How liberals use clichés to hide the truth
- Last Updated: 11:51 PM, May 5, 2012
- Posted: 11:02 PM, May 5, 2012
In Washington, clichés are common currency, the coin of the realm, a stock in trade. They can also be lethally effective as political speech, precisely because they embody lazy thinking and off-the-shelf analysis.
Democrats serve up clichés as answers to complicated questions knowing that the media will eagerly amplify them. But as Jonah Goldberg demonstrates in his important new book, “The Tyranny of Clichés: How Liberals Cheat in the War of Ideas” (Sentinel), hacks of both the elected and published variety are often unaware that the clichés they deploy often mean the very opposite of what they think they mean.
Thanks to Goldberg and the attention he will attract in this follow-up to his chart-topping, liberal-enraging, game-changing bestseller, “Liberal Fascism,” his targets will look like fools they next time they say, for instance, that Republican budget ideas amount to “let them eat cake.” Most journalists are probably aware that Marie Antoinette never said this (it is credited to Rousseau, who came up with the line before she was even born and published it before she arrived in France). Nevertheless, it’s a common line of attack against supposedly clueless Republicans — though never against wealthy Democrats like John Kerry or the Kennedys.
In fact, “Let them eat cake” — originally “let them eat brioche” — derives from a lunatic anti-poverty scheme devised by economically clueless regulators. The law in France decreed that, if a bakery ran out of cheap bread, it would then have to feed the poor by selling more expensive brioche at the same price as the budget stuff, whose price was set at an artificially low price by the government. This sounds exactly like the kind of thing President Obama would come up with. But as Goldberg wittily notes, “It was akin to telling car dealers that they have to sell their used AMC Pacers . . . at a near-loss and, should they run out of Pacers, they must then sell Porsches and BMWs at the same price. Under such a system, dealers might keep a manageable supply of cheap cars on their lots, but you can be sure they would not keep a very large inventory of luxury cars on hand.”
Bakers adhering to the law that said they had to sell bread for less than it was worth might be driven out of business. Realizing this, what would you do? I wouldn’t be overly motivated to sell the cheap stuff. I would keep making the high-end product, but I’d hide it in the back. So, when the average ragamuffin dropped in, I’d say, sorry, all out. When an aristocrat turned up (I’m guessing it wouldn’t be that hard to tell the difference), I’d sell my swecret stash of brioche to him, wink-wink.
So, now I’m a law-breaker with utter contempt for the government, forced to do business off the books, and a conscript in the class war. Affordable bread is suddenly so scarce that more peasants are starving and demanding more help from the government, when it was regulation that caused their problem. So “Let them eat cake,” Goldberg writes, “actually signifies how rich do-gooders screw things up by creating ‘compassionate’ schemes that only make things worse for the poor.”
Goldberg is similarly devastating when it comes to other truisms. Take the liberal talking point that we shouldn’t be beholden to “ideology” or “dogma” but should instead be “pragmatic.”
The left doesn’t like labels because the ones that correctly describe their thinking — Marxism, statism, socialism, liberalism, even progressivism — are justly held in low esteem. Goldberg traces this line of attack back to a denunciation of “ideologues” by Napoleon, who saw them as a threat to his power. Yet if you feel like Chinese food for lunch and your friend prefers Mexican, there is no correct “empirical” answer independent of your taste. It’s an honest difference of opinion. Conservatives are open about their politics, yet from President Obama on down, liberals claim they just want to know, as the president put it in his inaugural, “whether it works.” Then they breezily insist that what works is always more government. There is no ideology whose adherents think it doesn’t work. Ideology and dogma are simply scare words for values.
Conservatives promote “social Darwinism”? No, eugenics and weeding out the unfit were backed by liberals — H.G. Wells, George Bernard Shaw, Oliver Wendell Holmes and the founders of modern democratic socialism, Beatrice and Sydney Webb. Meanwhile, the supposedly heartless “robber barons” were, except for Andrew Carnegie, not Darwinists. They were fervent Christians who gave massively to charity because they wanted to uplift the poor. Even Carnegie believed, “He who dies rich dies disgraced” and became one of history’s greatest benefactors.
The left loves to delve into the rule book and mend the world’s ills by regulatory tinkering, but even when they’re expressing what they believe to be simple, universal truths, Goldberg finds the flaws in their thinking. When liberals are talking, he shows us why even the truisms aren’t true.