Jonah Goldberg on US 2012: Youth of the nation too stupid to vote

Authoritarian and intolerant speech has been breaking taboos by slowly creeping into the Conservative lexicon.

National Review editor Jonah Goldberg believes the voting age should be increased [GALLO/GETTY]
National Review editor Jonah Goldberg believes the voting age should be increased [GALLO/GETTY]

New Haven, CT – Jonah Goldberg raised eyebrows last month after saying the voting age is too low. During an interview with the Daily Caller, the syndicated columnist and editor-at-large of the National Review said young Americans are “so friggin’ stupid about some things”. Therefore, they should be barred from voting at the age of 18. That young Americans believe socialism is better than capitalism is also reason enough for conservatives to “beat” the notion out of them.

“It is a simple fact of science that nothing correlates more with ignorance and stupidity more than youth,” he said, with feeling. “We’re all born idiots, and we only get over that condition as we get less young.”

“The fact that young people think socialism is better than capitalism… that’s something that conservatives have to work hard to beat out of them,” he continued.

Media Matters, a liberal watchdog organisation, called up young Republicans around the country to ask what they thought of this view. “Mr. Goldberg has the right to express his opinion,” said Christopher Sanders, president of the Atlanta Young Republicans. “However, I disagree with him on an age increase. It is our civic duty to help educate those younger than us about the issues, not strip them of their right to vote.”

It is our civic duty to help educate those younger than us about the issues, not strip them of their right to vote.

– Christopher Sanders

Goldberg posted a response to Media Matters’ report on his blog, saying that Sanders and he actually agree. “Exactly!” he said. “That’s the point of the whole interview.” But they don’t agree. He says they do, but he ignores Sanders’ concern about disenfranchising young Americans. Indeed, he wiggles out of any commitment to his own opinion. “While I do think the voting age should be higher, I’m not in fact in favour of a national push to raise it, and I never said I was.” 


Goldberg can be grating. It’s as if he covets the image of a man with the courage to say shocking things – like “I think the voting age should be much higher” – but once that shocking thing elicits a reaction, his bowels turn to water. Then he says he didn’t mean what you thought he meant. You must not understand. Theatrical unseriousness like this drives people crazy. 

Though he’s a palooka propagandist of sorts for the Republican Party, he remains a potent force. So it seems that we need to pay close attention. And while much attention was rightly paid to Goldberg’s oafish thoughts about reasons to raise the voting age, much less attention was given to what he said later.

“There is no system that was ever created, that will ever be created… that creates wealth other than democratic capitalism,” he said. “Socialism, as Margaret Thatcher said, is fantastic: The only problem is that eventually you run out of other people’s money. The good news is that in America, we actually do learn from our mistakes in a way that other countries don’t in part because we don’t have the entrenched aristocratic elites that have rigged the system to justify their own status in perpetuity. We don’t have them here in the United States and that allows us to have creative destruction and learn from our mistakes.”

I’m not going to spend much time untangling this skein of conservative cant, but I will say this. It is obvious that the US does have an entrenched elite that attempts to rig the system to justify its own status. What do you call a few hundred people willing to spend $1 billion influencing a presidential election? That they are not royalty makes no difference. Wall Street wrecked the economy, was never held to account, and is back to making beaucoup bucks – how is this learning from our mistakes? As for the glory of creative destruction, I’m sure I can find an out-of-work father of four who has something to say about that.

But what is Goldberg really saying? Taken as a whole, his comments suggest that the current national arrangement of wealth and power is the best arrangement of wealth and power that has ever existed. Alternatives are illegitimate, but in case the young get any ideas, those in power must use whatever tools they have to maintain the status quo, even if that means disenfranchising the young.

This is an authoritarian view (breezily conceived). But it’s not alone. In fact, it takes on a more menacing cast when set beside those of John Derbyshire and Robert Weissberg, who also appeared in the pages of the National Review, one of the most respected conservative magazines in the US. Derbyshire is a self-identified white supremacist who wrote, for another publication, a piece about teaching his daughter how to fear black people. The Review fired him, but after he’d contributed for 12 years. Weissberg is a retired political scientist and long-time contributing writer. He was fired after giving a talk on the future of white nationalism. For both writers, eugenics plays a key role in the formation of public policy. Simply put, blacks are “so friggin’ stupid”, they might say, and therefore blacks are dangerous and must be treated as inferior.

 Inside Story – US: A new radical movement?

Godwin’s Law

In the past, one could not easily apply “fascist” to a liberal without sounding absurd. Liberals defeated the Nazis in World War II. Liberalism for many in the mid-20th century was the opposite of fascism. However, it was hardly absurd to apply “fascist” to a conservative. After the Chicago police riots of 1968, William F Buckley, the founder of the National Review, said law enforcement had the authority to violate protesters’ civil liberties. In response, Gore Vidal called him a “crypto-Nazi”, though he later claimed he meant to say “fascist”, but the word didn’t come to him. 

It’s safe to say calling a liberal a fascist is no longer taboo thanks to Jonah Goldberg’s 2008 book Liberal Fascism, which served “as a template for those who wish to link Obama to Hitler”, wrote Noah Lederman, of Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting. The book reasons like this: Hitler was a vegetarian; vegetarians are liberals; so liberals who criticise the meat-packing industry are really fascists.

Goldberg inspired Glenn Beck, who on Fox News made an art form of Nazi-baiting. Bailing out Detroit was like “the early days of Adolf Hitler”, Beck said. Obama’s expanding the Peace Corps was like Hitler’s expanding the SS. And empathy in a Supreme Court judge, Beck said, is like the empathy to euthanise a disabled child. Thanks to Goldberg, the “corporate media megaphones of the extreme right [have attempted] to invalidate Obama and his policies, while simultaneously trivialising the Holocaust, one of humankind’s most heinous crimes,” Lederman writes. 

Perhaps it’s naive for young voters to long for alternatives to a destructive economic order, but at least they aren’t defending the status quo with a breezy kind of authoritarianism, then covering up that breezy kind of authoritarianism by accusing opponents of fascism. 

No, they aren’t doing that. That would be so friggin’ stupid.

Follow him on Twitter: @johnastoehr

John Stoehr is a lecturer in political science at Yale and a frequent contributor to the American Prospect, the New StatesmanReuters Opinion and the New York Daily News.

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