One of the great differences between conservatives and liberals is that conservatives will freely admit that they have an ideology. We’re kind of dorks that way, squabbling over old texts like Dungeons and Dragons geeks, wearing ties with pictures of Adam Smith and Edmund Burke on them.
But mainstream liberals from Franklin Roosevelt to Barack Obama — and the intellectuals and journalists who love them — often assert that they are simply dispassionate slaves to the facts; they are realists, pragmatists, empiricists. Liberals insist that they live right downtown in the “reality-based community,” and if only their Republican opponents weren’t so blinded by ideology and stupidity, then they could work with them.
This has been a theme of Obama’s presidency from the start. A couple of days before his inauguration,Obama proclaimed: “What is required is a new declaration of independence, not just in our nation, but in our own lives — from ideology and small thinking, prejudice and bigotry” (an odd pronouncement, given that “bigoted” America had just elected its first black president).
In his inaugural address, he explained that “the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply. The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works.”
Whether the president who had to learn, in his own words, that there’s “no such thing” as shovel-ready projects — after blowing billions of stimulus dollars on them — is truly focused on “what works” is a subject for another day. But the phrase is a perfect example of the way liberals speak in code when they want to make an ideological argument without conceding that that is what they are doing. They hide ideological claims in rhetorical Trojan horses, hoping to conquer terrain unearned by real debate.
Of course, Republicans are just as guilty as Democrats when it comes to reducing arguments to bumper stickers. (Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin has written that “the president’s economic experiment has failed. It is time to get back to what we know works.”) But the vast majority of Republicans, Ryan included, will at least acknowledge their ideological first principles — free markets, limited government, property rights. Liberals are terribly reluctant to do likewise. Instead, they often speak in seemingly harmless cliches that they hope will penetrate our mental defenses.
Here are some of the most egregious examples:
‘Diversity is strength’
Affirmative action used to be defended on the grounds that certain groups, particularly African Americans, are entitled to extra help because of the horrible legacy of slavery and institutionalized racism. Whatever objections opponents may raise to that claim, it’s a legitimate moral argument.
But that argument has been abandoned in recent years and replaced with a far less plausible and far more ideological claim: that enforced diversity is a permanent necessity. Lee Bollinger, the president of Columbia University, famously declared: “Diversity is not merely a desirable addition to a well-run education. It is as essential as the study of the Middle Ages, of international politics and of Shakespeare.”
It’s a nice thought. But consider some of the great minds of human history, and it’s striking how few were educated in a diverse environment. Newton, Galileo and Einstein had little exposure to Asians or Africans. The genius of Aristotle, Socrates and Plato cannot be easily correlated with the number of non-Greeks with whom they chatted in the town square. If diversity is essential to education, let us get to work dismantling historically black and women’s colleges. When I visit campuses, it’s common to see black and white students eating, studying and socializing separately. This is rounding out everyone’s education?
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Order Jonah Goldberg’s book The Tyranny Of Cliches