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Hugh And Jonah Goldberg Recalibrating The Symphony Of Conservatism

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

HH: Jonah Goldberg of National Review Online, and author of many fine and wonderful books, how are you, Jonah?

JG: I’m good. How are you, my friend?

HH: Good. I haven’t talked to you since the election. Have they taken those people away now on the 24 hour watch? Are they leaving you alone in your cell again?

JG: I’m still only allowed to use plastic sporks, but other than that, everything’s good. I got my shoelaces back.

HH: You see, slowly but surely, we’re all recovering. I’m allowed to go walking around the block now. It’s really nice. I’m not allowed on any tall buildings. Jonah, I’m going to have Joe Scarborough on a little bit later, and I wanted to talk to you about what Joe had to say on this morning. I want to talk to a few conservative intellectuals who are, who know the business and are unflinching about it. Here’s one of the things Joe had to say:

JS: Bill Kristol has a great column, and I’m going to retweet it right now, but he says, “Every great cause begins as a movement.” This is an Eric Hoffer quote that he applies to the GOP. “Every great cause begins as a movement, becomes a business, and eventually degenerates into a racket.” And that’s exactly what happened. You had the great conservative revolution of 1980, and you had Heritage and a lot of other organizations grow up out of that. And all the, all the intellectual thrust, politically, was on the Republican side from 1980 to, say, 1990. The Democratic Party was tired, liberalism was exhausted. But that turned into a business. We saw a couple, this past week, a couple of Republican consultants got paid tens of millions of dollars, and then it becomes a racket, and that’s where you have a lot of people running around saying harsh things that sell books, and push ratings, and lose elections. And that’s where we are. Conservatism is a racket for a lot of people to get very, very rich.

HH: All right, Jonah, there’s another one, but let’s start with that. What do you make of that?

JG: Well, I actually think there’s some truth to it. I don’t think you’d be replaying it on the air if there wasn’t a little bite to it. But at the same time, I think it’s an overstatement. I think it’s indisputable that there are some scummy people out there raising money, all these emails from the Allen West campaign that aren’t from the Allen West campaign. I think that Dick Morris’ business model is one that we could use less of in American politics today. At the same time, I think it’s, and I think Bill would be the first one to acknowledge this, there are an awfully large number of very serious, very sober-minded intellectual conservatives, intellectual conservative institutions and organizations and publications that are not part of a racket. You can’t look at a magazine like the Claremont Review of Books, or National Affairs, or Commentary, never mind even National Review or the Weekly Standard, and simply say that they’re part of a racket. I don’t think Bill sees himself as part of a racket. But a the same time, I think one of the problems that we’re coping with is a problem is success. The conservative movement has gotten so big, so large in terms of a sizeable demographic of the American people that it’s possible to simply have an entire business model, and entire conversation amongst ourselves, and lose sight of the important point, which is that politics is about persuasion. And if you don’t persuade the people who disagree with you now, you are destined simply through the logic, the actuarial logic of death to get smaller over time. And one of the things I think conservatives need to do is refocus themselves on persuading people rather than telling the converted what they already believe or want to hear.

HH: I agree with 95% of what you had to say, particularly about the stuff at the beginning. Joe is right about some things. Then he went on to say this. This is part two:

JS: Now Mike Barnicle, there are people like Michael Gerson and Pete Wehner who actually do attempt to push forward this message in an intelligent way. But you take Pete Wehner, for instance, who worked on the Romney campaign. I haven’t spoken with him, but I get from press reports that he helped write Romney’s speech, which I was very excited, a Pete Wehner convention speech. And he threw it all away.

MB: Yeah

JS: These types of people who have the ability to make what Bush called the compassionate conservative argument, they’re thrown to the side, because they don’t sound enough like Glenn Beck or a blogger.

MB: Well, is there enough breathing room for a legitimate argument that Nick Kristoff poses, that Pete Wehner writes about for Mitt Romney to breathe in this culture of ours? I don’t know that there is because of the loudness and the shrillness of voices on both sides, left and the right. Look…

JS: Wait, wait, what do you do to a schoolyard bully? You punch him in the face. You think any of these people on talk radio if they’re punched in the face by a Republican nominee, do you think they would push back? No. They’re cowards. They’re bullies. Punch them in the face, and they back off. Bullies do that.

