Subscribe to this podcast and join 50,000 readers worldwide that make up The Factual community.

March 2022
Ep 7: What happened to conservatism? - Jonah Goldberg
Prolific convervative journalist, Jonah Goldberg, talks about what happened to conservatism, why he left Fox News, and what he thinks will fix our tribal political system.
Unbiased Podcast
Ep 7: What happened to conservatism? - Jonah Goldberg
Show notes
[00:01] What happened to the conservative movement?
[14:01] Are the parties becoming more moderate?
[24:51] Election reforms that can reduce tribal politics
[28:00] Why American healthcare is not as bad as people think
[34:20] Why federalism is brilliant
[41:18] How Russia's invasion might change Chinese foreign policy.
[46:07] Why Jonah left Fox News
Arjun: If you've been a conservative in America at any point in the last 25 years, you've probably read something by Jonah Goldberg. Jonah is a prolific journalist, having been the founding editor of National Review Online, a commentator on Fox News, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute,. And founder of The Dispatch. And somewhat unusually as well, Jonah has written and appeared in many traditional liberal outlets as well: lA times, the New Yorker, even appeared on The Daily Show. Jonah has authored three best-selling books: Liberal Fascism, The Tyranny of Cliches: How Liberals Cheat In The War Of Ideas, and Suicide of the West. I just finished reading Tyranny of Cliches and it was great.
It's a very fun read. It's witty, thought -provoking. It's got tons of history that I didn't know and I found really fascinating actually. So Dan and I have been looking forward to this conversation for a long time. We're delighted to welcome Jonah to the Unbiased show. Welcome Jonah.

Jonah: Hey, it's great to be here. And thank you in particular for giving a shout out to Tyranny of Cliches, which I refer to regularly in my podcast as my underrated second book. Because it just did not do what we had hoped it would do.

Dan: It's your Led Zepplin three.

Jonah: Exactly.

Dan: Yeah. Arjun has given me the honor of asking the first question, Jonah, and I want to start this question by going back to 1996. To first presidential election I ever voted in. And to give you a little background, I was volunteering for then Republican governors, Bill Weld's Senate fight against John Kerry.
My dad and I cheered when Fox news went live. We hated the Clintons. I voted for Bob Dole. That was the first ballot I ever cast for president. Fast forward to 2016, and I cast a ballot for Hillary Clinton, which to my dad was the equivalent of me selling my blood to buy booze.
So something happened over that 20 year period that really pushed me away and turned me off. And so my first question to you is like what happened to the conservative movement over the last two decades?

Jonah: There are a lot of different ways one can approach this question and it's what they call in social science and overdetermined phenomenon, which basically means that there are more explanations than necessary to explain something. Like I often will point out that there are probably 15 reasons why Jews are liberal and that the explanations are true for some Jews and not true for other Jews and a little true for a lot of Jews.
And similarly there are many rooms in the mansion of conservative dysfunction. Let's put it that way. And so the first thing I would say is that the conservative movement if by that we mean an intellectual movement, I think is healthier, not healthy, but healthier than people think.
The problem is it has been eclipsed by basically an infotainment movement. A populist movement. We can struggle to find the right labels for it. But I have disagreements with my former colleagues at National Review where I was for 20 years, but none of my old friends from over there and colleagues have gone insanely MAGA or insanely populist.
And again, I have principal disagreements with some of them and I agree entirely with others of them, but I think they've remained intellectually honest and National Review still struggles to do part of its core mission, which is to be a gatekeeper on the right and to ride the frontiers of the swamp lands, to say this far and no further in terms of bad ideas and bad sentiments.
The problem is that even though National Review is a good gatekeeper, and the gates still exist, the walls are all gone, right? It is now just really easy to create a website that has no standards that has no integrity. In fact, we're now learning, if you look at things like OAN, it's possible to build a television network that has no standards and no integrity.
And so part of what's going on is in this larger media landscape, the business model has changed to where large, first of all, very few media institutions broadcast anymore, right? CBS used to get 40, 50, I don't know, maybe even 60% of the evening news market because there was so few channels and CBS was such a 800 pound gorilla. Now Tucker Carlson, you know who I have obviously pretty profound disagreements with, is the highest rate of guy on cable news. He sometimes beats the nightly news as far as I understand, and on a good night, he's got like what 4 million viewers, which means there are 328 million Americans not watching. And so the business model has changed to the point where everybody is looking for narrow casting and niche markets where they're reliant upon extremely sticky, committed customers, rather than broad sort of mainstream customers.
And as a result, when you're relying on a niche market, the incentive structure to tell your audience what it wants to hear rather than what it needs to hear becomes very powerful. And I think that's happened hugely on the right, in all sorts of ways on the internet, on TV talk radio, all the rest. I think Trump accelerated a lot of those trends, but I also think it's very much true with a lot of mainstream media and left-wing media is like everyone is offering bespoke takes to a select audience. And that leaves very little room to trust other media outlets. And it leaves very little common sets of information or knowledge or guideposts that everyone can agree on.
And again, I could talk for another two hours about all the problems with conservatism, but conservatism is part of that larger process is what I openly believe.

