Sometimes, it’s good to see what the other side is up to. So I decided to read Jonah Goldberg’s latest G-File. This one functions as Goldberg’s tribute to Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and features the head-scratching title, “Cincinnatus Lays Down the Power Point.”
Goldberg probably doesn’t write his own headlines, but comparing Paul Ryan to Cincinnatus, the statesman who saved Rome by leading an army to defeat the Aequi and then famously returned to his plow thus freely giving up dictatorial power, is, well, asinine. Ryan, by contrast, enthralled AEI policy wonks in air-conditioned offices with endless charts and graphs on entitlements and immigration. Notice a category error here?
Goldberg says, “Ryan’s career boils down to modeling these two things. He is a man of deeply decent character, and he’s a man that cares deeply about the importance of ideas.” Ryan personally seems like a decent guy and good family man. But it’s obvious that whatever good qualities he possesses, his character was sorely lacking for politics.
Ryan getting throttled at the hands of Joe Biden in 2012 was as good a demonstration as any that his nice-guy, above-it-all personae is a confusion of etiquette with character. It tacitly rejects basic political virtues like ambition, hard-headedness, and a fighting spirit that goes hand-in-hand with the combat that’s so naturally a part of every day politics. It’s why Trump won when everyone else in the supposedly greatest Republican field of all-time failed. Americans are tired of losing. And losing with “dignity” just doesn’t cut it.
Goldberg waxes rhapsodic on the silly alternate reality of a “President Mitch Daniels” and Republicans “enjoying the luxury of a boring and mature presidency” without recognizing the impossibility of the former (Daniels, like Ryan, also has nothing close to a national constituency) or the dangerous naïveté of the latter (the aesthetics Goldberg prefers papering over a rotting foundation).
At bottom, Goldberg’s over-the-top praise of Ryan shows, to quote Leo Strauss, his “unmanly contempt for politics.” He wants his politicians to able to “talk about de Tocqueville.” Great. But on the list of qualities politicians (or statesmen, to be more precise) should possess, that’s pretty far down the list. How about doing what is necessary to secure the common good of the people of this nation? By confusing politics with the academy, Goldberg shows us exactly why “conservatives” have been losing for decades.