Jonah Goldberg: Obama, Tom Friedman among America’s top cliché artists

Photo of Jamie Weinstein
Jamie Weinstein
Senior Editor
  • See All Articles
  • Send Email
  • Subscribe to RSS
  • Follow on Twitter
  • Bio

      Jamie Weinstein

      Jamie Weinstein is Senior Editor of The Daily Caller. His work has appeared in The Weekly Standard, the New York Daily News and The Washington Examiner, among many other publications. He also worked as the Collegiate Network Journalism Fellow at Roll Call Newspaper and is the winner of the 2011 "Funniest Celebrity in Washington" contest. A regular on Fox News and other cable news outlets, Weinstein received a master’s degree in the history of international relations from the London School of Economics in 2009 and a bachelor's degree in history and government from Cornell University in 2006. He is the author of the political satire, "The Lizard King: The Shocking Inside Account of Obama's True Intergalactic Ambitions by an Anonymous White House Staffer."

Though he can’t exactly pinpoint who the cliché king of our modern politics is, conservative commentator Jonah Goldberg suggests President Barack Obama and his sometimes golfing buddy, New York Times columnist Tom Friedman, are certainly among the top contenders.

“I don’t know who is king, but the most important one is probably Obama given that he exemplifies the core argument of my book,” Goldberg, author of the recently released book “Tyranny of Clichés: How Liberals Cheat in the War of Ideas,” told The Daily Caller.

“He insists that he’s a pragmatist who only cares about ‘what works.’ I think that’s absurd. He’s the most ideologically-committed president of our lifetimes. I’d have a lot more respect for him if he’d admit it.”

As for Friedman, Goldberg said he is remarkably talented at “coin[ing] brand new phrases that quick-dry into desiccated clichés right before your eyes.”

In his book, Goldberg contends that liberals use clichés to avoid defending their positions on ideological grounds. But he readily admits that conservatives aren’t entirely free of guilt on the cliché front.

“Speaking in clichés is a universal human tendency,” Goldberg explained.

“And Republicans are every bit as guilty as Democrats in using buzz phrases, bumper stickers, and the like. Indeed, conservatives use a great many of the clichés I discuss in my book — and part of the point of this book is to educate conservatives on how they’re buying into progressive formulations when they use terms like ‘the right side of history,’  ’hindsight is 20/20,’ ‘better ten guilty men,’ and even ‘Social Justice’ and ‘Social Darwinism.’”

Goldberg said President George W. Bush’s “compassionate conservatism” was a particularly irksome Republican cliché.

“And there are some terms that are almost exclusively conservative and ill-advised,” said Goldberg. “For example, I hated Bush’s ‘compassionate conservatism.’ I’m an Old Testament kind of guy — I like conservatism with more smiting and wrath.”

Read below TheDC’s full interview with Goldberg about liberal clichés, his book and how he got Vince Vaughn to blurb it:

Why did you write the book?

Hey, a man’s gotta eat.

More seriously, it’s always hard to boil these things down to a single motivation. Part of it was an abiding frustration with the way conservative (and libertarian) positions are always cast as “ideological” — never mind “extreme,” “beyond the pale,” “fringe,” and “radical” — while liberal positions are routinely treated as “realistic,” “moderate,” and “centrist.”

One of the great strengths of conservatism (and libertarianism – but I will stop saying “and libertarianism” now for brevity’s sake), is that we accept that we have an ideological framework. It doesn’t make us less empirical or realistic; it does help us make sense of the world and understand what our biases are. One of our great disadvantages is that we admit our biases openly and that is used against us. I’ve never really understood this. In almost every other sphere of life, we’re told that really understanding our prejudices and preferences is a path to greater clarity and comprehension. But when it comes to ideology, understanding that you have one is used as proof of closed-mindedness.

Conversely, one of the great strengths of liberalism is that it has found a way to sidestep having to defend its positions on ideological grounds. (Yes, this is a sweeping generalization; there are of course exceptions to it.) In other words, and to borrow a phrase from Barack Obama himself, liberals tend to “believe their own bullshit.” The great disadvantage of this is that they fail to appreciate how so many of their ideas are riddled with category errors, groupthink, and intellectual stolen bases.

For reasons that I put in historical context in the book, liberals refuse to admit they have an ideology. They claim they are slaves to reasons, facts, science, etc. Their only motivation other than “what works” is the basic human decency and goodness. In short, they are dogmatically closed-minded about their own ideological commitments. Those commitments — many of them honorable and defensible — instead manifest themselves in clichés, intended to close off debate and push policies in directions that liberals think are simply “pragmatic” but are in fact profoundly ideological.