Thursday, February 28, 2008

A bunch of kooks

We aren't a bunch of kooks! We aren't, we aren't! At least so says Jonah Goldberg:

In the next few days, there will be a wave of liberals — Frank Rich comes particularly to mind — who will use WFB's memory to beat up on today's conservatives. Ramesh and I wrote a piece about this tendency last year. Liberals today bemoan how wonderful the conservatives of yesteryear were solely to lament how terrible they are today. The recent bout of Goldwater nostalgia on the left was a perfect example. The strange new respect liberals have for Ronald Reagan would be another. And you can be sure they will use Buckley to that effect too.

A quick point about Goldberg's -- all too typical -- word choice: the mean liberals are going to "beat up" on the poor, hapless "conservatives." Not attack, not compare unfavorably, not try to beat up -- they're just going to go out there and do it, by printing a few words in a column. And poor Jonah is just going to have to take it. Maybe if Jonah cries harder and louder (is it possible?), the mean bully Frank Rich will leave him enough money to buy a cookie for lunch.

But what interests me is the overall lack of a real argument here. Goldberg doesn't say exactly how the liberals are going to "beat him up" using Buckley. That the movement he's a part of is radically different from the one Buckley helped to create, that Buckley abjured the parts of that movement -- bombing Muslims -- nearest and dearest to Goldberg's heart can't be discussed; neither can the fact that Goldwater himself said the Republicans had been taken over by a "bunch of kooks". Or at least, these things can't be discussed by Goldberg, who wants that particular carton of rotten eggs left unopened. Anyone who does discuss them is waved away with the phrase "beating up conservatives."

Had Jonah been serious about this he would have explained why thoughtful criticisms of modern conservatism using Buckley as a foil are wrong, or even that they just overstate the case. But he didn't (couldn't?). Instead, he ignores all that. What he does say is Buckley was an "American hero" who faced "vicious criticism from the left" but in the end, succeeded anyway, despite "unrelenting opposition." It's pretty obvious that this is how Goldberg sees himself: a victim -- he's always the victim -- of "unrelenting opposition" from the "vicious left" who nonetheless perseveres and will, in 30 years, be seen as an "American hero", just like Buckley, and Reagan, and Goldwater before him. And maybe he's right. I just don't remember any of those men crying all the time.