Arjun: Do you think, Jonah that traditional conservatives, the kind who did read or still read The National Review online and The Dispatch, are they in decline relative to the share of people that are voting Republican and on the right? Or is it just a misunderstanding or misrepresentation of the data somehow? Did they shrink and the populace became a lot bigger or the popular showed up more at the polls?

Jonah: I think, again, it's one of these things that's more, both and either or, but at the level of generality, I think the share of people who are committed conservatives in this sort of William F. Buckley, Irving Kristol, George Wheeler, Charles Krauthammer kind of sense... rock- committed Reaganites, that number has shrunk and it shrunk for a bunch of reasons.
One is that I think one of the main drivers of our problems these days is that weak parties yield strong partisanship. When the parties no longer observe or respect or defend their fiduciary obligations to protect their brands and to protect their prerogatives, but instead, basically farm out party work to Fox News or Planned Parenthood or The National Republic and the National Rifle Association.
We live in a society where party affiliation, partisan affiliation maps very much the way ethnicity or race or religion did a generation ago and for most of American history. And that's super creepy, right? And so partisanship has become a form of identity politics. And the problem with that is that conservatism is actually a thing where you're adhering to a bunch of principles that do not change based upon partisan circumstances. And what has happened is more people are defining themselves as part of a tribe or a team, then adherence to a set of principles or ideas.
I've watched to great dismay over the last six years. I wrote about it, in 2015 or 2016, I felt like I was on the set of a remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Like my entire life, I grew up, like Dan. I thought starting with the Clinton era, which, I was involved with to some extent, that conservatives meant it when they said that good character is important.
I just thought they meant it. I meant it. Kind of thought they meant it. I certainly thought Bill Bennett ment it when he wrote like 8,000 books on the importance of character and then to just see overnight, a lot of people, one by one, like they went to sleep next to the pod and they woke up MAGA heads were saying, oh, you know, that character stuff is meaningless.
And it's fine that Donald Trump has been at least as credibly accused of rape and sexual assault as Bill Clinton ever was. That it's fine that he's, on his third wife and that he cheated on his wife with a porn star after his baby was born, it's fine that he is notorious and legendary he doesn't even deny it, you know, stiffing contractors and refusing to pay his bills. And that he, he ruins people with abuse of eminent domain, and a thousand other things. At least he fights, at least he wins .And this whole intellectual construct that once said that character was first said no, winning and partisanship is first. And that's, I think a big driver of the destructiveness of our politics these days.

Dan: I'll build on that too. And I'll ask this question because you mentioned all of a sudden, the establishment, certainly all of a sudden went full MAGA, but I feel like the grass roots, it seems to be more of a slow boil. And in my mind, what started to drive me away from the Republican party specifically was during the Bush years, this desire to have it, both ways on conservatism. So we're for fiscal conservatism, but we will run up deficits. We're for personal sovereignty, but we'll oppose gay marriage, for example. There seemed to be a lot of ideological inconsistency and a lot of veering off that I think ultimately gained a lot of mistrust of your, again, folks at the grass roots.
And so ultimately I think it left room for somebody like Donald Trump to come and inhabit the party and really take on the mantle because at that point, a lot of folks maybe had lost faith. Do you have any thoughts on that?

Jonah: Yeah. I have thoughts on all this crap. I just been so mired in this stuff for so long now I've had to figure out why I feel like I'm taking crazy pills and then realize that I'm not, that kind of thing.
Again, part of it again is weak parties. We are the first and only country to commit to our major parties, not being able to pick their own nominees. No other country really does it this way. And the primary system has done enormous damage where If the party no longer gets to filter out crazy people or irresponsible people or demagogues it's very much you know what, Mark Anthony waving the bloody toga to whip up the crowd. The economic and political incentives to unleash partisan and populous mobs on the establishment and the establishment caves is a major dynamic of our politics. But more broadly , one of the major problems that we've had for a long time is that the establishment has over promised and under delivered and the anti-establishment has over promised and under delivered.
There was Ted Cruz in the government shutdown at what 2013, who insisted that we could repeal Obamacare with 40 votes. It was just factually, just mathematically false. But the incentive structure for a lot of the sort of demagogue attention seeking people in the party, and this is true of both parties.
I have special heartbreak and disappointment in conservatives and Republicans because that's my team. And I really think that conservatism is vital to preserve America and all the things I love about America. But I'm perfectly willing to make a lot of these criticisms about Democrats too.
That said the incentive structure is such, now that everybody gets to say, if you only listen to me, we can fulfill all your heart's desires. But these sellouts, these RINOs, these weaklings, these quislings they sold you out for their own personal interests. And it's the same argument that AOC and Bernie Sanders make.
And it's also just not true. So the problem is that built into the system, is this argument about how we're going to lose because the scapegoats are going to screw us, and this has been happening for a really long time.
And I'm a little bit to blame. I don't think very much to blame, but I remember thinking there was more credibility to some of these sort of RINO squish arguments then I think there actually was, Like I remember 10 years ago, I would be going to give a speech somewhere and then during the Q and A people would tell me how we got to purge the Rockefeller Republicans from the GOP cause they're running everything. Rockefeller Republicans? The Rockefeller Republicans died out during the Pleistocene era. There are no Rockefeller Republicans left. You gotta remember the Nixonites were the right wingers compared to the Rockefeller Republicans.
And and this was at a time when John Boehner and Paul Ryan and those guys were running and Mitch McConnell, we had the most conservative Republican leadership in the house in the Senate, arguably in American history. But yet had people like Mark Levin and Rush Limbaugh saying, oh no, they're squishes. They're not committed.
And this was part of a long-term problem where the argument that the most important thing in politics was purity, rather than persuasion where everyone said, I am the purest Ronald Reagan guy. I'm the purest conservative. You actually had idiots like Jim Demint before he went to the Heritage Foundation to, to fail upwards at once again talking about how he'd rather basically have 30 committed conservatives in a Republican caucus in the Senate than 60 RINOs or whatever, which is just so dumb. Because you're literally saying you'd rather lose every single vote in a legislative effort possible with a filibuster proof majority of Democrats than actually like compromise on some issues and get some wins in the process. And that sort of mindset took over. And then that failed.
And then Trump came in and saw the rubble and basically broke the blood-brain barrier on the right between politics and entertainment. And it was just a populist o who never really won over a majority of the party. He just won a plurality which was enough in a 16 way, primary. And then once in power, Republican party just said, he's ours now. The talk radio world had already gone in for him. And the definition of what it meant to be a conservative changed even more from loyalty to certain principles, to loyalty to one person.

