Category Archives: Jonah Goldberg

Cliches

Thomas Frank, author of What’s the Matter with Kansas? observes in today’s New York Times:

>Now upon the national stage steps one Karl Zinsmeister, formerly the editor of the American Enterprise Instituteís flagship magazine and now the presidentís chief domestic policy adviser. In right-wing circles he is regarded as an intellectual heavyweight. What his career really shows us, though, is the looming exhaustion of the conservative intellectual system; its hopeless addiction to dusty, crumbling clichťs; and a blindness to the reality of conservative power so persistent and so bizarre that it amounts to self-deception or, in Zinsmeisterís case, delusion.

I like the cliche’ part. Take this from the National Review’s Jonah Goldberg.

>A year ago, Slate magazine’s legal correspondent, Dahlia Lithwick, recounted this observation–from one of her bounteously sophisticated liberal readers–as a neat summary of the “doctrine” of a “living Constitution.” And a neat summary it is. How droll and obtuse that conservatives think the Constitution should remain anchored against the tides of change while those currents bring with them torrents of newfangled iPods and ever-changing gusts of news; one day about Britney Spears, the next day Paris Hilton. How very horse-and-buggy to suggest that the commerce clause wouldn’t change with the latest in slattern chic and personal electronics.

To be fair, Goldberg sets up to challenge the cliche’–of conservatives. But it never crosses his mind that the argument on which he has premised the superiority of his view is itself a cliched straw man, even though he can barely mention without sneering. This kind of shallow discourse is seriously unserious. Moreover, it violates very simple rules of civilized behavior: treat others with consideration and charity. If you think you have arguments for your view, then it’s likely that your oppoent does as well. You don’t win until you consider them.

Gator Aid

Jonah Goldberg, the editor-at-large at the National Review Online might soon qualify for the category “not worth the trouble.” That’s not yet a category, but it should be–it would be filled with all sorts of tripe merchants whose reasoning is so bad that it doesn’t warrant anyone’s attention.

The other day we find him arguing in favor of ethnic profiling. As we are all accustomed to by now from right-wing columnists, arguments in favor of such things are typically arguments against the oppositions’ straw men. Take the following, which barely merits response:

>What is so infuriating about this is that the ACLU favors policies that discriminate against all sorts of people–old people, women, children and others who, under random searches and other idiotic numerical formulas, are pulled aside for no reason at all.

That being randomly searched constitutes “discrimination” offends the conscience.

Even more absurdly, Goldberg argues in favor of Cheney’s whacked-out “One Percent Doctrine.” In brief, Cheney has held that even if there is one percent chance of a terrorist using a nuclear weapon, we should treat it as a one-hundred percent certainty. Here’s Jonah:

>Ron Suskind’s new book, “The One Percent Doctrine,” explores Vice President Dick Cheney’s view that if there’s a 1 percent chance terrorists might detonate a nuclear bomb in an American city, the government must act as if there’s a 100 percent chance. Despite the guffawing this elicited from administration critics, it strikes me as eminently sensible. (If there were a 1 percent chance the snake in your back yard would kill your child, wouldn’t 1 percent equal 100 percent for you too?) The ACLU’s self-indulgent position, meanwhile, seems to be that if there’s a 1 percent chance a cop will be a racist, we must act as if it’s a 100 percent chance. And that means humans can’t ever be trusted.

Hard to know where to begin with this one. In the first place, we’d take issue with the method of calculating the odds of such events. Considering the way Dick Cheney and his fans hyped the possibility of Saddam having weapons versus, say, the government of Pakistan (which actually has nuclear weapons) falling, we’d have to say that the odds were really far below one percent. Second, it strikes us that Cheney and Goldberg have conflated logical *possibility* with *probability.* Two fundamentally different things. Anything that doesn’t imply a contradiction is possible. Saddam having ties to al Qaeda was possible. It just wasn’t actual or even probable. Anyone with a passing knowledge of his regime could have told you that. Now just because something is logically possible doesn’t mean that it should be assigned a probablity score. One percent, in fact, probably means very little or no probability anyway. So if we actually calculated numerically what Cheney meant, the actual chance would be far below 1 percent. Finally, that Goldberg is confused is evident from his specious analogy (click here to see others do the same on various topics). For many parents–especially those who live in the bug, snake, shark, and gator-infested parts of our country–there is a chance that they’re kid will get eaten by these things in their natural habit. Their solution? Keep their kids of out the water with gators in it. Goldberg-Cheney’s solution? Get rid of all of the gators.

