Isaac Chotiner Gets Jonah Goldberg Wrong

So Ruth Bader Ginsburg recently said this in an interview with Emily Bazelon:

Yes, the ruling about that surprised me. [Harris v. McRae — in 1980 the court upheld the Hyde Amendment, which forbids the use of Medicaid for abortions.] Frankly I had thought that at the time Roe was decided, there was concern about population growth and particularly growth in populations that we don’t want to have too many of. So that Roe was going to be then set up for Medicaid funding for abortion. Which some people felt would risk coercing women into having abortions when they didn’t really want them. But when the court decided McRae, the case came out the other way. And then I realized that my perception of it had been altogether wrong.

Ginsburg is saying that her perception of the situation in 1980 is that there was a lot of concern on the right about Bell Curve-style dysgenics and that, therefore, insofar as folks were willing to tolerate legal abortion at all they would welcome Medicaid-funded abortions for poor people. But she was wrong. Jonah Goldberg decides, however, to read this as Ginsburg making the case for eugenics and then writes an LA Times column denouncing her and wondering if fellow liberal fascist Sonia Sotomayor is also hatching a eugenicist plot.

Now this all comes to me via Isaac Chotiner who remarks:

This leads to a more interesting topic. I had a drink with a conservative writer in Washington a while back who rolled his eyes at the mention of Goldberg’s book. My drinking buddy stated that he and many other conservatives believed ‘Liberal Fascism’ was rather amusing and ridiculous. I was heartened — behind Goldberg’s back, after all, even staunch right-wingers thought his thesis was a joke. But then it occured to me that the joke might be on the rest of us. Goldberg is a rather clever guy, and so I chalk up his decision to write ‘Liberal Fascism’ to purely financial motives. This column is just more evidence for my thesis. Again, Goldberg is not stupid; what are the odds that he happened to (grossly) misread a column in a manner that perfectly fits with the argument of his book? Hell, maybe he will even sell a few more copies today. Throwing away one’s credibility might be short-sighted or sad, but who says it is not profitable?

I think this is dead wrong. Goldberg is stupid.

My understanding from my own off-the-record chats with conservative writers is that Liberal Fascism was published for pecuniary reasons. Goldberg’s editor, in other words, understood that this was the sort of red meat the rubes would eat up. But the gossip I’ve heard has it that he was then taken aback to discover that Goldberg didn’t see the project that way. He’s sufficiently vainglorious, out of touch, and egomaniacal that he really does think of the book as a “very serious, thoughtful, argument that has never been made in such detail or with such care” and genuinely takes offense at the fact that people are grappling with his scholarship.


Recall his indignant huff that his book “isn’t like any Ann Coulter book.” It is! And just like some of Coulter’s work, it’s sold a lot of copies. But he really sees himself as embarked upon a more ambitious project than that of base-whipping provocateur.