Arjun: Such a great commentary on how this is unraveled. Let me bring this to today, or really technically yesterday. In the state of the union address, Biden did two things that I thought were particularly notable. One is he did not mention the word race. Or racism. And then second, he boldly stated defunding the police is not the answer. To fund the police is more the answer. Now, does that suggest that there is, on the left, also a movement away from the far left towards the center. And similarly, the fact that Donald Trump lost the 2020 election, is that also and again, close election , and I know there's lots of debate there, but does it suggest that as a country, the people we were enjoying the entertainment, the populism, it was fun, it was a good punching each other in the face. Are we more now saying guys, I don't think this is healthy. I think this is looking bad. And are people and the parties gravitating back to the center or is that just wishful thinking?

Jonah: I wish that it was not wishful thinking, but I feel more like it's wishful thinking. I do agree with you that the two examples you use are data points to support the case. And I welcome them. I thought that defund the police was one of the, on every level, conceptually, politically, philosophically, morally one of the most profoundly stupid slogans that enter our politics in the last hundred years.
It's just, first of all, the polling was very clear. No one was actually in favor of defunding the police. African-Americans weren't, Hispanics weren't, forget white voters. No one was in favor of it. The polling show that a super majority of Americans wanted either the same amount of police in their neighborhood or more.
And then like 20% said, maybe a little less. Now a little less is very different than none. I want fewer stop signs in my neighborhood. That does not mean I'm in favor of none. And and also just historically, you had leading Democrats talking about how coop policing was invented as fugitive slave catching. Which is nuts. And I think the first cops, recognizable as a police department, were in London and like 1264 or something like that. The Romans had essentially street militias. The first obligation of states is to .Police public order. And the idea that the police function came out of South Carolina to catch slaves was just nonsense.
Mainstream media went nuts with it. I'm sorry. Its just, one of my obsessions. That said, I don't have it perfectly worked out the phrasing of it, but I've started to refer to Goldberg's rule of contemporary politics, which is the behaviour of the two major parties can best be explained by their deep seated nihilistic desire to be minority parties. Both parties are so stupid that all they have to be is not. Just not crazy. And they’ll win the suburbs, they’ll win their base, cause their bases have nowhere else to go. So for Republicans it means not letting Marjorie Taylor Green and Madison Cawthorne, who I think is too stupid to be a spellchecker at an M and M factory.
Or Lauren Boebert, who's just bat guano crazy. And you go down a long list, right? Not let those people define the party, right? Not let these jacquards talk about how, I mean, there's the guy at Congressman the other day who said that we have to sanction and freeze all of the bank assets of the Canadian leadership 'cause that's the real problem. This is childishness, right? And letting Tucker Carlson define the Republican party is absurd. Plenty of criticism, Mitch McConnell, at least the guys a grown up. But for the most part, the people who are defining Republican party are embarrassments. And because the good people are just getting crowded out. They can't get on Fox news, they don't get the attention and the people like Matt Gates get all the attention.
Meanwhile, for the Democrats, like first of all, defund the police was stupid. There's been polling now for almost two years that says for every Hispanic person that it attracts, it repels like 15 of them. They don't want anything to do with it. It's dumb. It's a Shibboleth that tells you that you were part of this sort of pointy headed elite condescending group that actually doesn't understand the diversity of the Hispanic community and all these other things. And all it does is win you over people with grad degrees that you already had anyway. And similarly saying birthing person instead of mother, like I, I'm not going to show you all my data, but I think a cursory review of world history or American history will show that generally speaking, people have a positive attitude towards the word and concept of mother. And, this idea that you were going to win votes by talking that way is just insane.
I'm very much in David Shore's camp on this stuff. He's very liberal. Self-described socialist who basically says, the Democratic party in some ways has been captured by a bunch of very woke young people who do not know how to do politics as it's properly understood. And instead see it as largely an exercise of virtue signaling and the virtue signaling is annoying enough.
Except for the fact that I'm so ideologically opposed to so much of it, I almost prefer it to the vice signaling that you see on so much of the Trumpy right. Where like being mad and cruel is sort of the point, you know, being dickish is seen as a virtue. At least the virtue signaling of the left starts from the premise of Be a good person.
And so anyway, those two cadres of non-representative elites, I think have wildly outside control of both parties. And to say it to a run of the mill, progressive Democrat, to tell them, you do know that Joe Manchin is probably closest to where the majority of American people are and that his views are representative of most Democrats and AOC's are not. They think You’re crazy because that's not what the media tells them. That's not what they say in their bubbles, but it's absolutely true.
And probably the same thing for Mitt Romney, that Mitt Romney is probably where most decent Republicans are, or most Americans are on a lot of things. But if you watched Fox news or if you listened to the sort of talk radio crowd, you would think that no Republican actually likes Mitt Romney or believes in the things that min Romney does. That Republican resolution where they, sounded like they were saying that rioting at the Capitol was legitimate political discourse. The way that got written was because they're all in a bubble or in a bunker where the confirmation bias is so thick because they're all high on their own farts that they just don't realize that this is, this was such an unforced error because everyone in the room agrees with their stupidity on this stuff.
And those kinds of dynamics are driving both parties a lot and Biden saying funding the police is a good start. But I think he's got to have a sister soldier moment once a week for a while to rebut against the image that the Democratic party has is a acquired for itself.

