Mixing the funny and the philosophical, columnist Jonah Goldberg’s examination of the loaded phrases and political cliches pervading the current political discourse reveals an ideology, progressivism, “without clothing.” Goldberg described what he called the progressives’ use of meaningless phrases–the tyranny of cliches–that formed the subject of his last book.
Goldberg pointed to familiar phrases like, “if it saves one life,” commonly used as an argument to justify onerous regulations and diminished individual rights. He also expressed disdain for those putting forward arguments that “violence never solved anything.”
“Violence solves lots of problems, particularly violent ones,” Goldberg said.
Progressive phrases tend to be non-falsifiable, Goldberg said, and this insidious quality allows the ostensibly ideological phrases to sneak past most listeners.
Goldberg also cited President Barack Obama’s frequent reference to the notion that “government is us.”
Goldberg quoted the opening line to a campaign video form 2012. “‘Government is the one thing we all belong to.’ When I hear that I want to flip the safety on my rifle,” Goldberg said.
The idea that every citizen belongs to the government represents a complete inversion of the American idea that citizens belong to no one, and that the Founders intended government to only have very finite and well-defined powers, and not to infringe on the rights of the individual.
Goldberg’s quintessential example of this new paradigm? Obama’s 2012 “Life of Julia” media campaign.
Goldberg described the efforts as one that oozed creepiness to conservatives and libertarians–not Obama’s intended audience–but a message that meant something completely different to the President’s carefully selected reelection voters.
All human beings desire to belong to a community, and those growing up without a strong family, neighborhood, social group, civil society or other affiliation do not lose that essential desire to play a part of something larger. The message of Julia, Goldberg said, was meant for them.
“They hear that as an attempt to satisfy a deep and sincere and, ultimately, a very good human need,” Goldberg said.
New Deal and Great Society programs fall into this category, he said.
The mistake, however, is poignant. “The government can not love you,” Goldberg argued. “The government can not be your mother, it can not be your father, it can not be your family, it can not be your church, it can not be your synagogue. It can’t be your fricking bowling league.”
“The government can not fill up that hole in your soul,” Goldberg said.
“The government can only do a few things well, a few more things mediocre, and a lot of things crappy,” Goldberg joked.
Conservatives want government to do what it is supposed to do–what the Founding Fathers intended–and nothing else.
Goldberg cautioned against the current trend as being a source for anything but steeling the conservative movement.
“Be happy warriors,” Goldberg insisted.
The vehicle for optimism is capitalism. “It is the greatest mechanism for peaceful expansion of prosperity and human happiness ever conceived,” he said, “except for one thing.”
“It doesn’t ‘feel’ like it,” Goldberg said. However, “It is the most cooperative thing that man can do.”
Goldberg referenced the short essay, “I, Pencil,” as the clearest example of people with different languages, customs, countries and any other possible difference working together to produce the most basic of items, like the pencil.
Goldberg opened with a brief recounting of some of the challenges the Romney campaign faced in 2012, particularly with what he described as the unwarranted perception that the GOP candidate lacked authenticity.
“He just seems fake, he seems like the picture that came with the frame,” Goldberg said, describing Romney’s difficult uphill climb in this key area of candidate attractiveness, which put the Republican nominee at a considerable disadvantage in the current telegenic culture.
Goldberg is the at-large editor of National Review Online.