Politics & Policy

Bonfire of the Straw Men

Michael Doran appears on Q&A (C-SPAN)
Michael Doran follows the crowd and wants everyone to go with him.

Michael Doran has written a very sad rejoinder to my criticism of him.

Some quick background: Emerald Robinson, a former actress turned cable-news correspondent, wrote a meandering attack on a diverse group of conservatives, making invidious, logic-defying, and borderline bigoted claims. Doran, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, called it unqualifiedly “brilliant.” In the face of criticism, he mumbled about how her tone was off but that the “underlying analysis” was “rock solid.” I criticized Robinson’s essay and Doran’s endorsement of it.

Yesterday, Doran replied. You would think that he’d want to rebut what I wrote. He doesn’t bother. Instead, he invents things about me and my supposed crowd and offers strange accounts of his interior life and of the audience he panders to.

I say “panders” deliberately. Because, according to Doran, “cosmopolitan conservatives” like me are “out of touch with the electorate.” He overstates that quite a bit, and never explains why he cares about this so, so much.

But in describing his own spiritual journey to Trumpism, Doran reveals that he, too, was a “cosmopolitan conservative” before he saw the light. (Note: I’ve never embraced cosmopolitanism or this dumb label.) Now, he believes that writers, intellectuals, scholars, and opinion journalists must get right with their market, too:

In a democratic culture, the pundit is not a philosopher. He exists to inform and guide like-minded voters, which is only possible if they trust him to be thinking along with them.

Doran has already made a terrible mess at the outset. First, given that I’ve placed myself in an ideological “Remnant” — ahem — it is hardly a blistering insight to me that I’m at odds with some of the Republican electorate. (It is news to me that I’m a cosmopolitan given my longtime criticism of cosmopolitanism over the years.)

The bigger problem: I don’t recognize his description of my profession. Nor would William F. Buckley, Thomas Sowell, George Will, Irving Kristol, or Charles Krauthammer — never mind Edmund Burke or literally any writer or thinker that I admire or seek to emulate — recognize it, much less endorse it. Doran’s argument echoes the words attributed to Alexandre Ledru-Rollin: “There go the people. I must follow them, for I am their leader.”

According to Doran, my great folly is that I see the world as he did in 2016, but not how he sees it in 2018 (never mind that he seems shockingly ill-informed about what my views were then or are now). If only I could muster the courage to betray my “clan” the way he did when his preferred candidate lost. Forget that I never attached myself to any candidate, because that’s not my bag. Doran apparently can’t imagine that some in his line of work — or, at least, in my line of work — might care more about honestly defending our views, even when they’re unpopular, than simply being on the winning team.

Two years on, I am consistently amazed by how many people think conservative writers should — must! — be Republican-party adjuncts. I’m even more fascinated by why they care so much. If Doran (and all the others) are right, the market would consign me and my crowd to irrelevance. Instead, there’s another one of these essays every five minutes. Never has so much bleating been dedicated to people who allegedly matter so little. Worse, most target straw men. It’s as if the audience that insatiably craves this content doesn’t actually care if it’s true — and neither do the authors.

This might explain the misrepresentations that serve as fabricated evidence in Doran’s prosecutor’s brief. He asserts or insinuates that my crowd and I ignored immigration, religious liberty, unemployment, etc. This is just false about me and many of the people he excoriates. He suggests that I’m helping threaten the social fabric by endorsing the Russia-collusion narrative. I haven’t. But forget it, he’s on a roll.

There are too many invented claims and baseless insinuations to address, but here’s one example that deserves attention. He writes of my book:

Goldberg’s Miracle, in philosophical terms, combines Straussian natural rights theory with Milton Friedman’s free markets. It adds a dose of Alexis de Tocqueville on mediating institutions and civil society. For foreign policy, it calls for a muscular (yet idealistic!) approach. If this all sounds familiar, there’s a good reason. It’s Reaganism in a can.

By Goldberg’s way of thinking, Reaganism is the miraculous culmination of a long history of trial and error. It is not just the best way to organize society; it is the only way. There will never be a better one.

To borrow a phrase from Islam, Reagan is “the seal of the prophets” of classical liberalism. Therefore, Trump’s rejection of the cosmopolitan conservatism’s creed is not a legitimate disagreement about how to meet the challenges of the moment. It is an atavistic and “reactionary” attack on classical liberal “best practices” that all those generations of trial and error have so miraculously bequeathed to us. According to Goldberg’s philosophy, people like me are not wrong, we are reptile-brain ingrates.

I don’t know what book he read. Reagan gets four passing references in Suicide of the West, none of them foreign-policy-related. There’s no mention of post-Wilson foreign policy at all (nor any mention or endorsement of Strauss, for that matter). As for my views on Reagan: Sure, I love the guy. But I’ve been writing for years now — before and after Trump’s election — that the Right must overcome its Reagan nostalgia. I’ve even partially celebrated Trump’s sweeping it away.

Nowhere do I call Trump voters “reptile brain ingrates.” In fact, I stipulate that many had understandable reasons for voting for him. I even concede that if my vote would have decided 2016, I’d have voted for Trump. But I also said I wouldn’t lie on Trump’s behalf.

Doran apparently has made no such commitment. He fabricates all of this (and more). Apparently the real me matters less than feeding the base and dunking on a fictional version of me. Straw men burn so much brighter than flesh and blood. Or perhaps he’s using me as a stand-in for conservatives whom he won’t confront. Either way, it’s shabby and dishonest stuff so typical of this genre.

How strange to hear that being a Reaganite is now, according to Doran, ‘reactionary’ and a sin worthy of excommunication.

Still, how strange to hear that being a Reaganite is now, according to Doran, “reactionary” and a sin worthy of excommunication. He does offer a single path to absolution — his own. Namely: accepting his shallow view of Reagan as a proto-Trump, getting right with the electorate, ignoring substantive criticisms of Trump, and signing up for a quarter-baked nationalist ideology that will defeat globalists and cosmopolitans everywhere. (Julian Benda had this thinking pegged a century ago.)

I don’t think Michael Doran is a “lizard brain ingrate.” Until this episode, I always liked him and considered him to be quite thoughtful. But he is wrong about many things. My advice to him: Have more confidence in your convictions. If Doran is right, my supposedly cosmopolitan clan and I will vanish like the Whigs. So why not ignore us? Instead, we haunt his conscience like Banquo’s ghost. Maybe that should tell him something.

Jonah Goldberg — Jonah Goldberg holds the Asness Chair in Applied Liberty at the American Enterprise Institute and is a senior editor of National Review. His new book, The Suicide of The West, is on sale now.

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