Arjun: I'll just throw in some data which hopefully Jonah makes you feel a little bit better. So at The Factual we have a readership this is I think a pretty good cross section of the United States. We have readers in all 50 states, three thousands of zipcodes. Because it's a very affordable product we have people who are CEOs, we have unemployed people, we have pastors, we have ex-convicts. It's a real grab bag of the country. And everyday we pull people on issues that are trending in the news. And what is really fascinating is we're getting a statistically significant sample, usually somewhere in the thousands of hundreds or thousands of votes.
And very often the moderate viewpoints that you just mentioned, whether it's the Mitt Romney's on the Republican side or slightly Joe Manchin on the left actually ended up being the majority vote on what we see every day. We still see some people that hold really close to their heart liberal views or hard conservative views, but the are actually the minority when we poll in this way.
And because we poll very quick, one question anonymous. We're not asking you for your life story at dinnertime. I think we get a very interesting sample set. Suffice to say that our data suggests you're right, that the majority of the country is closer to Manchin and Mitt Romney. I hope that again, we're a small entity, but I hope that between us and so many other people in this space that we're able to get this out there saying, Hey guys, this is actually what most people want. It's just sane stuff. I know it's not sexy. it. doesn't have the great sound soundbites, but it's probably what most people want. That's at least what we're seeing.

Jonah: Yeah, no. And I agree with that entirely. And that's my point about primaries is that primaries created an incentive structure that look, politicians always respond to incentives. Most of our lives, I'm a little older than you guys, the incentive was for primary. You Jack to the right or the left, depending if you're Republican or Democrat to get enough of the base vote that combined with the moderates. You win the primary and then you run to the center because if you won the center you won. And the problem part of has to do with polarization, the big sort, all that kind of stuff, is that the vulnerable point in the process for getting reelection is your primary, not the general election.
If you get the nomination, you're going to win in a lot of these places. And it empowers the loudest, craziest, most intense parts of both parties to demand the world from these guys. And so politicians are incentivized to do nothing that will risk them getting a primary opponent. And that makes them beholden to a very small slice of either party rather than to where the bulk of the American people are. And that's part of my argument about why you can explain most behavior by both parties, by their burning desire to be a minority party. It doesn't mean always explain it sometimes by accident or whatever the parties do, the right or smart thing, but it's a pretty powerful heuristic.

Dan: Do you know, you mentioned the big sort, which for you listening, if you're unfamiliar, is the geographic sorting of people by partisan lean. And obviously that has had an influence on the tone of politics. I think maybe to an extent, the parties got very good at gaming the system and maybe too good for their own good in making a lot of congressional elections non-competitive.
So now it's really the most partisan. Or the most partisan person who wins. But there's a third element here, which is our plurality voting system. And there've been reforms coming out, such as ranked choice, voting, proportional representation, that are designed to remove the moat that folks have in a plurality voting system and actually require candidates or incentivize candidates to really go across their coalition and find consensus.
What do you think of those reforms?

