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.

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Sammy in Arizona
Sammy in Arizona
9 years ago

Our society pockets a savings that accrues from discrimination. Gay folks spouses – even in those states where their marriage is legal – do not get the Social Security survivor’s benefits, and in most cases, don’t get anything from a spouse’s pension.

Warrington Faust
Warrington Faust
9 years ago

Sammy, to my mind, nothing that you mention comes under the heading of traditional “rights”. Even if they do, there are other “cures” besides marriage. When we set out to insure civil rights for blacks, we did not choose to make the white as a solution.
Restricted visitation with a person in a hospital, is a hospital regulation. It is not a civil right. Inheritance can be handled with a will.

msteven
msteven
9 years ago

Excellent post Marc.
And that is why Jonah Goldberg is one of my favorite political pundits. He is truly thoughtful and reasonable whether you agree with him or not. Sadly, our political discourse has become such that disagreement is equivalent to hyperbolic hate and name-calling.

Russ
Russ
9 years ago

I thought it odd Goldberg picks up on “impose” without commenting on the “shove it down our throats” line I hear nearly exclusively from the right. Frankly this comment is simply nonsense as anyone following the healthcare debate can attest:

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.

Sorry for trying to shove my opinion down your throat!

msteven
msteven
9 years ago

Russ, for a change you missed the point (or tried to avoid it).
His point is the hypocrisy of progressives saying it is conservatives who want to impose their beliefs on everyone when progressives are trying to do the same for their agenda.
Intolerance and imposing beliefs is used by both the left and right.

Sammy in Arizona
Sammy in Arizona
9 years ago

Steve Laffey offered a much different opinion
In one column, Laffey said he has never seen a happy homosexual.
“This is not to say there aren’t any; I simply haven’t seen one in my lifetime. Maybe they are all in the closet,” he wrote. “All the homosexuals I’ve seen are sickly and decrepit, their eyes devoid of life.”
In another column he wrote that pop music was turning the children of America into sissies, and criticized the singer Boy George, referring to him as “it.”
“It wears girl’s clothes and puts on makeup,” he wrote. “When I hear it sing, ‘Do you really want to hurt me, do you really want to make me cry,’ I say to myself, YES, I want to punch your lights out, pal, and break your ribs.”
Citation.. ProJo.com
Of course the limp-wristed Laffey only advocated physical attacks on Gays, Mr Scissorhand Romney went a step further and actually assaulted a gay kid

Monique
Monique (@monique-chartier)
Editor
9 years ago

“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.”
And even that is not entirely true. Civil rights passed Congress BECAUSE enough Republicans supported it and DESPITE the opposition of many Democrats (like Al Gore’s pappy).

Russ
Russ
9 years ago

msteven, if that was his point I’d agree. But he says “it is always [note the word always] about how the Right wants to control how people live on the Left.” That’s simply his positional bias and demonstrably false as I mentioned.

Russ
Russ
9 years ago

“Civil rights passed Congress BECAUSE enough Republicans supported it and DESPITE the opposition of many Democrats”
Don’t confuse the word Democrat with liberal (many aren’t) or Republican with conservative (many aren’t).

Sammy in Arizona
Sammy in Arizona
9 years ago

The battle for civil rights in the 60’s was conservatives vs liberals, not Democrats vs Republicans there were a lot of blue dog conservative democrats, and many liberal Rockefeller Republicans, the conservatives in both parties opposed civil rights and voting rights. Just as they were against women’s suffrage years before.

msteven
msteven
9 years ago

Russ, you are going to lay on his use of the word “always”?
I think he was referring to those on the left who do say exactly that.
In other words, there are people on the left who have positional biases (where some are demonstrably false). Just like on the right.

msteven
msteven
9 years ago

Sammy, so your point is that ideological conservatives oppose civil rights and liberals support it. Simple as that?

Russ
Russ
9 years ago

“Russ, you are going to lay on his use of the word ‘always?'”
Yes, Goldberg clearly thinks conservatives are the victims of this liberal “cheating.” Perhaps if I read the full article that wouldn’t have jumped out at me, but I doubt it.

Tommy Cranston
Tommy Cranston
9 years ago

“All the homosexuals I’ve seen are sickly and decrepit, their eyes devoid of life.”
Wow. Dead On. That’s what progressives call “speaking truth to power”.

Phil
Phil
9 years ago

I agree with Jonah Goldberg on his point he makes here: “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.” Our country along with Western governments imposed our view on the world that democracies that respect private property and enterprise were superior to Communist governments and economies. The amount of resources spent during the Cold War along with the number of armaments aimed at the Soviet Union and their allies to achieve that end qualifies as imposing our views. Goldberg goes as far as to write: “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.” The conservatives were those who stood in the doorways of schools to prevent integration of black students into white schools. The activists that brought about these changes were labeled as “outside agitators” and they were in many cases. Yet they changed the culture. They imposed their views on society. I don’t remember many non whites complaining about the changes brought about during that Civil Rights era but the white defenders of traditional cultural structures sure did. Everything was just fine the way it was according to many in the South and elsewhere in the country. It took the sacrifice of the activists and the support of many people of that movement to get to the place we are now. So how is the drive to move freedom to people who do not accept the traditional notion of marriage not the same as the struggles that most of us now accept. Those that… Read more »

Warrington Faust
Warrington Faust
9 years ago

Posted by Monique
“Civil rights passed Congress BECAUSE enough Republicans supported it and DESPITE the opposition of many Democrats (like Al Gore’s pappy).”
Southern Democrats, the “Solid South”, were the “hard right” of their day. And who can forget the image of Hubert Humphry speaking to Congress “I will eat the paper this bill (Affirmative Action) is written on if it ever results in quotas”.

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