I'm not at all pleased to admit it, but Jonah Goldberg has now taken the lead in his duel with Jonathan Chait. Not in substance, mind you, because he's just plain wrong and can't possibly beat Chait on substance. But as far as well-written arguments go, Goldberg has far surpassed Chait's mediocre meanderings; even surpassing my own expectations. In his shadow-duel with me, however, he has only served to once again confirm my beliefs. Goldberg is a Liberal Republican trapped in a Conservative Republican's journal, but doesn't quite have enough brains to realize it yet.
Again, his problem with Chait is that he refuses to understand exactly what conservatives and liberals stand for, and is forced to define the terms in a way which still allows him to call himself a conservative. But he clearly is not one, and continues to reinforce that fact. In fact, it is his definitions more than anything else which best reflect his true ideology. And that's why the essence of Goldberg's newest rebuttal can again be squeezed down to "I don't understand what your point is, Jonathan. We seem to be in agreement." And that they are.
Specifically, Goldberg is intent on defining Conservatives as people who support a limited government which performs certain functions that it does best; thus solving certain problems for individuals that they cannot solve themselves. Is there a liberal alive who wouldn't agree with that statement? Anywhere? I doubt it. The key distinction for Goldberg is that he disagrees with some of the specific levels of government problem-solving. But it's simply a matter of degrees, rather than a true ideological split. Proof of that is that he is forced to describe liberals as people who ALWAYS want to use government to solve problems. Which is an absurdity that he would never actually defend; nor does he. He does attempt to obscure the distinction between Liberals and Socialists, by denying the separate existence of Socialists. So rather than coming to terms with his own ideology; Mr. Goldberg instead prefers the leftward shift of the entire ideological spectrum. Bold.
At best, Jonah could describe himself as a Conservative Liberal; one who believes government should solve our problems, but has a smaller idea of which problems the government is able to solve. In contrast, a Liberal Conservative could be seen as one whose goal is smaller government, but will allow for a slightly larger government role in a few specific cases. But the key difference is still whether or not you believe the government should be in the problem solving business.
The Main Point: Chait's Right
But that only explains what his own problem in trying to rebut Chait's claim. But the other problem is that Chait is absolutely correct. Conservatives do see limited government as an end to be justified. That's what they're after. Liberals have a whole list of problems they want solved, and use government as a way of fixing those problems. They seek the means of doing that, and are willing to alter their methods if they don't work. But the key is that they want the problems solved, regardless of the method used (within reason, of course).
For example, if abstinence-only programs really worked, I would fully support them (though not if they resorted to lies and distortions). If churches really were best able to help the homeless and alcoholics by converting them to their religion, I would support that too. Taxpayer funded and everything, just as long as the church was open about their religious intent. I'm not obsessed with government intervention. I oppose those plans solely because I don't believe that they work as well as the traditional programs. Instead, I see them as needless government subsidization of churches, a proposition that both atheists and churches should be against. But I want the problems fixed, no matter how it's done. And that's what liberals support: problem solving.
But conservatives have no such list (again, I define Conservatives as not including Social Conservatives or Neo-Conservatives, which are a completely different ideology, more closely related to liberals). They don't want to solve poverty, healthcare, education, inequalities, or anything else. For them, these problems will fix themselves or won't be fixed and they really don't care anyway. They've got their money and happy lives and they don't want the government to mess with it. And it's not quite that they don't believe the government CAN solve these problems (though that is part of their belief), it's that they just don't think government should. You either fix your own problems or you tough if out. Their goal is to undo all of the progressive fixes of the past 100 years or so, and return us back to the anything goes days of cheap labor and survival of the fittest. That is their goal.
What Goldberg fails to understand is that part of the conservative dogma is that they are against all unnecessary government intervention as it empowers the government and will allow it to take more power in the future; thus taking more liberties. They are not against specific government solutions; they are against all but the most necessary. And they have a very narrow and nonexpandable definition of what is necessary. For them, what is necessary are the same powers that our founding fathers believed were necessary and absolutely nothing more.
Conservatives Not Anti-Government
Now is that to say that conservatives are completely against government? Of course not. Jonah continues to bring up that strawman whenever he tries to address the real meaning of "conservative". He continues to act as if "smaller government" could ever mean "no government", which no one claims it does. As I said before, only Anarchists support no government. And he's forced to do that so that he can continue to call himself a conservative; and again is evidence of his leftward shift of ideology. Liberals are pushed into Socialism, Anarchists are pushed into Conservativeism; and all so a liberal named Jonah Goldberg can refer to himself as a Conservative.
In this latest example, Jonah uses the example of William Buckley's agreement that National Defense was a worthy goal of the government. And no one would deny that. But that is simply because it is one of the few things that directly effect conservatives' lives. They support government intervention in National Defense, Law Enforcement, Contract Enforcement, or any number of other things that directly effect their own freedom. And even at that, the only reason they permit government interference in these matters is because modern society has advanced to the point at which they could no longer protect themselves and their assets with their own private armies or security. If foreign nations were no longer able to field armies large enough to threaten conservatives, and if they no longer had business assets spread wide throughout the country and world, they would be perfectly happy with using their own private forces, rather than government forces. And more importantly, these are all problems which directly threaten a conservative's freedom, with the government solution not directly threatening their own freedom. In other words, they would pay less in taxes than what they would directly pay for their own private security forces. In essence, this as a subsidization of their own interests, not them subsidizing the nation.
But that is where they draw the line. Beyond that, they don't believe that government should even consider any other issues. Again, it's not even that they think the problems will work themselves out in the free market, though they think it might. They just don't care about the problems. They don't see how it affects them, but they do see how a government solution does. So it's not that they really believe that government is inefficient at solving some problems (which is Jonah's position). They oppose all government intervention, including the efficient ones. For example, it's not that Universal Healthcare is necessarily inefficient; it's that they don't think the government should solve it. Even if it were more efficient, they would prefer to not subsidize it at all.
And that's clearly not Jonah's position. For him, he would apparently be perfectly happy with Universal Healthcare, if it could be proven that it led to better healthcare than what we currently have. He attempts to dispute Chait's hypothetical on that, but only by insisting that it would be impossible to prove. And since, he believes, it could not be proven; he's not willing to support it. So he essentially had to alter the hypothetical in a way which allowed him to back out of it. And he had to alter it because, otherwise, he would have been forced to agree with it. If the evidence proved his position wrong, he'd be willing to change his position and accept the particular government intervention. Thus making him an empiricist, and making him a liberal.
And that's obvious with all of Jonah's opinions. If the facts proved him wrong, he'd support the liberal position. And the reason he's against the liberal position isn't because he's against intervention; it's because he doesn't think it'll work. So like all the writers at The National Review, he is forced to ignore facts which goes against his opinion, while focusing on the few that support the conservative cause. But he doesn't do that as a conservative protecting his worldview; he does that as a liberal who cannot be open about his true ideology. Not even to himself. Because if he admitted those facts, he'd be forced to take the liberal position.
So while he has won this last round of the debate, with a surprisingly concise rebuttal to Chait's scattershot attack; he is still utterly doomed to failure. And his failure is not in defending conservatism against a liberal attack, but in failing to realize that he agrees with that attack. Let's just hope that Chait realizes that going into the next round and finally puts an end to this non-debate.