Jonah: I think we need a little more experimentation with them before I'm going to go all in for any of it, but the rank choice voting thing, at least in primaries, I'm pretty sympathetic to for a bunch of different reasons. But the chief one is that, there's a reason why vanilla ice cream is the most popular ice cream in America, even though it's nobody's first choice or very few people's first choice. If you're throwing a wedding or a bar mitzvah or whatever, you usually serve vanilla ice cream because it's the least objectionable flavor to most people. And so while there are very few people who love it with a searing passion, there are even fewer people who hate it with anything like a searing passion. And so the rank choice voting thing allows for someone to vote their heart at the top of the ticket, and then their head at the number two spot. And that I think would yield a lot more of the sort of least objectionable candidates, like a Mitt Romney type or like a Joe Manchin type who are more representative of the average views of the average voter then the extreme people.
And let me be clear. I spent most of my life being one of these sort of very rabid ideological people. I don't mind challenging the system with ideas and all this kind of stuff. What I do mind is people who want to get elected for performative reasons who actually aren't interested in making arguments about legislating about doing their homework.
People like Matt Gaetz says being on TV is the way you govern. He's literally quote to that effect in Vanity Fair. Madison Cawthorn, he had this email leak, which showed that he said, yeah, we're not going to put any resources towards a legislative shop. We're going to put it all into comms.
This is very much a Yuval Levin argument, but a big problem with our culture generally, and with politics in particular, is people look at institutions as stages to perform on rather than places to be to dedicate themselves to their ethos. And I think that figuring out incentive structures in the political process, if we can't go back to smoke filled rooms, makes me open to a lot of experimentation.
That said there's a lot of experimentation I'm completely opposed to, I do not think we want to get rid of the electoral college and have a nationalized vote. I think I can make a strong argument that while I want it to be easy for everybody who wants to vote at the same time, I can make an argument that I think we've made it too easy to vote for all sorts of prudential and other reasons. And so you gotta look at these things at it's case by case basis. And I'd like a little more experimentation at the state and local level to see, to kick the tires, but I'm open to them.

Arjun: By the way switching gears slightly, one of the passages in the book Tyranny of Cliches that made me stop, really made me rethink something that I thought I knew was the chapter where you basically debunk this oft cited statistic about US healthcare. And you say, that everyone goes around saying America spends the most per capita on healthcare and yet we have probably the worst outcome or one of the worst outcomes of industrialized nations as measured by mortality rates or life expectancy. But it's misleading and it's cherry picking data. And I didn't really know that. Can you talk a little bit about that? Because I think that's a big deal.

Jonah: Sure. It's been a while since I wrote that track like 10 years since I wrote that chapter. And so I'll speak fully cognizant that the latest data might say something different, but a big part of health care is about culture, about lifestyle. I just had this guy on my podcast who runs their COVID tracking for The Economist and he was like, look, one of the reasons why India didn't have as bad, a bout of COVID as the United States did, at least if you take all the statistics at face value is that India is a much younger country. And it's also a much skinnier country, for good reasons and bad, right? Meanwhile, America is an older country and it's a fatter country, and particularly among men and I, what I didn't know until fairly recently is that the mortality rate for men versus women for COVID is just shy of two to one because women have better immune systems.
But going back to the chapter about healthcare, the longest lived people in America, at least going back 10 years, when I last looked at this were Japanese American women living in Bergen county, New Jersey. And the shortest lived people in America were native American men on certain reservations in I think South Dakota or something like that.
Now, some of that's genetics, but a lot of those just through the lifestyle, there's huge alcoholism and unemployment problem on reservations. And and meanwhile, there's American women in Bergen county, New Jersey who live longer than Japanese women in Japan. The reason I bring that up is that they've had socialized medicine for native Americans for a long time and they haven't had it for Japanese American women in Bergen county, New Jersey for a long time. So if socialized medicine is the thing that was going to fix these health disparities you think you'd find some evidence of it.
There's all sorts of things like this, the way we count infant mortality in the United States is a very, I don't know if you want to call it generous or conservative, but like any intervention, from very early in the pregnancy where we try to save the fetus's life, we count that, or at least be used to, again, I'm not up to speed and where we are right now, we would count that as an infant death. There are countries, Western industrialized, OECD countries that don't count infant mortality until three weeks after birth or something like that.
And so the disparities, there are just statistical artifacts rather than speaking to something real. We also have a gun culture, which we feel free to condemn. It's a different argument, but guns kill people. We also have a huge driving culture because most of us don't in Europe. They use the internal combustion engine to move stuff and they use trains to move people. In America we use the internal combustion engine to move people and we use trains the move stuff, because we have all these roads. And so where we have roads, you have a lot more car accidents. So you also have a lot of drunk driving things.
Again, these are bad things. I'm not defending them, but there are problems of the lifestyle, not the healthcare system. If you count life expectancy after the age of say 65, we kick all these countries asses, or at least a lot of them. And so there's a desire to use these sorts of statistical comparisons as a Trojan horse for desired public policies that really don't match up.
And just put it this way. There are many ways in which we do not have the best healthcare system in the world. But there have to be many ways in which we do because all of these Saudi princes and Russian oligarchs go to American hospitals for their healthcare. And if our healthcare was as crappy as these generalizations, make it sound, they would not be doing that nor would Canadians be coming down to do this stuff. Generalization is the problem rather than and again, I don't want to defend the existing healthcare system because there are a lot of ways in which it sucks.

