The Sounds Coming Out of Chris Matthews’s Mouth

by Jonah Goldberg

For reasons that no doubt have to do with original sin, I happened to listen to Chris Matthews tonight chronicle the history of the Republican Party as a way to explain the “reasonableness” of Ron Paul’s foreign policy. He explained that the GOP has picked up all the elements — the “effluence” in his words — of the Democratic Party that it can no longer think clearly. The segregationists, the Christian crusaders, and the neocons have rendered the GOP (and this is a verbatim quote): “so junk-laden with these droppings from the Democratic Party they can’t think. If they could think, if they were a dynamic political party, they would listen to Ron Paul because they would hear in him the voice of Barry Goldwater the old conservative party that took a reasonable view to foreign policy.”

I put “think” in italics because he put so much emphasis on the word. He basically spit the it out (not a big thing given his normal saliva-surplus style of speaking).

Anyway, I know pointing out the absurdity of Chris Matthews is something of a cliché these days. But what’s so fascinating is that he actually knows political history and politics so when he says absurd things you can’t just say “he’s an idiot.” I’m not saying that would be inaccurate, I’m just saying it’s insufficient.  Is he lying? Is he just on autopilot? Does his brain shut down on camera?

However libertarian Ron Paul may be on domestic policy, he’s nothing like Goldwater on foreign policy. This is a point even Paul’s patron saint, Murray Rothbard, often conceded. Paul styles himself as a holdover of the traditional foreign policy of the old right of Taft. As I’ve written before, I think Paul gets Taft wrong. But even if you concede the Ronulan version of Taft’s foreign policy, the fact remains that Goldwater’s foreign policy was wildly more hawkish. In 1964 Goldwater suggested nuking North Vietnam (mostly with low yield weapons to defoliate the place). He believed in rollback, not containment. The Old Rightists never forgot that Goldwater was an Eisenhower delegate in 1952 — not a Taft delegate. It was for reasons like this that the Taftites, and the latter day Paulites (i.e. Rothbard and the von Miseans) considered Goldwater a founding father of the New Right  — of Buckley, Reagan, et al. And they were right! The problem for Matthews — and a great many younger Paulites — is they think Paleocon, Old Right, Goldwaterite, and Buckleyite are all synonumous terms. They’re not. Not ever close.

Regardless, it is frankly hilarious that a worshiper of LBJ would — just to placate the MSNBC demographic — talk up the reasonableness of Barry Goldwater’s foreign policy. I await his denunciatuon of the LBJ “Daisy” ad. But I won’t hold my breath.