|Ladies and Gentlemen, The Doughy Pantload|
So it was with substantial shock that I read his latest column in the online venue of National Review, pointed there by an equally surprised mention on The Atlantic website. In the context of another typical bit of conservative myth-making, or more accurately perhaps "myth repeating", Goldberg actually comes out and says something that virtually no one in the movement Conservative intellectual leadership has been able or willing to acknowledge:
Nonetheless, conservatism is a mass-market enterprise these days, for good and for ill.
The good is obvious. The ill is less understood. For starters, the movement has an unhealthy share of hucksters eager to make money from stirring rage, paranoia, and an ill-defined sense of betrayal with little concern for the real political success that can come only with persuading the unconverted.
A conservative journalist or activist can now make a decent living while never once bothering to persuade a liberal. Telling people only what they want to hear has become a vocation. Worse, it’s possible to be a rank-and-file conservative without once being exposed to a good liberal argument. Many liberals lived in such an ideological cocoon for decades, which is one reason conservatives won so many arguments early on. Having the right emulate that echo chamber helps no one.
Now, critically, he names no names, adopting a weird passive-voice format to point out that "the movement has an unhealthy share of hucksters". It seems, at first glance, that if your core ideology were being negatively impacted by "hucksters", your primary obligation would be to call them out and have them driven from the ecosystem. There is, admittedly, a bit of an agency problem here, when this sudden outbreak of honesty and self-awareness comes in the form of projection from a pathetic third tier huckster in his own right. Jonah knows well the consequences of challenging the top tier, the Limbaughs and Becks and Hannitys that dominate the very conservative echo chamber he laments, and realizes clearly that any specificity in these allegations would lead to his own exposure as the worst of the those who "make money from stirring rage, paranoia, and an ill-defined sense of betrayal...".
To be fair, his challenge was that the very nature of modern movement conservatism makes the goal impossible. There is no viable ideas left on the right, nothing that contributes to freedom or economic growth or the betterment of their constituency at large. They have become nothing but the mouthpiece for the wealthy, a wholly owned subsidiary of Rich White Men Inc., playing on the bigotry, sectarian hatred and tribal resentments of a dwindling population for what remains of their power. If they had anything of value to contribute to the discussion, this call for recognition for those ideas would serve a valuable purpose. Instead it only offers us a view into a cynical political mindset, one whose leadership recognizes what they do and how they do it, and yet finds it too hard and too risky to change course.
When their leading budget wonk, Paul Ryan, supported wholeheartedly by their leading think tank, the American Enterprise Institute, devise a budget where non-defense discretionary spending falls below 4% of GDP, you know they aren't telling the truth. When their candidate for President calls half the population of the nation he proposes to lead the enemy, to be defeated and silenced, you know whom they believe they serve. They are all, from the very top, hucksters and con men, who recognize that their policy goals are toxic and destructive but still use every means at their disposal to implement them on behalf of those to whom they sold, not just their souls, but their minds too.
But kudos nonetheless to Jonah Goldberg. He didn't try to solve the problem, and he didn't even identify it correctly, but he admitted it exists. He said clearly what so many of his peers would stand and deny - that the opinion leaders of the American Political Right are dishonest, exploiting hatred and fear and resentment to make money for themselves and gain power for those who support them. He even goes so far as to recognize the existence of the "echo chamber", that place where ideas without substance can gain currency among those who no longer even consider opposing arguments. He's also right that the Republican Party is trapped and failing due to it's original successes - it's choice to defend the powerful against the powerless led to much early opportunity, but, having picked all the low hanging fruit, they are left to try to implement the least popular and most destructive portions of their agenda, in a nation that increasing grows exhausted at the inequality, brutality and dysfunction of its political leadership.