Although I ‘ve spent decades lamenting misused political labels, I continue to be amazed at how deceitfully journalists apply them. The terms “conservative” and “liberal” are thrown around with reckless abandon and sometimes applied to persons and situations to which they have no imaginable connection. A recent example of this is how New York Times columnist David Brooks is being referred to as his paper’s “ conservative columnist.” This reference became ubiquitous, when Brooks claimed that he had paid $78 for a hamburger and fries at Newark Airport. The media used this story to remind us of Brooks’ political credentials, which as far as I can determine are thoroughly bogus. What exactly makes Brooks a bona fide “conservative”? Although an impassioned Trump hater who voted for Biden and who seems to represent his paper’s woke agenda, Brooks is considered “conservative” because the MSM and his employers in particular choose to call him such.
The value of this identification for the Left should be clear. Once the establishment Left defines Brooks as a conventional and even exemplary conservative, it then becomes possible to label anyone on Brooks’s right as an “extremist.” Who gets to assign political labels can then determine how far to the right or the left political figures can be placed. Thus, when Reuters told us last week that ”the right-center” gained in elections in France, while the “far right” picked up three seats, what they were doing was making Macron’s majority party Les Républicains the acceptable right. This allowed the media to treat Marine Le Pen’s Rassemblement National and Éric Zemmour’s Reconquête as “extremist” parties that are threatening French democracy. The fact that these designated extremists can gather a third or more of the votes in French national elections supposedly indicates how powerful France’s antidemocratic Right has become.
These voting preferences, however. indicate something very different. Those allegedly on the far right are traditional Gaullists, who are committed to a republican form of government. Although they may differ on immigration, the promotion of LGBT and the desire to preserve a French national identity from their opponents, it is ridiculous to treat them as outside the pale of parliamentary respectability. This situation is similar to the one in Germany, where the media attach an extremist label to what is the only non-woke, non-leftist national party in the country, namely Alternative für Deutschland. This dubious labeling allows the ruling bloc, which is made up of mostly indistinguishable parties, to go on ruling without opposition.
Another example of misleading labels can be found in the highly biased account of the dispute between Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg which appeared in the New York Post on September 28. Here we find an at least implicit defense of Zuckerberg’s partisan complaints against Musk’s decision to open Twitter to a free exchange of opinions. Although Musk may be a left libertarian who voted for Biden, the writer, Ariel Zilber, laments “his freewheeling style and right-leaning politics”…“have reportedly scared off advertisers who are wary of being associated with a site that allows for unfettered speeches that veers into antisemitism and xenophobia.”
Presumably Twitter was better off when Zuckerberg was kicking off his site politically incorrect users. Then there were no “rightists” availing themselves of this media resource and causing it to veer in the wrong direction. We should obviously favor censorship if we wish to head off the danger of “right-wing extremism.” This is also the alarmist messaging that has caused the Left in Germany and elsewhere in Western Europe to favor outright censorship for those who don’t agree with them. Needless to say, the same exhortation to shut down “extremists” and “bigots” has reared its ugly head on American campuses.
A further example of ideologically driven political labeling is the division pushed by the media between crude populists and “traditional Reaganite conservatives.” The clear implication here is that what was once defined as moderate or centrist Republicans are the true “conservatives.” These supposedly principled souls are perpetuating the legacy of Ronald Reagan. Not so the grubby nationalist and more pro-working-class elements in the GOP. In an interview with NPR on March 6, Jonah Goldberg dwelled on his difficulty as an unabashed Reaganite who still believes “in limited government” but is facing an “uphill slog” in the current political climate. But where is the evidence that Goldberg has called for significantly cutting back the present welfare state? He famously sniped at Ron Paul’s reservations about civil rights directives that allowed the state to interfere in our social and commercial transactions. Why should I believe Goldberg would “limit” government more than would other Republican centrists?