Taking Back the Debate
From the May 28, 2012, issue of NR.

From the cover of The Tyranny of Clichés, by Jonah Goldberg (Roman Genn)


Rob Long

The drawback to being such an effortless stylist — or, should I say, an effortless seeming stylist: there are over 200 footnotes to this closely researched book — is that it can sometimes feel like a comedy act. A smart one, with a point and a point of view, but an act nonetheless. It’s possible to read The Tyranny of Clichés and bleep over the highbrow references — and there are lots of them — to German philosophers and American political thinkers and historical events, and still get a lot out of the book. I know because I did exactly that.

But then I felt guilty, like I do when I eat the crunchy croutons on the salad and pick out the shards of Parmesan cheese, and I went back and read it again, this time for the actual nutrition. The good news is that the book delivers at every level. The best news, at least for me, is that it’s still funny, even if you chase down the footnotes.

Although that raises the question: Who, exactly, is this book for? It’s unlikely, given the current state of the American conversation, that anyone left of center is going to pick it up and be persuaded. We’ve all managed to cocoon ourselves fairly snugly within our own type — especially the Left. But persuasion doesn’t seem to be what Goldberg is really after. He’ll take it, to be sure. And be glad for it. But what he’s doing, I think, is what you do when you hand a friend a drink after a long day.

What conservatives have been missing is a sense of joyful confidence. We’re right about everything, of course, and we know it, but we’ve behaved — at least out there in the culture, when ambushed by left-wing media stars or surrounded by liberals at a cocktail party — as if we’ve got something to hide, something to apologize for. As if, ultimately, we’re on the losing side.

That’s what Goldberg is up to, I think, in this smart and browsable book. He’s bucking us up. He’s reminding us what this struggle — for a country, for a way of life, for a future of opportunity and progress — is all about. In two dozen chapters, he’s providing some good natured argument for all of us — especially those who live, as I do, surrounded by liberals — in our struggle against the Tyranny of Clichés. The jokes, which are plentiful and funny and cheerfully delivered, are a little bonus. Which isn’t bad for $27.95.

— Rob Long is a contributing editor of National Review and a contributor to Ricochet. This article appeared in the May 28, 2012, issue of National Review.


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