Trust me

The other week or day I don’t remember which we mentioned some of the basic qualifications for meaningful participation in a discussion of the future of the middle east (and by extension and by analogy, anywhere else). We were again reminded of these when we saw this to our mind a set of important questions concerning a recent roundtable at the journal Foreign Affairs. I quote:

>Got a few questions for you:

>1. Are you Muslim? It doesn’t appear that any of you are.

>2. If you’re not, do any of you speak fluent Arabic, ie, well enough to hold a conversation, listen to al Jazeera, and read the newspapers?

>3. If not, how many of you have read the entire Qu’ran and most of the Hadith in translation? If not, how many of you have participated more than once in worship at a mosque? Sh’ia or Sunni – and can you quickly define the difference?

>4. If not, how many of you have travelled to Iraq since the occupation, how long did you stay, and where did you go?

>5. How many of you publicly opposed the invasion prior to the launch of the New Product – as the Bush administration termed the invasion and occupation – long before it was politically safe to do so, say, prior to the passage of the Senate resolution in fall of 2002? Before January, 2003?

>6. If you are not Muslim, don’t speak Arabic well, haven’t read the basic texts of Islam or participated in services, haven’t been to Iraq, and/or believed – for whatever reason – prior to the invasion that it was a smart, or at least reasonable, idea to invade Iraq – that is, if you can’t answer “yes” to a decent number of my first five questions – then why should I bother to take seriously anything you might think to say?

>I’m not saying you’re stupid or uninformed, I know you’re not. I’m asking: upon what is your expertise based, besides attending conferences, reading a lot of thick books by non-Islamic Americans, reading American newspapers and official government reports?

>Just asking.

>Love,

>Tristero

It’s wise I believe to keep such qualifications in mind before one takes seriously commentary from persons such as these:

>In the last few days there have been a lot of rumors of impending ceasefires and diplomatic initiatives in the Middle East. Condoleezza Rice, to the cheers of many, is reportedly heading to the region to head off further escalation. I hope she doesnít go, and if she does, I hope her success is measured in photo-ops and nothing more, because Israel has a moral and strategic obligation to invade southern Lebanon.

I would add one question to Tristero’s list: do you have any experience with the realities of ground combat?

UPDATE (7/20/06): Tristero writes an apology:

>In a previous post, I questioned the credentials of the members of the Foreign Affairs roundtable on “What to do in Iraq.” Some members of that panel clearly are qualified, eminently so, to have an opinion appear under the auspices of the journal that promotes itself, by way of a quote, as “The Bible of Foreign Policy Thinking.”

>In particular, Marc Lynch of Abu Aardvark wrote to Hullabaloo: “…in addition to being a liberal blogger (www.abuaardvark.com), I do speak and read Arabic, write about al-Jazeera and the Arab media all the time, and published an op- ed opposing war with Iraq in the Christian Science Monitor in July 2002.” Marc’s clearly one of the Serious People who knows what he’s talking about when it comes to Iraq; his opinions on the mess in Iraq are invaluable. Marc, a full and complete apology. I haven’t read your blog in anthing resembling a regular fashion and that has been truly my serious loss.

>And I’d like to apologize to other panel members who have garnered high-level credentials similar to Marc’s. Your comments, too, were helpful, even if I disagreed with them…no especially if I disagreed with them.

That’s good–we’re moving in the right direction for an informed discussion. But I think Tristero should ask whether any of them live in the region.

Question Authority

Especially when the authority is unqualified. From our recent excursions into the blogosphere, a not so recent (2/5/05–for us there is no expiration date) post:

>I think it is time to be frank about some things. Jonah Goldberg knows absolutely nothing about Iraq. I wonder if he has even ever read a single book on Iraq, much less written one. He knows no Arabic. He has never lived in an Arab country. He can’t read Iraqi newspapers or those of Iraq’s neighbors. He knows nothing whatsoever about Shiite Islam, the branch of the religion to which a majority of Iraqis adheres. Why should we pretend that Jonah Goldberg’s opinion on the significance and nature of the elections in Iraq last Sunday matters? It does not.

That’s Juan Cole, professor of Mid-East History at the University of Michigan. He’s a qualified authority on the Middle East. The mass of pundits so frequently called upon to comment on Iraq and Iran, are not:

>In Iraq, the American liberators [many did–just not me and my brethren commentators] didnít understand what would happen if brutalized Iraqis were left in a state of nature, and didnít or couldnít impose a humane order.

That’s David Brooks, not an expert on much.