Jonah Goldberg: Democrats not Liberal Enough!


By: Warner Todd Huston

Prelude: I’d like to say a word about the following op ed before it begins as a way of warning the reader that I, a Conservative, am going to take issue with Jonah Goldberg, another Conservative.

I think Mr. Goldberg is wrong on his main point in his op ed from Tuesday that I am about to discuss, and wrong on several “possible” motives (the motives explained in the prologue). But I am NOT saying he is not a “real” Conservative, or attacking him and his body of work. I feel he is just wrong on this issue. So, never fear as I am not trying to practice the politics of personal destruction.

The simple fact is, if we do not take issue with our own side when we feel it necessary, then we stop having a debate in our own circles and we leave ourselves open for mere partisanship with no principle behind it. We should leave the empty moralizing and soulless partisanship to the Democrat Party.

Mr. Goldberg misses the point:

In the L.A. Times Tuesday, Jonah Goldberg is warning the Democrat Party that they are “betraying the base” because they have not been far enough left since taking control of Congress a few months ago –just as the GOP failed its base by not being conservative enough before the 2006 midterms. But his analogy is badly formulated and is an inapt fit fundamentally missing the facts.

In “Betraying their base — the Democrats can do it too”, Goldberg makes several mistakes in his analogy between the right betraying the base which resulted in Conservative’s wavering support for the GOP and the far left’s pique with the Democrats now.

The piece is fairly accurate with its first few paragraphs.

IT’S IRONIC. Republicans by most accounts got trounced in the last election because they “lost their way.” The latest cover of Time magazine even has a picture of Ronald Reagan crying like that American Indian from the old anti-pollution ads of the 1970s. Instead of a bunch of roadside litter, the Gipper is supposedly looking at the GOP’s mess.

How did Republicans lose their way? The cliches runneth over. They grew comfortable in power. They forgot why they were sent to Washington. They became addicted to spending. They lost touch with their constituents, their principles, their souls.

Just because such statements are cliches doesn’t mean they’re not true. Indeed, you hear these complaints from the conservative base more than from anywhere else. The GOP grew sweaty and bloated like a fat man at an all-you-can-eat pasta bar, and the voters were right to pry the Republicans’ white-knuckled grip from the hot table’s sneeze guard.

But then Goldberg goes off track when trying to compare the GOP’s past (and current) troubles to the Democrat’s present troubles. Where many Conservatives feel their politicians turned their backs on them and on conservative principles, it wasn’t because they just failed to succeed with conservative policies. It was because they failed to even TRY conservative policies. That and that the GOP Congress so often rolls over in the face of attacks from the Democrat Party (“Gang of 14”, anyone?).

Republicans grew disgusted with the GOP because they did, indeed, stop supporting conservative principles. But, Goldberg misses the analogy completely when he tries to apply a similar comparison to the current floundering of the Democrat Party saying that they have turned away from their base. In reality, the Democrat Party has not turned away from leftist policy at all. They’ve just failed miserably at implementing leftist policy and that is a far different thing from turning away from it.

Goldberg begins by claiming that the Democrats have failed to get us out of the war in Iraq, the most important Liberal base supported policy, because they cannot agree amongst themselves what the plan should be to do so and that many of the things the Democrat controlled Congress has done are only symbolic. That is all true, such as it is.

The most important issue in the November elections, as every single political observer with a pulse will tell you, was the war in Iraq. The weasel words and euphemisms — “strategic redeployment,” “course change,” whatever — couldn’t conceal the simple fact that the Democrats were elected in large part to end the war. That was certainly how the party’s liberal base saw it, then and now.

However, Goldberg claims that, since this hasn’t been achieved, the Party has turned its back on the base. He feels the plans put forward are overly complicated and not even understood by the politicians proposing them and this will be seen as a similar betrayal.

Goldberg is simply wrong. It is certainly a failure of result, but that failure is not a turning away from leftist sentiment. Just because they are failing at it doesn’t mean they have turned their backs on it. They just can’t figure out how to make it all work.

By contrast, the GOP actually DID turn away from Conservative principle. They didn’t just fail to achieve conservative ideas like Democrats are failing at leftist ones, they actually turned away from them, not even trying them on for size in far too many instances.

The last quixotic complaint that Goldberg has against the Democrat Party is their failure to again take up the Kyoto Protocols.

So now’s the time to solve global warming, right? For years, we’ve been subjected to charges that President Bush “refused to sign the Kyoto Protocol.” Well, guess what? Bush couldn’t sign Kyoto. It was already signed by the previous president — that Clinton guy — who immediately shoved it in his desk drawer. (Bush didn’t sign the Treaty of Versailles either, by the way.)

