Jonah Goldberg Tackles Liberal Cliches... In The WashPost

The Washington Post granted some space in their Sunday Outlook section to Jonah Goldberg of National Review, spinning off his new book The Tyranny of Cliches. He began with something familiar, how liberals pretend they aren't ideologues: "Liberals insist that they live right downtown in the “reality-based community,” and if only their Republican opponents weren’t so blinded by ideology and stupidity, then they could work with them."

That sounds a lot  like the "objective" and "mainstream" media we have to endure. But he also went straight to President Obama:

This has been a theme of Obama’s presidency from the start. A couple of days before his inauguration,Obama proclaimed: “What is required is a new declaration of independence, not just in our nation, but in our own lives — from ideology and small thinking, prejudice and bigotry” (an odd pronouncement, given that “bigoted” America had just elected its first black president).

In his inaugural address, he explained that “the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply. The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works.”

Whether the president who had to learn, in his own words, that there’s “no such thing” as shovel-ready projects — after blowing billions of stimulus dollars on them — is truly focused on “what works” is a subject for another day. But the phrase is a perfect example of the way liberals speak in code when they want to make an ideological argument without conceding that that is what they are doing. They hide ideological claims in rhetorical Trojan horses, hoping to conquer terrain unearned by real debate.

The best part of Goldberg's article was his deconstruction of Obama decrying "social Darwinism," which is a pretty ahistorical charge, he asserts:

Obama this month denounced the Republican House budget as nothing more than “thinly veiled social Darwinism.” Liberals have been trotting out this Medusa’s head to petrify the public for generations. It does sound scary. (After all, didn’t Hitler believe in something called “social Darwinism”? Maybe he did.) But no matter how popular the line, these liberal attacks have little relation to the ideas that the “robber barons” and such intellectuals as Herbert Spencer — the “father” of social Darwinism — actually followed.

Spencer’s sin was that he was a soaked-to-the-bone libertarian who championed private charity and limited government (along with women’s suffrage and anti-imperialism). The “reform Darwinists” — namely the early-20th-century Progressives — loathed such classical liberalism because they wanted to tinker with the economy, and humanity itself, at the most basic level.

More vexing for liberals: There was no intellectual movement in the United States called “social Darwinism” in the first place. Spencer, a 19th-century British philosopher, didn’t use the term and wasn’t even a Darwinist (he had a different theory of evolution).

Liberals misapplied the label from the outset to demonize ideas they didn’t like. They’ve never stopped.

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis