With 'Tyranny of Clichés,' Jonah Goldberg Delivers a Second Triumph
No one who writes for a living wouldn't want to be the person behind Jonah Goldberg's "Liberal Fascism," which was not only a number-one New York Times' bestseller, but also a seminal publication in the growing canon of conservative-leaning books. What I would wish on no writer, however, is having to face the challenge and pressure of writing a follow-up to such a stunning debut. But with "The Tyranny of Clichés: How Liberals Cheat in the War of Ideas" (out today), not only has Goldberg (editor-at-large for National Review Online) avoided the sophomore slump -- in many ways he has an even bigger triumph on his hands.
Everything conservatives will be looking for is on every page of "Tyranny." Just as he did with "Liberal Fascism," Goldberg uses scholarly history, damning logic, pop culture, and laugh-out-loud humor to connect the dots that expose the Left as the vacuous, dishonest, State-addicted mercenaries they really are. But what sets "Tyranny" apart from its predecessor and, in my opinion, improves on it, is two things:
First, simply by its title alone, "Liberal Fascism" was red meat for the Right; a delicious, timely, page-turning balm in The Year Of Obama. As we were getting our electoral butts kicked in every corner of America -- as our worst political nightmares were impossibly coming true -- we could at least get under the covers and flick a flashlight onto Jonah's reassurance that we were right, dammit!
"Liberal Fascism" is ours and all ours, but to its credit, "Tyranny" is less so.
"Tyranny" isn't red meat as much as it's an argument. Yes, so was "Liberal Fascism," but that was a more pointed argument made from a somewhat belligerent posture (which I loved). "Tyranny," though, is something I would (and have) send to my Obama-loving, swing state-dwelling, left-wing mother. For years now, the two of us have fired books at one another in the hopes of persuading the other to see the light, and because Goldberg's theme is less about partisan politics than it is about intellectual honesty, I'm convinced it's going to be one of my more persuasive missives.
"Tyranny" isn't about ideology. Don't get me wrong, Goldberg still takes it to the Left, but liberalism (for very good reason) is merely the vehicle the author drives to explore the much bigger theme of how and why the left and their allies in media and academia have allowed political debate to devolve into cliché. The over-arching theme, however, is even bigger and speaks to conservative and liberal alike:
Unfortunately for the Left, they're the ones most guilty of failing in that department (don't worry, Republicans take a few well-deserved licks), but I can't imagine any reasonable liberal, like my mother, reading Goldberg's words and not only rethinking how they themselves argue, but also feeling a little unsettled and bamboozled by some of the arguments they've bought into. Which brings me to my second point:
In 2008, "Liberal Fascism" wasn't a weapon as much as it was educational comfort food for those of us suffering through the slow-motion, year-long train wreck that was hope and change -- and God bless every page of it. Things, though, are different in 2012, and thankfully "Tyranny" is perfectly calibrated for that difference and will therefore be an indispensible political weapon in this election, even if liberals choose to treat it like Kryptonite (Jon Stewart's already declined a rematch.)
Anyone paying attention to what's already happening in the 2012 presidential campaign knows that the left and their media allies intend to use every rhetorical trick at their disposal to avoid the discussion of Obama's failed record. "Tyranny" is like an instruction manual for countering this, and not just for the talking heads who debate the likes of David Gregory on NBC, but for anyone looking to pull a reasonable liberal or Reagan Democrat into daylight.
Trust me, their quick and lazy liberal "feel good" suddenly won't feel so good.
Chapter by entertaining and informative chapter, Goldberg methodically hits all the lazy buzz phrases and straw men we're familiar with (diversity, middle class, social justice, dissent). Better still, though, Goldberg drops the scales from our eyes (at least mine) with some that might've slipped past us (slippery slope, dogma, pragmatism). At the close of each chapter Goldberg's deconstruction is so scholarly and complete, no one who isn’t intentionally manipulating our language will ever hear this nonsense in the same way again. You're also loaded for bear the next time some Lefty tries to shut down debate by whipping out this age-old but admittedly effective arsenal (and shutting conservatives up -- the tyranny -- is a big factor in why these clichés were invented in the first place).
Let me back up just a moment to ensure I'm not misunderstood. There's nothing dated about "Tyranny." For as long as the Left uses rhetorical nonsense, Goldberg's book will be required reading -- which means "Tyranny" is and always will be a vital work. My point is that the timing of the release couldn't be better. In other words, you buy a copy, read it over the summer, and come out for the Labor Day presidential push much better prepared for what will be the key battle in this election: the verbal jiu-jitsu of lies we're about to have to cut through in order to persuade a few thousand independent voters to come our way (by the way, Goldberg gives the lauded political "center" a delicious shellacking).
But politics and elections and argument and debate aside, the primary reason to recommend "Tyranny" is The Writing. I should send Jonah a bill for the three yellow highlighters his prose cost me. Goldberg is not only the rare writer with a real voice (who makes you burst into laughter regularly), but his ability to persuasively bring together history and wit and quotes from "Animal House" into incredible packages of knowledge and insight makes "Tyranny" a page-turner you don't want to end.
"The Tyranny of Clichés: How Liberals Cheat in the War of Ideas" is available at Amazon.com.