Arjun: Right. I think it ties back to your earlier point which is politicians, increasingly cherry pick the data or select a narrative that fits an idea they want to sell anyways. And there isn't as much, it seems like a good faith analysis of where are we and how do we get better. It's more while I know if I say this, these people are going to go rah because we've already got it. And I just need a smidgen, more people to agree with me, which is enough to tip the balance in my favor. And so we get a very simplified soundbitey debate on issues. When most issues are really complicated and don't have easy answers and sound bites at all. It seems to me like, that's what is feeding this thing.
It's all interlocking. The media plays it, cause it's a better soundbite, but actually it's really not that easy. But if you said the nuance, the one really gets it and you're like, Yeah. that's a boring policy thing. Forget it. Let's go back to the other guy.

Jonah: Yeah, no, look, there's a big part of my book Suicide of the West is that a big part of the problem is that we follow politics like it's a form of entertainment. And when you follow entertainment, the hero can murder people and we're like, yeah, go for it. Heroes, torture people all the time. I have lists of movies and TV shows. 24, is like a torture scene every three days and or every three hours, because it was a TV show that took place in 24 hours and we cheer it. And in real life, we don't view things that way, but like the more you see politics as a form of entertainment, the more you suspend all of your normal, moral defense mechanisms against that kind of thinking and it becomes a huge problem.
And similarly reminds me of Bart Simpson, when he was running for class president and he says, my opponent says, there are no easy answers. I say, he's not looking hard enough. Like people want the shit boiled down to like really simplistic stuff that's entertaining and that ratifies and ratifies their sense of being the good tribe versus the other tribe, being the bad tribe.

Dan: interesting. One of the ideas that popped into my head as you were talking, as when I look at the conservative movement and one of the ideas, I still really believe is the idea that power and money are best distributed at the local level.
And I think a lot of the problems we have are the fact that a lot of people want the federal government to do things it wasn't designed to do. But the one challenge I see to conservatives, especially at the federal level, is that from an ideological standpoint, yes, they would like to defer to the states. They'd like to defer to local governments. But at the same time, it's way more politically expedient to send a lot of federal money to the districts and to continue to accrue power. So how on a political level, how do conservatives unwind that? Or how do they balance that out?

Jonah: Yeah, it's hard. I've been pounding my spoon on my high chair for 20 years, about the benefits of federalism. You can call it federalism call it subsidiarity, localism, whatever, I'm a big disciple makes it sound like I can quote chapter and verse from everything he's written, I can't, but like I'm a big fan of Friedrich Hayek and part of Hayek's whole argument is that centralized planning isn’t just bad for all sorts of highfalutin, moral reasons and imposing people's morality. It's that you run into this thing called the knowledge problem, which is just simply that people closest to a problem are going to have a better understanding of the problem.
And it was like, think about any serious problem in your family life. And the idea that someone, a thousand miles away who doesn't know anybody in your family is going to have, they might have useful generalizations and life lessons to share, but they're not going to know like the personalities or the facts on the ground or the nature of the repairs that your house needs or anything like that.
I used to do a whole thing on a chalk board for college students about how federalism is the greatest system ever conceived of for maximizing human happiness, because it lets the most people live the way they want to live.
And I would do this whole analogy about dorms on a college campus. If you had 10 dorms and you had everybody vote for one size fits all policy about social life and dorms, you make a lot of people unhappy. If you had the president impose it dictatorial on all 10 dorms, you have a lot of people unhappy, but if you had each dorm be able to vote on its own policies and the people who didn't like those policies could move to a different dorm, just a matter of pure math, you'd have the most people living the way they want to live.
And I think that argument is true. It's right. And our brains are not wired for it. You get this from the left, you get this from the right talk about how the government is your mommy or your daddy, right? And social media makes this so much worse. The idea that other people could live the wrong way makes people really angry.
And social media puts a camera on it in a way that really infuriates us and the whole logic of nationalized politics, which social media fuels is this notion of one size fits all for an entire country of 332 million people. And that is just guaranteed to keep culture wars going for a long time. And so I wish I had a fix that I thought, there are all sorts of fixes I can think of as a policy matter, amend the constitution to say we really mean the ninth and 10th amendment, or something like that, that'd be great.
Figure out a way to have a block grant, basically all federal spending. So I'm a big believer that we should take the VA hospitals and sell them back to the states and let the states run them because the way it is now is that you have these really terrible bureaucracies that do terrible things, and nobody knows who's accountable.
And the more you send power and money down to the most local level possible, you're still going to have fights, but people are going to know who the powers that be are. They're going to know who to fire, if things go south. And you're still gonna have culture war fights, but at least the winners and losers are going to have to look each other in the eye at the supermarket and at the, at your kid's soccer game and that kind of thing.
But when you have one size fits all policies run out of Washington it's very easy to form coalitions of people who don't know anybody who lives in the other coalition. And that makes it very easy to see them as an abstraction and. one of the things history teaches us is the second you start being able to see other people as abstractions, rather than as human beings, it's the first step towards dehumanizing them and having terrible politics that flow from that.

