Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Jonah and Glenn

Jonah Goldberg reminds me of those kids in high school who did their best to suck up to the football jocks in order to prevent them from being stuffed into their locker by the bullies. In his latest column in USA Today, Mr. Goldberg defends Glenn Beck on several fronts, starting with the usual arguments that the liberals are hypocrites because they’re just as obnoxious as he is.

First, this is a crowd that lets Michael Moore and Janeane Garofalo speak for them, and that celebrated the election of unfunny man Al Franken to the Senate. If you think it’s racist to oppose Obama’s health care reform efforts, it goes without saying that you’ll think Beck is an extremist.

I didn’t know that Janeane Garofalo had a prime-time TV show on cable; the last time I saw her was as a guest on Bill Maher’s show. Al Franken didn’t run for the Senate as a comedian, either, so whether or not he’s “unfunny” is irrelevant. And I don’t think there’s anyone out there who is saying that opposing the president’s healthcare proposals makes you a racist per se; it’s when you do it with posters depicting the president as a witch doctor that makes that impression.

It never ceases to amaze me how the right wing can point at the liberals and say that they’re just as bad as the right-wing whackos. Aside from the fact that it’s a complete distortion of scale, is that really the way he wants to make his case?

Mr. Goldberg has a little more trouble explaining why some conservatives are dissing Glenn Beck. But according to him, they’re not the right kind of conservatives.

In an ode to conservatives such as William F. Buckley, my friend Charles Murray writes, “Don’t tell me that we have to put up with the Glenn Becks of the world to be successful. Within living memory, the right was successful. The right changed the country for the better — through good arguments made by fine men.” Murray is nostalgic for conservative leaders who were, like Murray himself, soft-spoken intellectuals.

There are problems with such nostalgia. First, there has always been a populist front on the right, even during the “glory days” when Buckley was saying he’d rather be governed by the first 2,000 names in the Boston phonebook than the faculty at Harvard. Moreover, whatever Beck or Limbaugh’s faults, they are more cheerful — and more responsible — warriors than the populist right-wingers of yesteryear. The Tea Partiers may be rowdy and ideologically diffuse, but their goals — like Beck’s — are indisputably libertarian. And from a conservative perspective, popular libertarian uprisings should be preferable to the sort of statist populism so often celebrated on the left.

The “populist front” on the right was known, in earlier days, as groups like the John Birch Society and the Klan, and the only reason the Republicans gravitated to them is because Richard Nixon — and later Lee Atwater and Karl Rove — knew that they were both gullible and exploitable.

Mr. Goldberg, whose rise to fame is based on his privileged upbringing, wouldn’t deign to join a tea party unless he saw it as an opportunity to sell his load of crap. The only reason he sucks up to the teabaggers is because he knows that they would have no problem turning on an upper-crustacean from New York like him, and he’s probably had his fair share of seeing the inside of a locker.