite. Therefore, if he’s doing it, it’s because he wants to.

And that doesn’t mean that Obama has now become part of the right. It means that the entire American political system is complicit in war crime.

politicalfootball: “Fair enough: Goldberg decides no policy, but he speaks directly for the people who do, and that makes his statements important.”

No, that’s not Goldberg’s function. If you see the governor of a coastal state saying that we shouldn’t blame BP for the spill, and that coastal drilling has to go on, then you can infer the policy of the people the governor is speaking for from the governor’s statements. That’s because a governor has some actual political power and is close to the action, as it were. Goldberg’s function is to make noise. He’s been metaphorically sent out with a brief that amounts to “Call Obama a fascist”, and it’s totally unimportant what stupid justification he tries to come up with. Why do right-wing funders want Obama to be called a fascist? Well, the usual corporatist reasons, probably, but it’s impossible to deduce them from what Goldberg says because he’s not really saying anything.

55

chris 06.08.10 at 2:30 pm

[Obama] won an election having promised to do the exact opposite [of letting torturers off the hook, no pun intended].

Really? I don’t remember him promising prosecutions. I’m pretty sure it would have made a splash.

Clearly, the American center is cool with a lot of “right-wing” stuff that the left objects to, and given that fact, it may be misleading to label it right-wing (rather than, say, center-right). The actual left is too small to control the Democratic Party, let alone the nation. I wish that weren’t the case, but it clearly is, and if we’re going to be the reality-based community we have to acknowledge that.

The left in America can presently only win power in coalition with the center, which means its agenda will be constrained by what is acceptable to the center. Prosecuting torturers is not acceptable to the center so it doesn’t happen. Obama is a politician and doesn’t want to put his face on failure, so if he *did* personally want to prosecute torturers, he wouldn’t admit it. This makes it hard to figure out what he really does want, but as long as his actions are constrained by the center, it hardly matters anyway. Obama does not tilt at windmills.

The term “center-left” is IMO more confusing than useful when discussing an issue on which the center and left disagree.

As the Bush years demonstrated, if the Obama administration had wanted to push on these things, they could have, and the minority party could not have done much about it.

I think you are assuming the parties are more structurally similar than they actually are. The Democratic Party is an ideologically broad coalition disguised as a single party because of the US’s screwy electoral system. The *potential* fracture of the Republican Party is making news because it is news. Furthermore, Bush’s party didn’t actually disagree with him on those issues, so he didn’t so much push as run to the front of the parade. Obama’s party disagrees with itself, so whichever position he takes, part of the party is against him.

56

Substance McGravitas 06.08.10 at 3:25 pm

Substance McG, I’m saying that JH’s argumentative ability should be used on actual arguments. I’m not saying that he has political power. The point of academic blogosphere posts is to help people to think about something, more or less, isn’t it?

I dunno that I have found the rulebook that says What John Holbo Is Supposed To Write About, but railing against unthink seems like a pretty reasonable academic blogosphere post to me. God forbid he should post about a comic book.

57

Salient 06.08.10 at 3:51 pm

…venting about neck-high levels of stupidity and dishonesty, as Salient @ 36 has just so eloquently reminded us in vis inimitable way. Ve is also probably quite attractive.

I would be possessed of matinee-idol good looks, if I had spent less time ditch-throwing in my formative years

58

bianca steele 06.08.10 at 4:06 pm

Rich: it’s impossible to deduce them from what Goldberg says because he’s not really saying anything

And even more so in Goldberg’s case (in particular) because he spends so much ink making insinuations that don’t amount to a whole lot. “You know what THEY are going to do, and you know what will happen THEN, and you know what we had better do if we want to protect ourselves and our families!” That sort of thing. Spending time, like John H. does, on filling in the Mad Lib blanks, seems like not only a waste of time but granting some validity to him. On the other hand, it does seem perfectly reasonable to point to what’s really behind the insinuations, for the benefit of people who are affected and people who are in a position to do something about it as long as they’re informed.

