Two small confessions to make: I was elated when I first heard that Jonah’s second book, after Liberal Fascism, would be funnier and more lighthearted. This is not to say I didn’t love Liberal Fascism; you can make the argument that it is the most influential, discussed, and debated book by a conservative in the past decade. But the man who wrote Liberal Fascism wasn’t really the Jonah we came to know and love since he popped up on our political and cultural radar screens back in 1998. I have a limited amount of time to allocate to book-reading. So I’m not often eager to read about politics in my off-hours, and I wasn’t always eager to grab and finish a dense, fascinating, detailed and intellectually rigorous review of a century’s worth of political philosophy. Liberal Fascism was fascinating, eye-opening, thought-provoking . . . but it wasn’t always a fun or quick read.
But after hearing that The Tyranny of Clichés: How Liberals Cheat in the War of Ideas would be closer in tone to the old Goldberg File, the next preview was less reassuring. When Jonah started describing that the book was inspired by his talks on college campuses, and that the tome was his attempt to dismantle radical arguments that are hidden in homespun aphorisms, I was initially a little . . . deflated.
Of course empty-headed college students rely on empty clichés to make their arguments; this is what makes them empty-headed! I wondered if it was a reflection of how much time Jonah spends on college campuses, that he would consider liberal clichés to be the problem most worthy of book-length analysis and counterargument. Perhaps I travel in very sheltered circles, but I don’t actually encounter many people who genuinely believe the notions Jonah tears apart in this book, like, “One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter,” “Violence never solves anything,” and “Better ten guilty men go free than one innocent man suffer.”
Thankfully, Jonah gets past the here’s-the-latest-vacuous-argument-that-some-nose-ringed-progressive-did-during-the-Q&A-on-my-last-speaking-engagement section pretty quickly. Although the beating-up-tomato-can phenomenon crops up in slightly different form periodically through the book; sometimes it feels like Jonah is looking for logic where there is none to be found, mocking glaring contradictions in the arguments of Barbra Streisand and Andrew Sullivan.
But The Tyranny of Clichés has plenty of “how come no one ever taught me this” sections, including the surprising revelation that Marie Antoinette’s “let them eat cake” statement, if ever uttered, meant the precise opposite of its perceived meaning today. Then there’s a chapter which ought to be called, “Everything You Think You Know about Witch Trials, the Inquisition, and the Crusades Was Wrong.” I knew The Da Vinci Code was an epic-length crock of [bad word], but here Jonah finds a target really worth his time and wit, the popular culture’s ability to instill beliefs and conclusions that are astonishingly erroneous and distortions of actual historical events.
Jonah’s dismantling of the “wisdom is found in the political center” fetish deserves to be a seminar at journalism conferences for years to come, and when he starts addressing the pledges and claims of President Obama I feel like he’s finally locked on a worthy target. After all, if you’re turning to Barbra Streisand for guidance on wise governance, I think you’re a lost cause. There’s probably nothing we can do for you.
But even when it feels like Jonah is punching down at a foe that I stopped taking seriously a long time ago, he’s still classic Jonah. For example, I dare you to read the following sentence and not laugh:
Saying you’re being empirical, and wielding numbers like so many stage props, doesn’t make you empirical, any more than me wielding a giant hammer and speaking Norwegian makes me Thor.
You’re laughing because you know that upon finishing writing that passage, Jonah got out his authentic replica of Mjolnir, jumped upon The Couch, and bellowed, “Ved Odins skjegg, jeg står athwart historie roper stop!” and smashed a Paul Krugman bobblehead doll.
Finally, it’s worth noting that this “review” is of the work of a man I call a friend, and I find Jonah one of the most unique, enjoyable, and irreplaceable voices in our political world today. Ever since his first reference to TK-421 back in the late 1990s, I’ve felt like this is the guy who gets it! and I am hoping that when he finally hangs up his laptop at the end of a long career, he’s filled an entire shelf on all of our bookshelves.