Arjun: Let me ask you a question on media Jonah. Obviously you being a member of the media there's this

Jonah: You take that back.

Arjun: sorry, peripherally, perhaps.

Jonah: You, sir. No

Arjun: In the last few days the EU has banned Russian state controlled media, Sputnik and RT news, and big tech, as it is often called, has also done its share of banning or blocking or filtering that. I don't think anyone listening to this show and certainly not the three of us is necessarily a huge fan of Sputnik or RT news, but that said, I'm curious, what do you think about banning such news outlets?

Jonah: Yeah. I'm totally open to the idea and I've not spent a lot of time thinking about this. In this context I'm open to the idea that there's not going to be a moral hazard problem with doing some of this stuff. This morning the International Cat Federation said that wouldn't take Russian cats and I feel like maybe that's the bridge too far.
But no I think- on the one hand I get it about where there are problems with that. And I want to say upfront, I think social media is turn-on-a-dime heroism about confronting Russia while doing nothing about China is such a glaring disconnect. It really is a sign of how it's really easy to virtue signal at low costs, but really hard to do it at a high cost.
And at the same time, I think that there is not a moral equivalence between Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty and Sputnik or Russia Today. And I know that's hard for some people to see around the world because they, oh, they're both state funded and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. But maybe I'm too much of a product of the cold war. But I think false moral equivalence is a real problem. And in this context, given how egregious Russia's behavior is I would rather err on the side of excess to save lives than err on the side of some sort of subtle distinction about pluralism and all these kinds of things. And I'm very much in favor of pluralism, but pluralism matters much more than me in the domestic political context than it does in the international order, because the international order is categorically different than the zone of Liberty that we define as the United States of America.

Dan: I'll ask one question, two parts are around China. This and this kind of gets back to the very beginning of our conversation, which is, if you look at the America first movement, that was really a retrenchment away from multilateral institutions and international treaties.
And what we saw was a fairly strong response on the part of democratic nations against Russia. Two questions on that, which is number one. Do you feel like that represents an affirmation or a reaffirmation of those multilateral institutions on the part of the Republican party and number two, do you think that changes China's calculus when it comes to how they handle Taiwan.

Jonah: Well, Let me take the second part first. I hope it changes China's calculus about how to deal with Taiwan. There are a lot of people on the right who will mumble and say, oh, we shouldn't be caring that much about Ukraine. The real strategic challenge is China. And that's what we need to prioritize and big picture long-term they're probably right. In the immediate term, the single best thing we can do to deter China from invading Taiwan is to ruin Vladimir Putin for invading Ukraine. If the entire world says no way, are we going to tolerate this kind of crap and we are going to cut you off from the world banking system, we're going to cut you off from all international trade. We are not going to let your oligarchs, do their thing in St. Tropez or whatever. That's a signal that the Chinese regime will get and tell them. It doesn't mean they won't try to take Taiwan eventually, but they're going to rethink, the cost benefit analysis pretty dramatically.
And moreover, it's the right thing to do to make Russia pay an enormous price for what it's doing in Ukraine. In terms of the reaffirmation of the multilateral international loader stuff. Yes and no. It's a little disturbing that I love that Germany said it's going to meet its NATO commitments and it's going to spend more on defense.
It really bothers me that people keep pegging this whole thing to the fact that Donald Trump wanted Germany to do that. Every American president going back 40 years or so has been bugging the Germans to spend more on defense. This is a core American desire. At the same time when Olaf Schultz, the chancellor Germany announced this, he didn't mention the United States at all. And there is a sense in which sort of Biden's quote unquote, leading from behind kind of posture and all this could have a moral hazard problem in the future too, because it locks America. It lessens America's role in leading that global order if the Europeans stand up in the name of their own interests, rather than in the name of the sort of cooperation stuff.
Just one quick thing on the America first part. Isolationism is a complicated subject in American history and I have views on it. But the one thing I think is worth keeping in mind is that the isolationism of the original America first from the 1930s and early forties ,nevermind the isolationism of the big chunks of the 19th century, was very different than the isolationism of the MAGA America first crowd. The old argument about isolationism was America is so frigging awesome, but we don't want to track mud from the old world onto our carpet in the effect.
And we don't want to sully this shining city on the hill with these old rivalries and these entangling alliances, because we want to instead be a bastion of and an example for the world. The isolationism of Donald Trump rejects American exceptionalism. It rejects the idea that we're better than anybody.
In fact, he says we should be isolationists because we're the suckers and our leaders are suckers. And America kills people too. And all those kinds of stuff, it is a very different, much darker understanding of America and its role and its glories than what the original isolationists believe.
And the great thing about the current moment, which could change depending on events, but the great thing about the good moment, or at least one of the silver linings of this absolute horror at Ukraine is that all of these Putin fanboys, and supposed like realist thinkers who understand nationalism and all of the rest have been clowned by this whole thing.
Don't tell me your belief in the sanctity of borders and national sovereignty and how nationalism is the best paradigm for understanding how to organize politics and then say, oh, screw Ukraine. Putin should be able to just wipe it off the map. Those things cannot be reconciled. But people like Tucker and some few others are trying.

