The Tyranny of Conservative Cliches
By: David Bozeman
National Review‘s Jonah Goldberg has penned a brilliant and lively critique of what now passes for political discourse. In The Tyranny of Cliches he frequently chides both sides of the aisle for ducking behind bromides and pieties in lieu of independent thought, but he saves his deadliest salvos for liberals, hence the subtitle How Liberals Cheat in the War of Ideas.
Goldberg employs history and common sense to deflate such puffed-up, annoying liberal cliches as ‘unity,’ ‘no labels,’ ‘the war on scientific inquiry,’ ‘unlimited democracy,’ spiritual but not religious,’ etc. But, unfortunately, Goldberg stands no less guilty himself, though, granted, the offense is minor and barely detracts from his compelling thesis. At the end of the chapter ‘An Ounce of Prevention,’ which is largely a rebuke of government-run health care, he writes, “On countless fronts, the natural pastures of daily liberty have become circumscribed by dull-witted but well-meaning bureaucrats slapping down the paving stones of good intentions on the road to Hell.”
Well meaning bureaucrats. Yes, the good-intentioned liberal. Conservatives have been programmed to cushion any criticism of big-government policy with the cloying, irritating disclaimer that liberals and Democrats mean well, but their ideas are just not practical. It pops up a handful of additional times in Goldberg’s book, though its prevalence in daily discussion is as deadly as a landmine and as visible as a speed bump.
Why is it always Democrats and liberals who mean well? When conservatives disagree, why does one never credit the other with such lofty goodwill that the real-world folly of his plans is lost in the glare of his over-abundant love for humanity? Imagine a conservative columnist writing the following: No Child Left Behind was a massive, bureaucratic federal power grab on the part of George W. Bush that left over-worked teachers and poorly performing students in its wake. But, hey, at least Bush’s heart was in the right place.
The dominant issues of our time are always framed by the notion that liberals care more. President Obama’s re-election bid fuels itself on the mythology that he cares more for women (Obama’s online slide show The Life of Julia is a sickening, one-dimensional tribute to government’s dependency-inducing ‘good intentions’), gays, Hispanics and other minorities, the labor movement, etc. In banking on such a Balkanizing, us-against-them strategy, the president, who boasts a record that is, at best, anemic and uninspiring, can garner millions in contributions by exploiting his so-called good intentions to groups founded on identity politics.
Outrageously, the president has failed to condemn the anarchists and Occupiers who battled police at the recent NATO conference in Chicago. One of the leading protestors told CNN that anarchism “has a tradition of fighting for the oppressed.” So, does that proud tradition excuse violence, including injuries to police officers and damage to businesses? The good intentions of liberalism and other enemies of freedom are, if not a trump card, a jump start, a wide field of latitude in terms of rhetoric and behavior that conservatives just don’t possess.
But the pertinent question is not whether conservatives are as well-intentioned as liberals. We are. What matters is knowing if liberals truly want for America what most of us perceive as good. Are their intentions really that noble? But for massive public opposition and, arguably, a Republican congress, the president’s economy-stifling Cap & Trade proposal never became law, and he has yet to “fundamentally transform America.” Obamacare and the creeping entitlement culture resemble western Europe, particularly France, far more than the America most of us cherish. Are statists really motivated by benevolence or by a bloated sense of their own importance? This would be perfect fodder for a ‘national discussion’ (another cliche ready for the dustbin), but look at who controls the narrative. Just consider that Goldberg spends much of his volume not simply rebutting liberal cliches but defending western civilization itself. If we must justify the very fundamentals of our existence, then the crowds outside are not hordes of over-protective social workers. The barbarians are clammoring at the gate, determined to get in.