Untimely Observations

Goldberg Variations


A column by Jonah Goldberg published in the dead-tree National Review (August 30) “A Muslim Gay Bar by the Mosque?” typifies the utterly infantile quality of our current movement conservative discourse. Goldberg writes in glowing defense of Fox News celebrity Greg Gutfeld, who had just advocated (presumably in a serious way) the creation of a Muslim gay bar in the vicinity of Ground Zero. Goldberg happily embraces this idea as a “tough-minded libertarian.” After all, freedom, he insists, “is a cultural institution that needs to be defended, even if that means offending people.” Moreover, “whatever you may think of gay bars, they’re not going away in the freedom-loving West. Pretty much everybody else in American life has learned how to live-and-let-live with such places to one extent or another.”

One might ask Goldberg, the “tough-minded libertarian,” why just one month earlier he had denounced Rand Paul in a column for raising hesitant objections to Provision Two of the Civil Rights Act, a provision that restricts an employer’s right to hire whom he wants for a job. According to Goldberg in one of the most ferocious tirades I’ve seen coming from his pen, unless the subject is the critics of Israel or “Obama fascism,” he let loose against the Republican candidate for U.S. Senate from Kentucky for “lamenting the lost right of bigots.”

Apparently the anti-discrimination mechanism created by Civil Rights Act of 1964 gave this country “economic freedom” for the first time, although it is not at all clear how it did so. But in any case why is my historic right to hire or accommodate whom I want in my business establishment less of a right than the right to run a gay bar, to the consternation of religious and moral traditionalists? Why should I have less of a right not to confer a job on a prospective employee than to scandalize devout Christians by establishing a sodomy recruiting agency in their neighborhood?

We all know the answer. Like his pals on FOX News and NR, Goldberg occasionally mimics a politically correct leftist even while working for GOP electoral victories. There is nothing noticeably rightwing about him or his chums, Rich Lowry, Glenn Beck, or the other movement conservatives who are working overtime trying to demonstrate their sensitivity to minorities and cultural liberals. Whether it is Glenn Beck quoting Martin Luther King and deploring the mildness of Reconstruction, Rich Lowry congratulating Abe Foxman and the ADL for taking a “courageous” position against building a mosque near Ground Zero or Laura Schlesinger ranting against the N-word, all of these personalities are as nauseatingly obsequious as they’re predictable. I’ve no idea why the only people who seem to notice this obvious fact are contributors to and readers of this website. Whenever I mention the same tics to white-bread Republicans or NR-subscribers, their response is to tell me they didn’t notice the offending behavior.

Are movement conservatives who denounced Obama for bowing to the Emperor of Japan blind to the infinitely greater indignity committed by W, who apologized for slavery in West Africa in 2003? Why was there no “conservative” outcry similar to the one against Obama when a Republican insulted White Americans? Further: was Steve Sailer the only writer who noticed when FOX “conservative” Karl Rove pushed sub-prime rate loans for Hispanics before the financial crash at the end of Bush’s reign? One might think that conservatives would be up in arms over such an outrage.

Somehow such facts never register when I bring them up to movement conservatives. My interlocutors prefer to go into a song and dance about Obama’s being bad news. They also insist that the people I complain about must be rightwing because the Left says so. And, equally important, FOX News describes them as “conservatives.”  Moreover, these good folks have no choice but to butter up minorities and gays. Otherwise the Left would attack them even more vigorously than it does as racists, sexists, and homophobes. The question left begging is this: If the Left rushes to attack their mild opposition as politically incorrect, no matter how furiously Goldberg, Lowry, and Schlesinger suck up to PC victims, why do movement conservatives bother to grovel -- to no avail? They might as well move to the right openly -- or at least stop groveling. The reason they don’t is they themselves are captive to the Left psychologically and socially. These authorized opponents of the Left reflect what they intermittently claim to be against. In the media industry, cultural-social differences are far less significant than elsewhere in the country.

As a scholar it behooves me to mention some possible objection to my assertions. There are movement conservative critics, it might be argued, who, contrary to what I seem to be suggesting, have moved away from Goldberg, Ross Douthat, and David Frum by going after the gay lobby. Just about any issue of First Things would show the persistence of this other view. Also (and this too I may be missing) articles in mainstream movement conservative publications take critical stands against illegal immigration, more gay rights, and other recent demands of the social Left. Certainly the conservative movement does not uniformly resemble the establishment Left on every question relating to race, gender, lifestyle, and the war against discrimination.

But counter-objections could be raised to these arguments. One, most prominent movement conservative journalists and TV personalities associated with the Right behave very much like Lowry, Goldberg, etc. Beside feeling obliged to express joy over the civil rights revolutions for black, women and other minorities, these prominent conservatives are slavishly tied to the GOP. Fox News and NR stars have become tiresome adjuncts of that party. And movement conservative celebrities seem to be following the Bush-Rove strategy of throwing under the bus traditional conservative groups like Southern Whites in order to appeal to the civil rights lobby, AIPAC, and “moderate” minorities. Why bother worrying about insulting crackers, which Lowry did in a glaring manner when he described the alleged racist murder of Shirley Sherrod’s father as “demographically representative” of the South before the feds got into enforcing the civil rights revolution? The Southern whites will vote for the GOP no matter what.

Two, the morally traditionalist, predominantly Catholic wing of the conservative movement will be allowed to spin its wheels, as long as it doesn’t show too much independence. About twelve years ago, R.J. Neuhaus and others associated with First Things began talking about the moral decadence of the “American regime.” But the grousers were promptly disciplined by Decter, Himmelfarb, and other female custodians of the neocon hegemony. These ladies explained to the obstinate priest and his friends who it was who controlled their finances and access to the media. Almost immediately the complaints against the “regime” stopped.

Moreover, it is permissible for conservative movement-affiliated traditionalists to go their own way on abortion, gay marriage, and a few other family issues, providing they swear fealty to their masters in other matters. To the latter belong such weighty things as backing neocon-promoted wars to spread liberal democracy and end “Islamofascism,” celebrating the triumphs of the civil rights movement and the canonization of Martin Luther King, and praising the American example of global, propositional democracy. Opponents of abortion treat their pro-life stand as an extension of the civil rights movement, and they counterfactually identify the pro-choice lobby as “anti-black.” (Of course blacks take the diametrically opposite position, as one learns from their predictable political choices.) The same traditionalists, typified by Michael Novak and Cal Thomas, enjoy attacking the Left as “anti-Semitic,” although this warning has certainly not affected Jews’ voting patterns. The traditionalist wing of the conservative movement pays a heavy price indeed for its limited right to expression under neocon surveillance. Catholic and other traditionalists are clearly not in the driver’s seat, and they can be effortlessly pushed off the bus or demeaned, the way NR treats unreconstructed Southerners.