Arjun: Okay. So I'm going to end with, I hope a question that is on a positive note, we spent a lot of the discussion talking about

Jonah: Bless your heart,

Arjun: I'm an optimist to a fault and not necessarily a good way. We spent a lot of the discussion talking about tribalism and people basically wanting easy solutions and splitting off into their camps and hearing what they want, confirmation bias, blah, blah, blah. You're about to join CNN. And I think most everyone would say CNN is very liberal and must have a majority liberal audience. You're going there. Do you think its majority liberal audience wants to hear from you?

Jonah: Probably not but I don't care. So just for context, I left Fox news on principle and it's more complicated story than a lot of people on the left or the right want to make it. But part of the reason why I felt I could no longer in good conscience be at Fox, although I tried to be a good soldier for a very long time and I was told by a lot of people that I was going to be part of the solution when Fox came to its senses, and I wanted to be there. And Charles Krauthammer was a hero of mine and people were telling me, I might be the next Charles Krauthammer and all this kind of stuff.
And so it it was a painful, difficult decision ultimately to go. I shouldn't say difficult, but it was difficult getting to the place where it was easy. But one of the main reasons why I felt incompatible with being at Fox was one, I thought there was a real disconnect between what we're trying to do with The Dispatch and what Fox was doing, but two I couldn't be my whole self. Because to the extent that they would have me on TV all anymore, with the exception of maybe, special report I never got asked a question about Donald Trump.
I never got an asked a question about JD Vance's idiocy or, why Matt Gaetz who's on the network all the time was a clown and needed to be punted from the party. Instead I was only ever asked to criticize Democrats. I'm speaking in a broad generalization. And like I take my conservatism a lot more seriously than I do my Republicanism.
And we talked about in the beginning about how people are defining their first loyalty to partisanship rather than to principle. And maybe it's because I spent 20 years at national review, which took that function very seriously about being the policemen of the right and when never really given an opportunity to convey to the viewers that not all conservatives love Donald Trump and what he is doing.
It basically makes it seem like I'm part of it, that I agree with this stuff. And I think this is one of the biggest problems with cable news in general is that it polices these fictions about unanimity. You watch MSNBC, and there are hours that go by where everybody is in violent agreement with each other and they make it sound like there are no liberals who disagree about these various issues.
You watch Fox, particularly during the Trump era, and you would think certainly in prime time that literally because the only people who were allowed to criticize Fox were Democrats, were Donna Brazil or Mola leafy, or Juan Williams that token liberals on the show and conservatives need to hear. No, no, No. Like I was against picking winners and losers in the economy and crony capitalism and protectionism when Democrats want to do it and I'm also against it when Republicans want to do it. But if you only hear the Democrats who are opposed to it and that they're losers, schmucks, whatever, and unpatriotic, you begin to internalize the idea that what all conservatives believe are these things that all conservatives don't believe and aren't supposed to believe.
And so at least going to CNN, which I agree, CNN, I will say during the Ukraine thing, they really are being their best selves. The reporting has been fantastic and all that, but there's lots of stuff I disagree with at CNN, but I'm being asked to disagree with that stuff. It's I'm being asked to be the conservative I am, rather than lend my name to the kind of conservatism I'm not, at Fox. And I didn't do this lightly. I have lost any love for being on TV or recognized at airports or any of that kind of stuff. I've been there done that, but I think I can be of service. I think I can help send the signal that there are conservatives out there that are conservative, but they're not angry about it.
And that they don't, as a matter of epistemology think all liberals are evil and horrible. There's there's room for the George Will's style of conservatism. And maybe I'll tell more women's prison movie jokes than he would, but that's okay too.

Arjun: Outstanding.

Dan: Maybe you'll get me watching CNN with my dad again. We'll find out.

Jonah: Baby steps, dude, baby steps.

Dan: Yeah, I know. I'm not looking for miracles here, Jonah.

Arjun: Thank you so much, Jonah. This was incredible, Dan and I had so much stuff we'd love to ask you, but this is a fun conversation. I hope everyone listening got a lot out of it and hopefully is leaving with some positive or at least more optimistic view of the future that there's folks like you out there fighting the good fight staying true principles, as hard as it is as maybe the minority that you might be at times. As a sidebar, by the way, so our whole shtick at the factuals, we rate news articles for how objective and informative they are using this algorithm that's transparent. And it rates The Dispatch and every now and then The Dispatch scores really highly cause you guys have some really deep research pieces.
So we featured in our newsletter that goes out to tens of thousands of people which is pretty cool. Yeah. So we're hopefully driving people back to all these great sites across political spectrum. Often the smaller ones that have phenomenal analysis, but it's not at Fox and CNN and that's okay. Like we want to show people there's a wide range of voices and hopefully The Dispatch gets a little bit more profile for this.

Jonah: Well, I appreciate it. And thanks for having me on happy to come back another time and keep fighting the good fight.
Do you want to keep listening?