Like many of us who pontificate for a living, my column-writing colleague Jonah Goldberg apparently toils away in daily frustration that so many people fail to take his political advice.
That would explain his new book, which takes on one of the world’s least-threatening problems, the political clichés that many people utter as a substitute for original thoughts.
It is titled, “The Tyranny of Clichés: How Liberals Cheat in the War of Ideas.” With a title like that, need I bother to mention that the author is a conservative?
As such, he focuses on the clichés that trouble him most, which happen to be those that he has heard uttered by liberals. That’s sort of like reading Playboy for the articles; it’s interesting, but something important is missing.
I do agree that some clichés like “violence never settles anything” need to go, at least until we find a good substitute for the word “never.” In fact, history offers many examples of violence settling things, although not always in ways that were expected by its initiators. Vietnam, Iraq and the secession of the Confederacy come immediately to mind.
But the more of Goldberg’s book that I read, the more appreciation I feel for the pithy power of the bumper-sticker truisms that he ridicules.
I like, for example, the old chestnut, “Better ten guilty men go free than one innocent man suffer.” Goldberg responds, “So you won’t mind if those ten guilty men move next door to you?” Sure, but why blame the innocent guy for the ten guilty guys next door? I would blame our criminal justice system for its failure to do what taxpayers pay them to do: protect not only our lives and property but also our constitutional rights.
This barroom argument would not annoy me as much if there were not 289 exonerations of convicted individuals thanks to DNA evidence since 1989, according to the Innocence Project. The DNA era confirms some of our worst fears: We’re getting the worst of both worlds. Innocents are suffering while guilty go free. And Goldberg jokes about it. Whoopie.
And the author doesn’t like “Diversity is strength,” either. (“Cool,” he writes. “The NBA should have a quota for midgets and one-legged point guards!”)
Yet, without getting into the deep weeds of affirmative action debates, this country has prospered as a result of its mulligan stew of ethnics — its Pages and Goldbergs, etc., etc. — and our ability, more often than not, to work together with a sense of common purpose despite our differences.
And, surely, Goldberg is not serious in his pot shots at this old gem: “One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.” Sure, he writes, “if the other man is an idiot.” But, so what? An idiot can kill you just as dead as a sane man can. And even the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was viewed as a terrorist by those whose segregated way of life he set out to upset.
In fact, I would argue that one person’s cliché is another person’s wisdom.
To illustrate and offer a bit of balance to what Goldberg has initiated, here are a few of the most annoying clichés, in my view, that I often hear from the political right:
“We don’t solve problems by throwing money at them.” Sure. But you don’t solve many problems by sucking money out of them, either.
“Poor people need to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps.” Easier said than done, my friend. I tried to pull myself up by my own bootstraps and almost tumbled over on my head.
“Keep the government’s hands off of my Medicare.” Not easy. You’ll have better luck with your bootstraps.
“Liberals love free speech as long as it supports the left.” Unlike conservatives, who love free speech as long as it is does not come from the Quran or the Dixie Chicks?
“America: Love It Or Leave It.” Funny, but, I haven’t heard that one much since President Barack Obama’s election. Can we bring it back?
“Why are all the news media slanted to the left — except Fox News?” Maybe Stephen Colbert got it right. He said, “Reality has a liberal bias.”
That was a joke. It’s not a cliché yet. But give it time.
E-mail Clarence Page at email@example.com.