HH: Now I dare say he’s not talking about me, but what do you think he’s talking about, and what do you think of his comments?

JG: Yeah, I mean, and here I think he’s degenerating into not very impressive arguments, to be kind about it. You know, the problem with, as I understand it, Pete Wehner’s speech, and you know, the idea, I like Pete, and I know a lot of people who like Pete. But the idea that somehow he is the St. Thomas More of thoughtful conservatism and all this, I think is sort of nonsense. The problem with the Romney campaign was that from my lights is that it didn’t deal with conservatism seriously. You had someone like Stu Stevens who was the guru of the campaign, who was openly and honestly committed to the idea that ideas don’t matter. And you had Mitt Romney, someone who I think put his heart and soul into that campaign, and doesn’t deserve to become the poster boy of all the problems of conservatism or the Republican Party, but at the same time, he was not fluent in conservative ideas. He spoke conservatism as a second language. You and I know a lot of conservatives over a long period of time. No one we know refers to themselves as a severe conservative. That is something that you say when you’re buying into the assumptions of the other side about what conservatives are, and then sort of parroting them back. That was a big problem with the 47% nonsense as well. He was telling conservatives what he thought conservatives wanted to hear, which is like sort of parroting back Berlitz Phrases badly. My problems with Pete Wehner, and to a greater extent, someone like Gerson…

HH: Hold it until I come right back from break, Jonah. I’ll be right back with Jonah Goldberg.

– – – –

HH: We were closing out there, Jonah, and I want to finish on this, is okay, if Romney’s campaign was not fluent, and if the candidate was speaking conservatism as a second language, long discussion, what about the conversation that Scarborough was having, though, that the right can’t renew because the right is captive of talk radio and irresponsible blogs, because my guess is a lot of that is directed at Ann Coulter and you, and a group of people like me who are all in the idea business that Joe just doesn’t agree with how we go about it.

JG: Yeah, I mean, I don’t know that, I mean, Joe has been living off of his apparently fabled record as a stalwart conservative some twenty years ago as if that somehow exonerates him from having to actually pay attention to what conservatives are saying or doing. And too often, I kind of like Scarborough, but too often the guy basically is rendering an image of conservatism that is pleasing to the ears of the Washington Post op-ed page, and the viewers of MSNBC. And you know, for someone to be denouncing the use of caricature and the like by the right, it doesn’t serve him well to be doing it from essentially the left. Look, I mean, do I…my view about all this is that the conservative movement is sort of like a symphony, and you need the big gongs and the loud horn section and all that for some things, but you also need the fine woodwinds and the little, you know, the violins for other things. And I think you can make a serious and sober argument that the voice of the intellectuals and the sober-minded gets drowned out from time to time. But that is not an argument for getting rid of the tuba guys. And it is an argument for sort of recalibrating the music that you’re playing. I don’t, I think a lot of people who demonize Rush Limbaugh don’t actually listen to Rush Limbaugh.

HH: I agree.

JG: I don’t agree with everything that Rush says, but it’s not like the guy is light on substance and light on serious arguments.

HH: You know, that is one of the best analogies I have ever heard. Have you used that before?

JG: Oh, in conversation, yeah.

HH: Have you ever, that’s not in any of your books.

JG: I don’t think so, no.

HH: Now I’ve got to find out where I’m in. Well, I’m obviously the first chair cello, but I just don’t know what anyone else is. Now I have to think that…it’s just a beautiful analogy.

JG: Well, I mean, but that’s the thing, is look, I do, as you do, I speak to a lot of conservative audiences, and if it’s a purely conservative audience, I’ll do what could be called cheerleading. But if I’m in an audience where I don’t have the audience on my side from the get-go, I try to persuade them. You change the music depending upon the audience.

HH: And if you’re with Piers, you use the cymbals. I mean, nothing else is going to be heard. Well, Jonah, on that note, thank you, my friend. We’ll go out with a beautiful cello, reminding us of Stephen Maturin and other cello players. Thank you so much, Jonah Goldberg.

End of interview.

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