Sunday, November 30, 2008

Jonah Goldberg Is an Idiot

Okay, so it's not exactly news. But so long as Goldberg insists on obnoxiously intruding his idiocy on our attention, I consider myself privileged to point it out. This column is a prime example.

It begins by complaining about all the sycophancy Obama has been receiving in the mainstream press, a reasonable point. Goldberg is particularly offended at hearing Obama compared to Lincoln because he is attempting to model his cabinet on Lincoln's.

[W]ho looks at how Lincoln staffed his Cabinet as the defining feature of his residency? Saying Obama is the next Lincoln because the two men share staffing styles is like saying George Bush is Thomas Jefferson because they both liked chicken soup. If I wear a pointy hat, can I call myself John Paul II?
Coming from the author of Liberal Fascism, the chutzpah here is stunning. It's as absurd to compare Obama to Lincoln because of similar staffing styles as to compare George Bush to Jefferson because of their taste in food or Goldberg to the Pope because of their headgear, but perfectly reasonable to compare liberals and fascist because both eat organic food. Goldberg goes on to say that Lincoln's greatness came from saving the Union and ending slavery, two big non-issues these days, and that he fought a civil war that he has no desire to emmulate.

Let me try to explain this to Goldberg. Lincoln's defining accomplishments were saving the Union and ending slavery. What permitted him to achieve these two great feats was an outstanding political and leadership ability, combining firmness of principle with flexibility of action. It is possible to seek to emulate Lincoln's leadership style and apply it to situations other than fighting a civil war or ending slavery. Doris Goodwin's book Team of Rivals argues that an underrated aspect of Lincoln's leadership ability was his ability to reconcile with old rivals, and his incorporation of many of them into his cabinet.

That being said, one certainly be skeptical about the "team of rivals" approach. It worked for Lincoln, not because he recognized his rivals as the top talent in the Republican party. Any contemporary would have recognized as much. Lincoln's outstanding achievement was not in choosing such a cabinet, but in making it work. This meant listening to the conflicting advice of some of the most brilliant minds of the day and taking responsibility for making the decision. It meant giving each one enough autonomy to do his job, but not enough to run out of control. It meant conciliating the egos of the top leaders of the day and getting them to work together. It mean convincing men with far stronger resumes to take their orders from Mr. Nobody from Illinois. In short it meant, as this article puts it, instead of choosing a team of loyalists, choosing the best team around and then winning their loyalty. Lincoln could pull that off. Whether Obama can remains to be seen.

But returning to Goldberg, he goes from silly to delusional on the subject of FDR. Claiming that the glorification of FDR shows a longing for the Great Depression, Goldberg says:

If liberals really loved peace, prosperity and national cohesion, they’d remember the 1920s or 1950s more fondly. And yet they don’t. Why? Because liberals didn’t get to impose their schemes and dreams on the country in those decades. Behind all the talk of unity and bipartisanship and shared sacrifice lies an uglier ambition: power. The audacity of hope behind all this Lincoln-FDR-Obama blather is the dream of riding roughshod over the opposition, of having their way, of total victory.

The Chinese curse and cliche “may you live in interesting times” is on point. Liberals (and a few conservatives as well, alas) seem desperate to live in interesting times. Not me.

You know what I hope? I hope Obama is another Coolidge or Eisenhower. But I’m not holding my breath.
Where do I begin? In talking about Lincoln, Goldberg points out, correctly, that the era of Republican dominance that followed Lincoln was forged in blood and imposed by military force. But despite his alarmist talk of liberals "impos[ing] their schemes and dreams on the country" and goal of "riding roughshod over the opposition, having their way, of total victory," the period of Democratic dominance that followed FDR was nothing of the kind. Sorry, Jonah, but the New Deal was not something that FDR forced over on an unwilling population, nor did the Republicans spend so much time out of power because Roosevelt's stormtroopers crushed them by brute force. Quite simply, when FDR "imposed" his "schemes and dreams" he was enacting a highly popular program. If he was able to "ride roughshod" over Republicans to "total victory," it was because it took some time before Americans were willing to trust Republicans with the economy again, and because many people feared the Republicans would take away popular programs. In other words, FDR enacted a popular program that won the people's support for a generation. Goldberg fears Obama will do the same.

Furthermore, do actual facts on the ground mean anything to Goldberg? What we are hearing is not a desparate wish to live in "interesting times." It is the recognition that "interesting times" are upon us, whether we like them or not. Just in case Goldberg has been too busy defending Liberal Fascism to follow the news, we are currently in the midst of the worst financial crisis since the 1930's. Comparisons to FDR do not mean than anyone is longing for another Great Depression, they mean that people fear another depression may be at hand and hope for FDR-like leadership to get us through it. The reason that no one is invoking Coolidge or Eisenhower -- or, for that matter a more recent President who presided of general peace and prosperity, Bill Clinton -- is not a dislike for general peace and prosperity, but an acknowledgement that they do not seem to be in the cards right now. Maybe Goldberg should get out and pay some attention to the real world for a change.

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