Goldberg on who’s imposing what on whom
Columnist and author Jonah Goldberg was on C-SPANs “Afterwords” recently to discuss his latest book, Tyranny of Clichés: How Liberals Cheat in the War of Ideas. When asked by Nia-Malika Henderson, National Political Report for the Washington Post, about the clichés in the gay marriage debate, he expounded upon the rhetorical turnabout–imposing social or cultural mores on someone–that the Left has successfully deployed against the Right on a variety of issues.
I was on the San Francisco NPR station…the callers would keep calling in and basically confirming the point I was trying to make in the book: that they don’t think they’re ideological. They only think conservatives are ideological. At one point this guy calls in and–you could just almost hear his ponytail over the phone–he’s like, “You know, you conservatives you’re all into these labels and ideology and stuff and I don’t think liberals think it that way, you know we just care about equality and I don’t understand why, you know, this gay marriage stuff, why you want to impose your views on us.”
It’s this “impose” thing that really bothers me. You hear it all the time. Like conservatives are trying to ‘impose’ their idea of what marriage is. Now, I’m sort of an outlier on the gay marriage stuff. I was for civil unions 10 years ago and my view on gay marriage has always been: maybe it’s inevitable and, if it is, worse things have happened to the Republic. But at the same time, as a conservative and a Hayekian and someone who thinks we have traditions for a reason–we have social institutions for a reason–and there’s a lot of knowledge that we may not be able to access, you know, rationally, [so] we should be very humble about all of this.
I do not think it’s a ridiculous or bigoted position to say that marriage should be between a man and a woman and I do not think it is a Jacobin bit of lunacy to say that people should be able to marry whoever they want. I think both sides have merit to them. But this imposing thing is what drives me crazy.
The definition of marriage–depending on how you do your math–has been a union between a man and a woman for, like, I don’t know, a thousand–five thousand–years. I don’t know, you can check the book; it’s been there for a while. And the idea that people of the same sex can marry has been around, basically in our lifetimes and not even all of our lives. When I was born, I think, the psychiatric community in America still considered homosexuality to be a mental defect and a kind of a psychopathy or something. So we’ve come a long way and it is the Left that is trying to impose its definition of marriage on the country.
This is sort of a microcosm of a more basic point. It is the Left that has been from the beginning the aggressor in the culture war. And sometimes they were right. I have nothing but respect for the advances that liberals made in the civil rights struggle in the 1960’s. They were on the right side and–I’ve written this many, many times–conservatives were on the wrong side. (Now, once you admit that you can have all sorts of caveats about going too far or what our point was and all the rest, but at the end of the day the Right was wrong on the civil rights stuff in the 1960’s). I don’t get that much grief from the Right for saying it. But you can’t on the one hand claim credit for women’s suffrage and for gay rights and for civil rights–and all these things–and at the same time complain about how conservatives are the aggressors in the culture war.
The self-anointed forces of change, the forces of progress, the people who want to move forward, as Barack Obama likes to say, these are the people who are trying to impose their ideas on society. The reaction you get from the Right, from the Evangelical Christians or from people who want to keep VMI (Virginia Military Institute) all male or whatever it is; these are the victims, so to speak, in the culture wars. It doesn’t mean they’re always right, but the idea that, somehow, trying to defend the definition of marriage that has been around for a thousand years is somehow an imposition strikes me as ludicrous. It is the other side that is trying to impose things.
Yet, the way the press covers it, the way people talk about it, the way the Left certainly talks about it, it is always about how the Right wants to control how people live on the Left. When in reality it is the Left that is initiating these things, that is pushing these arguments, that is trying to change the country. Barack Obama is the guy who campaigned in 2008 saying he was the one who wanted to “fundamentally” change America. You can’t say you want to fundamentally change America and at the same time say that it’s the other side that is trying to impose it’s ideas.
ADDENDUM: Incidentally, because it strikes me that I may not have been been entirely clear on the issue (at least for a while), I’m basically of the same mind as Goldberg with regard to gay marriage.