Center Squareon November 12, 2010 at 12:36 pm
Maybe it is because of some racial memory inherited from our Puritan forefathers, but when I am in my studio drawing naked ladies I like to have some right wing pit stain blathering behind me over the Interweb. I suppose it makes my transgressive drawings feel all the more forbidden when I know that my mortal enemies are within virtual spitting distance. Maybe they’ll come out of the computer with their rubber truncheons and then… ooo hoo hoo!
But I digress.
I prefer the fire and brimstone of fanatical religious podcasts, but the other night I got my fix from a three hour C-Span interview with National Review Online editor-at-large Jonah Goldberg.
Goldberg interests me because of his middle-of-the-road position vis-a-vis the extreme right. As part of conservatism’s “intellectual” wing, he is capable of coming across as reasonable and even friendly. A recent forum he attended spotlighting a panel of up-and-coming conservative neophytes showed Goldberg, who I had never seen speak before, to be polite and educated, with pretensions of lightheartedness to boot.
This shouldn’t be so terribly shocking. National Review was the creation of William F. Buckley Jr., who did not exactly descend from the Republican’s NASCAR wing. But Goldberg’s on-camera persona did contrast with my first exposure to him, that being his recent book Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left from Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning. The cover of the book features a smiley face with a Hitler ‘stache. With such a provocative dust jacket it is not hard to guess who’s soup he is swimming in.
I confess to not having read the book (pictures of naked ladies aren’t going to masturbate to themselves), but I have read reviews of it and some back and forth between Goldberg and his critics over his assertions. Goldberg’s thrust is this: for decades the Left has used the label of fascism against the Right in the same way that conservatives smear liberals with the sins of Stalin. The point is made that both political extremes have generated their monsters, so a sort of peace is kept when one side tries to one-up the other with whichever dictator is de rigueur.
Goldberg tries to knock the legs out from beneath the liberal side of that argument by providing evidence for the historical roots of modern “liberalism” in the worst (and only the worst) political movements of the 20th century. Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini, Franco… all are of a piece, and that piece has everything to do with the fire that Marx lit, and nothing at all to do with nationalism, imperialism, chauvinism, or racism.
That good political intentions have gone awry in the past, and will again in the future, is hardly news. That today’s liberal philosophies, from gay rights to socialized medicine, have any true antecedents in the thuggish political cults of the 20’s, 30’s and 40’s is a bridge too far. Do I need to invoke Henry Ford’s notorious correspondence with Hitler, the Triangle Shirtwaist fire or Upton Sinclair for proof of capitalism/industry’s disdain for humanity? A rejoinder to Goldberg’s book, Conservative Communism–exposing big business’s cozy concession to Mao’s genius as seen through the exploitation of labor in China and Vietnam– could probably be shat out in an afternoon by any academic and be just as persuasively argued as Goldberg’s tome. And this is not to concede at all that what Goldberg sees as the demon of modern liberalism (broadly, an excess of state power) has any sensible relationship to the brutal and undemocratic systems of yesteryear.
So what point is Goldberg straining to make? I refer back to his adduced moderate conservatism. Although he carries the water for the conservative establishment’s diminishing tea-and-crumpet set, Goldberg cannot help wanting to splash in the waters peed in by Glenn Beck and his ilk. Goldberg is, in fact, a contributor to Fox News, though nothing about him bespeaks the kind of thick-headed hostility of a Coulter or an O’Reilly, or the unflappable partisanship of Sean Hannity.
What Goldberg does want to do, however, is participate in the bloodletting that the pop-culture conservatives engage in daily, but that really does not befit a man without a chalkboard. This is why Liberal Fascism, though ostensibly a scholarly work, has the patina of the aggressive, blustering books put forth by Rupert Murdoch’s usual suspects, such as Treason (Coulter) Pinhead’s and Patriots (O’Reilly) and Arguing with Idiots (Beck).
Goldberg, on C-Span’s three hour gabfest In Depth, even attempts to suggest that he may have accidentally muddied the waters of polite conversation by causing people to take the term “liberal fascism” out of context (his book is, after all, a thought piece). “All I want to do is throw some red meat to the nation’s gun-rubbing unemployed mill workers,” he seems to say “But only the one’s who have read Hayek and Friedman”.
This disconnect between Goldberg’s desire to swim with the sharks but not get his mortarboard wet permeates his thinking. As a conservative lacking the guiding lights of the elders that founded the now moribund movement, Goldberg can’t help but be attracted to the smashmouth politics of the modern right. In his C-span interview this puts him into an awkward position when, for example, a caller asks how Goldberg feels about Glenn Beck’s recent on-air fantasy that Obama will get beheaded while in India (played, of course, with thick sarcasm as a prayer that this won’t happen). Goldberg mutters that this is awful if true, but when another, sympathetic caller tells him that Beck was only wishing Obama well (horseshit… have a listen), Golberg is visibly relieved and blames Media Matters for the attempted smear.
Goldberg’s theory that liberalism is rooted in Utopianism, which can certainly be argued with some legitimacy from the point of view of communism’s notion of a “new man”, is still a house of straw that Goldberg himself blows down through his own extolling of “American Exceptionalism”, a meaningless bumper sticker slogan that one conservative after another is promoting as the antidote to Barack Obama’s “socialism”. What could be more Utopian than making a political religion out of the idea that America is the greatest nation on earth, not rhetorically, but literally? This takes Reagan’s “City on a Hill” speech and turns it into something like the Sermon on the Mount.
Goldberg is unreasonably apologetic for the insurgent right wing fringe he’s crushing on. He describes people like Glenn Beck as “sledgehammers”, who go in first, make some noise, and then…what? Yield the field to marshmallows like him? Jonah Goldberg does not seem to understand whose star is actually rising in conservative politics. The Tea Party is a cult of the Founding Fathers that already has a manifesto behind it, The 5000 Year Leap, a book extolling the supernatural origins of our democracy that Glenn Beck singlehandedly dragged from out of mothballs to turn into a bestseller.
For a man who thinks he knows a thing or two about fascism, Jonah Goldberg has ignored the fact that fascistic politics take root among the angry and the disenfranchised, and that the difference between say, a labor movement and a mass movement, is that those in mass movements have no connections to each other at all, save unfocused anger. If Goldberg thinks conservatives like those at the National Review are, in the end, going to be holding the reigns in the next evolution of America’s right wing, he’d better check his feet. He’s wearing the horseshoes, not the spurs.