Upon reading Jonathan Chait's latest (and perhaps final) response in his Opinion Duel with the inept Jonah Goldberg, all I can say is "It's about damn time". Where in the hell was this Chait before? Can we expect some brilliant analysis in another forum which would explain where he put his brain during the prior entries in this debate? I just don't see what took him so long to write a coherent and concise rebuttal of Goldberg's inane refusal to admit to the obvious. And while Chait's response is still inferior to my own, it was close enough to allow us to declare him the winner. After all, we can't all have biobrains, can we?
Specifically, what he did right was his insistence on directly refuting Goldberg's absurd opinion of what liberals stand for; as well as relying upon his initial premise to backup his case. And even more so, it was his conciseness and interweaving of these two concepts to form a fully conceptualized piece. Rather than randomly tossing out assertions and examples, he has an overall theme which he deftly unspools into quick refutations of Goldberg's inherently wrong examples. And it is this conciseness, more than anything else which gives Chait the strong advantage in this debate. But while he seems to have bested Goldberg (who has yet to write his final argument); he has failed to actually win the debate outright. Chait was only able to win on points; having failed to win by knock-out.
What Went Wrong
What he did wrong was to ignore the primary point that this blog has been trying to make: that Jonah Goldberg isn't a conservative, which is what brought about this unnecessary debate. Chait had introduced the fairly obvious premise that conservatives are not empiricists, and focus solely on one ideological goal; and thus ignore any evidence which runs contrary to that goal. While liberals have multiple goals which change over time, and are willing to change the methods used to achieve those goals.
Goldberg can't understand Chait's initial premise because he wrongly believes that he's a conservative and that it applies to him. And if Goldberg was a conservative, Chait would have to be wrong as Goldberg is an empiricist at heart (though generally not in practice). But rather than be gracious enough to ask Chait to explain his terms, which would expose Goldberg's problem, Goldberg set out to refute something irrefutable; and thus this debate. And so we've been subjected to a fairly tedious debate by Goldberg, who is forced to play games with semantics; without which Goldberg would be unable to provide any argument at all.
But as I've stressed before, Goldberg's key misunderstanding stems from the fact that he is an empiricist and would readily acknowledge that the liberal position is correct, if he was willing to do so. But the fact that he refuses to accept those facts does not stem from his ideological beliefs (as it does with true conservatives), but from his Republican partisan beliefs and his desire to think of himself as the now glorious Conservative Republican.
And what confuses him is that he knows, in theory, that he'd be willing to agree with the liberal position if he accepted facts which disagree with the conservative position; which puts him in the empiricist category, and thus unable to comprehend Chait's premise. And that is certainly the case. The fact that he does refuse to acknowledge those facts should not be taken as evidence that he is a conservative, because this is a willful ignorance of reality, and not one forced upon him by his ideological stance. He chose to accept the conservative arguments when he chose to think of himself as a conservative. Were he to acknowledge that he is really a liberal Republican, in the vein of Nelson Rockefeller and Richard Nixon, he would readily accept Chait's premise; and thus end this debate. And even in his "conservativism", Goldberg's arguments have forced him to clearly acknowledge many liberal positions and thus his support of far more government intervention than his supposed conservative brethren ever could. So not only is Goldberg liberal in theory; he is also liberal in fact. Rather than debating against Chait's premise, Goldberg has only served to expose his own liberal tendencies.
And Goldberg's liberalism is the key to this debate, for this debate is not at all about conservative empiricism (or the lack thereof). But rather it is about Goldberg's inability to comprehend it. And thus, the only way to truly win this debate is to establish the cause of Goldberg's confusion; which is his liberalness. A true conservative who is honest would not attempt to refute Chait's premise, as he knows it to be correct. The true conservative wants limited government for ideological concerns, in spite of facts showing that bigger government can successfully solve problems; for they do not want the government in the problem-solving business. In fact for them, successful and popular government intervention is far worse than unsuccessful, unpopular intervention; as it will only lead to more government intervention (the attempted murder of Social Security is just one topical example of this).
Rather than being persuadable by empirical facts which show the successful use of government, the true conservative shuns all such facts and only cling more strongly to their ideological beliefs. So unlike Goldberg, it's not that conservatives choose to deny empirical facts which go against their beliefs; it's that they find such facts irrelevant to the discussion and distasteful. For them, facts are only used as weapons against their opponents, and not as the basis for their own beliefs; much the way that Goldberg uses conservative arguments as weapons to attack liberals, without comprehending their implications or allowing them to shape his own beliefs. And while they are not likely to openly admit to this, it doesn't take much extrapolation to realize that this is undeniably correct. For both conservatives and wanna-be conservatives, history is not a teaching tool to learn by; but rather an arsenal to be plundered.
And so it is only the wanna-be conservatives who are offended at Chait's premise, as they are empiricist liberals who choose to deny reality in an effort to claim the esteemed label of Conservative; and not a denial based upon ideological purity. Chait's arguments, while effective, only address the exterior of Goldberg's arguments; while failing to root out their true cause. They fail because he wrongly believes he is addressing a conservative and correctly knows that a true conservative could not deny his undeniable premise. But because Goldberg is not a conservative, Chait's arguments cannot affect Goldberg's; and thus Chait is doomed to failure.
And that is what it takes to defeat all conservatives and wanna-be conservatives who have adopted the conservative's arguments. Empiricism and arguments cannot work, as Chait's initial premise made clear. It is only by taking the argument directly to the specific conservative that one can actually address the true issues. The cause of the empirical blind-spot is irrelevant in regards to its effect; but it is of the utmost relevance in regards to curing that blind-spot.
Jonathan Chait failed to address the cause of Goldberg's blind-spot; thus making even his most successful argument a complete failure. Goldberg might run out of arguments, but he will continue to fundamentally misunderstand why that happened, and continue to cling to his mistaken beliefs. And by ignoring the implications of his initial premise, Chait can be blamed for Goldberg's continued ignorance. Stupid liberal; can't learn from his own lessons.