The Old Blind Eye

Ponnuru and Goldberg: Pots and Kettles

Two conservative writers deny the GOP's Calhoun problem--and a whole lot more.

Ramesh Ponnuru and Jonah Goldberg are out with a long-ish rebuttal to a recent New Republic essay by Sam Tanenhaus declaiming on the continuing legacy of John C. Calhoun in today's Republicans Party. I'm something of an unlikely Tanenhaus defender, and in fact the conservatives make a few points that ring true to my reading of the Tanenhaus essay--it is the case, for example, that both sides use the phrase "Take Back America" when the other side has the White House, so it's hard to make a claim as Tanenhaus does that the phrase carries a racial whiff.

However...Well, first of all, what Ponnuru and Goldberg are basically doing here is crying foul about what they see as extremist name-calling and a rather over-determined use of a historical figure. That's pretty rich coming from one guy who wrote a book about the Democrats called Party of Death (death!) and another who wrote Liberal Fascism, in which Woodrow Wilson and Jack Kennedy were described--not ironically, not hyberbolically, but specifically and literally--as fascist presidents.

They set up the usual straw man early on:

The explanation for conservatives’ opposition to President Obama and his agenda must be found not in our ideas but in our pathologies.

Thus many liberals seem to have convinced themselves that we resist Obama’s agenda because he is black.

Not exactly, fellas. But a lot hangs on the question of who this "we" is. If "we" is Ponnuru, Goldberg, Reihan Salam, Ross Douthat, Veronique De Rugy, Jennifer Rubin, and the whole lot of conservative pundits and commentators, then no, obviousy not. I would accuse some of these folks of various unfortunate habits, but not racism.

Now, if "we" is rank-and-file conservatives, the story changes. Even then, I wouldn't say and I don't think most liberals would say that conservatives oppose Obama because he's black. But I would like to see Ponnuru and Goldberg attempt to deny that Obama's race is a factor; one more thing for rank-and-file wingers to dislike about him. How many watermelon jokes and the like by state GOP chairs and committee members do they need before it starts to count as evidence? My Google search "republican racist obama jokes" returned 3.63 million hits.

Ponnuru and Goldberg go on to make a somewhat plausible case that the the GOP's race problem is not a function of its Calhounist tendencies. But what they don't do is explain what the GOP's race problem is a function of. In fact they sort of try to deny, without directly saying so, that there is such a thing as a GOP race problem at all.

This is preposterous. It only shows, as I've been writing and writing lately, how out of touch and irrelevant the "serious" conservative commentariat is. But hey, the longer people like Ponnuru and Goldberg choose not to grapple with such questions, the more out of it they and their movement look to most Americans, so it's fine by me.