59

bianca steele 06.08.10 at 4:18 pm

And it’s worse than that, because the whole “Enlightenment: threat or menace?” debate is entirely unrelated* to any question of practical politics. It’s a great philosophy seminar question, and a great personal essay question, but what does it have to do with politics again exactly?

*”orthogonal”? is that the word?

60

johne 06.08.10 at 6:45 pm

I have no idea where Crooked Timber is in the blogosphere’s audience hierarchy, but I can’t believe that I’m its only follower who is a non-academic with no advanced degree. Neither can I accept that I’m the only CT reader who is so unversed in rhetoric, argumentation, history and philosophy that it takes me time I can’t afford to do any more than superficially analyze even typical rightwing hoodwinking. Rich Puchalsky seems to view such unpacking as a tiresome public staging of five-finger exercises or a show-off public skewering of unworthy targets, and basically a misuse of resources.

To draw an analogy, I don’t imagine that Juan Cole is invariably happy to employ his doctorate in reprising yet again the parts of Middle East 101 or Islamic History for Non-majors that are relevant to the day’s news, but he does it, week in and week out. I can’t believe that it hasn’t had an effect. The cliche about neglectful good men and evil’s triumph doesn’t promise a worthy opponent or glorious battle every day. I’m grateful to Holbo and others here who realize that.

61

Ben Alpers 06.08.10 at 8:52 pm

So, yeah, whenever someone brings this up, it’s always that the “right” has a lock on discourse. It’s not the right, or, rather, it’s not just the right. Goldberg has his media jobs because the right supports him, so he’s allowed to publish his nonsense. But he has no ability to make Obama do anything. Pretending that he does is good for him, and is good for Obama, but it’s not good for us.

Rich is 100% correct about this, but I disagree with his apparent assumption that we cannot walk (criticize Obama) and chew gum (criticize Goldberg) at the same time.

Pretending that our failure to sufficiently criticize Obama is somehow the fault of our criticizing the right is, in a sense, letting us off the hook too easily.

Goldberg’s nonsense is significant, despite its being nonsense. And it should be refuted.

But Obama’s much more consequential (for the moment, at least) violations of the rule of law (e.g.) should also be criticized. And quite obviously “we’re too busy criticizing Jonah Goldberg” is no excuse (nor is Theda Skocpol’s apparent view that one should not criticize Obama because doing so might give aid and comfort to his enemies.)

62

Lemuel Pitkin 06.08.10 at 9:15 pm

nor is Theda Skocpol’s apparent view that one should not criticize Obama because doing so might give aid and comfort to his enemies.

And this is letting Skocpol off the hook too easily, I think. Her actual argument seems to be that Obama is letting BP (mis)manage the oil spill because he wants to avoid political responsibility for it — and that this is a great decision that the left should support.

When did Skocpol become a hack apologist for any Dem in power, anyway? By 1996, anyway. Before?

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bianca steele 06.08.10 at 11:16 pm

Lemuel,
I didn’t read it exactly that way. No matter who “takes charge,” the same people will be doing the work–the only thing different under Reich’s proposal from what I can see will be the name of the guy at the top, which is hardly going to cause any kind of sudden shift in how the work gets done by the people in the middle and on the front lines. Obama seems to like delegating responsibility to people with particular jobs, and whatever criticism could be made of the way he does that, obviously the decision is going to be made by the person with that job whoever’s name is on the bottom line. The government’s need to take responsibility for protecting the public interest and (assuming BP will not take the public interest into account to any great extent) pushing BP to take a certain tack they might not normally take, is a different question.

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Rich Puchalsky 06.08.10 at 11:37 pm

johne has a good point, and Ben Alpers deserves a more complicated answer. Most everyone who has posted in the latter part of this thread has written pretty reasonably. I’m going to have to think about this for a bit: otherwise I’ll just be repeating my comments.

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