If Kyoto’s such a priority, why hasn’t Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) fought to take it up? There’s a strong legal case that, once signed, a treaty is automatically in the Senate’s court. Senators can take it up anytime they want. But you don’t hear Reid fighting to take up Kyoto even though it’s our best hope to combat the Most Dangerous Threat Facing Mankind.

I am sure Goldberg is aware that the Senate already had taken up this boondoggle of a treaty way back in 1997?

On July 25, 1997, the U.S. Senate unanimously passed (95–0) the Byrd-Hagel Resolution (S. Res. 98). This resolution stated that the Kyoto Protocols was not clearly enough defined, and what was defined would harm U.S. interests and our economy. Would Goldberg wish this damaging and flawed treaty to be taken up again, even when every single Senator voted against any ratification of the disastrous plan merely as a sop to the far, far left?

Even if he were to wish such a thing (of course he doesn’t, I don’t think), the Senate not doing so now is no sudden betrayal of Liberals. It is one of long standing existence. This point, too, is an inapt fit to Goldberg’s argument of a sudden betrayal of the Liberal base.

But, placed snugly in the middle of the piece, we find what might be the main reason why Goldberg feels that the Democrat Party has somehow turned its back on the Liberal base; it’s because, he thinks, they were called idiots in the hallways of Congress by a Democrat from Massachusetts.

It is Representative David Obey’s fault because he called Liberals “idiot Liberals” on a clip posted widely on the Internet.

When Obey was confronted in the halls of Congress by a group of antiwar activists, they demanded to know why it was taking so long to end the war. He responded by calling them “idiot liberals.” Conservatives may believe that Obey is demonstrating that he’s not out of touch with the base, but somehow I doubt liberals see it that way.

So, this whole article by Goldberg is nothing but an attempt to take a slap at Rep. David Obey for calling Liberals a name and he went reaching for just any hook to hang his hat on to do it. Unfortunately for Goldberg, though, his hook is too twisted to hold that hat!

Is Goldberg’s op ed just an elaborate poke at Obey? If so, it sure was a long way to go to do it.

But here is my “hook” and it is where Goldberg’s op ed is insulting to Conservatives.

In the end, Liberals won’t feel “betrayed” by their Congressional representatives in the same way the Conservatives did with theirs at all. Liberals will be mad, not because a leftist Congress is turning against leftist ideas, but because they are simply failing to succeed with leftist ideas.

They will still be mad, of course. And that, in the end, may make the reasons why they are mad somewhat superfluous. But the analogy Goldberg makes with Conservative’s anger is nowhere near an apt fit. Conservatives had far more reason to be mad and their anger is based on the Party turning away from its principles. Liberals will just be mad because they didn’t succeed in getting their way even when they tried to do so based completely upon their own failed ideas.

I have to say, though, I find Goldberg’s coupling of the two situations quite insulting, really. Conservative ire is justified and principled. Liberal anger is selfish and is but a temper tantrum over not getting their way. To equate the two as Goldberg did is a bit insulting.

Prologue: Now, since I originally wrote this, some Goldberg fans erupted in an orgy of finger pointing at me. Claiming that I am being “offensive” and “attacking” one of our own.

I should point out that I called NO ONE a name in this piece. I stuck to the issue at hand and did not drift into wild speculation or conspiracy theories about Goldberg’s motives or reasons for posting his initial piece in the L.A.Times. But, since then, some thin-skinned Conservatives have still accused me of all sorts of things.

After I posted this, there did seem to be two prevailing theories from some of my readers on why Goldberg wrote this piece, though. Because so many congealed around these two theories, I should address them in this end note.

First, many thought that he was joking. That it was all a tongue in cheek jab at the left. If so, his sense of humor was so dry that it certainly went over my head.

Second, many others thought that he was somehow triangulating for the left to get incensed and to push the Democrats further left because of his pointing out to them how far off track the Democrat Party was.

As to the first, I cannot say. It seemed as if Goldberg truly meant his points seriously to me and that is how I took them.

But, as to the second, if that is truly the reason he wrote the piece, I have to say that this is disappointing to me. We read pundits to get their true feelings, their serious analysis of current events. But, if we are reading the work of a man whom we can never be sure is trying some “tactic” or not, that pretty much destroys the integrity of his opinions.

Just like we never believe a thing a Clinton says because we just know they are saying only what they think will play well to what ever target audience they are addressing, we could never believe Goldberg was giving us an honest opinion if the whole “Betrayal” editorial was just triangulation.

In any case, this is my opinion and I hope it is taken for the mild disagreement that it really is. No “feud” is meant, or desired. So, all you J.Goldberg fans can retract the claws and just chill.

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